On a natural note

On a natural note

Behind every scented perfume lies a subtle play of science and art, writes Philip Samuel

art

The history of fragrance is as old as mankind itself which is evident from the fact that the world knew of fragrant substances and their preparation at least 4,000 years before the Birth of Christ.

Fragrance is the essence of luxury and refinement and has been giving comfort and joy to people for a very long time. The modern fragrance industry often uses toxic substances that can leave a negative impact on health.

But now that people are becoming more conscious about their health and want to use safe products, these industries are emphasising on using natural ingredients in their products. There is a high demand for natural ingredients as many small and big companies are
coming out with their line of products.

Scented notes of a perfume

Just like various shades of colours turn into a painting, fragrance notes are necessary to make perfume.

Top, middle and base when blended, create the perfume’s fragrant accord.

The top or peak note is the most volatile and gives the prelude that affects the olfactory sense as a first impression.

The middle note, also called the bouquet or heart note, unfolds a few moments after the application of the perfume.

The base, also called a fond note, is the clinging impression that is left
behind and embraces the wearer for hours. Flower extracts are mostly used in the top note of a perfume.

The making of perfumes

Behind every ‘scented’ perfume lies science and art which is performed by a perfumer with many years of experience and sharp olfactory senses. They are called ‘the nose’. Many ingredients comprising of natural, as well as synthetic, are involved in the creation of a perfume. The ones with majorly natural ingredients are called as fine perfumes with their history dating back to early 90s where great perfumers from the South of France were involved. Grasse, a village there, is still the centre of fine perfumes.

Naturally fragrant ingredients are extracted not only from flowers but from leaves, roots, barks, wood and seeds. Rose and jasmine dominate the category of floral fragrances but there are other flowers like Ylang-Ylang, Daffodil, Tuberose, Carnation, Iris, Hyacinth, Lily of the Valley, Narcissus and Orange Blossom.
There are two types of oils that are present in natural materials.

Fixed or fatty oils: Fixed oils have a high boiling point and viscosity and are oily to the touch. Some of the examples include groundnut oil, castor oil, neem oil and coconut oil.

Essential oils: These oils are volatile and have a low boiling point. They contain all the fragrance of the natural material.

Extraction of essential oils

As far as extraction from flowers is concerned, the delicate flowers must be extracted immediately because they are volatile in nature and can’t be carried for long distances. Also, flower extracts are mostly used in the top note of a perfume. Steam distillation is the most common and simple process of extracting essential oils where live steam is passed through the flowers and it carries the essential oil as a vapour. The whole thing is condensed with cold water and turns into liquid. The condensed steam is water in which small quantities of the essential oil is present.

The essential oil is separated by decantation if it is immiscible with water. If not, it will be re-distilled to recover the essential oil from the water. Examples include rose oil and neroli oil. 

In the case of some natural materials like white flowers, steam distillation is not a reliable method as it destroys the essential oil present in the flower. They are extracted with solvents to make what is called the concrete of the flowers. These are waxy substances similar to shoe polish having the essential oil as well as the waxes of the flowers. The concretes are then extracted in high-quality alcohol and chill-filtered to separate the waxes. The process is repeated a few times to get the pure essential oils. These oils made by solvent extraction are not called oil but called absolutes — Jasmine Absolute, Tuberose Absolute, Coffee Flower Absolute, Frangipani Absolute etc. Rose is also a solvent extracted to produce Rose Absolute.

Extracting from nature is a sort of a revolution which is not new. It is also influencing choices as people are now preferring natural fragrances over synthetic ones.