Attar: What To Know About The Fragrance Tradition As It Rises Again In Popularity

After doing your makeup, styling your hair, and putting on a killer outfit to face your day, there's nothing better to complete the look than a few spritzes of your favorite perfume. That is, for the first hour or so. As you go about your day, most scents have a tendency to fade out as they develop, leaving you questioning if you even applied perfume in the first place. Of course, every scent is different — some boast the ability to cling to clothes and hair days after application — but many people are looking for something more concentrated and longer-lasting than their typical department store eau de parfum.


Enter perfume oils, or, more specifically, attar. Instead of being diluted in alcohol, these traditional fragrances are pure, fragrant oil applied directly to the skin on pulse points. They promise a long-lasting, intoxicating scent, but they also provide a dose of history that dates back more than 60,000 years.

What is Attar?

Attar, also commonly known as ittar, is a fragrance that long-preceded the Western idea of perfume. Fragrance oils were first mentioned in Indian texts 60,000 years ago but have appeared in various South Asian, Middle Eastern, and North African cultures throughout history. Modern perfume oils are typically diluted with a carrier oil to make them cheaper to produce and more accessible to afford. However, attar consists of pure fragrance extracted from a variety of natural sources like herbs, flowers, and even wood.


Because of its long history, attar is inevitably steeped in tradition. In many Eastern cultures, it's still a common practice to give guests a small bottle of attar as a gift as they leave, and these fragrances are frequently used during meditation and gatherings. Nowadays, however, many companies are taking a more modern approach to this ancient form of fragrance, developing products to cater to a new audience while still honoring millennia of tradition.

Why is it so popular?

Attar's popularity stems from its long history, but its modern appeal, especially to Western audiences, is due to its customizability and long-lasting scent. Recently, trends have started favoring individual expression rather than collective appeal, and products that alter the individual wearer or allow them to express their unique taste have seen spikes in popularity. One-of-a-kind vintage pieces, customizable skin and hair products, and color-changing makeup all promise a certain degree of personalization, and Attar is no exception.


Because these oils are usually derived from one ingredient, it's common to layer them to create your own perfect, long-lasting perfume. You can mix and match notes that work well with your skin's chemistry or fit your vibe for the day. Contrast this with mass-produced, expensive perfumes that promise one consistent scent that fades after a few hours, and the widespread appeal of attar in the modern era is clear.

What scents are commonly available?

Because the term attar refers more to the style of production than any specific fragrance, there is a wide variety of scents on the market to accommodate your personal taste. However, there are a few common characteristics between formulas. Attars are somewhat similar to essential oils, as they're derived from natural ingredients. So, most of the available fragrances will be an extraction from fragrant flowers, herbs, and woods. Because of this, you won't find genuine attar that contains synthetic notes sometimes found in perfume like Ambroxan or Cetalox. Instead, expect notes like oud, jasmine, and rose.


Many attars have one specific ingredient, so you can mix and match notes, but some are more of a blend, similar to a typical perfume. It's possible to find an attar for just about any typical fragrance profile, from gourmand to woody, but because they're natural extracts, many will have more of a grounded, earthy scent. 

How to apply Attar

When it comes to applying attar, less is more. These fragrances are much more concentrated than alcohol-based perfumes, so you only need a dab or two. Traditional attar comes in a glass bottle with a small dropper for easy, controlled application. However, as it becomes more popular across the globe, many brands like Zents are opting to include a rollerball to cater to audiences more familiar with that style of bottle.


Once you open your bottle, apply a few dabs to your pulse points for maximum impact — on the wrists, behind the ears, and in the crack of the elbow are all common placements. Because it's an oil, it won't dry down instantly like an alcohol-based perfume, but it should quickly absorb into the skin. After this, your scent should last all day, especially on moisturized skin, but you can always toss a bottle in your purse to reapply if you sense the impact is fading.