Perfume ( /ˈpɜːr.fjuːm/ /pərˈfjuːm/; French: parfum) is a mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents - used to give the human body, animals, food, objects, and living-spaces "a pleasant scent".
- Dilution classes
- Imprecise terminology
- Solvent types
- Applying fragrances
- Describing a perfume
- Fragrance notes
- Olfactive families
- Fragrance wheel
- Obtaining natural odorants
- Fragrant extracts
- Composing perfumes
- The perfumer
- Basic framework
- Fragrance bases
- Reverse engineering
- Health and environmental issues
- Immunological asthma and allergy
- Species endangerment
- Safety regulation
- Preserving perfume
Ancient texts and archaeological excavations show the use of perfumes in some of the earliest human civilizations. Modern perfumery began in the late 19th century with the commercial synthesis of aroma compounds such as vanillin or coumarin, which allowed for the composition of perfumes with smells previously unattainable solely from natural aromatics alone.
The word perfume derives from the Latin perfumare, meaning "to smoke through". Perfumery, as the art of making perfumes, began in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, and was further refined by the Romans and Persians.
The world's first-recorded chemist is considered a woman named Tapputi, a perfume maker mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. She distilled flowers, oil, and calamus with other aromatics, then filtered and put them back in the still several times. In India, perfume and perfumery existed in the Indus civilization (3300 BC – 1300 BC). One of the earliest distillations of Ittar was mentioned in the Hindu Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita.
In 2004 – 2005, archaeologists uncovered what are believed to be the world's oldest surviving perfumes in Pyrgos, Cyprus. The perfumes date back more than 4,000 years. They were discovered in an ancient perfumery, a 4,000-square-meter (43,000 sq ft) factory housing at least 60 stills, mixing bowls, funnels, and perfume bottles. In ancient times people used herbs and spices, such as almond, coriander, myrtle, conifer resin, and bergamot, as well as flowers.
In the 9th century the Arab chemist Al-Kindi (Alkindus) wrote the Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations, which contained more than a hundred recipes for fragrant oils, salves, aromatic waters, and substitutes or imitations of costly drugs. The book also described 107 methods and recipes for perfume-making and perfume-making equipment, such as the alembic (which still bears its Arabic name. [from Greek ἄμβιξ, "cup", "beaker"] described by Synesius in the 4th century).
The Persian chemist Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna) introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by means of distillation, the procedure most commonly used today. He first experimented with the rose. Until his discovery, liquid perfumes consisted of mixtures of oil and crushed herbs or petals, which made a strong blend. Rose water was more delicate, and immediately became popular. Both the raw ingredients and the distillation technology significantly influenced western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry.
The art of perfumery was known in western Europe from 1221, taking into account the monks' recipes of Santa Maria delle Vigne or Santa Maria Novella of Florence, Italy. In the east, the Hungarians produced in 1370 a perfume made of scented oils blended in an alcohol solution – best known as Hungary Water – at the behest of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. The art of perfumery prospered in Renaissance Italy, and in the 16th century the personal perfumer to Catherine de' Medici (1519–1589), Rene the Florentine (Renato il fiorentino), took Italian refinements to France. His laboratory was connected with her apartments by a secret passageway, so that no formulae could be stolen en route. Thanks to Rene, France quickly became one of the European centers of perfume and cosmetics manufacture. Cultivation of flowers for their perfume essence, which had begun in the 14th century, grew into a major industry in the south of France.
Between the 16th and 17th centuries, perfumes were used primarily by the wealthy to mask body odors resulting from infrequent bathing. Partly due to this patronage, the perfume industry developed. In 1693, Italian barber Giovanni Paolo Feminis created a perfume water called Aqua Admirabilis, today best known as eau de cologne; his nephew Johann Maria Farina (Giovanni Maria Farina) took over the business in 1732.
By the 18th century the Grasse region of France, Sicily, and Calabria (in Italy) were growing aromatic plants to provide the growing perfume industry with raw materials. Even today, Italy and France remain the center of European perfume design and trade.
Perfume types reflect the concentration of aromatic compounds in a solvent, which in fine fragrance is typically ethanol or a mix of water and ethanol. Various sources differ considerably in the definitions of perfume types. The intensity and longevity of a perfume is based on the concentration, intensity and longevity of the aromatic compounds, or perfume oils, used. As the percentage of aromatic compounds increases, so does the intensity and longevity of the scent. Specific terms are used to describe a fragrance's approximate concentration by the percent of perfume oil in the volume of the final product. The most widespread terms are:
There is much confusion over the term "cologne," which has three meanings. The first and oldest definition refers to a family of fresh, citrus-based fragrances distilled using extracts from citrus, floral, and woody ingredients. Supposedly these were first developed in the early 18th century in Cologne, Germany, hence the name. This type of "classical cologne" describes unisex compositions "which are basically citrus blends and do not have a perfume parent." Examples include Mäurer & Wirtz's 4711 (created in 1799), and Guerlain's Eau de Cologne Impériale (1853).
In the 20th century, the term took on a second meaning. Fragrance companies began to offer lighter, less concentrated interpretations of their existing perfumes, making their products available to a wider range of customers. Guerlain, for example, offered an Eau de Cologne version of its flagship perfume Shalimar. In contrast to classical colognes, this type of modern cologne is a lighter, diluted, less concentrated interpretation of a more concentrated product, typically a pure parfum. The cologne version is often the lightest concentration from a line of fragrance products.
Finally, the term "cologne" has entered the English language as a generic, overarching term to denote a fragrance worn by a man, regardless of its concentration. The actual product worn by a man may technically be an eau de toilette, but he may still say that he "wears cologne." A similar problem surrounds the term "perfume," which can be used a generic sense to refer to fragrances marketed to women, whether or not the fragrance is actually an extrait.
Classical colognes first appeared in Europe in the 17th century. The first fragrance labeled a "parfum" extract with a high concentration of aromatic compounds was Guerlain's Jicky in 1889. Eau de Toilette appeared alongside parfum around the turn of the century. The EdP concentration and terminology is the most recent. Parfum de toilette and EdP began to appear in the 1970s and gained popularity in the 1980s.
The wide range in the percentages of aromatic compounds that may be present in each concentration means that the terminology of extrait, EdP, EdT, and EdC is quite imprecise. Although an EdP will often be more concentrated than an EdT and in turn an EdC, this is not always the case. Different perfumeries or perfume houses assign different amounts of oils to each of their perfumes. Therefore, although the oil concentration of a perfume in EdP dilution will necessarily be higher than the same perfume in EdT from within a company's same range, the actual amounts vary among perfume houses. An EdT from one house may have a higher concentration of aromatic compounds than an EdP from another.
Furthermore, some fragrances with the same product name but having a different concentration may not only differ in their dilutions, but actually use different perfume oil mixtures altogether. For instance, in order to make the EdT version of a fragrance brighter and fresher than its EdP, the EdT oil may be "tweaked" to contain slightly more top notes or fewer base notes. Chanel No. 5 is a good example: its parfum, EdP, EdT, and now-discontinued EdC concentrations are in fact different compositions (the parfum dates to 1921, whereas the EdP was not developed until the 1980s). In some cases, words such as extrême, intense, or concentrée that might indicate a higher aromatic concentration are actually completely different fragrances, related only because of a similar perfume accord. An example of this is Chanel's Pour Monsieur and Pour Monsieur Concentrée.
As a rule of thumb, women's fragrances tend to have higher levels of aromatic compounds than men's fragrances. Fragrances marketed to men are typically sold as EdT or EdC, rarely as EdP or perfume extracts. Women's fragrances used to be common in all levels of concentration, but today are mainly seen in parfum, EdP and EdT concentrations.
Perfume oils are often diluted with a solvent, though this is not always the case, and its necessity is disputed. By far the most common solvent for perfume oil dilution is an alcohol solution typically a mixture of ethanol and water or a rectified spirit. Perfume oil can also be diluted by means of neutral-smelling oils such as fractionated coconut oil, or liquid waxes such as jojoba oil.
The conventional application of pure perfume (parfum extrait) in Western cultures is at pulse points, such as behind the ears, the nape of the neck, and the insides of wrists, elbows and knees, so that the pulse point will warm the perfume and release fragrance continuously. According to perfumer Sophia Grojsman behind the knees is the ideal point to apply perfume in order that the scent may rise. The modern perfume industry encourages the practice of layering fragrance so that it is released in different intensities depending upon the time of the day. Lightly scented products such as bath oil, shower gel, and body lotion are recommended for the morning; eau de toilette is suggested for the afternoon; and perfume applied to the pulse points for evening. Cologne fragrance is released rapidly, lasting around 2 hours. Eau de toilette lasts from 2 to 4 hours, while perfume may last up to six hours.
A variety of factors can influence how fragrance interacts with the wearer's own physiology and affect the perception of the fragrance. Diet is one factor, as eating spicy and fatty foods can increase the intensity of a fragrance. The use of medications can also impact the character of a fragrance. The relative dryness of the wearer's skin is important, since dry skin will not hold fragrance as long as skin with more oil.
Describing a perfume
The precise formulae of commercial perfumes are kept secret. Even if they were widely published, they would be dominated by such complex ingredients and odorants that they would be of little use in providing a guide to the general consumer in description of the experience of a scent. Nonetheless, connoisseurs of perfume can become extremely skillful at identifying components and origins of scents in the same manner as wine experts.
The most practical way to start describing a perfume is according to the elements of the fragrance notes of the scent or the "family" it belongs to, all of which affect the overall impression of a perfume from first application to the last lingering hint of scent.
The trail of scent left behind by a person wearing perfume is called its sillage, after the French word for "wake", as in the trail left by a boat in water.
Perfume is described in a musical metaphor as having three sets of notes, making the harmonious scent accord. The notes unfold over time, with the immediate impression of the top note leading to the deeper middle notes, and the base notes gradually appearing as the final stage. These notes are created carefully with knowledge of the evaporation process of the perfume.
The scents in the top and middle notes are influenced by the base notes, as well the scents of the base notes will be altered by the type of fragrance materials used as middle notes. Manufacturers of perfumes usually publish perfume notes and typically they present it as fragrance pyramid, with the components listed in imaginative and abstract terms.
Grouping perfumes can never be a completely objective or final process. Many fragrances contain aspects of different families. Even a perfume designated as "single flower", however subtle, will have undertones of other aromatics. "True" unitary scents can rarely be found in perfumes as it requires the perfume to exist only as a singular aromatic material.
Classification by olfactive family is a starting point for a description of a perfume, but it cannot by itself denote the specific characteristic of that perfume.
The traditional classification which emerged around 1900 comprised the following categories:
Since 1945, due to great advances in the technology of perfume creation (i.e., compound design and synthesis) as well as the natural development of styles and tastes, new categories have emerged to describe modern scents:
The Fragrance wheel is a relatively new classification method that is widely used in retail and in the fragrance industry. The method was created in 1983 by Michael Edwards, a consultant in the perfume industry, who designed his own scheme of fragrance classification. The new scheme was created in order to simplify fragrance classification and naming scheme, as well as to show the relationships between each of the individual classes.
The five standard families consist of Floral, Oriental, Woody, Aromatic Fougère, and Fresh, with the first four families borrowing from the classic terminology and the last consisting of newer bright and clean smelling citrus and oceanic fragrances that have arrived in the past generation due to improvements in fragrance technology. Each of the families are in turn divided into subgroups and arranged around a wheel. In this classification scheme, Chanel No.5, which is traditionally classified as an aldehydic floral, would be located under the Soft Floral sub-group, and amber scents would be placed within the Oriental group. As a class, chypre perfumes are more difficult to place since they would be located under parts of the Oriental and Woody families. For instance, Guerlain's Mitsouko is placed under Mossy Woods, but Hermès Rouge, a chypre with more floral character, would be placed under Floral Oriental.
Obtaining natural odorants
Before perfumes can be composed, the odorants used in various perfume compositions must first be obtained. Synthetic odorants are produced through organic synthesis and purified. Odorants from natural sources require the use of various methods to extract the aromatics from the raw materials. The results of the extraction are either essential oils, absolutes, concretes, or butters, depending on the amount of waxes in the extracted product.
All these techniques will, to a certain extent, distort the odor of the aromatic compounds obtained from the raw materials. This is due to the use of heat, harsh solvents, or through exposure to oxygen in the extraction process which will denature the aromatic compounds, which either change their odor character or renders them odorless.
Although fragrant extracts are known to the general public as the generic term "essential oils", a more specific language is used in the fragrance industry to describe the source, purity, and technique used to obtain a particular fragrant extract. Of these extracts, only absolutes, essential oils, and tinctures are directly used to formulate perfumes.
Products from different extraction methods are known under different names even though their starting materials are the same. For instance, orange blossoms from Citrus aurantium that have undergone solvent extraction produces "orange blossom absolute" but that which have been steam distilled is known as "neroli oil".
Perfume compositions are an important part of many industries ranging from the luxury goods sectors, food services industries, to manufacturers of various household chemicals. The purpose of using perfume or fragrance compositions in these industries is to affect customers through their sense of smell and entice them into purchasing the perfume or perfumed product. As such there is significant interest in producing a perfume formulation that people will find aesthetically pleasing.
The job of composing perfumes that will be sold is left up to an expert on perfume composition or known in the fragrance industry as the perfumer. They are also sometimes referred to affectionately as a "Nez" (French for nose) due to their fine sense of smell and skill in smell composition.
The composition of a perfume typically begins with a brief by the perfumer's employer or an outside customer. The customers to the perfumer or their employers, are typically fashion houses or large corporations of various industries. The perfumer will then go through the process of blending multiple perfume mixtures and sell the formulation to the customer, often with modifications of the composition of the perfume. The perfume composition will then be either used to enhance another product as a functional fragrance (shampoos, make-up, detergents, car interiors, etc.), or marketed and sold directly to the public as a fine fragrance.
Although there is no single "correct" technique for the formulation of a perfume, there are general guidelines as to how a perfume can be constructed from a concept. Although many ingredients do not contribute to the smell of a perfume, many perfumes include colorants and anti-oxidants to improve the marketability and shelf life of the perfume, respectively.
Perfume oils usually contain tens to hundreds of ingredients and these are typically organized in a perfume for the specific role they will play. These ingredients can be roughly grouped into four groups:
The top, middle, and base notes of a fragrance may have separate primary scents and supporting ingredients. The perfume's fragrance oils are then blended with ethyl alcohol and water, aged in tanks for several weeks and filtered through processing equipment to, respectively, allow the perfume ingredients in the mixture to stabilize and to remove any sediment and particles before the solution can be filled into the perfume bottles.
Instead of building a perfume from "ground up", many modern perfumes and colognes are made using fragrance bases or simply bases. Each base is essentially modular perfume that is blended from essential oils and aromatic chemicals, and formulated with a simple concept such as "fresh cut grass" or "juicy sour apple". Many of Guerlain's Aqua Allegoria line, with their simple fragrance concepts, are good examples of what perfume fragrance bases are like.
The effort used in developing bases by fragrance companies or individual perfumers may equal that of a marketed perfume, since they are useful in that they are reusable. On top of its reusability, the benefit in using bases for construction are quite numerous:
- Ingredients with "difficult" or "overpowering" scents that are tailored into a blended base may be more easily incorporated into a work of perfume
- A base may be better scent approximations of a certain thing than the extract of the thing itself. For example, a base made to embody the scent for "fresh dewy rose" might be a better approximation for the scent concept of a rose after rain than plain rose oil. Flowers whose scents cannot be extracted, such as gardenia or hyacinth, are composed as bases from data derived from headspace technology.
- A perfumer can quickly rough out a concept from a brief by combining multiple bases, then present it feedback. Smoothing out the "edges" of the perfume can be done after a positive response.
Creating perfumes through reverse engineering with analytical techniques such as Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC/MS) can reveal the "general" formula for any particular perfume. The difficulty of GC/MS analysis arises due to the complexity of a perfume's ingredients. This is particularly due to the presence of natural essential oils and other ingredients consisting of complex chemical mixtures. However, "anyone armed with good GC/MS equipment and experienced in using this equipment can today, within days, find out a great deal about the formulation of any perfume... customers and competitors can analyze most perfumes more or less precisely."
Antique or badly preserved perfumes undergoing this analysis can also be difficult due to the numerous degradation by-products and impurities that may have resulted from breakdown of the odorous compounds. Ingredients and compounds can usually be ruled out or identified using gas chromatograph (GC) smellers, which allow individual chemical components to be identified both through their physical properties and their scent. Reverse engineering of best-selling perfumes in the market is a very common practice in the fragrance industry due to the relative simplicity of operating GC equipment, the pressure to produce marketable fragrances, and the highly lucrative nature of the perfume market.
It is doubtful whether perfumes qualify as appropriate copyright subject matter under the US Copyright Act. The issue has not yet been addressed by any US court. A perfume's scent is not eligible for trademark protection because the scent serves as the functional purpose of the product.
In 2006 the Dutch Supreme Court granted copyright protection to Lancôme's perfume Tresor (Lancôme v. Kecofa). The French Supreme Court has twice taken the position that perfumes lack the creativity to constitute copyrightable expressions (Bsiri-Barbir v. Haarman & Reimer, 2006; Beaute Prestige International v. Senteur Mazal, 2008).
Health and environmental issues
Perfume ingredients, regardless of natural or synthetic origins, may all cause health or environmental problems when used. Although the areas are under active research, much remains to be learned about the effects of fragrance on human health and the environment.
Immunological; asthma and allergy
Evidence in peer-reviewed journals shows that some fragrances can cause asthmatic reactions in some individuals, especially those with severe or atopic asthma. Many fragrance ingredients can also cause headaches, allergic skin reactions or nausea.
In some cases, an excessive use of perfumes may cause allergic reactions of the skin. For instance, acetophenone, ethyl acetate and acetone while present in many perfumes, are also known or potential respiratory allergens. Nevertheless, this may be misleading, since the harm presented by many of these chemicals (either natural or synthetic) is dependent on environmental conditions and their concentrations in a perfume. For instance, linalool, which is listed as an irritant, causes skin irritation when it degrades to peroxides, however the use of antioxidants in perfumes or reduction in concentrations can prevent this. As well, the furanocoumarin present in natural extracts of grapefruit or celery can cause severe allergic reactions and increase sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation.
Some research on natural aromatics have shown that many contain compounds that cause skin irritation. However some studies, such as IFRA's research claim that opoponax is too dangerous to be used in perfumery, still lack scientific consensus. It is also true that sometimes inhalation alone can cause skin irritation.
A number of national and international surveys have identified balsam of Peru, often used in perfumes, as being in the "top five" allergens most commonly causing patch test reactions in people referred to dermatology clinics. A study in 2001 found that 3.8% of the general population patch tested was allergic to it. Many perfumes contain components identical to balsam of Peru.
Balsam of Peru is used as a marker for perfume allergy. Its presence in a cosmetic is denoted by the INCI term Myroxylon pereirae. Balsam of Peru has been banned by the International Fragrance Association since 1982 from use as a fragrance compound, but may be present as an extract or distillate in other products, where mandatory labelling is not required for usage of 0.4% or less.
There is scientific evidence that nitro-musks such as musk xylene could cause cancer in some specific animal tests. These reports were evaluated by the EU Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety (SCCS, formerly the SCCNFP ) and musk xylene was found to be safe for continued use in cosmetic products. It is in fact part of the procedures of the Cosmetic Regulation in Europe that materials classified as carcinogens require such a safety evaluation by the authorities to be allowed in cosmetic consumer products.
Although other ingredients such as polycyclic synthetic musks, have been reported to be positive in some in-vitro hormone assays, these reports have been reviewed by various authorities. For example, for one of the main polycyclic musks Galaxolide (HHCB) these reviews includes those of the EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, the EU's Priority Substances Review, the EU Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risk and more recently also the US EPA. The outcome of all of these reviews over the past decade or so is that there is no safety concerns for human health. Reviews with similar positive outcome exists for another main polycyclic musk (AHTN) as well for instance on its safe us in cosmetics by the EU.
Many natural aromatics, such as oakmoss absolutes, basil oil, rose oil and many others contain allergens or carcinogenic compounds, the safety of which is either governed by regulations (e.g. allowed methyl eugenol levels in the EU Cosmetics Regulation (Entry 102, Annex III of the EU Cosmetics Regulation.) or through various limitations set by the International Fragrance Association.
Certain chemicals found in perfume are often toxic, at least for small insects if not for humans. For example, the compound Tricyclodecenyl allyl ether is often found in synthetic perfumes and has insect repellent property.
Synthetic musks are pleasant in smell and relatively inexpensive, as such they are often employed in large quantities to cover the unpleasant scent of laundry detergents and many personal cleaning products. Due to their large-scale use, several types of synthetic musks have been found in human fat and milk, as well as in the sediments and waters of the Great Lakes.
These pollutants may pose additional health and environmental problems when they enter human and animal diets.
The demands for aromatic materials such as sandalwood, agarwood, and musk has led to the endangerment of these species, as well as illegal trafficking and harvesting.
The perfume industry in the US is not directly regulated by the FDA, instead the FDA controls the safety of perfumes through their ingredients and requires that they be tested to the extent that they are Generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Due to the need for protection of trade secrets, companies rarely give the full listing of ingredients regardless of their effects on health. In Europe, as from 11 March 2005, the mandatory listing of a set of 26 recognized fragrance allergens was enforced. The requirement to list these materials is dependent on the intended use of the final product. The limits above which the allegens are required to be declared are 0.001% for products intended to remain on the skin, and 0.01% for those intended to be rinsed off. This has resulted in many old perfumes like chypres and fougère classes, which require the use of oakmoss extract, being reformulated.
Fragrance compounds in perfumes will degrade or break down if improperly stored in the presence of:
Proper preservation of perfumes involves keeping them away from sources of heat and storing them where they will not be exposed to light. An opened bottle will keep its aroma intact for several years, as long as it is well stored. However the presence of oxygen in the head space of the bottle and environmental factors will in the long run alter the smell of the fragrance.
Perfumes are best preserved when kept in light-tight aluminium bottles or in their original packaging when not in use, and refrigerated to relatively low temperatures: between 3–7 °C (37–45 °F). Although it is difficult to completely remove oxygen from the headspace of a stored flask of fragrance, opting for spray dispensers instead of rollers and "open" bottles will minimize oxygen exposure. Sprays also have the advantage of isolating fragrance inside a bottle and preventing it from mixing with dust, skin, and detritus, which would degrade and alter the quality of a perfume.
There exist several archives and museums devoted to the preservation of historical perfumes, namely the Osmothèque, which stocks over 3,000 perfumes from the past two millennia in their original formulations. All scents in their collection are preserved in non-actinic glass flasks flushed with argon gas, stored in thermally insulated compartments maintained at 12 °C (53.6 °F) in a large vault.