What is Fragrance?

Fragrance is a word used to describe the odor of flowers and other growing things. It can also refer to the odor of a person or animal. Perfume, redolence and scent are synonyms of fragrance. In addition to smelling nice, fragrance can make people feel good and can improve their mood. It can even have health benefits – it can lower blood pressure, boost mental clarity and increase pain tolerance.

Perfumes are a mixture of natural and synthetic chemicals. The chemicals aren’t benign: exposure to some of them can cause hormone disruption and other health problems. Some can even damage the environment, by adding to air pollution and triggering respiratory distress. The ozone-depleting chemical phthalate is commonly found in perfumes.

Most perfumes today contain several hundred or more ingredients, both natural and synthetic. The ingredients are typically obtained from roots, bark, flowers and other parts of plants around the world. They are obtained through physical processes such as distillation and extraction, or by chemically synthesising them. In the past, some important natural ingredients were obtained from animals such as whales and the civet cat, but these have been replaced with more humane substitutes made of pure chemicals or mixtures of natural plant components.

The odors in perfumes are usually classified into families, or pyramids, using imaginative and abstract terms that do not fully characterize the scents. For example, a perfume that is classified as a floral will often have undertones from other families. Many perfumes have both top and middle notes that are derived from more potent essential oils, while other perfumes have just a middle note.

A base note provides depth and solidity to the perfume, and is usually not perceived until about 30 minutes after application or during the dry-down period, which can last up to 24 hours. Base notes are derived from woody and earthy substances such as cedarwood, sandalwood, patchouli, amber and musk.

The fragrance industry has maintained a system of self-regulation for more than 30 years that ensures the safety of all fragrance materials used in products, including cosmetics and perfumes. It requires the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) to maintain a scientific program that covers human and environmental testing. The RIFM system includes tests for human health, ozone depletion and the formation of fine particulates.