Fragrance is a combination of substances that gives perfume or cologne its distinctive scent. It can be natural or synthetic and may be derived from raw materials such as flowers, trees, fruits or food. Perfumes and colognes typically contain tens or hundreds of individual fragrance chemicals, although they are usually listed simply by the generic term “fragrance.” Many of these chemicals are respiratory irritants and sensitizers that can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate sinus conditions. They also can trigger headaches, and have been linked to neurotoxicity and cancer.
Perfumes have been used for thousands of years, and evidence of the craft of perfumery is found in ancient texts and archaeological excavations. Modern perfumery began in the late 19th century when commercial synthesis of aroma compounds such as vanillin and coumarin allowed for the creation of perfumes with smells that were previously unattainable solely from natural aromatics.
A perfume has three structural parts: head, middle and base notes. The first impression of a fragrance is created by the top notes, which consist of small light molecules that evaporate quickly. They are usually perceived 5-30 minutes after application and include citrus (lemon, orange), light fruits (berries) and herbs (sage, lavender). The middle notes, which follow the head notes in a perfume, provide body and stability. They can be rich and dense, and the base note provides depth and long-lasting impression. Perfumes are categorized by family to describe the structure and characteristics of their ingredients, but they can never be fully classified by a single recognizable material.
The word fragrant is most commonly used to describe things that have a pleasant or pleasing scent, like these flowers are so fragrant. It can also be used in a more ironic or humorous way to describe something that has a bad smell, such as These shoes have a really strong fragrance. The word is closely related to the phrase fragrant flower, which describes a flower that has been grown to be very aromatic, often by adding a lot of chemicals, such as fertilizers and herbicides, in order to produce a more intensely scented flower. This practice is considered to be somewhat unethical, since the same technique could be used for other plants to create a different kind of fragrance. A similar word is odor, which describes things that have a bad or unpleasant scent, such as these onions have a very foul odor. A person can also use the word fragrance to describe a particular person’s personal style of smell, as in This person has a nice fragrance. The word can be pronounced as either frangrance or fragrant, but people tend to use the former more frequently in the US. The related adjective fragrant is sometimes used to describe the smell of someone’s clothes, as in These pants have a very fragrant smell. This usage is rarely accepted in professional dictionaries, but is commonly seen in informal or casual conversations. The related verb fragrancy means to spread or apply a fragrance, as in This person has a nice fragrant scent.