How Perfume is Made?

The perfume manufacturing process involves collecting raw materials, various extraction methods, blending, and the popular aging process.

In ancient times, a perfume maker manufactured perfume to emulate nature’s alluring aromas. Natural oils were extracted from plants like oriental lilies, which became the main ingredient of perfumes in ancient times. 

The oils were extracted, pressed, passed through steam distillation, and then burned to mask unpleasant smells in their homes.

Today, the perfume industry has become a global multi-billion dollar market, and the art of producing perfume has not only evolved but drastically improved, so much so that market competition and consumer choice within the beauty industry are at an all-time high, allowing for even greater innovation and creativity among both emerging and established perfumers.

When Was Perfume First Made?

The origin of perfume is attributed to ancient Egyptians. However, the oldest perfume ever found is based in Cyprus and is said to be more than 4000 years old, while the first modern fragrance, made of scented oils blended in alcohol, was made in 1370 and was referred throughout Europe as “Hungary Water.”

Ancient civilizations used perfume oils to celebrate prayers and conduct religious ceremonies by burning resin and essential oils. During these times, perfume makers couldn’t manufacture synthetic smells.

All fragrances were extracted from the earth. They infused body lotions and water with aromatic flowers and various wood scents. 

They also burned incense made of spices like myrrh and cardamom and extracted oils from plants.

Before the manufacturing process could start, the plant and animal-based perfume ingredients were gathered. Various methods of extracting plant oils have been used throughout history. 

Persians, for instance, are believed to have conducted perfume extraction using the distillation method, while other early civilizations extracted oils through the expression method.

Another incredible invention that stretches back an unfathomable amount of years is the perfume bottle. Perfume bottles in Rome and ancient China were as elaborate and exotic as the essential oils they contained. 

The earliest specimen dates back to about 1000 BC in ancient Egypt.

Today, perfume bottles are designed to reflect the fragrance’s character, whether fruity floral, dark, and musky. 

What is the Main Ingredient in Perfume?

Many perfumes today see perfume oils blended in alcohol and water. Eau de toilette features 2% of fragrance oil in 60% alcohol and 20% water. 

Eau de parfum has about 15% to 20% of fragrance oil and 80% alcohol. Scents are also made by extracting scented oil from natural ingredients like:

  • Flowers – the most popular include jasmine, orange blossoms, and roses (it’s a favorite abstract primary scent). Others that are less commonly used include sweet pea, magnolia, and lavender
  • Wood – the most commonly used woody fragrances include amber and cedarwood
  • Fruits – these are used as modifiers. They include citrus scents like grapefruit and lemon
  • Animal Products these include musk from male deer and ambergris from sperm whales 

Bonus Tip: You can find a list of all the natural ingredients used by perfumers on the International Fragrance Association, the global federation representing the fragrance industry website.

Other fragrances use natural resources like petrochemicals, alcohol, and coal tar. Some plants like the lily of the valley don’t produce oils naturally. 

Statistics show that only about 2,000 of the 250,000 known flowering plant species feature these essential oils.

For scents that don’t produce essential oils, perfumers use synthetic chemicals to emulate the natural scents. Most of the hard-to-spot fragrances fall into this camp, so your favorite perfume probably uses some synthetic scents.

Perfumers today are also leaning towards using synthetic chemicals rather than natural oils. This is because synthetic chemicals are cheap and there are issues associated with collecting natural animal oils. 

Moreover, animals formerly killed over their oils are sometimes considered endangered.

A Quick Guide on How Perfume is Made

If you’re a fan of the movie Perfume: The Story of A Murderer, you know that when it comes to the perfume manufacturing process, making a singular scent can be tedious. Some of these processes include: 

Collection

Making perfume involves collecting ingredients like flowers and aromatic herbs, among others. Plant material is harvested, often hand-picked by farmers, while animal products are extracted from the animals’ fatty substances.

Aromatic chemicals in synthetic perfumes are manufactured by perfume chemists in the lab. 

Extraction

Perfume ingredients must have their products extracted to create cologne. Essential oil extraction is mainly done through: 

Solvent Extraction

It’s one of the most common extraction methods natural ingredients go through. The process involves putting plants into big, rotating drums and covering them with benzene or petroleum ether.

The plant parts dissolve in the solvent used, leaving a waxy substance that has the oils. The residue is then placed in ethyl alcohol. Oil dissolves in the alcohol; it’s burned off, and a highly concentrated perfume oil remains. 

Steam Distillation

In the steam distillation process, natural materials are placed in a still until they’re extracted. The resulting residue is then passed through tubes where it’s cooled and liquefied. 

Enfleurage

In enfleurage, massive glass sheets are coated with grease and flowers or other materials spread across them. The glass sheets are then put in tiers between wooden frames. 

The flowers are then hand-picked and replaced until the grease can absorb the scent. 

Expression

The extraction method was popular in ancient Rome, Egypt, and China due to its simplicity. The process, which mainly involves extracting citrus oils, involves pressing the plant mechanically or manually until the oils are extracted. 

Maceration

It slightly resembles enfleurage. However, rather than using grease, maceration involves warmed-up fats, which are used to soak up the scent. 

Perfumes then dissolve the fats in alcohol to obtain the essential oils. 

Blending

The perfume-making process starts after essentials are extracted and gathered. Once all ingredients have been carefully chosen, the blending process starts.

Oils are blended based on a formula that’s been predetermined by a master perfumer, or what many refer to as a “nose.” Most of these formulas, however, were designed several years ago, and they often feature hundreds of different ingredients.

As mentioned, many perfume components are derived from plants, while some are from animals. For instance, castoreum comes from beavers, and ambergris is extracted from whale vomit. 

Animal substances are primarily used as fixatives that enable perfume to evaporate slowly, allowing scents to last longer.

Other fixative substances include coal, resins, and various synthetic chemicals.

After blending the oils to achieve the desired scent, alcohol and water are added to dilute the ingredients. It’s the ratio of alcohol added that determines the scent’s strength and worth. 

The more the essential oil, the more costly and stronger the fragrance is.

EDT scents have a lower oil concentration, usually about 5-15%. Parfums typically have a low alcohol concentration, while body mists have a higher alcohol concentration.  

Aging

Maturing perfume happens immediately after the fragrance concentrated has been diluted in alcohol, a process that takes one to two months.

Aging occurs afterward, and it takes about eight to twelve months. It’s a process where perfume is kept in a cool and dark area and left undisturbed.

It enables permanent bonding of the alcohol concentration and the oils.

At the end of the process, a perfume expert is invited to test the scent. It’s certified if it proves to be stronger than it was before the aging process started.

It’s at this point that further adjustments are made; perfume companies mostly do some additional blending. The end result of any fragrance should be a scent that features three distinct notes: “note de tete,” or a top note, “notes de coeur,” or heart notes, and “notes de fond,” base notes.

Most top notes feature tangy smells, heart notes are aromatic, and base notes provide an enduring fragrance.

Aged perfume mixtures are usually cooled and filtered before they’re filled into flacons. Not exposing the fragrance to the air and storing it in a dark space at low temperatures allows the scent to remain alluring and fragrant. 

Today, many perfume chemists add antioxidants like Butylated hydroxytoluene to help maintain the perfume’s longevity.

How are Essential Oils Extracted from Plants?

It’s the essential oils derived from plants and flowers that are used to create world-class fragrances. Extracting oils from plants mainly involves solvent extraction, distillation, boiling, enfleurage, maceration, and expression. 

We’ve discussed every process in detail above. 

The Bottom Line

Fragrances today are being manufactured and used in various ways compared to other centuries. Perfumers are producing more and more fragrances using synthetics rather than natural fragrance oils. 

Less concentrated scents are also becoming a favorite. Combined, these elements reduce the cost of perfumes, allowing for widespread and daily use.

Science also allows any perfume enthusiast to create their own fragrance. So, if a synthetic perfume or a natural oiled scent doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can use these perfume-making methods and craft your own. 

In any case, that’s how Tapputi (supposedly the world’s first perfumer) started!