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What Does Ylang-Ylang Smell Like?

Many floral fragrance notes used in perfumes are familiar, think rose, jasmine or orange blossom. However, an extremely popular floral is also relatively unknown: ylang-ylang. What does ylang-ylang smell like, and why is it in so many perfumes?

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What is Ylang-Ylang?

The term ylang-ylang refers to both the tree and flower of Cananga odorata — a tree originating in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. For perfumers, the fragrant ylang-ylang flower is of primary interest.

ylang ylang

The flower’s essential oil is extracted by steam distillation and is frequently used as a heart or middle note in many fragrances.

What Does Ylang-Ylang Smell Like?

Ylang-ylang is a heady, sweet, slightly exotic fragrance with a dry down that includes fruity and sometimes rubber notes. It’s perhaps most similar to jasmine which also has an intense and exotic scent.

Because of the ylang-ylang scent, it’s frequently used in perfumery to enhance citrus notes and sweeten or soften wood notes.

Fernweh Editions Fern & Petals Candle

Ylang-ylang works especially well with bergamot, geranium, grapefruit, lemon, sandalwood, and vetiver. Because of this, it is a common heart note in many popular perfumes including the classic Chanel No. 5.


Benefits of Ylang Ylang

There’s still a need for more research but in aromatherapy, ylang-ylang is commonly used for stress-relief and mood-elevation.

The ylang-ylang smell is said to promote relaxation and act as an aphrodisiac. Interestingly, it’s also used as a remedy for headlice.

The Use of Ylang-Ylang in Perfumery

While many have not heard of ylang-ylang, these rich-smelling blooms have not gone unnoticed in the perfumery world. Creators of fragrances have been using ylang-ylang in their perfumes and colognes as we know them for a little over a century.

Scent makers in the Philippines used the ylang-ylang flower for its oils during the nineteenth century.

The plant is native to Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and even Australia’s Queensland. Today, Comoros and Madagascar are the main exports of ylang-ylang, rather than the Philippines. 


The oils from the flowers are distilled in different grades. These grades are labeled 1, 2, or 3, depending on where the oil appears during the distillation process. 

Perfumers can use different grades for different strengths of ylang-ylang. If it’s the main player in a scent, perfumers choose a stronger grade distillation. If the ylang-ylang accentuates another scent, the perfumer will choose a lighter grade of ylang-ylang essence.

Ylang-ylang is only sometimes in the spotlight; other flowers often take the lead, like the combination of tuberose and ylang-ylang or ylang-ylang with jasmine.

However, ylang-ylang’s light and engaging floral smell pairs well with stronger fragrances, so it has become a base or background scent for many perfumes. 

If you purchase a floral scent, especially a perfume with tropical notes and spices like cinnamon or sandalwood, it almost certainly contains ylang-ylang. Chanel No. 5, for example, has ylang-ylang.

Final Thoughts

Ylang-ylang is known as the Queen of Perfumes simply because it appears in many perfumes and colognes. It is hugely versatile and complementary, making it a prized commodity since the flower’s discovery.

Any scent containing ylang-ylang is sure to be alluring, relaxing, calming, and seductive. Some of your favorite perfumes may already have ylang-ylang scent notes accentuating the fragrances you love. 

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what does ylang ylang smell like
What Does Ylang-Ylang Smell Like?

Selena Marc is a fragrance enthusiast, freelance writer, and dog mom living in Houston, Texas. When she's not writing about her favorite new perfumes, you can find her enjoying yoga or a morning hike.