What is a fragrance?

A fragrance is a chemical compound that has a smell or odor. These compounds may include natural aromatic raw materials, obtained from plants using distillation, expression and extraction, and synthetic materials.

Making scents

IFRA members produce fragrance ingredients and create fragrance compounds, based primarily on requests from brands and consumer goods companies.

These compounds bring together natural ingredients – such as flowers, grasses, spices, fruit, wood, roots, resins, leaves and gums – and synthetic materials such as alcohol and petrochemicals.

Synthetic materials can also ‘recreate’ natural scents – which may make their use less expensive and resource-intensive.

Fragrance compounds are then added to finished consumer products such as personal care products, cosmetics, household cleaning products or fine fragrance.

From plant to perfume

Before manufacturing can begin, the initial ingredients must be brought together.

For natural ingredients this can involve collecting natural materials from around the world – often, these ingredients are hand-picked and distilled or extracted in the field to preserve their fragrance.

Oils are extracted from plants via several methods, such as steam distillation, solvent extraction and expression.

With these ingredients, perfumers can blend a formula that matches their customer’s request.

This creation process is carried out in compliance with the IFRA Standards, to ensure that the new fragrance can be used and enjoyed safely.

The language of fragrance

Each essential oil and perfume has three ‘notes’.

Top notes come out first: they are often tangy or citrus-like smells that are easy to smell and more fleeting.

Middle notes, often aromatic flowers, come out later: they provide body.

Base notes (often woody fragrances) last longest: they provide an enduring fragrance.

Discover the wide range of fragrances in this ‘Fragrance Wheel’ developed by perfumer Michael Edwards:

Discover the Fragrance Wheel

Click the heading to download Michael Edwards' Fragrance Wheel from the 'Fragrances of the World' website