The Scent Guide: What Does Amber Smell Like?
Amber is a common yet elusive scent in the fragrance world. You’ve definitely smelled candles, perfumes and soaps with amber in it before—but can you actually recall what the amber notes smell like, or define what they are? In this scent guide, we explain what amber smells like, where this scent comes from and how it’s created. Then, we delve into what scents amber pairs well with and spotlight some of our favorite Homesick amber candles.
What does amber smell like?
Unlike many other fragrances, amber is not a single fragrance, but rather a combination of different scents blended together to create an “amber” fragrance profile. No matter the component scents, amber is a warm, lightly sweet fragrance that usually smells musky and rich, and may also have a hint of powder and/or spice.
This deeper scent is an excellent choice for fall and winter in particular, but it also makes a great choice for spring and summer when combined with other fragrances, such as a citrus. It’s also a unisex scent and may be used in men’s or women’s perfumes. It often is featured in products for men because of its deeper, muskier fragrance, but is also a fantastic scent for women who don’t want something overly sweet, fruity or floral.Enjoy the Smell of Amber with Our Beach Candles
The component scents of amber can vary depending on the brand and product, so an amber candle from one brand might smell different from an amber perfume from another. If you have a particular scent you are searching for, then you should carefully read the scent description to make sure the amber fragrance actually has the scent notes you want! Smelling different amber products will help familiarize your nose with the amber scent profile and make it easier to identify the specific scents you prefer.
Where does amber fragrance come from?
While some fragrances are extracted from a specific plant or fruit, amber fragrance is blended together from a combination of different scents. Some common fragrances in amber candles include:
- Vanilla: This sweet, spicy scent is a common feature in amber fragrances. Because vanilla is a common fragrance on its own, it will be paired with other scents on this list in order to create that musky, complex amber smell. While vanilla smells great on its own, combining it with other scents creates a more interesting and unique fragrance that sets amber apart.
- Patchouli: This musky, earthy scent offers a hint of sweetness and a strong fragrance profile. Patchouli is derived from the leaves of the aromatic herb plant it takes its name from and is commonly found in candle fragrances, including many right here at Homesick.
- Benzoin: Benzoin has some similarities to a vanilla fragrance, but benzoin has its own spicy, balsamic edge. Benzoin is a plant resin taken from a tree called styrax. You will sometimes see this scent listed as “styrax” or “styrax benzoin” in perfumes. Benzoin has been used in incense for a long time, but has recently been featured more in perfumes and candles.
- Labdanum: This syrupy scent has notes of balsamic and caramelization in it that helps cut the heaviness. Labdanum is extracted from the Cistus Ladanifer plant which grows in Mediterranean regions.
- Powder: A variety of fragrances may be added to achieve a powder scent which helps lighten a fragrance and occasionally adds a slight floral note as well. Powder fragrance takes its name from baby powder’s distinct, refreshing smell. If you like a more musky scent like amber but don’t want it to be too overwhelming, then definitely look for fragrances that contain powder.
- Ambroxan: Naturally occurring ambroxan is found in ambergris, but cosmetic scientists have figured out a way to synthesize it from sclareol, a molecule that naturally occurs in clary sage essence. Ambroxan is a sweet, creamy smell with woody and spicy notes and may contain a hint of leather as well.
- Tonka: Tonka beans have a similar fragrance profile to vanilla, but with less sweetness. Tonka is a warmer scent containing elements of tobacco, spices, such as cinnamon, and nuts, such as almond. (For more about this common fragrance, check out our guide, “What Does Tonka Bean Smell Like?”)
- Balsam: Balsam is another fragrance extracted from trees. It often draws comparisons to vanilla but has more woody, earthy undertones as well as notes of cinnamon. There are many different types of balsam trees and the resulting fragrance depends on which tree it’s taken from, so read the fragrance label carefully.
What inspired the amber scent?
Today, amber is a “fantasy” scent, meaning it doesn’t occur naturally in nature, but it has its roots in real life. The word “amber” probably calls to mind fossilized tree resin which has been used as a gemstone in jewelry for centuries due to its beautiful color, depth and shine. The scent of tree resin varies a bit depending on the type of tree it comes from, but it’s known for a sweet, spicy and aromatic fragrance. Probably the best known tree resin fragrance is frankincense, which has some similarities with the modern amber scent but its own distinct fragrance.
The modern amber scent is also inspired by ambergris, a substance that has a long history in perfumery. Ambergris is a solid, waxy substance created in the digestive tract of the sperm whale. While it does not smell nice when fresh, as the ambergris dries out, it develops a musky, earthy scent used in high end perfumes. Ambrein, a fragrance-free alcohol, may also be removed from the ambergris and used to help scents last longer.
While the use of ambergris was more widespread during the height of the whaling industry, now naturally occurring ambergris is only used in the most premium fragrances. Not only is it difficult to obtain natural ambergris, many people also have qualms about using products taken from animals, such as whales. Thanks to developments in the fragrance industry, now it’s quite possible to achieve an amber scent that mimics ambergris by mixing together natural and/or synthetic ingredients, so there’s no need to worry about your candles containing sperm whale byproducts.
What scents go well with amber?
Amber is often used as a base note that forms a canvas for a variety of mid and top notes. As a result, amber may be paired with a variety of other scents to create a wide range of fragrances suited to many tastes. Here are some scents known to pair well with an amber fragrance base:
- Vetiver: Similar to amber, vetiver is another popular earthy, musky scent and is especially popular in fragrances for men. Vetiver sometimes draws comparisons to uncut grass on a warm summer day, and it also has leathery and smoky undertones. If you see an amber candle that also has vetiver in it, you’re about to enjoy a complex, masculine scent.
- Sandalwood: Sandalwood is another complex fragrance that is sweet, floral, rich and balsamic all at once. Because of the intricate fragrance profile, it’s a great complement to amber scents and is often used as a base note on its own as well. Sandalwood helps temper the musky aspects of amber and add in those hints of floral and sweetness.
- Oakmoss: If you prefer more earthy scents, look for amber fragrances that also include notes of oakmoss. As the name suggests, this dry, green, woody scent often includes notes of bark and leather as well as the eponymous moss itself.
- Spices: Various spices—including cinnamon, anise and cardamom—all pair well with amber. The key is deciding which type of spice you prefer in your fragrance. Some spices add more sweetness, while others add more of a tangy edge. It’s up to you which kind of scent you like!
- Citrus: Certain citrus fragrances pair really well with amber and add a lighter, zestier edge to the scent. Lemon, orange, grapefruit and other citrus scents will add a more energizing note to the scent and brighten up the amber fragrance for daytime use.
- Florals: Many different florals can be combined with amber to make a wide range of unique fragrances. Similar to spices, which florals you enjoy in your amber scents depend entirely on your personal tastes, so don’t be afraid to experiment given the many great amber-floral options out there.
- Musk: Many scents are described as musky, but there’s only one true musk scent. Real musk is a pungent, sensual and strong scent that can’t really be compared to anything else. Because of its deeper, complex scent profile, it pairs really well with amber in particular as well as other scents.
Popular Amber Candle Scents
If you’d like to know what amber fragrance actually smells like in a real candle, then we’ve got some candles you will love. Here are some of our most popular fragrances containing amber:
Beach Cottage Candle
Now that the weather is turning warm, it’s the perfect time to get a beach candle for your home. Our Beach Cottage candle combines a base note of amber with tonka bean for more warmth and spice as well as sea air for that classic beachy fragrance. Middle notes of marine, plumeria and musk mingle together for a refreshing, lightly floral scent. Finally, bergamot and sandalwood round off the scent for a citrusy yet sweet and floral finish.
Summer Camp Candle
Continue the seasonal theme with one of our summer candle scents, Summer Camp. We also used amber and tonka bean as the base for this one, but then we added in sandalwood as well to add a bit of sweetness and richness. We used prairie crocus flower and patchouli as the mid notes to incorporate a floral note and strengthen the musky, earthy scent created by the base. For the top notes, we chose river water, lavender and rosemary for an aromatic and fresh finish. It’s a summer camp for grownups, but in candle form.
Book Club Candle
If you prefer your candles to smell like the indoors rather than the outdoors, might we suggest our book club candle? Vanilla, balsam and amber combine to form a base that is sweet, musky and woody. Cinnamon and sandalwood make up the mid notes, adding a creamy, spicy edge to the candle fragrance. Meanwhile, orange and nutmeg form the top notes, intensifying the spice and adding a pleasant citrus layer to the fragrance. This is the perfect candle to burn while you’re curled up with a good book on a rainy day.
This unique, complex candle scent stands out just like its namesake state. For the base notes, we combined amber with tonka and oakmoss to intensify the earthy character of the fragrance. Hay, clove and cinnamon make up the mid notes, adding spicy and grassy notes that contribute to the intricate scent profile. We finished it off with nutmeg, lemon and eucalyptus for a candle fragrance that is refreshing and energizing.
Northern California Candle
The top half of California is known for its fruits and spices, and we drew on those inspirations for this signature scent. Instead of using amber for the base note, we combined cinnamon and sugar for a sweet foundation. Then we added in musk, clove and apple for the mid notes to deepen the scent and help cut the sweetness. Finally, we concluded with amber as a top note alongside pear and vanilla for a fruity, spicy candle fragrance.
Whether you’re looking for an amber scented candle or not, we offer the ideal fragrance for you at Homesick candles. Get a Homesick product for every occasion, from a housewarming candle to a state diffuser. Buy two or more full priced candles and get free shipping on your U.S. order!
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