What is Perfume?

A perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents in liquid form that is used to give the human body, food, objects, animals and living spaces an agreeable smell. Perfumes have been worn from ancient times to promote health, beauty and social status. The modern perfume industry has evolved over the years with new and sophisticated extraction methods, chemical formulations and production techniques.

Historically, perfumes were made from the natural smells of flowers, fruits and herbs. They were made either by maceration in oil or enfleurage, the process of collecting scented oils from flowers and other plants. Perfumes were made from these natural materials in various concentrations and for different occasions. For example, the personal perfumer to Catherine de Medici in Renaissance Italy would make the aristocracy a light floral scent and a rich, deep and more masculine fragrance for the middle class and the poor.

Fragrance materials are grouped into families based on their aroma profile and the characteristics of the individual aromatic molecules. These groups are further categorized by their role in the perfume and their relationship to other ingredients. The classifications are used as a guide for perfumers to select the best fragrance materials. The structure of a perfume is also characterized by its head, heart and base notes.

The head of a perfume contains the top notes, which are the first scents to be detected and the ones that evaporate the fastest. They include citrus, fruity, floral and herbaceous aromas. The heart of a perfume includes the middle notes, which provide the body of the fragrance. These aromas are less volatile and may last 5-30 minutes after application. They can include herbs, spices, woods and resins. The base of a perfume is the longest-lasting, and it can include musks, ambergris, incense, myrrh and other resinous oils.

Most perfumes are created from a combination of natural and synthetic chemicals. The synthetic aromatics are more reliable than naturals for achieving the desired aroma, but their cost is highly dependent on their synthesis method. Some synthetics are cheaper than naturals, but others are more expensive due to their long synthesis routes and low yield.

Perfumes are stored in dark glass bottles and kept away from heat, sunlight and moisture to prevent degradation. They should be sprayed onto the skin lightly and not rubbed in, as this can crush the scent molecules and alter their composition. The bottle should be tightly closed when not in use.

It is important to understand that the scents of perfume can evolve and change throughout the day. This is why it is important to try out several fragrances on your skin before purchasing a full bottle. A store’s perfume consultants or “noses” can help guide you towards the scents that suit your tastes, considering your olfactive preferences and other factors like season and occasion. It is also a good idea to avoid rubbing your wrists together after applying perfume, as this can crush the scent molecules and cause them to fade faster.