What Is Perfume?

A summer garden, tropical breeze, a steaming apple pie, the smell of rain — these and many other aromas are imbued in our lives with memories and associations. A well-chosen perfume can add to the impression of the person wearing it, and can also create a distinctive brand identity for a product or service.

Perfume has a rich, colorful and fragrant history dating back to ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures. The word perfume is derived from the Latin word, perfumare, meaning: to smoke through. It is a combination of aromatic essential oils or compounds, fixatives and solvents that are used to give humans, animals, objects, foods and living spaces an agreeable scent.

The earliest perfumes were made from natural substances, such as spices and flowers. Plant materials were painstakingly extracted, with the most common method being distillation. Thousands of kilos of flowers or plants may be needed to produce a kilo of essential oil, which is then diluted for use in perfumes. Modern perfumes are often synthesized and produced from chemicals, as they can be formulated much more quickly and economically.

Fragrance is used in perfumes, soaps, talcum powders, cosmetics and deodorants and can be found in household cleaning products as well. However, some perfume ingredients can be harmful to health and the environment. Several perfume ingredients are known to cause contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction in the skin that can result in itching, swelling and redness. Some synthetic fragrances are also carcinogenic.

For this reason, manufacturers have developed a variety of fragrances that are safer for human use. These are called “green” fragrances. These are composed of a lower concentration of chemicals and fewer natural substances. The majority of fragrances, whether natural or synthetic, contain allergens that can trigger a sensitization response in some people.

Affinity Groupings

In order to distinguish between different types of fragrances, they are grouped into five categories: Floral, Oriental, Woody, Chypre and Fresh. The classifications are somewhat fluid, and a perfume can be assigned to more than one category.

Perfumes are also classified according to their top notes, middle notes and base notes. The top note is the initial smell that the perfume gives off, the middle note is deeper and more complex, and the base notes are the longest-lasting of all the scents.

There are a number of components that are used as blending and fixative agents in perfumes, which help to smooth out the transitions between the different notes. These include a variety of oils and extracts, such as ylang-ylang, linalool and hydroxycitronellal. Perfumes may also contain animal components such as musk, ambergris (lumps of oxidized fatty compounds secreted by the gland of the sperm whale) and narcissus oil.