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Types of Perfumes and Fragrances: The scent of sweet somethings, but there may be a catch

With their exquisite packaging, appealing advertisements and catchy punch lines, perfumes are made almost irresistible for consumers. There has been a significant increase in demand for different types of fragrances in India. Reason enough for consumers to be aware about certain facts related to perfumes and fragrances and then make informed choices. After all, that rose-like fragrance in your perfume may have been concocted from any number of the fragrance industry’s thousands of stock chemical ingredients.

Sources of Fragrances

Natural sources


Essential oils and fragrant compounds are obtained from different parts of plants such as bark, leaves, flowers, fruits resins, twigs, roots, terpenes, seeds and wood. Some common fragrances are: orange, cinnamon, rose, jasmine, citrus clove, vanilla orchid, strawberries, cherries, juniper berry, lemons, lavender leaves, sage leaves, rosemary leaves, cocoa, nutmeg, sandalwood, rosewood and agarwood.


Sources include ambergris obtained from sperm whale (looks like yellow amber), civet musk obtained from civet cats, musk from musk deer, etc. Secretions, digestions and excretions of animals are some of the most expensive and sought-after ingredients in perfumes.

Synthetic Fragrant compounds

Fragrant compounds that are synthesized artificially to be used in the perfume industry are known as synthetic fragrant compound. An example is white musk.

Perfume Notes

Ever wonder why a perfume smells differently after an hour?
This is because perfumes have three sets of notes. Each note unfolds with time.

  • Top note of Perfume: When you apply a perfume, you get to smell the top note, which appears after 15 minutes of application and stays up to 3–4 hours.
  • Middle or Heart Note of Perfume: After this, you get to smell the middle/heart note, which stays up to 4–5 hours after application.
  • Base Note: In the end, you get to smell the base note which could stay for days on your clothes.


Ill effects of use of perfume and fragrances

Are there health concerns with regard to perfumes and fragrances? Yes, indeed. Both known and unknown perfume ingredients can impact the health of perfume wearers.

There are allergic reactions, to begin with. Studies suggest that some individuals can be allergic to the components present in the perfumes. (For example, grapefruit extracts can cause severe allergies and increase an individual’s sensitivity to harmful rays from sunlight [ultraviolet rays].) The chemical scents may also bring on bouts of contact dermatitis (a condition in which the skin becomes red, sore, or inflamed after direct contact with a substance). In more severe cases, cosmetic contact dermatitis can trigger eczema, a chronic skin disorder marked by itchy rashes.

Many individuals report experiencing a headache after applying perfumes. This can be due to application of a strong perfume or applying it in excessive amount, or one can be mildly allergic to a specific perfume.

Fragrance chemicals are typically mixtures of several dozen to several hundred chemicals, primarily synthetic. Even so-called ‘natural’ fragrances can have synthetic chemicals in them.

Bronchial spasms may be caused by perfume for those with asthma, according to groups like the American Lung Association, which in fact recommends that those with lung disease avoid wearing perfume. Allergy sufferers can also develop other upper respiratory problems from exposure, a serious health risk.

Finally, some natural and synthetic aromatic compounds are linked to cancer. Examples include nitro-musks and musk xylene.

Types of Perfumes or Fragrances

Most of the essential oils and other fragrant compounds are expensive. They are often diluted with alcohol to reduce the total cost of the product. Greater the concentration of essential oils and extracts, stronger the fragrance. Fragrances can be classified based on the dilution levels (see accompanying table).

What is the actual cost of a perfume?

Perfumes are an expensive commodity. A 50ml bottle of any luxury perfume costs about Rs 2,500–Rs 13,000. But the real cost of the perfume is only two to three per cent of the MRP quoted on the pack. The costs of the bottle, packaging, retailer’s profit, manufacturer’s profit, marketing, sales commission, etc., are more than the real cost of the perfume.

Other Options of types of perfumes

•  Ittar

Ittars are the essential oils obtained from botanical sources such as spices, resins and flowers. They are highly concentrated and aged in a wooden base such as sandalwood for at least a year.

There are evidences that suggest that the art of perfumery existed in India since ancient times. Scientists have found perfumery apparatus in the archaeological sites of Indus Valley civilizations. Formulations for making ‘ittar’ and usage of fragrant essential oils from flowers and spices are mentioned in many Indian ancient scriptures. ‘Ittar’ fragrance formulations are still very popular in the Indian market.

•  Deodorant

Deodorants are the products made specifically to address body odour caused by bacteria during sweating. These are usually alcohol-based. Other active ingredients in deodorants include sodium stearate, sodium chloride and stearyl alcohol. Many of these chemicals are known to cause serious health concerns.

Tips for purchasing perfumes and fragrances

Research before purchasing

It’s very important to find out the type of fragrance and the source of the fragrance. Make a purchase as per your need.

Do a patch test

Before making a purchase, take a 48 hours patch test. This could be done with the help of a dermatologist by applying patch strips on your back. You can also do it on your own while making a purchase at the store – just apply a tinge of perfume on yourwrist and wait for 48 hours. If no symptoms appear, then make a purchase after two days. This exercise will also help you understand the three notes of the perfume that you wish to buy.

Preserve the perfume

If the perfume isn’t stored well, then the fragrant compounds can degenerate, and the perfume can lose its aroma. It can be due to the exposure to heat, light or oxygen. Remember that the perfume must be stored in a cool place, preferably in its cover to prevent any exposure to heat/light. You can store your perfume in the refrigerator too (not freezer), but make sure you seal it well and make a separate compartment for it to prevent any contact with the food.

Divya Patwal


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