What Is Perfume?

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, clothing, food, animals, objects and living spaces a pleasant, agreeable smell. Perfume is often scented with natural products like flowers, herbs and fruits but it can also be made using synthetic chemicals that mimic the scent of natural aromas or provide other aroma effects not found in nature.

The use of perfumes in daily life has been documented as early as some of the earliest civilizations. It is believed that perfume first came into use as a ceremonial and religious practice, either to please the gods or to enhance personal adornment. In later times, perfume became popular as a way to attract romantic partners and as an expression of style or class. Today, perfumes are worn for a wide variety of reasons ranging from health and social benefits to a desire to enhance one’s own personal fragrance.

Modern perfumes are generally composed of three sets of scents that unfold over time: top notes, middle notes and base notes. The initial impression of the perfume is created by the top notes which are small molecules that evaporate quickly, followed by the mid notes which add depth and character to the perfume. The base notes provide the long-lasting effect. The perfumer blends these notes carefully with the knowledge of how they will interact and evaporate from the human skin.

In order to achieve the desired fragrance, the perfumer selects the right ingredients, mixes them and allows the perfume to “age.” During this time the odours evolve and blend together. After a period of time the perfumer will check to see if the odour is to his satisfaction and if it needs to be adjusted he will make adjustments. He may then add more of a particular ingredient or change its proportions.

When the perfume is complete, it is usually stored in airtight bottles. It will usually remain in this stage for a few weeks to months, allowing the different scents to harmonize and develop to their full potential.

Perfume bottles are available in a wide range of styles and sizes, from simple glass or plastic to elaborate works of art. Perfume is very sensitive to changes in environment. It does not like to be exposed to cold or hot temperatures and ultraviolet light can alter some raw materials, such as patchouli, turning it yellow and causing it to deteriorate.

Certain animal secretions have odouriferous qualities and are used as fixatives to prevent the more volatile perfume ingredients from evaporating too rapidly. These include ambergris from the digestive system of sperm whales, castor oil from the beaver glands and musk from the civet cat or musk deer. The odour characteristics of such animal products are very varied and can impart floral effects to perfumes or provide other odours not available through the use of synthetic, aromatic chemical compounds.