The composition of a perfume is structured into three distinct parts known as the head, middle and base notes. Depending on the type of fragrance, each part has different effects. For example, a perfume that is formulated with predominantly top notes will have a more light, fresh scent. Middle notes are often more floral and heavier than the top notes, and they add depth to a perfume. And the base notes provide the lasting impression of a perfume, which can last for hours after application.
Perfumes are usually grouped into families. However, it is difficult to classify a perfume containing only one particular aromatic substance, since most perfumes contain overtones of several families. Perfumes containing mostly flowers are usually classified as floral, while those with a more musk-like structure are classified as oriental.
A fragrant substance that contains volatile oils and a variety of other chemicals, either natural or synthetic, that are able to produce the odors of a single raw material. These materials are called essences, fractions or isolates and they can be produced by using various processes such as enfleurage, maceration and alcohol extraction. Generally, they are less complex than a finished fragrance compound and they are available from a single company under a trade name.
Unlike many cosmetic products, perfumes are not required to disclose the ingredients on their labels. This is because perfumes are considered to be a luxury item and the disclosure of ingredients could affect the marketability of the product. However, some chemicals used in perfumes have been linked to a range of health problems including cancer, reproductive toxicity and allergic contact dermatitis.
Some perfumes contain chemicals that are so harmful they have been treated by the FDA like drugs and are only available over-the-counter under prescription. Consequently, the industry has been shifting toward a more natural and organic approach to perfume making. This is reflected in the emergence of new terms such as “natural fragrance” and “pure perfume”. Currently, the majority of perfumes sold in the US are synthetic. However, there are some artisanal perfumes made from natural products. These are often marketed as eau de parfum, a French term that is translated to mean “fragranced water”. This category of perfumes also includes a number of colognes and body sprays that are marketed under the name of ‘Pour Homme’ and ‘Pour Femme’.