The word perfume is from a Latin phrase meaning “through smoke” and was thought to have been invented by the ancient Egyptians who burned fragrant woods and plants for their pleasant odors. Over the years perfume has been used, refined, and enhanced by every major civilization, and today perfume as we know it is a very big business.
Today’s modern perfume has three main components:
The scent – Virtually anything natural or synthetic that has an odor can be used in the making of perfume. Typically scents are made from flowers, citrus, spices, woods, and sometimes even leather.
The fixative – These ingredients act to stabilize the aromatic compound and help to make the scent last longer.
The solvent – This is usually alcohol and keeps bacteria from forming and helps maintain an even consistency so it can be easily applied.
The category a fragrance belongs to is defined by how much of the scent (or aromatic compound) is used in the product. This also plays a factor in determining the price as the higher the concentration of scent the more expensive the fragrance will be:
Lotions and aftershaves generally have a 1 to 2% scent base
Eau de Cologne products are generally 2 to 3% pure scent
Eau de Toilettes run between 5 to 20% scent
Eau de Parfums will have from 10 to 30% aromatic compound in them
Perfume Extract or Parfum has the greatest concentration of scent, between 20 and 40%
Women’s products are usually categorized as perfume, Eau de perfume, toilet water, and cologne and men’s products are sold as perfume, cologne, and aftershave.
Surprisingly fragrances and music share a common term, notes. Perfumes are often described by the different “notes” that make up the scent. These notes are designed to emerge at different times during the scent span of a fragrance just as an orchestra will have different instruments playing throughout a musical composition.
Top Notes are the strongest scents but do not last very long. This is the initial burst of smell you get when you first take a sniff of your favorite perfume or cologne. The top notes are often spice or citrus-based.
Middle (or heart notes) makes up the main part of the scent that emerges after the top notes start to fade away and are usually softer and mellower than the initial scent. These scents are usually floral in nature.
Bass notes form the foundation of the scent and are usually deep and musky in nature and emerge to blend with the middle notes not to replace them.
Fragrances are very complex products that go through many stages of development before reaching the consumer. There are tens of thousands of different perfumes and colognes available today, each one having its own unique scent signature and what once was reserved for the wealthy and privileged is now available to everyone.