Fragrance is a class of chemicals that can be added to cosmetic products like perfumes and hair care products. They can also be used in a wide variety of household products such as laundry detergents, air fresheners and fabric softeners. Depending on their chemical origins, fragrance ingredients can either smell good or bad and may or may not cause skin problems for some individuals. Over 5000 different fragrance chemicals are used in a vast range of products.
Historically, fragnance was created by combining extracts of natural sources such as flowers, herbs or fruits with synthetic aroma compounds. Modern perfumery began in the 19th century with the commercial synthesis of aroma compounds such as vanillin and coumarin, making it possible to create fragrances that were not available from natural aromatic sources alone. Currently, the vast majority of perfumes are blended from modular perfume components called perfume bases. These are formulated around a simple scent concept and can be combined in various ways to find the right balance of composition, similar to the way musical notes can be harmonised to create chords.
A perfume’s top note is the first olfactory impression to emerge from its spray or spritz. It is usually light, delicate and refreshing. The top notes often form the bridge between a perfume’s middle and base notes, and are usually present for about ten to twenty minutes after a perfume is applied.
Middle notes, also known as heart notes, are the main body of a fragrance. They are stronger, more complex and less olfactory-reactive than the top or base notes. They are usually a combination of multiple accords that give the perfume its overall character and define its scent family or theme. The most popular middle notes are floral, woody and oriental.
Base notes, also known as woody or amber, are the deep, base, underlying or overarching scent of a fragrance. They provide richness, solidity and depth to a perfume. The base notes of a fragrance usually take over thirty minutes to fully develop on the skin and are not easily detectable after a perfume’s initial spray or spritz. The most common base notes are amber and musk.
The term cologne, or colognes, is used interchangeably with perfume to refer to fragrances that are lighter than those intended for women, and is generally considered more masculine. This is due to the fact that colognes typically contain fewer aromatic compounds than perfumes and are usually less intense. Colognes can be found in a variety of concentrations including eau de parfum, eau de toilette, or eau de cologne.
In many languages, words such as extrait, EdP and EdT are used to describe perfumes of varying concentration levels. However, these terms are not precise and the percentage of oils may vary from product to product even within a particular perfume house’s same range of products. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has developed standards that regulate the amount of oil in a perfume and these are used to determine its safety for skin contact.