The Art and the Science of Fragrance

Author: Mohsin Aziz

Everybody loves to wear good fragrance. The word perfume is derived from the Latin word “Perfumare” which means to “to smoke through”. The quest for fragrance is probably as old as the human civilization. The One of the oldest recorded use of fragrance is by Mesopotamians. Egyptians also used fragrances on religious occasions. There are records of fragrances being used in the Indus Valley Civilization. The art was further refined by the Romans and later Arabs. However, many of us don’t know the difference between the different types of fragrances usually available in the market.

Layers or Notes of Fragrance

Most perfumes are composed of three-part structure or layer. How long the fragrance will last on the wearer depends on how many layers it has and what is the concentration level of Essential Oils in the overall composition. These layers are called notes. Just like musical notes, these fragrance notes have separate smell individually but when combined together they produce a new smell. The character of the fragrance depends on the various combinations of these notes and is also called as Perfume Accord. Fragrances are usually anchored in three notes called Top Note, Heart Note and Base note.

Top notes are also called the head notes. Top note is comprised of most volatile chemicals. These are light molecules that evaporate quickly. The wearer perceives it immediately upon application. The common top notes are Citrus, Orange zest and Ginger. Lasts usually up to half an hour.

Heart notes are also called middle notes. The chemicals comprising the Heart note are less volatile than Top Note. The wearer perceives it after the Top notes evaporates. It may last up to one hour. The most common heart notes are rose, lemongrass, nutmeg, lavender and jasmine.

The Base note appears after the heart note evaporates. The common base notes are cedar wood, sandalwood, amber, oak moss, vanilla, amber and musk. Base notes may last up to eight hours.

 Division based on concentration levels


Parfum or perfume is also known as extrait de parfum or pure parfum. It lasts the longest usually up to 8 hours. Parfum is costliest among all fragrances because of high fragrance concentration. Essential Oil concentration may range anywhere between 15 % to 40%. For people with dry skin, Parfum is better option than other fragrances as the alcohol level is least in it.

 Eau de Parfum

Eau de Parfum or parfume (a.k.a. EDP) has concentration level between 15% to 20%. It is less costly than Parfum and has more alcohol content than Parfum. It normally lasts up to 4 to 5 hours. Suitable for dry skin and is the most common fragrance available and perfect for everyday use.

Eau de Toilette

The Essential Oil concentration in Eau de Toilette (a.k.a. EDT) is usually between 5% to 15%. It is much cheaper than either Eau de Parfum or Perfume and is most commonly available in the market. Its affect lasts up to two to three hours depending on the concentration level. The term Eau de Toilette comes from the French word “faire sa toilette” which means “getting ready”. They need to be reapplied every two hours.

Eau de Cologne

Cologne comes in concentration level of 2% to 4%. Eau de Cologne is much cheaper due to low concentration and also usually comes in larger bottles as the affects wears out after about 1 to 2 hours.

Eau de Fraiche / After Shave / Mist

Eau de Fraiche is similar to Cologne but they have even lower concentration of 1% to 3% of Essential Oils. The alcohol content is very less in Eau de Fraiche. Besides Essential Oil it mostly contains water.

After shave has similar level of concentration to Eau de Fraiche but high alcohol content. It lasts around 2 hours.

Mist are fragrances with low Essential Oil concentration and low alcohol concentration. It is mostly water. Due to very low alcohol content it can be applied on hair also without causing damage.

It is not necessary that the same order is always followed. Usually EDP will have more concentration than EDT. However, different perfume companies use different percentages and there are EDT which have more concentration than some EDP.

A few things to remember

It is advisable to store perfume is a dark place at room temperature. Never store perfume at a place where it is exposed to sunlight or too much heat as the evaporation will speed up and the quality of fragrance will go down.

Similarly make sure to decide for yourself as to what suits you. What looks very pleasant for your friend may not be a good choice for you. Fragrances react differently to different bodies and sweat.

If you are buying Eau de Fraiche, After Shave, Mist, Eau de Toilette or Eau de Cologne, immediate decision may be taken. But if you are buying Eau de Parfum or Parfum, never take a decision after smelling the perfume strip which is given to you in the perfume shops with perfume sprayed over it. It’s always better to use a fragrance and give sometime to yourself before deciding whether you still want to go for it or not? Spray some perfume on your wrist and go for rest of the shopping. Once you are done with your shopping, maybe one hour later, decide whether you still want to buy it or not. By this time, the top note has given way to heart note and maybe some early signs of base note are also clear. If you decide without giving yourself time, your decision will be based on Top Note smell only.

There is lot of confusion regarding how are where to apply fragrance. It’s a personal decision. However, little science will always help us. Eau De Fraiche, Eau de Toilette or Eau de Cologne should be ideally applied on body immediately after taking shower. Pores are open and the body reacts very well to these after shower.

For Eau de Parfum or Parfum, the best place to apply is on the pulse point as the pulse will keep the parfume warm and will consistently spread the perfume. Pulse points are those points where the blood vessels are closest to the skin. These spots emit heat and help in constant diffusion of fragrance. These pulse points are the inner wrist, behind ear lobes, base of the throat, behind knees, chest and the inner elbow. Don’t rub the surface after applying. Just spray and leave it as it is. Rubbing will disturb the chemical bonding and the fragrance will not last. This is true for applying Eau de Toilette and Cologne also. For even longer lasting effect, apply some petroleum jelly on pulse points before spraying the fragrance. For summer, floral scents are better while musky scents are better for winter.

Happy Fragrance.



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