What Do Perfumes Consist of?

The influence of fragrances on the mental and physical state of people has been known since ancient times, as I told you in the previous article. Today, we know that aromatic substances are organic compounds that have their own, mostly pleasant odour, and can pass it on to other objects or substances.

These aromatic compounds are used in the production of perfumes and cosmetics, but also for soaps, synthetic detergents, even for food products. Scientifically, the fragrance is related to the chemical structure of the aromatic substances, and it is their molecules that carry the aroma to the sensory organs of smell.

Perfume Making

The perfume maker obtains various aromatic mixtures, called perfume compositions, through the combination of aromatic substances. They are harmoniously created mixtures of separate substances with a specific aroma and purpose, and this harmony reflects the knowledge, creativity and taste of the artist.

Depending on their origin, the aromatic substances are separated into natrual and synthetic ones.

Natural Sources of Perfume Notes

Natural sources are widespread and can be found both in the flora — flowers, spices, fruits, leaves, resins, seeds, lichens, etc. and in the fauna — glands, bee products, etc. They can vary in smell, quality, intensity and price. This is because many factors determine it — suppliers, region in which they are grown, processing and more.

Herbal sources of perfume notes have been used for centuries in perfumery. They are among the most common and most preferred, although their main function is quite different from their purpose in the perfume industry.

Essential Oils

Natural aromatic substances include essential oils, absolute oils, concretes, resinoids, resins, conditioners and other extraction products.

Animal sources of perfume notes are less common, but they have high prices and strict requirements. They include various animal glands, fats, beeswax, etc.

Synthetic Sources of Perfume Notes

The first synthetic aromatic substances date from the nineteenth century. The development of the production and use of flavouring substances in households and industry led to a shortage of natural raw materials, which increased the price of the products. As a result, the search for alternative sources began and this led to the production of synthetic aromatic substances.

Thus, begins the synthesis of substances that have analogues in nature. Motivated solely by commercial goals, perfumers have begun to create fragrances with the addition of synthetic materials.

Annually, the chemical industry produces thousands of pleasant-smelling substances that reduce, suppress or destroy odours.


Synthetic sources of perfume notes are uniform and do not have variations in aroma or intensity. As they are synthetically created in a laboratory, it is much easier to monitor the quality of the products in their manufacture. Unlike natural sources, they contain the same basic chemical component that contributes unalterably to the perfume composition.

Synthetic sources include substances from the groups of hydrocarbons, alcohols, esters, aldehydes, ketones, lactones, etc. They are products of fine organic synthesis.

The modern medium-quality perfume is 85% synthetic and only 15% natural, while 150 years ago it was only 15% synthetic and 85% natural.

In addition to completely innovative fragrances, that are not found in wildlife, synthetic sources are also used when the supply of natural sources is difficult, time-consuming, expensive or prohibited/restricted by IFRA standards.

The advantages of synthetic fragrances over natural ones are cheaper, easier to find and easier to maintain the same quality in different perfume batches.

International Perfumery Association (IFRA)

International Fragrance AssociationThe International Perfumery Association, better known as IFRA, is the creator of the standards that are internationally accepted and followed for the risk assessment and safe use of perfume ingredients.

Established in 1973, it has its head office in Geneva, Switzerland and its operations centre in Brussels, Belgium. It represents the perfume industry worldwide. IFRA monitors the safety and quality of perfume ingredients by assigning to each of its members the responsibility of bringing the use of perfume ingredients following the association’s standards.

IFRA’s principle standards are:

  • Prohibition. The Association has the right to completely ban the use of a perfume ingredient. In this case, the perfume manufacturer is obliged to remove this ingredient from the perfume formula and replace it with another. This is one of the reasons for the renovation of existing perfumes.
  • Restriction. The Association has the right to restrict the use of a perfume ingredient. In this case, the perfume manufacturer is obliged to use the given material only below the specified maximum concentration.
  • Requirement for purity. The Association has the right to require the use of a perfume ingredient in a certain purity, and the perfume manufacturer must use the material according to the relevant purity criteria.

Other Ingredients in Perfumes

Perfume compositions include a variety of flavouring substances, up to 100 components, some of which are trace elements. In the most luxurious series the number of components is greater, which determines the greater value of the aroma.

If we taste the smell of a flower, we will find out that it is a combination of fragrances from which a part is separated, that determines the main specific aroma. If this part is removed, then the composition loses its meaning. Similarly, there is a central core in the perfume that determines the aroma of the whole composition. It consists of several aromatic substances, which are perceived in a certain sequence.

Perfume Creation

One of the most important factors for the originality of a perfume composition is the completeness of the aroma. The more components are included, the better expressed it is. In addition to aromatic ingredients, other substances are used in perfumes. Here are which they are:

  • Solvents. Highly concentrated ethanol is used as a universal solvent.
  • Modifiers. The scent improves and becomes fuller with their help while the perfume composition is stationary.
  • Fixatives. These are the substances that are added to the perfume composition in order to delay the evaporation of flavours for a longer time, increasing the durability of the product. Fixation also results in colouring the fragrant liquid, as resins and conditioners are often used as fixatives.

Furthermore, substances that have nothing in common with the essential elements of the aroma, and sometimes even sharply contrast with them, are often used to give more density and originality to the perfume. They can be added in different amounts, and their main action is to exalt other fragrances — they add passion, brightness and some darkness.

The scents that evaporate first create the main impression of the perfume. They are also used to cover the aroma of the solvent. There are 3 levels in which the aroma develops. They depend on the evaporation of its constituents.

  • Top aromatic notes. They provide the initial impact — a light and fresh scent that lasts for about 8-15 minutes. Their ability to attract people makes them one of the most powerful “weapons” in the perfume sales because they are often the ones who “win” the customer in the first minutes.

These notes form between 20-40% of the perfume. The most commonly used are citrus scents and green spices.

  • Middle aromatic notes. They are also known as the “heart” of the perfume and break after the top notes for 10-30 minutes. The middle notes overwhelm our senses after the top notes have evaporated. They remain constant over time and give the character of the perfume, and also “help” the spread of the aroma in its base notes.

They make up between 40-80% of perfume. The most used are fruity and floral scents, as well as spicy spices.

  • Base aromatic notes. They provide a lasting emanation of the perfume. This is the final phase in the unfolding of the aroma and helps to fix it to the skin. Base notes are richer and deeper, and even enhance their scent over time. They are the ones that leave a lasting impression on perfume and are often felt hours after we have applied it.

They make up between 10-25% of perfume and are the most expensive perfume notes. The most commonly used include saturated scents such as cedar wood, sandalwood, vetiver, vanilla, amber, patchouli, musk, etc.

Perfume Notes Pyramide

The act of making a perfume is called composing. This creative and scientific activity includes knowledge of aromatic substances, their properties and toxicity. The method of creating a perfume composition is impossible without rich imagination, a taste and knowledge of fashion trends.

In the next article, I will introduce you to the types of perfume compositions. Stay tuned!



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