Perfume is a liquid mixture of essential oils and other scent-producing chemicals that can be applied to the skin with an atomiser spray. It usually contains a blend of scents that, when mixed together correctly, create a harmonious scent accord that lasts for hours as the oils evaporate over the course of the day. In addition to being used as a personal adornment, perfume can have positive effects on mood and is therefore considered a confidence booster. Perfume can also help to relieve stress by reducing heart rate and blood pressure, as well as helping to improve the mood by increasing alertness and concentration. It can also be useful in combating fatigue, as it can make you feel more energetic (2).
The smell of perfume is created through a process called extraction, which involves placing the desired plant materials into boiling water and then collecting the volatile oils that evaporate with the steam. These extracts are then mixed with a chemical known as a fixative that helps to deodorize the skin and delay the evaporation of the perfume (3). The perfume may also contain a solvent to make the ingredients blend together more easily, as well as a preservative to extend its longevity (4). The perfumes most commonly available today are a combination of natural and synthetic substances (5). The ancient Egyptians created ointments and balms with various essential oils to provide fragrances, but the modern perfume industry has become a very complex affair (7). The fragrances that are used in perfume making today come from a wide variety of sources, ranging from essential oils to lichens to animal secretions. Traditionally, the aristocracy was scented differently from the lower classes, with perfumes made from natural plants being reserved for royalty while the poor were scented with a more simple disinfectant.
Interestingly, perfumes are often designed to work with different skin types, and can be more effective depending on the climate where you live. The warmer and more humid the weather, the less perfume will last on your skin as the oils will evaporate faster (6). This is one of the reasons why perfumes are usually stored away from direct sunlight.
Scents are often classified into five main groups based on their structure: Floral, Oriental, Woody, Aromatic Fougere, and Chypre. These groups are then subdivided into a variety of further categories (8). For example, Chanel No. 5, which has long been classed as an aldehydic floral, is now placed within the Soft Floral group (9). Scents that cannot be extracted from natural sources can be composed as synthetic bases and used to approximate their smell using a variety of techniques, including headspace technology (10) and the Reimer-Tiemann reaction (11). The perfumes Houbigant’s Fougere Royale and Guerlain’s Jicky were some of the first to use such synthetic molecules. These compounds are much cheaper than natural ingredients, but still require significant investment in development.