Saturday, February 27, 2010

Thank Science for Synthic Fragrance

Unfortunately, this past Thursday was my last class, as the professor was subpoenaed to testify in a court case in another state (he won't tell us why, but I think it has something to do with one of his companies, since he owns several and develops products for several more). However, I do have a backlog of things I want to cover on this blog, though not much more, before I will probably turn it into a general makeup blog.

Anyway, out most recent lecture covered fragrance, and while he made some snide remarks about any fragrance that costs less than $100 being "toilet water" (which is literally true, but I will get to that in a bit), he also shed some excellent light on fragrances, which I will now pass onto you. Slight warning: This post is somewhat disorganized, since the lecture itself was disorganized, so I apologize for the somewhat jarring topic jumps.

The first synthetic fragrance (still sold today), was Chanel No.5, developed in 1921 by Coco Chanel's lover, when she expressed a desire for a lighter fragrance than those of the time. Now, by today's standard, Chanel No.5 is quite heavy, which just gives you an idea of how insanely strong perfumes of the time were. Apparently, the idea was that your essence should enter the room before you do, and linger when you leave. So pretty much, people wanted to majorly stink up the spaces surrounding them, and fill it with their "essence". Today, a majority of the perfumes on the market are synthetic, and once I tell you how much real perfume costs, you'll realize why.

Rose oil, which is oil made from actually rose petals, retails for about $3000/lb (and that's a conservative estimate). This is for highest quality rose oil, made from roses in Kazanluk, Bulgaria. Apparently, it takes 200lbs of roses to produce a mere 1lb of fragrance, which is why it is so expensive to produce. High quality Jasmine oil, on the other hand, hails from Italy, and tops the price charts at $8000/lb (which again, is a conservative estimate, since the notes he gives up are several years old). It takes 800lbs of jasmine to produce a single pound of jasmine oil.

Now, there are other ways to obtain natural rose and jasmine oil, that may still smell pleasing to us, but to the experts, the difference is night and day. This is what I would consider the fun part of the lesson. Perfumers are sometimes referred to as "Noses", for their excellent sense to smell, and ability to discern so many notes of fragrance. There are only three schools of the Nose, one residing in New Jersey, and it accepts 8-12 students per year. Apparently, students must be satisfactorily complete exams in science, math, and literature, and between each exam, smell and identify a set of 50 or so fragrances ranging from strong, to light. If they manage to get in, they need to be able to identify 5000 different fragrances by scent once they graduate (I guess there are around 15,000 known fragrances, but still, having to know a third of them is no laughing matter). Apparently, even once students get in, the completion of the program is low, most commonly because since the students spend so much time smelling things, they lose their sense of smell. Apparently, though, those who are able to pass their courses are worth their weight in gold, and can pretty much work anywhere.

Now, why is it that all the perfume I own (and probably all the perfume you own as well), is classified as "toilet water"? That has to do with the perfume oil content, versus the water/alcohol content. Here's the breakdown:
In order to be classified as "high quality", a perfume must contain 18-25% fragrance concentrate, and no water.
Eau de Parfum contains 10-15% oil concentrate
Eau de Cologne contains 5-8%
Eau de Toilette contains 2-4%
And, since companies generally want to turn the highest profit using the smallest amount of product, most perfumes (and colognes, actually) on the market are "eau de toilette". Now, since they're not literally made of toilet water, I doubt most of us care, as long as they smell pleasing (and they generally do).

And finally, I'm going to cover a bit about perfume notes. Most of us who read makeup blogs that cover perfumes know that there are three notes to perfumes: top notes, heart notes, and base notes. What's interesting, however, is that apparently, perfumes need all of these notes in order to provide a complete bouquet. If you leave out a base note because you think base notes are just too dark for the scent you want, your fragrance will likely turn out smelling incomplete, because it needs and anchor. Yet another breakdown:
Top notes provide the initial tang of a perfume. Usually a citrusy scent like orange, lemon, or grapefruit.
Heart notes (or middle notes) give a perfume richness and body, and tend to be floral notes, such as jasmine or rose.
Base notes are the anchor of a perfume, and what keeps it long lasting. Base notes are strange, because sometimes, they're not pleasing all on their own (such as musk), but when mixed into a fragrance, they transform. Other base notes (such as cedar, or sandalwood) smell find all on their own.

Remember folks, I am nowhere near an expert on this stuff. I'm essentially word-vomiting my learnings onto this blog, but if you have any questions, let me know, and I'll try to wrestle up an answer for you (whether it's from my notes, or outside research, whatever).

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Lindsey! I finally moseyed (sp?) my way over here, and though I'm not much of a make-up girl, I find all kinds of knowledge very interesting. And so this post amazes me. And so, I'll continue to mosey over here from time to time. Keep up with the interesting posts!

    The Romance Reviews