What Is Perfume?

Perfume is a mixture of aromatic oils, extracts, fixatives and solvents in liquid form used to give people, animals, objects and living spaces an agreeable aroma. It has been used throughout history to enhance or mask unpleasant body odors, as well as for enjoyment and glamour. It can be worn on the skin, hair, clothes, furniture and in cars and other vehicles. It is a personal choice that many people enjoy and can be as simple or complex as desired. Perfumes are generally thought to be derived from plant substances, although synthetic ingredients also exist.

Early civilizations extracted perfume oils using a variety of methods, including distillation. This is the most common method of perfume making today. It involves heating the plant material to release the fragrance, then collecting the fragrant steam in a container. This process can be repeated several times until a high enough concentration of oil is achieved. Some plants, such as linalool or hydroxycitronellal, are naturally fragrant and are used as bases for the perfumes.

The scents of flowers and trees are the most common raw materials used to make perfume. Rose, jasmine, narcissus, tuberose and scented geranium are some of the most commonly used flower scents. Blossoms of citrus and ylang-ylang trees are also popular. In addition, the oils from leaves and stems are often used in perfumery. Some flowers need to be treated with a solvent in order to produce their oils. This process is known as enfleurage.

In the seventeenth century, the art of perfumery enjoyed a great deal of success in Europe, especially in Italy, where the personal perfumer to the Empress Catherine de’ Medici (Renato il fiorentino) had a laboratory connected to her apartments so that she could smell his creations as soon as he finished with them. Perfumes were also used by plague victims in order to hide unpleasant odors.

Once the perfume oils have been obtained, they are blended according to a formula created by the master perfumer. A fragrance may contain hundreds of different ingredients, most of them organic. Some ingredients are animal-based, such as musk from the gland of a male deer or ambergris from the stomach of a Sperm whale. These are used as fixatives to slow the evaporation of the perfume and extend its life.

Other perfume chemicals include aldehydes, phthalates, phenyl acetates and toluenes. Some of these chemicals are potentially carcinogenic and are banned in countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, France and the European Union.

Perfumes are classified into five main groups, based on their general characteristics and referred to by the classic terms Floral, Oriental, Woody, Fresh and Aromatic Fougere. Modern perfumers sometimes subdivide the basic categories into subgroups. For example, a perfume that is described as being an Aldehydic Floral is placed within the group of Soft Floral, while Guerlain Mitsouko falls under the category of Floral Oriental. This classification system makes it easier for consumers to select a perfume that is likely to appeal to them.