What is Fragrance?


Fragrance is a mixture of chemicals that gives scented beauty, cleaning and other products their smell. It can be made up of dozens, or even hundreds, of individual fragrance chemicals that are listed on the ingredient list as “fragrance.” Companies do not have to disclose these ingredients because they are considered trade secrets. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems like dermatitis.

The word “fragrance” covers a wide variety of ingredients, but they can also include petroleum-based ingredients like phthalates and sulfates; stabilizers; and preservatives. Fragrance chemicals can also contain skin allergens such as linalool, hexyl cinnamal, and geraniol. Fragrance ingredients are added to thousands of consumer and industrial products including perfume, hair care, lotions, soaps, and deodorants. They can also be found in household cleaners, air fresheners, laundry detergents, and scented candles.

A perfume is a liquid mixture used to emit a pleasant aroma or odour, usually from fragrant plants and spices or synthetic aromatic compounds [1,2]. It is applied to the skin through application on a perfume spray or as a solid perfume called a cologne. The scent of a perfume can last for up to 24 hours [1,3].

The Egyptians made the first perfumes using essential oils by infusing herbs, flowers, and fruits in oil-based salves that they used for religious rituals and burial preparations. Early recipes for perfumes were recorded in hieroglyphics and pictographs on royal tombs. The perfume industry quickly developed into a global business.

Today, over 5,000 chemical fragrances are used in the manufacture of everything from perfume and cologne to air fresheners and household cleaners. More than half of these have been linked to allergies, asthma, and other health problems. Today, the fragrance industry is self-regulating through the International Fragrance Association (IFRA). IFRA creates voluntary standards and oversees their implementation. It also performs testing to ensure safety for consumers.

While sillage is the term for the olfactory trail a person leaves behind as they walk through a crowd, in the fragrance world it’s also a metaphor for the invisible cloud that one’s personal scent leaves behind. A strong fragrance will leave a greater sillage than a lighter one.

Perfumes are classified into five main groups based on their concentration of the fragrance compounds in an ethanol solution. These are parfum, or extrait, which contains the highest concentration of aroma chemicals at up to 40%; eau de parfum, which has up to 15% fragrance chemicals in an ethanol solution; eau de toilette, which has up to 10% fragrance chemicals; and cologne, which contains less than 5%. In addition, the term chypre indicates a combination of natural and synthetic ingredients. [1,4] Many of the same chemicals used in perfume can also be used as pesticides and are known to cause a variety of health problems. [1,5] Further, there is a link between certain fragrance chemicals and cancer, birth defects, and other serious diseases. These risks are why the National Toxicology Program recommends restricting the use of phthalates and sulfates in all personal care products, especially those that come into direct contact with the skin.