What is Fragrance?

Fragrance (also called parfum or perfume in the US and Europe) is a generic term on the ingredients list that covers the dozens of chemicals (on average) that make up a product’s fragrance. The exact composition of a perfume is a trade secret and companies are not required to disclose it.

The fragrance industry has a strict system of self-regulatory safety. It consists of the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials and includes a database of human health, environmental, respiratory, allergic, and use-level data on individual fragrance chemicals. It also maintains a system of notification and possible enforcement to ensure compliance with its code of practice and standards.

There are three structural parts of a perfume: the head, middle, and base notes. The head note is the fresh, volatile odour that can be detected immediately after application of the perfume. It disappears in about 30-60 minutes after application and may be a blend of natural and synthetic chemicals. The middle note, also known as the heart note, is a more potent, mellow, rounded and balancing scent. Middle notes may consist of natural or synthetic ingredients and are usually a mix of floral and spice components.

The base note is the long-lasting and rich odour that forms the body of the perfume. This is generally a combination of a few compounds that are more difficult to detect than the head and middle notes and lasts 4-6 hours after application. This is often a blend of natural and synthetic ingredients, with natural oils such as cedarwood, sandalwood, and vanilla being common. However, a perfume may also contain synthetic aromas such as linalool and coumarin. Some perfumes containing flowers whose fragrances cannot be extracted using traditional methods, such as gardenia and hyacinth, are composed as bases using data derived from headspace technology.

A perfume’s overall impression on the user is determined by its balance of these component smells. This is why a perfumer must blend so many different chemicals together. The resulting blend is then tested on a piece of paper (called a blotter) to make sure that it satisfies the perfumer’s concept. A perfumer can then refine the perfume after feedback from other people who have sprayed the blotter on their skin and clothing.

In addition to perfume, the fragrance industry uses many of its chemicals in cosmetic and household products such as shampoos, detergents, soaps, and air fresheners. In fact, even “unscented” products often contain fragrance chemicals to mask naturally occurring odours. These chemicals, often referred to as the “fragrance family” on ingredient lists, have been linked with health problems including asthma and allergies. They are also widely used as ingredients in cosmetics and household cleaning products and have a profound impact on our environment.