Perfume is an aromatherapy spray that uses a combination of natural oils and synthetic chemicals to emit a distinctive scent. It can be worn as a way to enhance one’s personal style, boost confidence and self-esteem or simply to create a memorable mood. It has been shown that certain fragrances can trigger a variety of memories and emotions. For example, the smell of a rose can bring back memories of happy childhood moments and the scent of orange can make one feel energised.
People have used perfume for thousands of years. The Romans, and later the Arabs, refined the art of making and wearing perfume. Catherine de Medici, the Italian wife of the French king, is credited with popularising the use of perfume among European royalty. Her signature scent was a combination of orange blossom and bergamot.
The first step in perfume-making is the extraction of fragrant essential oils from plants. The most common method of obtaining these oils is through steam distillation. This involves placing plant material in boiling water and the fragrant compounds will evaporate along with the steam. The oil will remain behind, and can then be collected and diluted with alcohol to produce a perfume. It takes a large amount of plant material to obtain just a small quantity of oil, which is why perfumes are so expensive.
Perfumes are generally composed of three distinct parts: top notes, middle notes and base notes. The top note is the initial scent released when the perfume is sprayed on. This smell is typically fleeting and disappears quickly as it mixes with your unique skin chemistry. The middle note is the heart of the perfume and begins to develop as the top notes evaporate. Finally, the base note is what remains for hours after the perfume has been sprayed on.
The most commonly used plant aromatics for perfumes are flowers, fruits and herbs. Some of these include the oils extracted from the leaves and fruit of citrus trees; the oils of lavender, sage, and thyme; and the extracts from the flowers of several species of rose, jasmine, and orchid. Other botanicals that are often used as perfumes are lily of the valley, ylang-ylang, tuberose, and mimosa. The buds of narcissus, and scented geranium and chamomile are also commonly used in perfumes.
Besides the natural plant-derived aromatics, many perfumes today also contain synthetic fragrances, which are made in laboratories using a wide variety of odourants. These odourants are also known as fragrance molecules, and may be derived from a wide variety of sources depending on the synthesis method used. For example, coumarin and linalool can be obtained from naturally occurring terpenes; whilst musk can be extracted from the glands of a musk deer or hyraceum, a compound derived from petrified hyrax dung or ambergris, which is an oily substance resulting from the breakdown of whale vomit.
Despite the wide availability of natural fragrances, there is still a large market for perfumes that are manufactured using synthetic ingredients. These synthetic perfumes tend to be cheaper than those using natural materials and can offer a wider range of scents.