Scents are fancy versions of natural scented oils extracted from plants like lavender and peppermint. They produce a subtle yet distinct aroma that is usually pleasant and relaxing.
Odor information is sent to several regions in the brain, including those involved in memory and emotion. Scientists are exploring how odors can influence us.
Perfume is a combination of chemical compounds that emits an agreeable smell when rubbed on the skin or sniffed close up. It is usually made from fragrant essential oils derived from plants and spices or synthetic aromatic compounds. Fragrances are used in practically all cosmetic products. Those that are applied to the body for a specific scent include perfume, cologne and aftershave.
Generally, perfumes are classified into 5 main groups loosely based on the concentration of aromatic compounds. Parfum or extrait has the highest concentration of scent and is the strongest. Eau de parfum has the next strongest concentration. This is how most new fragrances are sold. The eau de toilette has the lowest concentration of perfume oils and is usually what people think of as a “spray” or “cologne”.
In general, perfumes are described with descriptive words such as floral, fruity, woody and musky. Perfume briefs, which are the perfume company’s instructions to the perfumer of what the perfume should smell like, are artistic and vague. For example, the brief for Dior’s Pure Poison called for a perfume that smelled of a “fresh spring cloud floating in a fresh green meadow over Sicily raining titanium raindrops.”
How a perfume smells on one person will differ from another due to the individual body chemistry and metabolism. Also, the olfactory receptors in some people’s noses are less sensitive than in others.
The chemical composition of perfumes can vary significantly, but the basic ingredients are always the same: (1) natural essences or aroma compounds; (2) fixatives that help reduce odor volatility and enhance stability; and (3) solvents that dissolve the perfume oils to make them a sprayable liquid. Contemporary perfumes may contain tens to hundreds of ingredients.
Smelling a perfume activates the limbic system in our brain that deals with feelings and emotions. As a result, when we smell a particular fragrance, it can evoke memories and feelings associated with the time, place or occasion that we smelled it before. The association with a certain feeling may have evolved for practical reasons, such as a recollection of a loved one, or it may be socially rewarding in the form of an olfactory signal that indicates attractiveness.
Perfumes can affect the wearer in many ways: they can induce relaxation or excitement; they can cause headaches; and they can even alter our perception of time and space. The impact of a fragrance on our emotional state and behavior is an area that requires further research.
Perfumes have long been regarded as a symbol of status, luxury and wealth, as well as a way to spruce up for an important event or day. While the effects of perfumes have been widely studied from a psychological perspective, the neurobiological mechanisms that are involved require further investigation. Behavioral paradigms in concert with neurobiological techniques could provide valuable insights into the interface between conscious and sub-conscious responses to olfactory stimuli. This would be particularly useful in understanding how the various components of a perfume interact to elicit the desired response.