CHEMISTRY OF PERFUMES I: OVERVIEW AND START OF EVERYTHING

Perfumes are special products because they stimulate a number of senses and emotions. A smell can awaken memories of people and places. But have you ever stopped to think about the story behind the beauty of perfumes? When did they start and how are they produced?

From the earliest days of history, there are records that humans seek to mask or enhance their own odors by using perfume. Initially, the perfumes mainly sought to imitate the pleasant smells of nature. In Ancient Egypt, religious offerings were made by burning incense made of myrrh, cinnamon and juniper. The early Egyptians also perfumed the dead and attributed specific fragrances to each deity. In the Bible, the Magi are spoken of carrying myrrh and incense as gifts.

This tradition of the Egyptians spread and inspired Greeks and Romans. For many years after the fall of the Roman Empire, perfume was an oriental art and began to spread to Europe from the thirteenth century, after the Crusades, when samples were brought to France, England and Italy.

The term “perfume” comes from the Latin “per”, which means through, and “fumum”, which means smoke. That’s because the basis of the perfumes were natural plant oils, which were extracted through pressing and burned to release and spread their essence.

At present, not only the production process of the perfumes themselves has evolved, but also the packaging. The manufacture of perfume packaging spread throughout Europe and reached its peak in the eighteenth century, when perfume glasses acquired animal shapes or had pastoral scenes painted on them. Today, the packaging is designed to reflect the fragrance’s characteristic.

Production and commercialization of perfumes began around the middle of the nineteenth century, coinciding with the increased discovery and use of synthetic chemical compounds. Today, the perfume industry moves billions of dollars a year.

The first step in the production of perfumes is the collection of the raw material and its transportation to the place of manufacture. The raw materials for the production of perfumes can be natural ingredients such as flowers, grasses, spices, fruits, wood, roots, resins, balms, leaves, gums and animal secretions or even synthetic ingredients such as petrochemicals. Not all plants produce essential oils naturally. Therefore, synthetic chemicals are used to recreate and replace the aromas of plants that do not produce oils or create scents that do not exist in nature.

Some substances of animal origin are also used as fixatives to cause the perfume to evaporate slowly and to emit the aroma for a longer time. Other fasteners include synthetic chemicals.

For oils derived from plants, plant materials are harvested around the world, often manually. Animal products are usually obtained by extracting the greasy substances directly from the animal while the aromatic chemicals are created in laboratories by perfumers.

The first stage in itself is the development of the fragrance, which can take years to complete. Once the fragrance or aroma is developed, the perfume begins to be produced on a laboratory scale until it is scaled to the industrial process.

After the collection and transport of the raw materials, comes the extraction stage of vegetable oils, followed by the stage of mixing or combining the vegetable oils to give rise to the aroma and later its mixture with alcohol and water. The raw material and the other components are mixed in tongues, as seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Examples of samples for the industrial production of perfumes.

For fine perfumes, one has the aging process, so that the perfume gains intensity. Thereafter, the liquid flows down the tubes to the bottling machine, where the perfume is placed in bottles. Normally, one machine places the cover and another the cover and the packaging.

Now that we have an overview of the process of producing perfumes, in the next text we will talk about different methods for extracting essential oils from plants in more detail.

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Author of: Clarissa Alves Biscainho

Chemical Engineer – Multinational Company – Germany

Sources: Methods of Extraction of Essential Oils; How products are made; How Perfumes Are Made. The Master Perfume’s Industry Guide; How perfumes are made; Making beauty: see how Boticário’s production works in Bahia.