What Is Fragrance?


Fragrance is a combination of natural and synthetic materials, such as flowers, fruits, woods, and spices that are carefully blended to create a unique scent profile. It is used in perfumes and colognes, as well as in scented products such as soaps, cleaning supplies, air fresheners, and even candles to impart a pleasing aroma. Fragrance has the ability to evoke emotions, memories and sensory experiences in those who use it.

The fragrance industry has a long history of self-regulation, relying on its own set of rules to ensure the safety of ingredients used in its products. This approach enables manufacturers to keep their compositions secret, but it also leaves consumers without the information they need to make an informed decision about whether or not a particular product is safe for them.

Fragrances are complex mixtures of essential oils and other chemicals, created in a laboratory to mimic the scents of plants, flowers, or fruits. They can contain combinations of top notes, middle notes, and base notes that work together to produce a long-lasting and memorable aroma.

Although ancient texts and archaeological excavations show that perfume was used by some of the earliest civilizations, modern perfumery only began in the late 19th century with the commercial synthesis of aroma compounds such as vanillin or coumarin. These new molecules enabled perfumers to create scents that were unattainable solely from the natural aromatics available at that time.

In addition to synthetic perfume molecules, a variety of animal secretions are employed as fixatives in perfumes, helping to prevent the more volatile perfume ingredients from evaporating too rapidly. These include ambergris from the sperm whale, castor oil (also called castoreum) from beavers, and musk from civet cats and musk deer.

Perfumes are usually formulated in an alcoholic solution, known as a perfume concentrate or aqueous extract. The concentration of this solution varies from perfume to perfume. The highest concentration is found in parfum, which may contain 10-25 percent perfume concentrate. The less concentrated eau de toilette or cologne is usually 2-6 percent. Toilet water and aftershave lotions contain 0.5-2 percent perfume concentrate.

A perfume’s heart is formed by middle note compounds, which emerge just prior to the departure of the top notes. Middle note scents provide a more distinctive, lasting impression of the fragrance than the short-lived top and base notes.

The final part of a perfume is its base, which lends a rich and solid scent to the overall fragrance. Base notes are derived from materials such as sandalwood, tobacco, and musk, which are often added to enhance the longevity of the scent.

The International Fragrance Association and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials set voluntary standards for the chemicals that are used in perfumes. These standards cover human health, environmental, respiratory, and allergy testing, as well as chemical screening for carcinogenicity and toxicity. While the FDA regulates cosmetic ingredients, it does not require that perfumes be approved before they are placed on the market.