A perfume is a blend of several perfume ingredients. One perfume may contain as few as 10 of these ingredients or as many as 250. A highly trained perfumer can recognize a thousand different perfume ingredients and can tell something about their quality and perhaps where they came from. He also knows how one ingredient affects another, that is he knows how they blend together. Since the final quality of a perfume is determined by how it smells, the work of a perfumer is a blend of art and science.
Some perfume ingredients are natural materials. Ingredients like lavender, rosewood, sassafras, peppermint, sandalwood, cloves, and citrus oils are essential oils. They are found in seeds, fruits, stems, roots, grasses, woods, barks, leaves, and flowers. The essential oils are usually obtained by steam distillation. The plant materials are heated with steam. The steam which now also contains the essential oils is condensed to water. Because the essential oils float on top of the water, they are easy to separate. Usually, the most expensive ingredients in perfumes are the floral oils. Jasmine, rose, hyacinth, carnation, and orange blossom are examples. They are obtained by a more involved process. The flowers are mixed with a solvent like petroleum ether. It dissolves the oils and waxes of the flowers. Alcohol is then added. It does not mix with the petroleum ether. The floral oils and some waxes dissolve in alcohol. The alcohol solution is separated and chilled to -20 degrees to precipitate the remaining waxes. The alcohol is distilled off, leaving behind the pure flower oil. In some cases, only one pound of floral oil is obtained from a ton of fresh flowers.
Some perfume ingredients come from animals. Castor from the scent glands of the Canadian beaver; civet from the civet cat of Asia and Africa; and musk from the male musk deer of the Himalayas are all used. Oddly enough, at the high concentrations of these materials in the live animal, all are unpleasant odors. Once they are diluted, however, they become really pleasant.
By studying the structures of natural perfume ingredients, chemists have been able to make many new synthetic perfume ingredients that closely resemble natural ones. With an arsenal of natural and synthetic ingredients, the perfumer is ready to make his perfume. He begins with a base that will set the major odor of the perfume. It may be one of several essential oils, floral oils, or synthetic chemicals. Smaller amounts of others are added to blend the ingredients of the base or to add a bouquet to the perfume.
Finally a fixative, a perfume odor would gradually change with time. The perfume is then diluted with alcohol and chilled for several days to allow any insoluble materials to precipitate. After it is filtered, the perfume is allowed to age for a year or so before it goes to market. Aging allows time for ingredients to interact in case changes in odor might take place. Whether a perfume or cologne results depends on the final concentration of perfume in alcohol. A perfume contains from eight ounces to three pounds of perfume per gallon of alcohol; a cologne contains only two to eight ounces.
Natural perfumes are highly sought after lately, so there are more and more natural perfumers busy creating new fragrances to please the olfactory senses of the new breed of natural perfume lovers.