Perfumes as we know them today

The lay public and consumers of perfumes will never, ever, actually get to know what goes into the making of a perfume. The chemical formulae for these are very, very closely guarded secrets. But even if they were published, they would consist of complex ingredients and odorants that would be of no use to the general consumer in describing the actual experience of a scent.

The most practical way to describe a perfume is according to the elements of the fragrance notes of the scent or the family it belongs to, all of which influence the overall impression of a specific perfume – from first application to the last lingering hint of a scent.

Over the last half a century or so,  perfume production has changed due to great advances in the technology of perfume creation using compound design and synthesis,  as well as changing styles and tastes; new categories of perfumes for men and women have emerged to describe modern-day fragrances. These can be briefly described as:

  • Green
  • Aquatic
  • Citrus
  • Fruity
  • Gourmand
  • Bright Floral
  • Oceanic/Ozonic

The ‘secret’ ingredients in a perfume

As mentioned already, there are many sources that go into the make-up of a perfume. From the traditional and age-old aromatics to 21st century compounds, fragrances for men and women are complex, complicated and extremely difficult to mix and balance to get just the right bouquet of scents that will have the consumer fall in love with a particular scent.

Animal sources

These are actually somewhat esoteric and seem to come from animals that belong to myth and legend. Let’s take a look at the most used animal sources:

  • Musk: Originally derived from the musk sacs of the Asian musk deer, it is now replaced by the use of synthetic or white musk…
  • Ambergris: Lumps of oxidized and fatty compounds, which are secreted and expelled by the sperm whale. But since the harvesting of ambergris involves no harm to its animal source, it remains one of the few animal sources around which little or no controversy now exists.
  • Hyraceum: Commonly known as “Africa Stone”, is the petrified excrement of the Rock Hyrax.
  • Castoreum: Obtained from the odorous sacs of the North American beaver.
  • Honeycomb: From the honeycomb of the honeybee.
  • Civet: Obtained from the odorous sacs of the civets.

Aromatics sources

Essentially derived from plants – long a source of essential oils (for example – grapeseed oil, lime oil, jojoba oil, etc.) and aroma compounds. By far the largest source of fragrant compounds used in perfumery, essential oils from plants they can be derived from various parts of a plant. Take the everyday coriander for instance. The aerial portions and seeds of coriander have remarkably different odors from each other. Yet another example would be the orange: orange leaves, blossoms, and fruit zest are the respective sources of petit grain, neroli, and orange oil. Other aromatic sources are:

  • Flowers and blossoms: Undoubtedly the largest source of aromatics.
  • Fruits: The most commonly used fruits yield their aromatics from the rind including citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and limes.
  • Bark: These include cinnamon and cascarilla.
  • Leaves and twigs: The ones used most often are lavender leaf, patchouli, sage, violets, rosemary, and citrus leaves.
  • Roots, rhizomes and bulbs: Commonly used portions include iris rhizomes, vetiver roots, and parts of the ginger family.
  • Resins: Valued since antiquity, resins have been widely used in incense and perfumery.
  • Woods: Extremely important in providing the base notes to a perfume, wood oils and distillates are indispensable in perfumery.
  • Seeds: These include tonka bean, carrot seed, coriander, caraway, cocoa, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, and anise.

Other sources from nature

  • “Seaweed”: Distillates are often used as essential oil in perfumes.
  • Lichens: The most commonly used lichens include oak moss and tree moss.

Chemicals at work: synthetic sources

Synthetics provide fragrances which are not found in nature or are difficult to replicate such as the fragrances from fresh fruits. Which is why a whole host of modern perfumes contain synthesized odorants. Take Calone for instance, a synthetic compound, it gives a fresh marine scent used in modern perfumes.  This compound is just one of many that are used in the manufacture of perfumes and colognes for men and women.