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Fragrance (Perfume) in Cosmetics


Vinay Kumar Singh.
Chief Research Officer
Parammount Cosmetics India Limited,
Bangalor, Karnataka
[email protected]

Fragrances are complex combinations of natural and/or man-made substances that are added to many consumer products to give them a distinctive smell. Perfume (Fragrance)  is a mixture of  essential oils or aroma compounds, used to give the human body "a pleasant scent".


Fragrances are used in a wide variety of products to impart a pleasant odour, mask the inherent smell of some ingredients,   and enhance the experience of using the product. 

Fragrances create important benefits that are ubiquitous, tangible, and valued. They solve important functional problems and they satisfy valued emotional needs.  Fragrances can communicate complex ideas – creating mood, signalling cleanliness, freshness, or softness, alleviating stress, creating well-being, and triggering allure and attraction.

Fragrances have been enjoyed for thousands of years and contribute to people’s individuality, self-esteem and personal hygiene. Consumer research indicates that fragrance is one of the key factors that affect people’s preference for cosmetic and personal care products. There are hundreds of fragrances created every year, in countries all over the world.

Our sense of smell is directly connected to the brain’s limbic system where our sense of memory and our emotions are stored.  Numerous studies confirm that fragrances enhance well being and have a positive impact on the psyche. Often a particular fragrance becomes strongly associated with product identity and acceptability.

Ancient texts and archaeological excavations show the use of perfumes in some of the earliest human civilizations. Modern perfumery began in the late 19th century with the commercial synthesis of aroma compounds such as vanillin or coumarin, which allowed for the composition of perfumes with smells previously unattainable solely from natural aromatics alone.

The word perfume derives from the Latin perfumare, meaning "to smoke through". Perfumery, as the art of making perfumes, began in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt and was further refined by the Romans and Persians.

The world's first-recorded chemist is considered a woman named Tapputi, a perfume maker mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. She distilled flowers, oil, and calamus with other aromatics, then filtered and put them back in the still several times. In India, perfume and perfumery existed in the Indus civilization (3300 BC – 1300 BC). One of the earliest distillations of Ittar was mentioned in the Hindu Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita.

In 2004 – 2005, archaeologists uncovered what are believed to be the world's oldest surviving perfumes in Pyrgos, Cyprus. The perfumes date back more than 4,000 years. They were discovered in an ancient perfumery, a 4,000-square-meter (43,000 sq ft) factory housing at least 60 stills, mixing bowls, funnels, and perfume bottles. In ancient times people used herbs and spices, such as almond, coriander, myrtle, conifer resin, and bergamot, as well as flowers.

The Persian chemist Ibn Sina introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by means of distillation, the procedure most commonly used today. He first experimented with the rose. Until his discovery, liquid perfumes consisted of mixtures of oil and crushed herbs or petals, which made a strong blend. Rose water was more delicate, and immediately became popular. Both the raw ingredients and the distillation technology significantly influenced western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry.

The art of perfumery was known in western Europe from 1221.Between the 16th and 17th centuries, perfumes were used primarily by the wealthy to mask body odours resulting from infrequent bathing. Partly due to this patronage, the perfume industry developed. In 1693, Italian barber Giovanni Paolo Feminis created a perfume water called Aqua Admirabilis, today best known as eau de cologne. By the 18th century the Grasse region of France, Sicily, and Calabria (in Italy) were growing aromatic plants to provide the growing perfume industry with raw materials. Even today, Italy and France remain the centre of European perfume design and trade.

The science of perfume and fragrance has advanced significantly over the years from the original isolation of ingredients from plant and animal sources to a sophisticated science that allows the preparation of unique new materials and sensitive methods for controlling both the composition and quality of fragrances. Creating a fragrance combines the art of perfumery with the extremely complex science of fragrance chemistry.  Fragrance chemistry, a highly specialized field, requires knowledge of the various substances and how these substances interact to produce the perceived odour. Additionally, many other factors have to be considered when formulating a fragrance including the strength of the smell, compatibility of ingredients with each other, the stability to light and heat, and even their interaction with product packaging. Also, it is important to consider the properties of the ingredients after they are applied to the skin. Some fragrance ingredients evaporate very rapidly, while others remain on the skin for longer periods of time. The interplay of these properties over time is very important in achieving the desired final effect that yields an aesthetically pleasing product.

Fragrance ingredients in cosmetics must meet the same requirement for safety as other cosmetic ingredients: they must be safe for consumers when they are used according to labeled directions, or as people customarily use them.  This is a responsibility that fragrance manufacturers and the companies that use fragrances in their products take very seriously.  

The safety of fragrance ingredients is assessed by a comprehensive program operated by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA). This comprehensive program, in operation since 1973, includes a Code of Practice (the Code) that provides recommendations for good manufacturing practices and guidelines on fragrance assessment, including fragrance safety standards which limit or ban the usage of certain fragrance materials. IFRA oversees the gathering of information about the safety of individual fragrance ingredients and reviews this information to determine safety under expected conditions of product use. The conclusions of the IFRA safety review are published in the IFRA Code of Practice which provides critical guidance to fragrance formulators and users to establish product safety.

Scientific review of fragrance ingredients is also conducted by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM). RIFM is a non-profit scientific institute, founded in 1966 for the purpose of generating and evaluating safety data on fragrance ingredients.

Companies  purchase fragrance mixtures from fragrance houses (companies that specialize in developing fragrances) to develop their own proprietary blends. In  personal care products, fragrances that are added also include the combination of ingredients that give the product a scent and that stabilize the scent. These are typically only indicated by the term “fragrance” or “parfum.” Though many products list “fragrance” on the label, but very few name the specific ingredients that make up a “fragrance.” This lack of disclosure prevents consumers from knowing the full list of ingredients in their products. While most fragrance chemicals are not disclosed, we do know that some are linked to serious health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies and sensitivities. Clearly, there is a need for stronger regulations, more research, and greater transparency.

Describing a perfume

Fragrance pyramid

The precise formulae of commercial perfumes are kept secret. Even if they were widely published, they would be dominated by such complex ingredients and odorants that they would be of little use in providing a guide to the general consumer in description of the experience of a scent. Nonetheless, connoisseurs of perfume can become extremely skillful at identifying components and origins of scents in the same manner as wine experts.

The most practical way to start describing a perfume is according to the elements of the fragrance notes of the scent or the "family" it belongs to, all of which affect the overall impression of a perfume from first application to the last lingering hint of scent.

Perfume is described in a musical metaphor as having three sets of notes, making the harmonious scent accord. The notes unfold over time, with the immediate impression of the top note leading to the deeper middle notes, and the base notes gradually appearing as the final stage. These notes are created carefully with knowledge of the evaporation process of the perfume.

  • Top notes: The scents that are perceived immediately on application of a perfume. Top notes consist of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly. They form a person's initial impression of a perfume and thus are very important in the selling of a perfume. Also called the head notes.
  • Middle notes: The scent of a perfume that emerges just prior to the dissipation of the top note. The middle note compounds form the "heart" or main body of a perfume and act to mask the often unpleasant initial impression of base notes, which become more pleasant with time. They are also called the heart notes.
  • Base notes: The scent of a perfume that appears close to the departure of the middle notes. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. Compounds of this class of scents are typically rich and "deep" and are usually not perceived until 30 minutes after application.

The scents in the top and middle notes are influenced by the base notes, as well the scents of the base notes will be altered by the type of fragrance materials used as middle notes. Manufacturers of perfumes usually publish perfume notes and typically they present it as fragrance pyramid, with the components listed in imaginative and abstract terms.

The traditional classification which emerged around 1900 comprised the following categories:

Single Floral, Floral Bouquet, Amber or "Oriental", Woody ,Leather, Chypre,  Fougère

Since 1945, due to great advances in the technology of perfume creation (i.e., compound design and synthesis) as well as the natural development of styles and tastes, new categories have emerged to describe modern scents:

Bright Floral, Green, Aquatic, Oceanic, or Ozonic, Citrus ,Fruity, Gourmand, Aromatics

Perfume could be derived from following various sources.

Plant sources: Bark, Flowers and blossoms, Fruits, Leaves and twigs, Roots, rhizomes and bulbs, Seeds, Woods

Animal sources: Musk, Ambergris, Castoreum, Civet, Hyraceum, Honeycomb

Other natural sources: Lichens, Seaweed

Synthetic sources: Many modern perfumes contain synthesized odorants. Synthetics can provide fragrances which are not found in nature. For instance, Calone, a compound of synthetic origin, imparts a fresh ozonous metallic marine scent that is widely used in contemporary perfumes. Synthetic aromatics are often used as an alternate source of compounds that are not easily obtained from natural sources. For example, linalool and coumarin are both naturally occurring compounds that can be inexpensively synthesized from terpenes. Orchid scents (typically salicylates) are usually not obtained directly from the plant itself but are instead synthetically created to match the fragrant compounds found in various orchids.

One of the most commonly used classes of synthetic aromatics by far are the white musks. These materials are found in all forms of commercial perfumes as a neutral background to the middle notes. These musks are added in large quantities to laundry detergents in order to give washed clothes a lasting "clean" scent.

The majority of the world's synthetic aromatics are created by relatively few companies.

Although there is no single "correct" technique for the formulation of a perfume, there are general guidelines as to how a perfume can be constructed from a concept.

Fragrance in cosmetics has been common practice for a great many years. Fragrances can awaken feelings of joy, well being and confidence in you and those around you. The cosmetic industry also uses fragrance in cosmetics in order to neutralize any unpleasant odours that may be in the chemicals or herbs that they use. Sometimes it’s to add a sense of luxury or personality. Sometimes they’re used to create a more “natural” aroma. Many a times certain brands are known for their "signature" scents. No doubt you have your own favorite fragrance.

There are few products like depilatories or Perming lotion which are difficult to  perfume. one has to judiciously select a suitable perfume. There are few products where perfume needs to be added at slightly higher temperature than ambient where care has to be taken to ensure its stability. We may have to use either oil soluble / oil miscible perfume for certain products or water soluble perfume for water based products. The concentration at which perfume is used in Cosmetics vary according to the product type but in most cases it is in low dosase.

Scent sells and manufacturers know it, so novel fragrances are  used in cosmetics products.

Serious problems from fragrance in cosmetics are rare. The cosmetic industry as a whole considers the safety of the consumer to be a top priority.

Fragrance may be the determining factor when you purchase cosmetics. How often have you opened and sniffed a product before making your selection? While one fragrance may make you wrinkle your nose, another may bring memories of special occasions and warm feelings. Happy using Cosmetics!!



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