How Perfume Is Made

Perfume is an exquisite blend of science, art and personal expression. Understanding the different concentrations, categories and extraction processes can help to enhance your enjoyment of this unique product.

The ancients used a variety of natural ingredients, some of which you might find a little gross, such as musk (obtained from musk deer glands), ambergris (whale vomit) and hyraceum (petrified yarrow plant roots). Modern perfumery relies heavily on synthetic chemicals, mainly to control quality, cost and safety issues.

Fragrance, or olfactive fragrance, is produced when natural or synthetic materials are mixed skillfully to create a harmonious combination that appeals to the nose and evokes specific emotions. Often, the scent can also help to disguise body odour, especially in the case of men’s colognes.

Whether you’re searching for the perfect gift or looking for a scent that compliments your personality and style, there is an amazing variety of perfume to choose from. Scents are grouped into different categories based on olfactive families, such as floral, oriental or woody. Generally speaking, women’s perfume is more floral-based, while colognes are more masculine-based.

In the early days of perfumery, natural products were a primary source of the fragrant oils that give perfume its distinctive aroma. These were obtained through a variety of extraction methods, including enfleurage (in which flowers are placed in layers of purified animal fat to be saturated with the flower’s essential oil). More common methods of extracting perfume oils today include steam distillation and solvent extraction.

Once the desired fragrances have been extracted, they must be diluted with an alcohol to form a perfume. This alcohol also acts as a fixative, which prolongs the odour by slowing the evaporation of the perfume’s components.

A complex series of chemical reactions take place in the skin as a perfume is applied, and these reactions can last for hours after the initial application. The initial impression, known as the top notes, are the lightest and most volatile, and are perceived as soon as the perfume is sprayed or swabbed on the skin. The middle notes are more pronounced, and are a result of the interaction between the various ingredients in the perfume.

The base notes, which are a mixture of heavier molecules that are less volatile and longer-lasting than the top notes, make up the heart of a perfume. These can remain on the skin for more than 24 hours, and are usually a result of the interactions between the olfactory receptors and the body’s fatty tissue. The blending of the three sets of scent notes gives the perfume its harmonious composition, and it is the skillful use of these components that allows a perfumer to produce such a wide variety of fragrances. It is important to understand that a perfume’s scent will change with the temperature of your skin, and this is why it is always advisable to test a bottle before buying it. This is particularly true for new scents, which may initially smell very strong, but which will eventually lose their intensity as the perfume mixes with your body heat.