For some reason, I happen to have a rather sensitive nose. Not in terms of being able to distinguish the finest components of every aroma, although maybe with professional training, I would be able to do so, but because my brain produces a strong reaction whenever it is exposed to various odours. This characteristic of my olfactory system makes me a gigantic fan of perfumes in general.

A few years ago, I organized a perfume testing session with a niche perfume store here in Wrocław and that was like a discovery of a missing puzzle that completed the picture.

I was always bored with the mass-produced fragrances that you can find in your local Sephora. Most of the bottles were far too similar, which is fair enough when you’re trying to appeal to a large audience. The smell of Paco Rabanne’s 1 ‘Million’, although unique, is everywhere these days.

That testing session, however, exposed me to a wholly new component within the world of perfumes. I started purchasing testers of various niche brands, most of which I had never heard of, jumping from Creed to Rasasi, until one day I stumbled upon an Arabian perfume oil. I had a flashback to my childhood with some random memory of my mom mentioning something about such oils. Intrigued, I clicked the ‘Order’ button.

What are Arabian perfume oils?

Arabian perfumes (also referred to as ‘attars’ or ‘ittars’) are fragrance oils with no added alcohol. Probably the most common application you’ll meet are Arabian concentrated perfume oils (CPOs).

A photo of a set of six new attars from Amouage.
Amouage’s new collection of luxury attars.

Unlike regular alcohol-based eau de parfum (alcohol allows the scent to rise and diffuse from your skin, lasting a relatively shorter time and producing a so-called ‘aroma trail’), Arabian perfumes are much more intimate. Lack of alcohol means they don’t evaporate in the same manner as eau de parfum sprays. CPOs wear closer to your skin and are hardly intelligible from a regular distance. Another person needs to get much closer, to your neck, for example, to be able to enjoy the rich smell of your fragrance. Which also makes them the perfect option for a date. ;)

A single drop of a concentrated Arabic oil exhibits a very potent, long-lasting scent, which might become an issue if you are allergic to any of the ingredients of a given oil. And thus, first test your reaction on something else than your body because trust me, you’re not simply washing it off. If you ever thought western-style perfumes are hard to get off your skin, you’re doomed when it comes to Arabian oils.

Arabian perfume oils’ most common base accords (ingredients)

During your first experience with a scent of an Arabian perfume oil, the initial difference you’ll most likely notice is its potency and a rather uncommon (to us, westerners, at least) sweet aroma. Often times, base notes are produced by one of the following ingredients:

  • oud (oudh);
  • amber;
  • musk;
  • jasmine;
  • frankincense;
  • agarwood; and
  • Damask rose (a rose with 30 petals from the Valley of Taif in Saudi Arabia).
A drawing of a desert rose by Pierre Joseph Redouté.
A beautiful drawing of a desert rose by Pierre Joseph Redouté.

It is also worth mentioning that attars (oils) are classified for their ability to warm or cool the body, which makes some Arabic perfumes tailored to various seasons. You’re not obliged to follow these suggestions and can wear the one you like whenever you like. Nevertheless, here’s the classification:

  • wear jasmine-, rose- or sandalwood-based oils in the summer, as they are said to lower body temperature (citation needed); and
  • wear oud- or amber-based oils in the winter, as they are heavy and are supposed to warm you up (citation needed).

How to wear Arabian perfume oils?

If you’d like to follow the classic approach – dab a drop of your Arabian perfume oil on each of your pulse points: inside your wrists, behind your ears etc., wait for 5 minutes, and you’re good to go. Don’t overdo it. As previously mentioned, they have an intense scent and are nearly impossible to wash off due to their oily nature.

My personal favourite spots, however, are on the outside of my wrists and on the neck, slightly lower than my ears. It might be because I’m just used to wearing my eau de parfum there, although it feels like I can smell them more when applied in said areas. I’m ‘the maniac of scents’ after all, so I want to be able to feel my own fragrance too. :D

Arabian Oud – one of the largest Arabian perfume houses in the world – suggests rubbing the application spots and adds a few more pulse points.

At the end of the day, you need to test it yourself and see which way you prefer more.

Just be careful with applying your CPOs right before you put on your clothes. It’s an oil, and it might leave some stains.


For thousands of years, perfumery has been a vital part of Arab culture, having many of its traditions stem from their religion. Unlike our western world approach to fragrances (where they’re often classified as a luxury good), Arabian perfumes are more about personal hygiene and style than about flaunting your CHANEL N°5 bottle. Which also reflects in prices, so don’t be surprised when you Google them.

Arabian perfumes open an entirely new world of complex aromas. If you don’t know where to start, have a look at the Al Haramain brand. My personal favourite so far is their ‘Black Stone’ CPO.

I’m not affiliated with the brand in any way, so I’m linking to their official website, and if you’d like to, you can purchase them wherever you prefer.

If I’ve convinced you to give CPOs a try, kindly let me know on Twitter whether you liked them or got disappointed. I hope it won’t be the latter.