What is Perfume?

Perfume is a liquid mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents, used to give the human body, animals, food, objects, living spaces and clothing a pleasant fragrance. It is usually diluted with alcohol and/or water and is applied by spray, lotion or solid stick. It is often evocative and can even be therapeutic, as it can help to relieve stress. Perfumes have been used for millenniums and are often associated with certain cultures and civilizations, including ancient Egypt, China, India, Arabia and Rome.

The scent of a perfume is the result of complex chemical interactions between the different ingredients and their interaction with your unique skin chemistry. Perfumes can contain up to 100 or more ingredients, and each of those ingredients has a specific effect. Like a musical composition, a perfume has different notes that unfold over time as the perfume interacts with your body’s chemistry. Top notes are the initial impression that a perfume makes when first applied, middle notes provide depth and base notes ground the fragrance.

Perfume Ingredients

Natural perfumes are made from flowers, fruits, herbs, spices and woods. These are distilled, extracted or pressed to extract the oils which make up the perfume. The oil is then diluted with alcohol, which serves as a fixative to slow down its evaporation. Depending on the type of perfume, the essential oils may be obtained from the plant itself or by using one of many tried and true extraction methods such as enfleurage (a process which ‘squeezes’ out the oils), expression, steam distillation, solvent extraction or maceration. Thousands of kilos of plant material can be required to obtain just one kilo of essential oil, which partly explains why perfumes are so expensive.

Once the essential oils are in the bottle, they can be further enhanced by using other chemicals and synthetics. These additives can add warmth, smoothness or spiciness to the perfume. They can also change the odours of the scent, alter its strength or longevity and provide other desired effects.

Depending on the style of the perfume, it can be classified into five groups: Floral, Oriental, Woody, Chypre and Fresh or Oceanic/Ozonic. The classic classifications are based on flower and fruit odours but the modern oceanic scents often contain calone, a synthetic odour derived from seaweed, which ties them to the woody, oriental and floral categories.

Throughout history, perfumes have been worn by both men and women to enhance their beauty, promote social status or even as a medicinal treatment. While it is no longer a daily necessity for most people, the art of perfumery has continued to flourish and is still an incredibly popular industry today with both celebrities and fashion designers promoting their own brands of perfume.