Perfume is a complex mixture of hundreds of fragrances and other ingredients that together give the product its unique scent. It is usually added to cosmetics and household products (Fig. 1).
It is made by distilling fragrant essential oils from plants or flowers using different methods. Steam distillation is the most common method. In this process, the plant material is boiled in water until it is turned into steam, which then extracts the essential oil from it. It may take thousands of kilos of flower material to yield one kilo of essential oil.
The next step in perfume making is to dilute the scented oil with alcohol, which acts as a fixative. This prevents the oil from evaporating too quickly and gives the perfume its longer-lasting effect.
In order to prolong the odour, animal substances such as castor from beavers, musk from male deer and ambergris from the sperm whale are sometimes used. They are extracted from these animals and combined with other perfume components in alcoholic solutions.
They are then cooled and filtered before being packed into a flacon. They are often kept in a dark place at low temperature to minimize the damage caused by time, and they are not exposed to oxygen or sunlight.
These perfumes are then sold in a variety of forms. These include scented candles, reed diffusers and refill oil, room sprays, perfumed wardrobe sachets, and more.
People use perfume to make themselves feel better and to impress others. In addition, perfume is also used to mask unpleasant odours.
The perfume industry is a billion dollar business, with fine-fragrances for men and women generating $400 million to $500 million in Canada and about $6 billion worth of scents sold annually worldwide.
A perfume is a combination of three main odours: the top note, the middle note and the base note. The top note is the most refreshing and volatile, smelling first about five to 30 minutes after application. The middle note is a more rounded and mellow, balancing scent that lasts 20 to 60 minutes and is characterized by the smell of floral or fruity notes.
There are also perfumes containing tones, which are the more enduring and persistent scents. They are based on more complex molecules and can last for many hours. The tones are made from more potent florals and spices.
Some perfumes are made from natural, organic ingredients; others contain synthetic chemicals formulated in the laboratory by perfume chemists. Synthetic perfumes can produce a wide range of odours and effects, from floral to aromatic and even musky.
The perfume industry is a huge global market, with more than 2500 fragrances available in different types of products such as cosmetics and household products. More than a thousand chemicals are used in the production of perfumes. Some of these chemical compounds are carcinogenic or cause reproductive toxicity in humans, or are known to be toxic to the environment.