What is Fragrance?

Fragrance is an odor or scent, a sweet or pleasant smell. The term is also used to describe the odor of flowers, pine trees or perfumes. The sense of smell can detect seven different types of scents: camphor, mint, musk, flower, pine, ether and perfume. The sense of smell can also affect the taste of food. The smell of fragrance can have a positive or negative effect on people’s moods. Scents are associated with memories and can be used to trigger emotion, for example, happiness or sadness. Fragrance is often a key component of many personal care products such as deodorants, perfumes, soaps and shampoos.

Modern perfumes typically contain mixtures of synthetic aromatic chemicals rather than natural oils. Many of these chemicals are created by distillation of a base stock or raw materials such as wood, bark, roots, seeds or flowers. The distillation process drives the volatile aromatic compounds and oils out of the raw material and into a liquid form. The liquids are then re-concentrated to produce a concentrated mix of perfume oils. This perfume is then diluted with a solvent such as alcohol, water or a neutral-smelling oil such as fractionated coconut oil or liquid waxes such as jojoba and almond oils. The resulting mixture is then bottled and sold as perfume.

The word “fragrance” on a product label is not actually an individual ingredient but an umbrella term for a blend of dozens of ingredients. Manufacturers are not required to list the specific fragrance chemicals because they consider the composition to be proprietary information. Depending on the concentration of the fragrance blend in an ethanol solution, the products are called extrait de parfum (up to 40% of the fragrance compounds in an 80%-96% ethanol solution), eau de toilette (10%-15% of the fragrance compounds in an 85%-90% ethanol solution) eau de cologne (5-8% of the fragrance compounds in a 70%-80% ethanol solution) or au fraiche (3-8% of the fragrant compounds diluted with water).

Although some of the chemicals used in fragnance can be found naturally, they are more commonly synthesized in the laboratory. Many of these synthetic chemicals have been linked to a range of health problems, including allergic reactions, skin rashes and respiratory distress. Some, like phthalates, have even been shown to disrupt the hormone system and are linked to cancer.

The odors of some natural ingredients are too strong to use in perfumes, but many of the scents in today’s perfumes are created with synthetic aromatics, which are cheaper than natural ingredients. To avoid the potential risks, look for products marked EWG VERIFIED, which have been tested to ensure that they are free from ingredients of concern.