What Is Perfume?

Sonal Panse

A perfume is a mix of aromatic compounds that either occurs naturally, is created from natural plant or animal extracts, or is artificially obtained by chemical synthesis. In nature, plants use perfume to attract pollinators, and animals like musk deer use it to attract potential mates. From archaeological evidence and descriptions in ancient texts, it is known that humans around the world have been using perfume as a beauty aid since the earliest times.

A bottle of perfume.
A bottle of perfume.

The Romans, the Persians, and the Egyptians were famed for their fondness for perfumes and fragrant essential oils made from a variety of flowers, herbs, spices and animal extracts. Attar, which is distilled from roses and other flowers, was used liberally in Ancient India and still continues to be in use. The use of various scents was popular amongst the nobility in Medieval Europe, and perhaps it was also very necessary; bathing was not a popular pastime and body odors were commonplace.

Perfumes usually come in attractive packaging.
Perfumes usually come in attractive packaging.

Given the social popularity of perfumes, the techniques of making them were often kept secret and handed down in the maker's family. Many aristocrats had perfume-makers on their payroll to create new and unique perfumes for them. The experimentation led to the discovery of extracting scent from substances like coumarin and vanillin. Giovanni Paolo Feminis, an Italian, was credited with creating eau de cologne. The Hungarians made Hungary water by blending scented oils with an alcohol solution. Flower cultivation grew in scope as the fragrance industry developed and flourished.

A perfume's strength depends upon the aromatic compounds used in its preparation and the solvent in which they are diluted. Plain ethanol or ethanol mixed with water is usually used as a solvent for perfume oils, but specially prepared coconut and jojoba oils may also be used sometimes; these oils do not cancel out or otherwise affect the perfume scent. Modern commercial perfumes can have an extensive base of ingredients and a complicated preparation process, and they usually come in attractive packaging.

It is common to wear perfume on social occasions as well as for everyday use. It might help to take time in selecting a suitable scent and, if possible, to not overdo it. Dabbing a little on the pulse points is generally enough. Some people may have allergic skin reactions to perfumes, so it might be a good idea to do a skin patch before using a new brand and also to stick to reputed brands whenever possible. People with very sensitive skins should try using totally natural perfumes.

Aromatherapy perfumes often include essential oils.
Aromatherapy perfumes often include essential oils.

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Discussion Comments


I love spicy perfumes. I'm not fond of sweet or flowery scents, I find them overwhelming.


@burcinc-- Hey, notes refer to the various scents of perfume that emerge after application.

When you first spray on perfume, the initial scent is called the top note or top notes. After a few minutes, you will notice that the perfume smells a little different and that the top note has disappeared, this is called the middle note. The base note is the scent that remains after thirty minutes of applying the perfume.

Paying attention to the different notes when you next wear perfume may help you determine which scents you like best.

By the way, not all perfumes have three notes. High quality perfumes always have three, but cheaper perfumes may have just two.


I'm still trying to figure out what my favorite type of perfume is. Whenever I read about perfumes, I see people mentioning base notes and top notes in scents. What does this mean?

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