Perfume is a chemical composition of volatile aromatic compounds (essential oils), usually dissolved in a solvent, such as ethanol. It is used to scent soaps, talcums, face powders, perfumed lotions, deodorants and antiperspirants, as well as other cosmetic products. It is also employed to impart odors to various materials, such as paints and plastics.
There are many different kinds of perfumes, depending on the concentration of essential oils contained in the product. These vary from very low, such as a few milligrams, to tens of thousands.
Most perfumes have three types of scent: top, middle and base notes. The scents of the top notes evaporate quickly, while the heart and base notes linger longer.
The first step in making perfume is to extract the fragrant essential oils from plant material, typically flowers and leaves. The essential oils can be obtained from a variety of sources, including steam distillation and extraction from unopened flower buds. The process is costly and often requires the extraction of thousands of kilos of flowers before any fragrance can be produced.
Other ingredients may be added to the essential oil for additional odor-enhancement. These can include a wide range of synthetic compounds, including esters, aldehydes and terpenes. The use of synthetic molecules is increasingly common in perfumery, especially where fragrances must be highly concentrated.
There are also natural substances used to increase the long-lasting effect of perfumes. These can include certain animal secretions, such as musk from the musk deer or ambergris from the sperm whale. They also can act as fixatives, preventing the more volatile compounds from evaporating too quickly.
A variety of other raw materials can be used in the manufacture of perfumes, such as leaves and twigs, fruit and roots. The perfumers of the Middle Ages were particularly adept at obtaining rare botanicals from far away places to make their perfumes more exotic and expensive.
In recent years, chemists have become quite good at producing synthetic versions of a wide variety of natural components that previously were difficult to obtain. These have enabled perfume manufacturers to produce more complex fragrances than ever before.
Several other substances can also be used in the production of perfumes, such as fixatives and alcohols. These can prevent the more volatile compounds from evaporating rapidly, increasing their perceived odour strength and stability.
The perfumer must select and blend each of the various elements to produce the desired fragrance. They must also ensure that the scents they are mixing match their intended target audience.
These factors are extremely important to the success of a perfume, and the perfumer must be meticulous in their work, because the smell they create will be very personal to the wearer. This makes perfume chemistry very important to the industry, because the right synthesis of ingredients can create an unforgettable fragrance.
Perfumers are a unique group of professionals who use their chemistry skills to paint beautiful fragrances. Their ability to interpret the fragrance of a natural ingredient and combine it with other ingredients to create something new is what separates them from any other artistic profession.