How Perfume Is Created

If you love spritzing on a few sprays of your favorite perfume before heading out the door, you’re not alone. After all, perfume is one of the simplest — yet most luxurious — little pleasures in life. The right scent can leave a lasting impression on those who encounter you and evoke memories of special occasions and simple everyday moments, like walking through a field of flowers or sipping a glass of wine with a loved one.

Perfume is a combination of fragrant oils, aroma compounds and fixatives in liquid form that is used to give the body, food, objects and living-spaces an agreeable smell. It’s a complex mix of chemicals that linger on your skin (and the clothes you wear) for hours.

Scents can be extracted from both plant and animal sources, although the latter are less common. The ingredients are blended according to a formula that has been predetermined by a master perfumer who is known in the industry as a nose. A “nose” works with a number of different essential oils and extracts to create a fragrance, and they spend years perfecting their work.

Once the scents are determined, they are mixed with a solvent that makes the perfume light and easy to apply. Then the perfume is aged so the scents can settle and develop. During this process, the perfume can undergo additional testing to ensure it’s free from harmful ingredients or toxins.

The first scent to emerge from a perfume is called the top note, and it’s often the strongest. It lasts a few minutes before dissipating, and it’s what gives the perfume its initial impression. Top notes include citrus, herbaceous, floral or woody odors.

The middle note is more subtle, and it comes to prominence two or more minutes after the top notes have evaporated. This is where the essence of a perfume starts to really come through and may include bergamot, jasmine or rose.

Some middle notes are more musky or smoky, and they can be derived from ingredients such as civet, ambergris, musk, castor or ylang-ylang.

Perfumes with base notes tend to be the most enduring, and they’re usually made of natural or synthetic elements such as coumarin, ambergris, hedione, thuja oil, frankincense, myrrh or ylang-ylang. These are the underlying scents that help the perfume last throughout the day and can be found in everything from sandalwood to patchouli and amber.

Scents can go bad over time, and the best way to tell is if they start to smell sour or metallic. It’s also a good idea to keep perfume away from heat, light and oxygen, as well as storing it in a cool, dark place.