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What are perfumes?

According to Wikipedia, “Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils and aromatic compounds, fixatives, and solvents that are used to give the human body, objects, and living spaces a pleasant odor.” The word “perfume” comes from the Latin “per fume”, which means through the smoke.

The art of making perfumes (perfumery) began in ancient Egypt and was later improved by the Romans and Arabs. The process of extracting flower oils by distillation was introduced by an Iranian physician named Avicenna. This is the most commonly used procedure today. The first modern perfume, made from scented oils mixed in an alcohol solution, was made in 1370 in Hungary and was known throughout Europe as Hungarian Water. Perfumery continued to develop in Renaissance Italy and from the 16th century also in France. The cultivation of flowers for perfume essences became an important industry in the south of France. Today, France remains the center of European perfume design and trade.

The exact formulas of the fragrances are kept secret by the design houses. However, some perfume experts can identify aroma components and origins in the same way that wine tasters can.

perfume classifications

In general, perfumes can be classified according to their concentration level and scent notes. Perfume oils are diluted, mainly with ethanol or a mixture of ethanol and water, since undiluted they can cause allergic reactions or damage to skin and clothing.

Here is the table of perfume concentration levels:

Pure perfume: 20 – 40% aromatic oils

Eau De Parfum: 10 – 30% aromatic oils

Eau De Toilette: 5 – 20% fragrance oils

Eau De Cologne: 2-5% fragrance oils

Fragrance houses assign different concentration levels for the same category of perfume.

An Eau De Toilette from one house can be stronger than an Eau De Parfum from another.

There are three different classifications of perfumes based on their aromas: traditional, created around 1900, modern, since 1945, and the so-called fragrance wheel created in 1983.

The fragrance wheel is widely used in the retail and fragrance industry today. There are five standard categories: Floral, Oriental, Woody, Fresh, and Fougere (with the Fougere family sitting in the center of this wheel, as it typically contains fragrance elements from each of the other four families).

Perfumes are also described by their three notes: top, middle, and base. The notes develop over time, with the immediate impression of the high notes, then the deeper middle notes, and finally the low notes gradually appearing as the final stage. These notes are chosen very carefully with the knowledge of the perfume evaporation process. The top notes are perceived immediately after the application of the fragrance and, therefore, are very important in the sale of the perfume. The middle and base notes together are the main theme of the perfume.

Sources of essential oils.

Barks: Commonly used barks are cinnamon and cascarilla and also sassafras root bark.

Flowers and buds: These are the largest source of aromatic oils. Rose, jasmine, osmanthus, mimosa, tuberose, and citrus tree blossom and ylang-ylang are commonly used in the fragrance industry.

Fruits: Fresh fruits like apples, strawberries, and cherries do not produce good odors and are usually obtained synthetically. Exceptions include litsea cubeba, vanilla, and juniper berries and the more commonly used oranges, limes, and grapefruit.

Leaves and branches: Lavender leaves, patchouli, clary sage, violets, rosemary, and citrus leaves are commonly used.

Resins: The most commonly used resins in perfumery are labdanum, frankincense, myrrh, Peru balsam, benzoin gum, and also pine and fir.

Roots, rhizomes and bulbs: Iris rhizomes, vetiver roots are very often used for perfumes.

Seeds: Tonka bean, coriander, caraway, nutmeg, mace, cardamom and anise.

Forest: Very important to provide base notes. Commonly used woods include sandalwood, rosewood, agarwood, birch, cedar, juniper, and pine.

Ambergris: Commonly called “amber” it is obtained from the sperm whale.

Castoreum: Obtained from the odorous sacs of the North American beaver.

Stew: Obtained from the odorous sacs of civets (mongoose family).

Honeycomb: Distilled from the honeycomb of the bee.

Musk: Originally obtained from the odorous musk sacs of the Asian musk deer, but now replaced by synthetic musk.

Lichens: Lichen is a kind of fungus that grows in patches on trees and rocks. Commonly used lichens are oak moss and tree moss thallus.

Protists: Seaweed is commonly used as an essential oil in perfumes.

Synthetic sources: Created through organic synthesis from petroleum distillates or pine resins. They can provide odors not found in nature. Synthetic flavors are often used as an alternative source of compounds that are not readily available from natural sources. Typical examples include musk, orchid scents, linalool, and coumarin.

Perfume oils often contain tens or hundreds of ingredients. Modern perfumes and colognes are made with fragrance oils developed by fragrance houses. The fragrance oils are then mixed with ethyl alcohol and water for a minimum of 14 days and filtered to remove any unwanted particles and then filled into the perfume bottles.

In recent years, celebrities have signed contracts with perfume houses to give perfumes their names as a self-promotional campaign. Some of the most popular celebrity perfumes include Antonio Banderas (Spirit), David Backham (Instinct), Celine Dion (Celine Dion Notes, Celine Dion Belong), Paris Hilton (Paris Hilton, Just Me Paris Hilton), Jennifer Lopez (JLo Glow, Still, Miami Glow, Love at first sight), Britney Spears (Fantasy, In Control, In Control Curious), Elizabeth Taylor (Passion, White Diamonds, Forever Elizabeth), Maria Sharapova (Maria Sharapova) and many more.

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