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THE CHEMISTRY, TECHNOLOGY and ART OF PERFUME

April 8, 2021

There is no form of artistic expression more intimately connected with chemistry than perfumery. Although descriptions of fragrances invoke concepts familiar to musicians, such as notes and chords, it is of course not sounds and wave frequencies a perfumer must manipulate in their work but ensembles of volatile organic or  synthetic molecules.

"The olfactive impressions created are endless and can take you from your everyday reality to a world of fantasy. There is no limit to what science and nature can achieve when the worlds collide in harmony."

Chemists (Photo: Pexels)

"Perfume is a work of art created by two hands- a parfumer who is a virtuoso and a chemist who is a skilled craftsman, polishing it to its full shine and bottling its illusive nature."

A perfumery accord is a blend of fragrance materials with common facets, so that the overall effect is one of a coherent smell, in which none of the individual constituents - which may be naturally derived ingredients or synthetic aroma chemicals - are easily distinguished. In a well-designed perfume, this vertical arrangement will also evolve horizontally in time as a result of the materials' different volatilities.

If it is the perfumer’s job to paint a scent using the fragrance notes available to them, it is chemist's job to expand the palette of notes to use.

Given a choice between molecular perfumery vs. natural ingredients, specialists are more and more praising the advantages of creating synthetic ingredients. For them, it represents greater creativity and sustainability in perfumery, and they are in favour of this partnership between nature and the human ingenuity that can create new molecules.

"The advantage of synthetic ingredients is that they're more sustainable, less alergene and more stable, so there's less need for the use of preservatives."

Synthetic fragrances scents that are made primarily with artificial compounds and materials. The ingredients used in synthetic fragrances are man-made. Synthetic aromatic raw materials have either been chemically created - mostly from petroleum - or started as naturals and have had their chemical structure modified. Synthetic aromatic raw materials fall into the categories of chemically modified natural raw materials, nature identical raw materials and aroma chemicals that do not exist in nature. A synthetic fragrance may have no natural ingredients in it or a combination of some.

Molecules (Photo: Unsplash)

The palette of ingredients is vast. Approximately a thousand natural ingredients have been catalogued, while perfumers can discover new molecules every day. The perfume industry employs the use and combination of over 3100 synthetic scent compounds, with the average name-brand perfume sporting 29 chemicals. Without molecules (and  synthetic fragrances) many great perfumes would simply not exist.

"A great fragrance is often a combination of raw and synthetic or modified materials. Without the synthetic materials many great perfumes would simply not exist."

A skilled perfumer can not only, for example, reconstruct the smell of a rose, but also shape its character by altering the amount of each compound present in the formula, or by adding new ones. In this way a completely unique interpretation of rose scent results from the perfumer's artistic expression.

"A great perfumere is able not only to capture the smell of a rose, but to elevate it to new level- adding depth, complexity and a personal touch to it's character."

Parfumer as an artist (Photo: Pexels)

The olfactive impressions that are created are endless and can take you from your everyday reality to a world of fantasy. Each scent is customized and created to work with brand’s positioning and perform technically in product formulation. There is just no limit to what science and nature can achieve when they exist in harmony.

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