Fragrance is a combination of organic compounds that emits a distinctive smell or odour. Cosmetic fragrances applied to a person’s skin that emit a pleasant aroma include perfume, cologne and aftershave. They are made of fragrant essential oils derived from plants and spices or synthetic aromatic compounds.
Fragrances are used by people to enhance their appeal, self-esteem and confidence. They are also reported to have a variety of other health benefits, including mood improvement, stress reduction and enhanced pain tolerance through the activation of the opioid pathways in the brain . However, fragrances can be problematic for some individuals who have allergies or sensitivities to certain ingredients used in perfumes or as preservatives in the formulation. The FDA does not require fragrances to be tested for safety, and some of the chemicals found in perfumes have been linked to dermatitis, respiratory distress and hormone disruption .
Whether a perfume smells good on someone is highly personal. Some perfumes can be too strong or may clash with a person’s body chemistry. The amount of sillage, or how much of the fragrance wafts off the wearer’s body, is also a factor to consider.
A perfume’s odour is typically determined by the top, middle and base notes. The top note is the first smell to appear after application and lasts for a short time. It is usually a citrus, herb or fruit note and provides a light and fresh impression.
The middle note is more complex and provides the heart of the scent, lasting 2-4 hours. This is where the perfume’s main character is revealed and consists of a mix of floral, woody, musky and oriental accords. The middle note is also a great place to introduce a bit of spice or an herbal element to the scent.
Base notes are heavier molecules that give the perfume its body and sillage. They can last up to 24 hours after application and are a great place to add warmth, depth or sweetness to the scent. Common base notes include amber, vanilla and musk.
Perfumery is a long-standing art, and the history of perfume dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and India. The development of modern perfumery began in the 19th century with the commercial synthesis of aromatic compounds such as vanillin and coumarin, which allowed for the creation of scents not possible solely through natural sources.
Today, there are over 100 fragrance manufacturers and more than 1,500 products containing perfume on the market in the United States alone. Many of these products contain synthetic fragrances and are marketed to men, women and children. Although perfumes containing synthetic fragrances are widely available, the popularity of natural and organic products is increasing due to concerns about hormone disruption, skin irritation and other potential side effects associated with some chemicals used in traditional perfumes. Organic and natural products use less toxic preservatives such as ethylhexyl acetate and are free of other harmful chemicals such as parabens, propylene glycol, phthalates and dyes.