Sunday 17 May 2009

Perfume Ingredients Demystified

Perfume today is produced mainly in laboratories but often
relies on ancient ingredients. Some perfume ingredients
still in use today are mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts
and the Bible. Some of these ingredients had medicinal
roles as well as aromatic properties which probably
contributed to the belief-held until the mid-18th
century-that perfume was as much a medicine as a cosmetic.

Frankincense and myrrh are two substances mentioned in the
Bible and prized for being equivalent in value to gold.
Frankincense is a resin from a gum tree that is produced in
shapes called "tears" when the bark of the scraggly
Boswallia tree is disturbed. These trees are rare and grow
mainly in arid Middle Eastern lands and require
hand-harvesting, contributing to their exorbitant price.

Today, a fragrant product that uses frankincense is Love
Butter by Carol's Daughter.

Myrrh, called a "bitter perfume" in the Christmas Carol "We
Three Kings of Orient Are," is also used today. Myrrh is a
gum resin produced from a bush-like desert plant. In
Arabic, the name Myrrh means "bitter" and this burnt orange
looking substance does indeed have a strong, bitter aroma.
Originally used as incense, today Yves St. Laurent's Opium
and Rage of the Seven Sinful Scents by Gendarme list myrrh
as an ingredient.

Patchouli and sandalwood are both aromatic woods that come
from Asia. Patchouli is grown in the East and West Indies
while sandalwood comes from Nepal (about the farthest North
it grows), India, Hawaii and Australia. While synthetics
are often used today for these endangered woods, they have
both been around for millennia as fragrance ingredients and
have been prized for their healing properties.

The best-known patchouli scent on the market right now by
far is Thierry Mugler's Angel. Mugler is a French perfumist
and his unique Angel perfume is one of those
love-it-or-hate-it kind of scents.

Sandalwood is used in aromatherapy and also does
double-duty in the perfume world since it can serve as a
fixative or anchor to other scents. Sandalwood has never
really gone out of style. Today it's in lots of scents,
including Dior Addict by Dior, Escada Magnetism, Hanae Mori
Butterly, and the Cartier scent Delices de Cartier.

Probably one of the strangest ingredients in perfume is
amber. People who hear that a perfume contains amber
typically think of the golden resin used to make jewelry.
Actually, that amber is not used in perfume making.

This amber is a short (and nicer-sounding) term for
ambergris. For centuries, ambergris was harvested on the
beaches. It was a gray substance that beachcombers could
pick up and sell to factories that used it for a variety of
products. Since it had a very distinctive aroma, it was
used in perfumery. Ambergris did not smell wonderful by
itself, but it blended well with other ingredients and
became a staple in perfume-making even before people knew
what it was.

Even today, we don't really know what ambergris is, and
perhaps we don't want to know. Sometime in the 19th
century, it was known that this mysterious gray substance,
which unpredictably appeared on the beaches of North
America and other places, was associated with sperm whales.
Today, it is thought that ambergris is a substance that
sperm whales regurgitate after dining on their favorite
meal of squid.

Be that as it may, amber in perfume today is synthetic
stuff, made to mimic the scent of the original ambergris.
Amber is found in Dolce and Gabbana's Light Blue, Vera Wang
Princess, and Stella by Stella McCartney, to name a few.

As much as perfume relies on ancient ingredients, including
plants (lavender), spices (cinnamon, cloves), flowers
(roses, gardenias, honeysuckle, lilies) and fruits (orange,
lemon, peach), it also relies on new ingredients.

The biggest "new thing" in perfume is the fact that today
we live in a global village. Flowers indigenous to exotic
lands can be easily obtained and put into perfume. We can
now take advantage of Eastern spices, South Pacific
flowers, North American musk, and Indian woods. Of course,
much of this happens at the lab level, meaning in the form
of synthetics. This helps preserve natural resources and
makes perfume quality more uniform.

Another interesting new wrinkle in the perfume world
occurred in the 1920s with the advent of a chemical
substance called aldehyde. Aldehyde is a synthetic odor
molecule but unlike other synthetics, this wasn't a fake
anything. Aldehyde was artificial and not meant to mimic
anything natural. It has a distinctive "sparkly" quality to
it and is often mixed with florals. Probably the best known
aldehyde scent in the world is the perennial favorite,
Chanel No. 5. The creator of Chanel No. 5, Ernst Breaux,
also created Evening in Paris, a much more difficult scent
to find, but another one that uses sparkling aldehyde notes.

Today, we've added to our roster of synthetics plus we've
blended more and more exotic ingredients together.
Technology has also allowed us to capture unusual scents in
perfume-you can find perfumes today listing "ozone" as an
element or "chocolate."

About the Author:

Joanna McLaughlin is a freelance writer who spends too much
time at the perfume counter. For more information on
perfume ingredients visit . For merchandise that
shows you to be a woman of fragrance, please visit
http;// Joanna's
favorite perfume today is Clear by Niel Morris.

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