The Difference Between Fragrance and Perfume

A spritz of perfume can make the world a sweeter place. It’s one of the beauty industry’s simplest but most enjoyable daily pleasures, and the right scent can be one of life’s biggest (and longest-lasting) confidence boosters. That’s why choosing the best women’s perfume is a decision well worth making.

But how do you find the perfect signature scent for yourself, or to gift to a special lady in your life? It’s all about knowing your stuff. That’s why we turned to expert Tynan Sinks to break down the difference between fragrance and perfume, and to give us his top picks for the ultimate bottles of enchantment.

Perfume is a combination of aromatic essences or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents in liquid form, that are used to give people, animals, food, clothing, objects and living spaces an agreeable smell. It is typically considered a luxury item due to its high concentration, and often has a higher price tag than other types of body sprays, deodorants or lotions.

Fragrance is derived from various sources, including flowers, plants, fruit and spices, animal oils or glands and synthetic chemicals. It is a complex blend of ingredients, and can be made to smell different depending on the individual’s personal preferences and what they are trying to achieve.

Aside from smelling fabulous, perfume can also boost self-esteem and provide a sense of identity and belonging, as well as improve mood, increase perceived attractiveness, and lower anxiety levels. Scent has also been linked to triggering memories in other people and even improving pain tolerance [1].

While the concept of perfume is ancient, research suggests that its use as a status symbol dates back to at least the 2nd millennium B.C. Based on archeological discoveries and written accounts, perfume is believed to have been first formulated in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia with simple concoctions of flower oils and oil extracts. During the Renaissance and into the nineteenth century, perfume was ungendered, with both men and women wearing a variety of olfactory blends. But as germ theory and deodorizing began to take hold, wearing perfume became more of a hygienic pursuit, and the perception of perfume evolved into gender stereotypes, with sweet floral blends being deemed feminine and sharper, woody or pine notes viewed as masculine.

The olfactory nose is the first part of the human brain to develop, which makes it an important tool for communication and emotion. The human olfactory system is very sensitive, allowing us to perceive thousands of different smells in a single breath. Scents can evoke emotions, influence behaviour and even increase the production of endorphins, which are natural chemicals that make us feel good and improve our quality of life [2].

A perfume contains a mix of volatile and non-volatile molecules, and is usually categorized into olfactive families based on their predominant scents. These include floral, oriental, woody and fresh. The head note is the first scent to be perceived, and consists of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly and can be citrusy or aromatic. The heart notes are more sensual, and often contain a mixture of flowers and herbs. The base note, or the trailing scent, lasts for much longer and can be derived from wood, amber, musk or oak moss.