What is Fragrance?


Fragrance is a term that covers dozens of chemicals. It is used in common personal care and household products, including air fresheners, laundry detergents, hand lotions, incense, and even felt tip art markers. The Environmental Working Group found that an average fragrance contains at least 14 secret chemicals, many of which are linked to allergies and hormone disruption. In fact, 80 percent of fragrance chemicals are not tested for safety in personal care products.

To create perfume, raw materials are first steamed. Steam carries the fragrance to a glass tube, where it is collected when it cools. The essential oil naturally rises to the top, where it is skimmed off for use in perfume. Other raw materials can’t stand the distillation process, so absorption is used. These raw materials are steeped in heated fats or oils and then filtered through fabric. The scented solid is then washed with alcohol to form a perfume.

Perfumes are composed of several compounds, including plant matter, volatile solvents, and other natural compounds. Essential oils are obtained from plants while aromatics are extracted from animal secretions. Depending on the type of fragrance, the fragrance is divided into four groups, which include top, middle, and base notes. Top notes are the lightest and give off the first impression. Common top notes include citrus, light fruits, herbs, and woods.

The origins of perfume can be traced as far back as the ancient Egyptians. The Babylonians also learned how to extract the fragrance from flower petals and used it as a perfume. The word “perfume” is derived from the Latin word perfumare, which means “to smoke through.” It was refined by the Romans, Greeks, and Persians, and grew to become an art. Its use is mentioned throughout the Bible.

Perfumes should be stored in light-tight bottles or their original packaging in order to prevent deterioration. Perfumes should be stored at a temperature of 3-7 degrees Celsius (37-45 degrees Fahrenheit). They should also be preserved in the original packaging, preferably with spray dispensers to minimize oxygen exposure. Sprays also help isolate the fragrance within the bottle and prevent it from interacting with the skin and other detritus.

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) have teamed up to make standards for the safety of fragrance products. Their voluntary standards for fragrance ingredients are based on research and data from more than 50 years of experience. They help the fragrance industry protect consumers from allergic reactions and promote product safety. However, there is still no regulatory authority that mandates manufacturers to list all ingredients used in their products.

Aquatic fragrances have notes of sea water and fresh mountain air. Some are even androgynous. The aquatic family of fragrances contains synthetic calone, which was discovered in 1966. These perfumes are used to accent floral, woody, and oriental fragrances. Citrus fragrances were volatile until newer compounds were discovered. Now, fruity fragrances like Penhaligon’s Quercus are more durable and last longer than their more volatile counterparts.