Fragrance is the odor emitted by perfumes, also known as cologne, aftershave or scented lotions. It is a mixture of fragrant essential oils derived from plants, spices or synthetic aromatic compounds, which can be applied to a person’s skin to emit a pleasant odor.
Fragrances can be made from natural scents, such as flowers, herbs or woods, or synthetic fragrance compounds, such as coumarin and vanillin. Synthetic ingredients are typically more expensive than their natural counterparts, due to the longer synthesis routes, low availability of precursor chemicals and lower yields.
Common odorants used in modern perfumes include calone, which imparts a fresh ozonous metallic marine scent, and salicylates, which give orchid fragrances their signature scent. Other common odorants are linalool and geranium oil, which can be obtained inexpensively from terpenes in plants.
The composition of a perfume depends on the concentration and the odor threshold of its essential oils. Often, perfumes are mixed in different dilutions to increase the intensity or longevity of the fragrance. Perfumers usually have control over the final dilution, and may choose to make the fragrance more potent (Eau de Parfum) or less potent (Eau de Toilette) than its base concentration.
There are many different fragrance types, which are loosely classified based on their concentrations of aromatic compounds. The most popular fragrance categories are floral, fruity and oriental.
Floral: These fragrances have a strong floral character, with notes including rose, jasmine, iris and musk. Examples include Estee Lauder Beautiful, Sisley Eau de Campagne and Calvin Klein Eternity.
Green: These fragrances have a light green character, with notes that evoke cut grass, crushed green leaf or cucumber. They can be reminiscent of tropical or desert gardens and are more modern in interpretation than traditional florals.
Fruity: These fragrances have a light fruit character, with notes that evoke peach, citrus, black currant or mango. Examples include Ginestet Botrytis, Cucumber and Mango.
Besides being an important component of perfume, fragnance can be found in other cosmetic and household products, such as air fresheners, shower gels and shampoos. The chemical ingredients in these products can cause allergic reactions and sensitivities for some people.
The fragrance industry is predominantly self-regulating, which means that companies are not required to disclose the exact chemicals used in their fragrance formulations on the labels. This enables unscrupulous suppliers to conceal harmful ingredients, even in products labeled as “fragrance free” or “unscented.”
Some of the chemicals that make up fragrances can be hazardous and have been linked to health effects, such as cancer, reproductive toxicity and allergies. Some of these chemicals are not listed on the ingredient list because they are not FDA-approved or because the FDA does not have authority to require them be disclosed on the label.
The International Fragrance Association and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials are both self-regulating organizations that work to develop and set voluntary standards for fragrance ingredients. Most global fragrance suppliers belong to these organizations, which provide consumer protection and support for the industry.