Fragrance is a word used to describe a pleasant smell or a particular aroma. It may refer to the scent of a flower, or it may mean the smell of a particular person. It can also refer to a mixture of chemicals that gives perfumes and colognes their unique scent. The word fragrance is often used ironically or in a humorous way to describe things that smell strong, such as the smell of someone’s socks or the odor of leftover food in the refrigerator.
Perfume is a concentrated liquid that people put on their skin to make themselves smell good. It has been used since ancient times, as documented by archaeological excavations and written records from some of the earliest civilizations, such as Egypt. Modern perfumery began in the late 19th century, when commercial synthesis allowed the creation of odorants that had been impossible to obtain solely from natural aromatics.
Fragrances are usually a combination of several chemical compounds, including the “scent” chemicals, along with solvents, stabilizers, UV-absorbers and preservatives. A single perfume may contain up to 5,000 different fragrance chemicals. Companies do not have to disclose these chemical ingredients on their product labels, which are labeled simply as “fragrance.”
The word perfume comes from the Latin verb perfumare, meaning “to smoke through.” Early perfumes were made by burning or vaporizing fragrant materials such as flowers, spices, resins, woods and fruits. The first known written references to perfume appear in ancient Mesopotamia, then later in Egypt and the Indus Valley civilizations. The art of perfumery, or creating and selling perfumes, was further refined by the Romans and then the Muslims. The art of making perfumes and colognes is still an important industry, with production occurring both in the United States and abroad.
Many of the fragrance chemicals in perfumes and colognes come from petroleum or natural raw materials. Some of these are obtained by distillation, which uses steam to liquefy the oils in the plant material and then cools the gas to capture the desired smell molecules. Other methods include maceration, in which the material is soaked in oil as a solvent to draw out the oils, and enfleurage, a technique that uses cold pressing to extract heavier, heat-sensitive molecules.
A perfume may be diluted with alcohol to be more portable or long-lasting. The different concentrations of a perfume are described by the French terms eau de parfum (EdP), eau de toilette (EdT) and eau de cologne (EdC). The dilution ratios do not correspond to proportions of the oils in a perfume; rather, the amount of the oil may vary among perfumeries or “houses.”
In general, the top notes, which provide the initial, fleeting impression of a perfume after it is applied, are lighter than the middle and base notes. The top notes are often derived from citrus, light fruits and herbs. The base notes are typically richer and woodier, with a more lasting aroma. Many perfumes have additional ingredients, such as colorants and anti-oxidants, which improve marketability or shelf life.