The Art of Fragrance

Fragrance is a combination of oils that can produce a particular scent or aroma. It may also be used to create a specific mood or atmosphere. Fragrance may be derived from natural sources, such as flowers, fruits or herbs, or synthetically produced. It is typically found in perfumes, colognes and other products such as soaps and shampoos. A fragrance can contain a variety of ingredients, from essential oils to synthetic compounds. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) maintains a list of chemicals that are classified as fragrance substances and their safety profiles. Hundreds of individual fragrance components are used in the manufacture of one fragrance, but they are not required to be listed as such on product labels because they are often considered trade secrets or intellectual property.

The art of perfumery dates back thousands of years, and reference to it can be found in the writings of the ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs. The name of the art is derived from the Latin “per fumum” or “through smoke”, referring to the way in which perfume spreads through air. A perfume contains a mix of perfume oils and other substances, such as diluents and stabilizers, that are blended to achieve the desired effect. The diluents are usually alcohol, but they may also be other neutral-smelling oils such as fractionated coconut oil and jojoba oil. The term sillage is used to describe the trail of scent left behind by a person wearing perfume, and the diluents can enhance or diminish this effect. Perfumes are commonly sprayed on the skin and hair, but can also be incorporated into other products such as body sprays, deodorants, bath oils, and cosmetics.

The odorants in a perfume are often categorized as bases, middles and top notes. Bases are scent approximations of things such as wood, leather and amber, while middles are more subtle and abstract, while top notes are the most distinctive and recognizable. Modern perfumes often contain synthetic odorants as well as those from natural sources, since many natural components are expensive and difficult to obtain in sufficient quantity for large-scale production. For example, the fresh ozonous, metallic scent of seawater can be imitated with inexpensive chemical components such as calone, while orchids can be reproduced using synthetic components such as linalool and coumarin.

Because a wide variety of chemicals are used in the manufacturing process, fragrances can cause adverse health effects in some people. Some of these chemicals are known to be endocrine disruptors, which can interfere with normal hormone function. Others, such as styrene and phthalates, are suspected or proven human carcinogens. Fragranced products are not subject to the same regulatory requirements as foods and drugs, but manufacturers must ensure their product is safe before it is sold.

A fragrance must meet certain standards set by IFRA and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials, Inc. IFRA and RIFM are independent organizations that support the fragrance industry, but are not part of any government or regulatory agency. The fragrance industry maintains a voluntary system of self-regulation that includes hazard identification, toxicity assessments, and exposure assessment.