Fragrance is a mix of chemicals that give perfumes, colognes, and other cosmetic products their distinctive smell. A combination of organic compounds, fragrance can be derived from natural raw materials (flowers, herbs, spices) or synthetic. Fragrance is a hidden ingredient in scores of beauty products, from inexpensive drugstore brands to high-end department store products. It may contain a wide array of scent chemicals, which are sometimes linked to serious health issues including allergies, dermatitis, and reproductive and developmental toxicity. The fragrance industry is self-regulating, with few federal or state regulations on the use of its ingredients.
Although many people think the words odor and fragrance are synonymous, there is actually a big difference. Fragrance is a chemical mixture that has been intentionally put together to create a specific smell. Scent, on the other hand, is the natural smell something gives off. When you smell a flower or a nice cup of coffee, that’s the fragrance of it. Similarly, when celebrities release their own perfume, it is called a fragrance even though they are using the same ingredients as any other perfume .
Perfumes are classified into five groups loosely based on their concentration of aromatic compounds: eau de toilette, eau de parfum, eau de cologne, fragance and aftershave . The highest concentration of perfume, referred to as extrait, has a concentration of about 20-30%, and is usually the most expensive. The main purpose of perfume is to add a pleasant, desirable smell to the body, with the intention of increasing personal attractiveness and enhancing confidence. In addition, scents have been associated with mood enhancement, stress reduction, and pain tolerance through the activation of opioid pathways .
There are two main methods of making perfumes: maceration and enfleurage. In maceration, the raw material is soaked in oil, which serves as a solvent to capture the heavier, larger plant molecules. This method is useful for plants that produce less fragrant oils. Enfleurage, the process of drawing out essential oils from a plant, is less common in modern times. The concentrated perfume is then mixed with alcohol, which serves as a base, and allowed to mature for a period of months to a year. During this time, the perfume can be modified by adding or subtracting essential oils. The final product is bottled and sold.
A perfume’s composition and structure are a complex web of organic molecules, with different chemicals interacting in various ways to produce the desired effect. Depending on the type of perfume and its concentration, a blend of head, middle, and base notes may be used to achieve its final scent. The noses who make perfume are skilled at predicting how each part of the fragrance will develop over time, a skill that has been honed over centuries through trial and error. The evocative, often mysterious quality of a perfume is one of its most alluring aspects. Perfumes are also an extremely profitable business, with the smallest bottle of a top-selling perfume containing over 100 million dollars worth of chemicals.