Perfume Guide

What are perfumes?

  • Perfumes are a mixture of essential oils extracted from plants and aroma compounds. These are then mixed with a solvent carrier such as ethanol and fixatives.
  • Essential oils are volatile aromatic compounds extracted by distillation, expression or solvent extraction from plants.
  • Aroma compounds or fragrances are chemical compounds that have an odour due to their volatility.
  • Perfumes are similar in creation to flavours used in food.
  • They may be analysed by chemical methods including gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.
  • Perfumers must have a fine sense of smell and a scientific knowledge of chemical compounds to create new perfumes.

Types of concentration

The types of concentration of perfume are dependent on the amount and type of solvent mixed with the essential oil.

  • Eau de Cologne (EDC) – a light perfume with a concentration of 2–5% essential oils in dilute ethanol. This will last for up to 2 hours.
  • Eau de Toilette (EDT) – a perfume solution containing 5–20% aromatic compounds in an oil and water base. This is a dilute form of perfume and may last between 2 and 4 hours.
  • Eau de Parfum (EDP) – a perfume containing 10–30% essential oils in ethanol. This is the most popular form of perfume and its scent may last between 3–5 hours.
  • Perfume Extract - a perfume containing the most amount of essential oils at 20–40% with a longevity of up to 6 hours.

A perfume will gradually evaporate over a few hours on the body. The higher the amount of aroma compounds in the perfume, the greater the intensity or strength of the odour and the longer the life of the scent.



  • Natural aroma compounds and essential oils are mainly derived from plants.
  • The price of essential oils is dependent on the ease of cultivating and harvesting the plant, and then extracting the oil afterwards.
  • Flowers and blossoms are the greatest source of essential oils. Examples of these include rose oil produced by crushing the petals of roses and using steam distillation, and jasmine where it takes 7,000,000 jasmine flowers to produce 1kg of oil.
  • Leaves and twigs may be used including rosemary and lavender.
  • Barks can provide oils such as cinnamon by thrashing the bark, soaking it in seawater and distilling off the oil.
  • Fresh fruits are used commonly for their rinds particularly citrus fruits. Most fruit notes in perfumes, however, come from synthetic sources.
  • Seeds are another source of aroma compounds including cocoa and nutmeg.
  • Woods such as rosewood, sandalwood and pine are used in perfumery.
  • Roots, rhizomes and bulbs can be used from plants to obtain natural aroma compounds. An example of this is ginger, which comes from the rhizome of a plant.
  • Resins such as pine and fir resins, and even myrrh, originating from the dried sap of a tree, may be used.
  • Even Lichens such as oakmoss can be used in obtaining aroma compounds.
  • Aside from plant sources, essential oils may be acquired from animal sources including honeycomb and musk.


  • Using organic chemistry, chemical compounds are used to match those found in nature.


  • Perfumes should be stored away from heat, light and in the absence of oxygen. Unopened perfumes can last for up to 4 years under correct storage conditions.

Application of the perfume

  • Perfumes should be applied to pulse points - on the wrist, behind the ears, behind the knees, at the back of the neck, and the cleavage area.
  • They are best applied to moist skin.

What Types of Fragrances are there?

Fragrances are classified into types of Families (smell) and uses.  The families are:
Fougre (Fern) – Warm and mossy, sweet and spicy, bit woody with citrus and lavender notes.
Citrus – Fresh and citrusy often combined with floral, fruity, spicy and woody notes.
Green – Fresh lush forests, green leaves and cut grass often combined with floral and fruity notes.
Aquatic – Fresh and sea breezy, mountain air notes.
Floral – Freshly cut flowers of different notes.
Modern Floral – Soft powdery abstract smelling flowers often with sharp, burnt or metallic notes.
Floriental – Soft flowery and sweet and spicy notes.
Soft Oriental – Somewhat sweet, spicy and incense notes.
Oriental – Sweet, heavy spicy and musky notes.
Woody Oriental – Spicy and woody notes.
Chypre – Woody, mossy and flowery or citrusy notes and not overly sweet.
Woody – Warm and dry woody notes.

Fragrance facts and tips

  • Keep fragrances away from heat and light – an unopened fragrance will be good for at least four years.
  • Avoid storing fragrances in bathrooms as the fluctuating temperatures and humidity will degrade the scent rapidly.
  • Exposure to the air should be kept to a minimum, as once opened the ingredients will deteriorate; this applies to dab-on fragrances more so than sprays.
  • People who are sensitive to fragrances should apply the liquid to clothes as opposed to directly on the skin.
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