How are Perfumes Made? The Secrets of Fragrance Creation
If you’ve ever wondered how the perfumes you use are made, you’re not alone. While there are many brands on the market, each smelling uniquely different from the next, there are other questions that arise from those that wear these fragrances on a daily basis: How do these companies develop their signature scents? How are these smells blended together? Can anyone create his or her own scent? What makes one perfume smell so much better than another? By asking these questions and reading further, you can get to know just how perfume is made — as well as understand why some brands smell better than others.
The Power of the Scent
Not all smells are created equal. Smells are a powerful communication tool: they can influence our moods, they can help us navigate through unfamiliar spaces and they can often have a strong connection to memories. Part of what makes smell so powerful is that it bypasses our conscious brain (which makes sense, as smell was an important part of human development before humans developed language). When you inhale scent molecules, your body releases dopamine and other chemicals that give you that I love that smell! feeling without you even realizing why you love it—it just feels good. So when companies create products with fragrance blends or custom perfumes for clients, what's really going on behind-the-scenes?
The Chemistry of Smell
Humans can distinguish between at least 10,000 different odors, but it's been estimated that we are capable of detecting over a trillion unique scents. In other words, your nose is kind of amazing. How does it do all that great stuff? To start with, there are special receptors in your nose called olfactory receptors, which bind to various molecules in order to make smells and send them through your body via neurological pathways. Your brain identifies these odorant molecules as they travel through your nose by recognizing their shapes—you know that face everyone makes when they smell something really gross? Sound familiar? Well, it’s because each molecule has its own distinct shape and because our brains have come to associate that shape with a certain smell! Pretty cool huh?! As you can see, creating fragrances requires an understanding of how to chemically manipulate molecules so that they produce desired smells and how those scents will be perceived by humans.
Creating a Great Scent
Every year, fragrance companies release thousands of new fragrances. But, how many smell truly unique and wonderful? Making a unique perfume is no easy feat. In fact, many companies spend months—or even years—of research to craft a scent that no one has ever smelled before. How do they do it?
One of the most important factors in creating a good scent is choosing a quality ingredient base. A well-blended ingredient base can support any particular note or texture that you want in your final product. A good place to begin when formulating an essential oil blend is with basic ingredients like peppermint, lemongrass, lavender and bergamot. These classic oils give off natural aromas that instantly evoke certain feelings or images—but you can combine them in different ways to get dramatically different results. Peppermint and lavender together, for example, make for an energizing experience while orange blossom mixed with lemon gives off an outdoorsy vibe. You’ll also need to think about how strong you want your fragrance to be. Stronger scents last longer but are also more overpowering, which may not be what you’re going for if you’re looking for something subtle. You can adjust how long a scent lasts by changing its pH level (scent molecules move faster at higher pH levels) or by adding other substances like fixatives or alcohols into your mix.
One of the biggest challenges in perfume creation is coming up with something truly unique. After all, it takes years of research and development just to come up with one new idea—and even then, it might not work out!
Choosing A Base Note
In perfume making, there are four main ingredients that form the base note: oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood and vetiver. These scents are very woody and earthy, which may be why some people don’t care for them initially. As we all know though, these fragrances become more mellow with age as they combine with other notes. These scents also have a strong scent of their own. Thus if you choose to wear a perfume that has one of these scents in it you will not have to worry about layering it with anything else because they are already very strong on their own. If you prefer a lighter base note or are just starting out creating your fragrance at home choosing one or two others would be ideal.
Choosing Middle Notes
One secret to making a good fragrance is blending different scents together in just such a way that no one scent dominates. It’s not always easy, but there are some basic rules. A main note is your main component—the thing that people will identify as this smells like... An accent note creates an impression on top of that smell, but it isn’t as strong. Middle notes are supporting players: you don’t notice them all the time, but they give depth and richness to whatever scent is on top. Top notes are exactly what they sound like: these ingredients make up just 10 percent of your perfume oil mixture, so they have to jump out at you right away.
Choosing Top Notes
When you smell a perfume, what you’re actually smelling are top notes, which quickly evaporate off your skin and give way to other scents, called middle notes and then base notes. Depending on how long a scent lasts, different techniques are used to make it. One common practice is to create a blend of several perfumes with differing evaporation rates—this gives you more control over how long your fragrance lasts on your skin. For example, if you want something that has strong top notes but doesn’t last very long, consider choosing scents that evaporate quickly; for something subtle with stronger base notes, choose slower-evaporating ingredients. Base notes also tend to be heavier and have a denser texture than their counterparts, so they can help extend wear time even further.
It takes years of training to become an expert in creating fragrances: So, before you launch into writing about how all it takes is one quick sniff of someone's wrist or lapel (to know exactly what kind of woodsy or floral scent they're wearing), keep in mind that most people who work in fragrance development have an advanced degree in chemistry or biology as well as extensive experience with industry standards and materials.
Remember: just because something seems easy doesn't mean everyone can do it well.