Since time immemorial, humans have worn perfumes to mask and modify their body odour. They extracted oils from fruits, spices, blossoms, tree roots, and other natural ingredients to make pleasant smelling fragrances.
Today, you’ll find both natural and man-made scents in most items, from candles to cleaning products, shower gels to lotions, and personal cologne, as well as perfumes. Perfume manufacturing is a multi-billion-dollar industry. In 2018 alone, it was worth a staggering $31.4 billion, and experts estimated that its value will increase to $52.4 billion or more by 2025.
Perfumes are so common that it’s easy to forget the process the scents undergo before they get revealed to the world. In fact, the scientific process of making perfume has not evolved over the years. It has only been refined and improved.
If you're interested in knowing how perfumes are made, you've come to the right place. Here, you'll find a detailed guideline on how your favourite fragrance gets extracted and processed into the final product you love. Read on to learn more…
Brief History of Perfumes
The history of perfumes dates back to the Archaic period (8000 BC- 1000 BC). At the time, perfumers had no scientific method of creating synthetic smells. All the scents come from mother earth in one way or another. Depending on the era and location, rich people bathed their bodies with perfumes infused waters and burnt different woods to fill the air with rich scents.
Even in the Bible, the three wise men who came to visit baby Jesus brought gifts of myrrh and frankincense. But perhaps the enthusiastic perfumers of the time were ancient Egyptians. Egyptian ladies loved harvesting and adorning clothes wrapped with lilies.
Besides the aroma of lilies, they wore many scents: cinnamon, myrrh, parsley, rose, and lemongrass. The perfumes makers even developed complex perfume blends such as kyphi. This perfume blend comprises raw materials like myrrh, honey, juniper berries, resins, pine, frankincense, and wine. These ingredients were crushed in a motor or heated to produce a sweet-smelling paste.
However, in ancient times, perfumes had more use than masking body scents. Humans wore the perfumes as a prophylactic barrier from diseases and protection. Egyptians, Chinese, and Persians used fragrances during religious and other ceremonies.
Egyptian perfumery spread to the Romans and Greeks. In the 13th century, crusaders brought perfume samples to England, Italy, Palestine, and France. Doctors used the healing properties of the perfumes to heal plagues and protect people from the disease.
Over the years, the art of perfume making remained the same, but the methods of extractions of oils from ingredients advanced. For instance, the Persians discovered the distillation process that used alcohol as a base for perfume instead of oils. Thanks to the discovery, they were able to reign supreme in the perfume business for centuries.
Also, scientists began developing synthetic chemicals that mimic scents produced by natural ingredients.
Raw Ingredients for Perfume Making
Perfumes result from scented oils extracted from natural ingredients. The ingredients include flowers, grasses, spices, roots, wood, gums, leaves, fruits, and animal secretions.
Besides that, there are several resources used by the perfumer when making the fragrance. They include coal tars, petrochemicals, coal, and alcohol.
However, certain plants don’t have natural oils. Here’s where synthetic chemicals come in. The chemical can re-create the scents of plants like lilies or other flowering plants. A perfumer can also create unique fragrances using synthetic chemicals.
Perfume makers can also source ingredients from animals. For instance, Ambergris comes from sperm whales, castor from beavers, and musk from male deer. Generally, animal products act as fixatives to enable perfumes to evaporate slowly and fragrance to last longer. Mosses, synthetic chemicals, resins, and coal tar can also act as fixatives.
The ingredients often get diluted with alcohol and sometimes water. The ratio of alcohol to scent will determine the strength of the perfume or cologne. Most perfumes contain between 10% to 20% scent dissolved in alcohol or water. Cologne contain between 3% to 5% scent diluted in 90% or 90% alcohol.
Common Natural Ingredients
Frankincense or Olibanum
The Most Expensive Perfume Ingredients
Mother earth has provided us with several natural ingredients that produce amazing scents. However, they’re never abundant. It’s a painstaking process to source for these products, and some are highly regulated. Generally, perfumes containing these ingredients usually cost a lot. They include:
Oil of Agar Wood
Read deer musk
Sperm whale excrement or Ambergris
The fragrance from these ingredients is incredibly unique and highly concentrated that no synthetic chemical can mimic. Anyone who wears perfume made from them will feel like a goddess.
Common Synthetic Chemicals
Synthetic reproduced musk
Iso E Super
Synthetic reproduced Ambergris
Synthetic reproduced Lily of the Valley
Process of Perfume Manufacturing
Before a perfume can get released to the market, it has to undergo several processes. The process includes the collection of ingredients, extraction, blending, ageing, and quality control. All these processes play a vital role.
Collection of Raw Materials
The laborious perfume manufacturing process begins with the collection of raw materials. Most of the natural ingredients, like flowers, wood, or roots, get hand-picked to maintain the purity of their fragrance. Perfume manufacturers obtain animal products by extracting oils directly from the animals. But this usually means killing the animals. That’s why most companies prefer creating synthetic compounds that mimic the scents produced by the animals instead.
After the collection of the ingredients, the oils that make the perfume gets extracted. But separating the perfume essence from the plant parts is no easy process. That’s why they’re several ancient and modern extraction methods used. The methods include:
Expression is perhaps the oldest and least complicated extraction method. It’s often used to extract oils from citrus fruits, Tarocco Oranges, and Mandarin fruits. The citrus gets placed on a larger plate, then pressed down using a top plate manually or mechanically until the natural essences start oozing out.
The large plate sometimes might have pins that prick the skin to release the oils held within. Also, the plates get spun to expunge all the oil. Only the pressed citrus remains between the plates.
2. Solvent Extraction
In this method, the flower or plant gets soaked in a cold solvent (benzene or petroleum ether) placed in big, rotating drums. When the ingredients dissolve completely, the resulting mixture gets cleaned with another solvent (ethyl alcohol) to extract a concentrated version of the oil called 'ABSOLUTE.'
3. Enfleurage or Maceration
The enfleurage extraction method involves laying petals of flowers on glass trays containing beeswax or grease overnight for the scent to leak into grease or wax. The petals get changed and replaced every day until the grease is completely saturated with the fragrance. Next, the grease will be cleaned with a solvent that will extract the pure oils.
Maceration varies a little from enfleurage. Instead of petals being placed on glass trays, they are socked in warmed fats. The mixture then gets dissolved or cleaned with alcohol to extract the pure essence.
4. Steam Distillation
Here, the raw materials, whether plants or flowers, get placed on top of the water in a large still. Next, more water gets added, and the ingredients mix in with the water. Once the water starts boiling, the raw materials will release the aroma into the steam.
The fragrance will rise through tubes, where it's cooled and liquified. Since water and oil don't mix, the collected liquid will contain layers of water, and the perfumer can separate the essential oils. The remaining scented water usually gets used by the food and drink companies.
Blending The Oils
After extraction of essential oils, the master perfumer, or 'nose,' will blend them to create a specific perfume scent. To create a certain fragrance, perfumers must conduct extensive testing and mixing. It might take several years and over 8000 varying ingredients before the desired formula for the perfume can get created.
Once the master perfumer has created the scent, he will mix it with alcohol to dilute the scent. The amount of alcohol determines whether the concoction will be perfume, cologne, or eau de toilette. Cologne is the least potent with approximately 80% to 90% alcohol and 3% to 5% perfume essence. Water usually makes up about 10% of the entire concoction. Eau de toilette has a low concentration of alcohol, while perfume has the highest concentration of essential oil, sometimes up to 40%.
Understanding Perfume Notes
Notes determine a products’ potency, effects, and value. They describe the first scent you smell after applying perfume. Notes can be categorised into three groups.
Top Notes: They’re made up of small light molecules that evaporate faster. Although they’re very volatile, these notes are shared and very assertive.
Middle notes: The notes can last between 20 minutes to 1 hour after perfume applications.
Base Notes: These notes comprise large, heavy molecules. They evaporate slowly and produce rich fragrances. Most base notes originate from musk, castor, Ambergris, vanilla, cedarwood, and sandalwood.
To create high-end perfumes, master perfumers and perfume companies age their final mixture for months and sometimes up to one year. They keep the perfume in a cool, dark area to allow the alcohol to bond with perfume essence, resulting in the proper scent.
At the end of the allocated time, a “nose” will come and test the scent. The mixture will only pass if the scent is stronger than it was previously. The expert will confirm if the concoction has three notes: top notes, middle notes, and base notes. If it doesn’t, the mixture might undergo further blending.
Usually, aged fragrances get cooled and filtered before they get bottled. Keeping it away from light and oxygen minimises the damaging effect of time. Chemists today use Butylated Hydroxytoluene or other antioxidants to boost the fragrance's longevity.
The last process is Quality Control. This is a crucial step in perfume making because it ensures the end product contains no undesired or harmful compounds. Such products can get banned and tarnish the brand's reputation. Even more importantly, harmful products raise concerns about the health of the users.
The perfume industry heavily relies on plants, flowers, and animal products to obtain essential oils. However, finding and extracting oils from such ingredients is no simple task. For example, if seasonal flowers fail to grow or get destroyed by pests or diseases, it can affect perfume companies. Furthermore, similar species of flowers or plants growing in different locations under varying conditions may yield essential oils with varying scents.
Animals once killed for their scent essence are now endangered and protected from hunters. In fact, since 1978, products made from sperm whale poop/vomit/ ambergris got banned. Let’s not forget is expensive and troublesome to extract oils from animals.
Because of these, perfumeries are looking into synthetic chemicals which mimic the scent produced by natural ingredients. Some chemicals even have their unique scent. These lab-manufactured compounds give perfumers more freedom and stability in their art.
What the Future of the Perfume Industry Holds
Most perfumeries today are using synthetic ingredients for manufacturing their products. Synthetic chemicals allow them to create scents usually produced by naturally occurring elements and even animals. As a result, they save time, cost, and effort in extracting essential oils from natural ingredients.
Additionally, they can meet the demands of their customers hassle-free. The perfume industry is here to stay. Keep in mind perfumes have a wide range of benefits, from masking body odours to healing, improving memory to easing depression, and so on. Scientists are even researching the ability of scents to help in balancing hormones and body energy.
It’s no secret! Perfumes are important to us. That’s why perfume manufacturers want to venture into synthesising human pheromones. As such, we can appeal to other people. These scents can even stimulate sexual arousal receptors in our brains.
People wear perfumes for a myriad of reasons. Some want to boost their appearance or self-esteem, while others want to stand apart. However, very few people actually understand what goes into making a single bottle of their favourite fragrance.
Understanding the art of perfume making will make you appreciate how a single drop can evoke pleasant memories and feel the air with stunning scents. Don’t try something without knowing its ingredients, production process, or blend.
That said, we hope you’ve enjoyed our piece interesting. Thank you for stopping by!
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