Perfume making is a billion dollar industry that started back in ancient times by pressing and steaming plants to release their oils. Today, that process has become a lot more complicated to improve the scent and long-lasting quality of the fragrance. In fact, your favorite perfume may be comprised of hundreds of ingredients. These ingredients, however, fall into the five categories of scented oils, animal products, synthetic scents, chemical fixatives, alcohol and water.
All perfumes contain 10 to 20 percent of scented oil. Most of these oils are created using plants such as fruits, flowers, spices, grasses, roots, wood, balsams and leaves. These plant are turned into scents through a process called extraction. Extraction involves removing the natural oils from a plant through steaming, pressing, soaking the plants in fats that absorb the scent or by soaking the plants in petroleum to release the oils. Once the extraction process is complete, concentrated oil containing the scent of the plant will be added to the perfume mixture.
Many perfumes contain animal products to add a different scent to the perfume or as fixatives to make the perfume evaporate more slowly and smell stronger, longer. Some animal products that are used in perfumes are musk from deer, castor from beavers and fatty secretions from civet cats. Many animal products used in making perfume, such as ambergris from sperm whales, have been outlawed due to over hunting. Other perfume manufactures have stopped using animal products because they are too expensive to gather.
Synthetic scents are chemicals that are engineered to smell like plant or animal oils. They are considered inferior to real animal and plant oils and products, but they are usually more inexpensive than using the real thing. These scents are especially useful to perfumers that can’t use an animal product in their perfume because it has been outlawed or is too expensive to use.
Other than natural animal fixatives, chemical fixatives, such as resin and coal tar may be added to the perfume to make the scent longer lasting.
One of the most common ingredients you will find in perfume is alcohol. Most perfumes are comprised of about 80 to 90 percent alcohol. This dilutes the potent scented oils to the right concentration.
Water, like alcohol, is used to dilute the oils in the perfume. The more water and alcohol that is added to the perfume, the lower quality it is because the oils aren’t as potent.