The Chemistry of Fragrance


Fragrance is the combination of oils and chemicals that gives perfumes, colognes and other fragranced products their distinctive smell. Fragrance chemicals are also found in a wide range of consumer and industrial goods including hair care products, lotions, cleaning and household products and even some foods. While fragrance ingredients do not require FDA approval, they must still meet the same safety requirements as other cosmetic and personal care ingredients. In addition, dozens of ingredients listed as fragrance chemicals on product labels have been linked to harm to human health including allergies, asthma, reproductive disorders and cancer.

Fragrances can be made from natural raw materials of plant and animal origin or synthetic compounds. Companies that manufacture perfume and cologne buy fragrance mixtures from specialty chemical manufacturers. These fragrance mixes contain scent chemicals and additives to help the scent stay on longer, such as solvents, stabilizing agents and preservatives. The ingredient listing for a single perfume can include as many as 3000 ingredients. The International Fragrance Association, the self-regulating global representative body of the fragrance industry, maintains a list of the most commonly used ingredients in fragrance. This list includes over 3,000 chemicals, of which many have been linked to negative health effects.

The chemistry of fragrance development is a complex process, and creative decisions are often made along the way. Scentsy’s Fragrance Development Team is the group of experts who guide this process, helping ideas for scents become beloved Scentsy fragrances that transform lives.

Natural fragrances vary in intensity from supplier to supplier, depending on the time of year a crop is harvested and how it is processed. For example, a rose grown in Morocco will differ in its aroma from a rose grown in France, even if the same extraction method is used. This is because the botanical’s fragrance molecules are released at different rates due to environmental and cultivation factors.

The middle notes of a perfume are often more recognizable than the top and base notes, because they last longer and are more easily detectable by our sense of smell. Middle notes are created by blending together the extracts or essences of plants, spices and flowers with other natural and synthetic fragrance ingredients.

Base notes are the foundation of a perfume and create its character, giving it depth and staying power. They are usually composed of a mix of woody, musky or amber-type ingredients. They can be created from a blend of natural essential oils or synthetic molecules, such as woody ambergris and amber resin.

Fragrance oil should be diluted before using it on your skin. To dilute a perfume, simply add a few drops to a carrier oil such as jojoba or almond oil, and apply it on your pulse points (neck, wrists, neck or behind knees). The heat of the skin will release the scent more slowly and allow it to mingle with your natural body chemistry. Store fragrance oils away from sunlight and extreme temperatures to avoid oxidation and rancidity.