The Chemistry of Perfume

Introduction

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Jenna Eaton is a junior at Billings Senior High School. Perfume plays a role in her life every day she leaves the house to go to school, work, ect. She finds perfume very interesting in the way it is formed and created and the chemicals that go into making it and therefore believes you should find the chemistry of perfume interesting as well! A man named Tapputi, who was a perfume-maker from second millennium Mesopotamia, is considered the world’s first chemist. In labs, perfume is created using synthesized chemicals and real scent extractions. Every individual smell is created using different elements and components. Perfume is unique because it takes a perfume chemist to combine the perfect amounts of substances to create the perfect perfume for a certain company. Only the perfume chemist creating the perfume knows the exact composition of the perfume so that a “copy-cat” perfume can not be made. Alcohol, water, and a special scent are the main components. The scent could be a floral, musk, fruity or any other kind of scent that is possible to be extracted or created. I chose perfume as my topic because the way it is created and formed is so interesting!
 
Composition of ...

All perfumes are composed of both a base and a fragrance compound. The base is commonly alcohol or water. Ethyl alcohol is generally used because it evaporates quickly on the skin. Other bases include: Coumarin, Benzyl Benzotate, Phthalates, or even beeswax. The fragrance can be synthetic or it can be literally taken from a plant, animal, etc. Without the perfect combination of the fragrance and base combined, the smell could come across too strong or too light.


Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

The main components of perfume are a perfume oil, an alcohol, and water.

  • Perfume Oil

    • Perfume oil can be broken down into two different types. A synthetic oil, or a fragrance taken from a specific source through methods such as headspace. Headspace directly vacuums the smell from the object nd gets a print out of its chemical equation to recreate the smell. Oils can be extracted from flowers, plants, animals, ect. The oils have three parts: The top note, the heart note, and the base note. The top note is what you smell immediately. The heart note is what you smell 3-4 hours after applying and it evaporates slowly. The base note sticks easily to the skin and can stay for up to eight hours! The chemical equations for perfume oil completely depend on what the oil was taken from.

  • Water and Alcohol

    • There are also many different types of alcohol that can be used. Ethyl Alcohol is most commonly used (C2H6O) because it helps the fragrance spread out. Distilled water, H2O, is also used to spread out the smell of the fragrance. Dilution is much needed in a perfume for it to be appealing. There are different strengths of perfume based on how much dilution is added. Parfum, the most concentrated perfume you can buy, is 15-25 percent perfume oil. Cologne, the least concentrated perfume, is about 10 percent perfume oil.

Chemistry's Role

A smell is a molecule that is light enough to float in the air. Fragrance materials are generally semi-volatile organic compounds and their molecular weight rarely exceeds 260 AMU. However, not every molecule that floats in the air has a smell or has enough of a smell to be recognized by the human nose. For example: Carbon Monoxide (CO).

Also, how a perfume smells is not only what it comes from, but also how a person is chemically wired to perceive it. If everyone smelled the same way and had the same “favorite smells” then everyone would also have the same favorite perfume. Depending on your genetic code, you could have different smell receptors which cause a smell to be different to you than someone else.

Chemical reactions caused by light can also morph the smell of your perfume. This is because the energy in light can break the bonds in fragrance molecules. Bright sunlight can destroy your perfume within a week! Air can also corrode fragrance by oxidation which is the same process that turns uncorked wine into vinegar. With this being said, the best place to keep your perfume is in a dark room at room temperature in a spray bottle. The best place for application of perfume is on the pulse points. This is because the pulse will warm the perfume and cause it to spread its scent consistently. Again, this would not be possible without the alcohol/ water mixture and the different notes.

Background Research

Fragrance chemists generally need a masters or doctorate in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering to be able to work in the labs and create a fragrance that is appealing to a specific audience. In the labs, they use the combination of different chemicals to create different smells. Because some smells can not be directly taken from a source, chemists generally need to find a way to create a smell synthetically. Perfume is completely handled by chemists because the procedures used to create a perfume is extremely complicated and must be very specific with the different chemicals being used. The process is long and difficult and a perfume could go through numerous revisions before being finalized to sell.


Resources


About the Author

Jenna Eaton is a junior at Billings Senior High School. Perfume plays a role in her life every day she leaves the house to go to school, work, etc. She finds perfume very interesting in the way it is formed and created and the chemicals that go into making it and therefore believes you should find the chemistry of perfume interesting as well!
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