18 Perfect Citrus Perfumes For When You Need a Little Refreshment

So fresh, so clean.

woman smelling a lemon picked from a lemon tree
(Image credit: Getty Images)

My first and most influential scent memory is my mom teaching me to spritz a clementine rind. With the oils released, we'd rub the peel on our wrists and breathe in the best citrus fragrance, more sensorialy fulfilling than taking a bite of the flesh ever could be. Alas, a real fruit peel isn't the most accessible, it's not a long lasting scent and probably won't land on your list of best perfumes—but you can come close.

"The scent of citrus is a blend of bright, uplifting, and refreshing notes. Whether it is the crisp, zesty facet of lemon, the sweetness of oranges, or the tangy notes of grapefruits, they are refreshing, invigorating, and convey a sense of cleanliness," shares dsm-firmenich perfumer Erwan Raguenes. "For me, citrus notes also have the power to evoke positivity and create a vibrant atmosphere."

Carlos Huber, a fragrance developer and founder of Arquiste, compares citrus notes to your favorite crisp cotton shirt or linen pants. Like a great fitting white T-shirt, "they work with everything," he says. Fragrance expert Eudora Nwasike adds that they can either energize and focus their wearer or send the mind's eye to a sunny day at the beach.

Ahead, some of the fragrance industry's most brilliant noses and editors break down everything you need to know about the best citrus perfumes. We'll dig into different notes, the history of citrus in perfumery, and (of course) the best citrus perfumes to pick up for yourself.

What to Look For in a Citrus Perfume

  • Notes: The citrus family includes notes like lemon, lime, orange, bergamot, grapefruit, tangerine, and clementine. "My favorite citrus notes are neroli, orange blossom, and citron. Fresh green Neroli and soft, honey-like orange blossoms are perhaps my bread and butter in perfume," says Huber. "Citron is also amazing because it’s a less familiar, yet very tart and refreshing note that brings a lot of green and has a lot of depth."The crisp, floral bergamot, meanwhile, adds an almost "water-like" quality to the fragrance with its volume, light, and energy.
  • Wear: Nwasike says that citrus notes are naturally volatile, meaning they don't last long on the skin. "Hence the reason perfumers use them as a top note in fragrance," she adds. "Their fresh, invigorating scent captures your attention to prepare you for an exciting olfactory experience."
  • Layering: Citrus layers well with a number of other fragrance families, including floral notes, woody notes like cedarwood, vetiver, oud, and sandalwood ("woody notes add depth and tenacity to volatile citrus notes, whilst the citrus notes cool intense woody notes to create a beautiful contrast" shares Nwasike), floral notes like jasmine and tuberose, and fruity notes like peach, mango, berry, and apple. "It's almost like you are drinking a chilled glass of juice," Nwasike adds.

The Best Citrus Perfumes

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Guide to the Citrus Family

Contrary to what you'll find in a typical fruit bowl, there's more to citrus than lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges.

"The citrus fragrance family is broad and consists of citrus fruits, flowers, and trees," says Nwasike. While all share a common freshness, these different notes offer perfumers a wide and engaging palette to utilize in their artistry. Here's a look at some of the most popular citrus notes, with information courtesy of the fragrance expert.

Bergamot: Grown in Southern Italy, the perfumer-favorite bergamot fruit gives off a rich scent that's at once fresh, floral, and spicy. According to Nwasike, it's also popular in aromatherapy because of its calming and relaxing effects.

Lemon: You know this one, right? Sharp and acidic, energizing lemon notes can be found in many cleaning products and your favorite refreshing beverages.

Grapefruit: Nwasike calls bold, juicy grapefruit the most bitter citrus note, adding that it's very volatile. Its essential oils are obtained through a distillation process.

Neroli: Sweet, spicy, honeyed, and green neroli oil is produced by the bitter orange tree blossom.

Mandarin: Sweeter than the humble orange, Nwasike says the soft, sweet mandarin is "a mood booster that evokes the essence of sunshine."

Petitgrain: Another product of the bitter orange tree (this time extracted from its leaves and green twigs), the herbaceous and slightly floral petitgrain is similar to neroli and can feel aromatic or green depending on when, where, and what you're smelling.

A woman poses in Calabria, Italy with a big basket of lemons.

Lemon trees are abundant in Italy. This photo was taken in the 1970s, and I'd like to say that tree is still producing fruit.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Pairing Citrus Perfumes

Like Huber previously mentioned, citrus notes are the well-fitting white T-shirts of the fragrance world. They go with just about anything.

"They can complement floral scents, creating a fresh and uplifting combination," adds Raguenes. "Citrus also harmonizes with aromatic notes like basil or mint, adding a dynamic and invigorating touch."

Woody and spicy elements such as cedar and ginger also play well with citrus, creating a "well-balanced and sophisticated" scent when layered.

The History of Citrus Perfumes

Citrus has long been utilized in perfumery; historical records show it had a place in ancient civilizations like Egypt and Mesopotamia. During the Renaissance, citrus oils and extracts became even more widely used, and their popularity never died down.

And here's a fun fact, courtesy of Raguenes: Released in the early 1700s (!), the original Eau de Cologne by Farina belongs to the citrus family. "Emblematic of wellbeing and freshness, it was originally a personal hygiene product used on the body," he shares.

Meet the Experts

Erwan Raguenes
Erwan Raguenes

Perfumer Erwan Raguenes is a graduate of the Grasse Institute of Perfumery and University of Montpellier.

Carlos Huber
Carlos Huber

Carlos Huber first pursued the study of architecture and historic preservation at universities in Mexico City, Paris and New York City. A move to France, and then Spain, awakened his love for the aromatic environments of the Mediterranean and strengthened his interest in architectural history. This led him to New York City, where he graduated with honors in Historic Preservation at Columbia University. Huber’s experience in the world of luxury retail, creating meticulously detailed interiors for Polo Ralph Lauren, provided a unique opportunity to understand the world of luxury retail. Turning to his longtime love of perfumery, Huber studied fragrance development and collaborated with internationally recognized nose Rodrigo Flores-Roux to recapture the olfactive notes of historical moments. After conducting extensive academic research, Huber developed ARQUISTE Parfumeur.

Eudora Nwasike
Eudora Nwasike

Eudora is a fragrance specialist by the Fragrance Foundation UK, published journalist, and magazine contributor promoting and demystifying the art of fragrance across various audiences.