Perfume is one of the smallest yet most enduring pleasures we take in daily life, and finding that perfect fragrance is like the finishing touch on any outfit. Whether it makes you feel more confident or elicits memories of past relationships, perfume is one of those things that can instantly alter your mood. But before you start spritzing, it’s important to understand how perfumes are made and what the different scent notes in your favorite fragrances mean.
Modern perfumes are a mix of tens to hundreds of ingredients, including essential oils (derived from plants or synthetic aromatic chemicals), fixatives, and solvents. The dilution and blending process gives the finished product its long-lasting scent and unique personality. The essential oil or extract serves as the base of the perfume, while fixatives and solvents add intensity and longevity.
Depending on the ingredients, perfumes are divided into fragrance families. These are combinations of fragrances that share similar qualities, such as the notes used or the way they evolve over time. There are also individual notes, such as the top, middle, and base. The top, also known as the head notes, are the first scents you smell when applying a perfume and are usually more intense. The middle, or heart, notes develop over time and are more subtle. The base notes, which are the longest-lasting, are what lingers on your skin after the top and middle notes fade.
Fragrance chemists add in special additives to slow the evaporation of the perfume and give it an added aroma. These ingredients, like musk from beavers and ambergris from sperm whales, can add a subtle but distinct characteristic to the scent and may help enhance its durability. Other fixatives, like sage, ylang-ylang, and frankincense, may add a richness and depth to the fragrance that is difficult to replicate synthetically.
After all of these components are mixed together, the resulting perfume is tested and bottled. Then, it’s ready to wear.
While most people have a signature fragrance that they stick with, experimenting with a variety of scents can help you discover what works best for you and your body chemistry. Keep in mind that perfumes can last years when stored properly and sprayed correctly, but once they start to lose their potency, it’s time for an upgrade. To extend the lifespan of your perfumes, store them in a cool, dark place where they won’t be exposed to sunlight or heat, which can cause them to degrade faster. Also, avoid rubbing your perfumes together or touching them directly to other objects, which can dilute and change the scent.