What is Fragrance?


Fragrance is a class of aromatic chemical compounds extracted from various raw materials such as flowers, leaves, bark, wood, roots, and fruits. The odorants are extracted and separated from the raw materials by distillation, solvent extraction, or enfleurage. They are then combined to form perfumes or colognes. Fragrance chemicals are also used to enhance the scent of certain foods or other chemicals such as cleaning agents and industrial products. The composition of perfumes and colognes is an art form. A person who specializes in this discipline is known as a perfumer, and they are sometimes affectionately referred to as a “nose” (French for smell).

The most common method of obtaining fragrance from raw materials is steam distillation. In this process boiling water is passed through the raw material, which drives out the volatile odorants and condenses them into a liquid. The resulting mixture is a blend of essential oils and fragrant chemical compounds. It is usually mixed with a carrier such as alcohol, oil, or wax and sold in a bottle with its own cap and label. The bottled perfume may be sold as an eau de parfum, eau de toilette, or eau de cologne.

In the fourteenth century perfumery was reborn with the invention of a new technique for extracting and mixing fragrance chemicals from natural plant materials. A new science of chemistry was applied to the art, which resulted in more sophisticated compositions. From the Renaissance through the nineteenth century, wearing perfume was a mark of fashion and social status. Perfume was worn by both men and women. In the middle of the nineteenth century, however, as germ theory spread, odors were perceived as carrying disease and the use of fragrance waned. It is possible that this decline was caused by the fact that sex hormones can interact with fragrance chemicals to change their connotation and denotation. For example, a study conducted in the 1980s showed that when females wore Jontue perfume, they were considered less competent and more likely to be hired than their unscented counterparts.

Another reason that wearing perfume declined was the widespread dissemination of the germ theory, which led to an era in which people avoided contact with others for fear of infection. It is also probable that it was a reaction to the discovery that some fragrance chemicals, such as phthalates and styrene, can cause hormonal changes in children and adults.

Today, with the revival of a sense of style and the use of new technology, perfumes are once again fashionable. They are also recognized as important factors in seduction. Many recent studies show that a woman’s choice of sexual partner is strongly influenced by how the man smells, even more than by his social standing and money. Fragrance compositions are designed to meet these needs and to satisfy consumer demands for specific odorants. In the future, advances in synthetic chemistry will allow perfumers to create fragrances that mimic more complex botanical odorants.