Humans have used perfume to disguise or enhance their own odor since the dawn of recorded history, emulating the pleasant odors of nature. Many natural and synthetic materials have been used to manufacture perfume for use on the skin and clothing, in cleaning and cosmetics, and in the air. No perfume will smell precisely the same on two persons due to changes in body chemistry, temperature, and body smells.
Perfume comes from the Latin “per” meaning “through” and “fumum,” or “smoke.” Many ancient perfumes were made by extracting natural oils from plants through pressing and steaming. The oil was then burned to scent the air. The majority of perfume is now used to fragrance bar soaps. To hide undesirable odors or seem “unscented,” certain products are perfumed with industrial odorants.
While fragrant liquids used for the body are often considered perfume, true perfumes are defined as extracts or essences and contain a percentage of oil distilled in alcohol. Also utilized is water. With annual sales in the billions of dollars, the United States is the world’s largest perfume market.
Three Wise Men brought myrrh and frankincense to the newborn Jesus, according to the Bible. As sacred offerings, ancient Egyptians burned incense called kyphi, which was comprised of henna, myrrh, cinnamon, and juniper. They made a fragrant body lotion by soaking aromatic wood, gum, and resins in water and oil. The early Egyptians also perfumed their deceased, and deities were typically allocated unique scents. “Fragrance of the gods” is how their name for perfume is translated. “Perfumes are foods that revitalize the spirit,” the Moslem prophet Mohammed is reputed to have written.
Egyptian fragrance eventually impacted the Greeks and Romans. Perfume was predominantly an Oriental art form for hundreds of years after the fall of Rome. It spread to Europe after Crusaders brought samples from Palestine back to England, France, and Italy in the 13th century. During the 17th century, Europeans discovered the medicinal benefits of smell. Doctors treating plague victims placed leather pouches containing fragrant cloves, cinnamon, and spices over their mouths and nostrils, believing that this would protect them from disease.
Perfume became popular among the monarchs after that. King Louis XIV of France was known as the “perfume king” because of his extensive usage of it. A flowery pavilion laden with scents was located in his court, and dried flowers were arranged in bowls throughout the palace to freshen the air. Royal guests were washed in rose petals and goat’s milk. Perfume was sprayed on clothing, furniture, walls, and crockery, and visitors were frequently showered with it. Grasse, an area in southern France where many flowering plant species grow, became a significant perfume producer about this period.
Aromatics were kept in lockets and the hollow heads of canes in England, where they could be inhaled by the owner. Perfumes were not mass-marketed until the late 1800s, when synthetic compounds were introduced. Nitrobenzene, a mixture of nitric acid and benzene, was the first synthetic perfume. This synthetic mixture gave off an almond smell and was often used to scent soaps. In 1868, Englishman William Perkin synthesized coumarin from the South American tonka bean to create a fragrance that smelled like freshly sown hay. Ferdinand Tiemann of the University of Berlin created synthetic violet and vanilla. In the United States, Francis Despard Dodge created citronellol—an alcohol with rose-like odor—by experimenting with citronella, which is derived from citronella oil and has a lemon-like odor. In different variations, this synthetic compound gives off the scents of sweet pea, lily of the valley, narcissus, and hyacinth.
Just as the art of perfumery progressed through the centuries, so did the art of the perfume bottle. Perfume bottles were often as elaborate and exotic as the oils they contained. The earliest examples date from around 1000 B.C. In ancient Egypt, newly invented glass bottles were made largely to hold perfumes. The crafting of perfume bottles spread into Europe and reached its peak in Venice in the 18th century, when glass containers assumed the shape of small animals or had pastoral scenes painted on them. Today perfume bottles are designed by the manufacturer to reflect the character of the fragrance inside, whether light and flowery or dark and musky.
Perfumes are made with natural components such as flowers, grasses, spices, fruit, wood, roots, resins, balsams, leaves, gums, and animal secretions, as well as resources such as alcohol, petrochemicals, coal, and coal tars. Some plants, such as the lily of the valley, do not naturally produce oils. These essential oils are found in just around 2,000 of the 250,000 flowering plant species that have been identified. To recreate the odors of non-oily substances, synthetic chemicals must be utilized. Synthetics also provide unique scents that aren’t found in nature.
Animal products are used in several perfume components. Castor oil originates from beavers, musk from male deer, and ambergris from sperm whales, for example. Animal compounds are frequently employed as fixatives, allowing perfume to evaporate slowly and produce scents for a longer period of time. Coal tar, mosses, resins, and synthetic compounds are examples of other fixatives. Ingredients in perfumes are diluted with alcohol and, on sometimes, water. The amount of alcohol in a perfume determines whether it is a “eau de toilette” (toilet water) or a cologne.
The Manufacturing Process
- 1 The basic ingredients must be delivered to the manufacturing center before the manufacturing process can begin. Plant substances are collected from all over the world, and many are hand-picked for their scent. Animal products are made by extracting the animal’s fatty constituents directly. Perfume chemists manufacture the aromatic compounds used in synthetic perfumes in the lab.
Steam distillation, solvent extraction, enfleurage, maceration, and expression are all processes for extracting oils from plant matter.
- 2 Steam is conducted through plant material stored in a still during steam distillation, converting the essential oil to gas. This gas is then cooled and liquified after passing through tubes. Instead of steaming, oils can be extracted by boiling plant materials like flower petals in water.
- 3 Solvent extraction involves placing flowers in big spinning tanks or drums and pouring benzene or petroleum ether over them to extract the essential oils. The floral components disintegrate in the solvents, leaving a waxy substance containing the oil, which is subsequently dissolved in ethyl alcohol. The oil melts and rises in the alcohol. Heat is used to evaporate the alcohol, leaving a higher concentration of the perfume oil on the bottom until it has completely burned off.
Steam disfillation, solvent extraction, enfleurage, maceration, or expression are all methods for extracting oils from plant matter.
- 4 Flowers are distributed on grease-coated glass sheets during enfleurage. The glass sheets are stacked in levels between wooden frames. The flowers are then hand-removed and replaced until the grease has absorbed their scent.
- 5 Maceration is identical to enfleurage, with the exception that warmed fats are employed to absorb the floral odor. To acquire the essential oils, the grease and fats are dissolved in alcohol, same like in solvent extraction.
- 6 The simplest and oldest method of extraction is expression. The fruit or plant is manually or mechanically pressed until all of the oil is squeezed out in this method, which is now employed to extract citrus oils from the rind.
Perfume, eau de toilette, and cologne are defined by their alcohol-to-scent ratio.
- 7 Once the perfume oils are collected, they are ready to be blended together according to a formula determined by a master in the field, known as a “nose.” It may take as many as 800 different ingredients and several years to develop the special formula for a scent.
After the scent has been created, it is mixed with alcohol. The amount of alcohol in a scent can vary greatly. Most full perfumes are made of about 10-20% perfume oils dissolved in alcohol and a trace of water. Colognes contain approximately 3-5% oil diluted in 80-90% alcohol, with water making up about 10%. Toilet water has the least amount—2% oil in 60-80% alcohol and 20% water.
- 8 After being combined, fine perfume is sometimes aged for several months or even years. After then, a “nose” will test the perfume once again to ensure that the desired aroma has been produced. “Notes de tete,” or top notes, “notes de coeur,” or centre or heart notes, and “notes de fond,” or base notes, are the three notes that each essential oil and perfume has. Top notes are tart or citrus-like, while middle notes (aromatic flowers like rose and jasmine) provide body and base notes (woody aromas) provide longevity. More “notes” of various fragrances can be added to the mix.
Because perfumery is so reliant on plant ingredient harvests and animal product supply, it can quickly become dangerous. Thousands of flowers are required to produce just one pound of essential oils, and perfumeries may be jeopardized if the season’s crop is lost by illness or bad weather. Furthermore, consistency is difficult to achieve with natural oils. The same species of plant may produce oils with somewhat varied scents when grown in various locations with slightly variable growing circumstances.
Collecting natural animal oils presents its own set of challenges. Many animals that were historically hunted for their oils are now listed as endangered species and cannot be hunted. Since 1977, sperm whale goods such as ambergris have been illegal. Furthermore, most animal oils are difficult and expensive to extract in general. Civet cats reared in Ethiopia are kept for their fatty gland secretions, and beavers from Canada and the former Soviet Union are collected for their castor.
Even though natural chemicals are preferred in the greatest perfumes, synthetic perfumes have given perfumers more freedom and stability in their work. Synthetic perfumes and oils eliminate the need to extract oils from animals and eliminate the chance of a bad plant harvest, saving a lot of money and many animals’ lives.
Perfumes are created and utilized in different ways today than they were in prior eras. Synthetic chemicals, rather than natural oils, are increasingly used in the production of perfumes. Perfumes with lower concentrations are likewise becoming more popular. When these elements are combined, the cost of the smells is reduced, enabling more widespread and regular use, typically on a daily basis.
The industry is exploring new frontiers such as using scent to heal, make people feel good, and improve relationships between the sexes. The sense of smell is a right-brain activity that governs emotions, memory, and creativity. Aromatherapy, the practice of inhaling oils and scents to treat physical and mental ailments, is regaining popularity as a way to help balance hormone and bodily energies. Aromatherapy is based on the idea that when essential oils are breathed or used topically, they help to boost the immune system. Sweet fragrances have a mood-altering effect and can be utilized as a sort of psychotherapy.
More research is being done to synthesize human perfume—that is, the body odors people create to attract or repel other humans—much like aromatherapy. Pheromones are released by humans and other species to attract the opposite sex. New scents are being developed to mimic the effects of pheromones and trigger the brain’s sexual arousal receptors. Not only could future perfumes help individuals cover up “poor” odors, but they could also boost their physical, emotional, and sexual well-being.