What Is Fragrance?

Fragrance is an umbrella term for a mixture of chemicals that emits an odor and may be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Some people use the term interchangeably with perfume, but it is not the same thing. Perfume contains fragrant essential oils and other aromatic compounds that are blended together and used in a liquid mixture to produce a distinctive odor. Fragrance is made from both natural and synthetic ingredients. Many natural fragrances come from plants, but some come from animal sources such as whales or the civet cat. Modern perfumes and colognes typically contain several hundred natural and synthetic components.

The earliest evidence for the practice of applying fragrance to the body dates back thousands of years. It was most popular during the ancient Middle East, Egypt, and India civilizations, as well as in the Roman Empire. The development of perfumery as an art began in the 19th century, with the commercial synthesis of aroma compounds such as vanillin and coumarin that allowed perfumers to create odors that could not be obtained solely from natural aromatic sources.

A combination of purified fats and flower oils produced through the enfleurage and maceration processes. A perfumer uses these as a starting point to develop a new composition.

The initial impact of a fragrance on the sense of smell upon application to the skin, usually accentuated by adding a highly volatile chemical. The top note is the most important component in a perfume and the key to its initial sales appeal.

Subtle characteristics that appear in the background of a fragrance, giving it depth. These notes are also referred to as heart notes, and they form the main character of the fragrance, providing an impression of warmth, cleanliness, or freshness.

Natural scents will vary from supplier to supplier based on when and how the flowers are harvested, the extraction process, and other factors. These differences can cause a perfumer to prefer one flower over another, or a different extraction method to achieve a desired effect. Unscrupulous suppliers may even adulterate their raw materials by substituting or combining ingredients (such as adding Indian jasmine to Grasse jasmine) in order to increase the profits they make from selling the material.

A compound that is added to a fragrance to make it last longer, reduce sillage (the spread of the scent) or to mask unwanted odors. These are often used as bases for a perfume and include ambergris, benzoin, cedar, musk, and vetivert.

A combination of the heaviest and longest lasting raw materials that creates the backbone of a perfume. These are typically heavier and more intense than middle notes, and they can provide stability and tenacity to the overall fragrance. They can include woods, resins, and musks, such as ambergris and hedione.