Personal Care

What is in a luxury perfume?

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A bit more complex than sunshine and flowers
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Find out what is in a luxury perfume that makes it maintain it's fragrance

For centuries, perfumes have been used to enhance and attract people. Though used by some of the earliest human societies, the intoxicating fragrances as we know them today did not exist until the end of the 19th century.

People often wonder what is in a luxury perfume and sometimes the answers are surprising. It is so much more than a simple mixture of oils that smell nice. Both natural and man-made ingredients are used to produce a long-lasting, pleasing fragrance that is safe when applied to the skin and clothing.

Real perfume differs from aromatic body sprays and liquids. Essentially it is an extracted essence concentrated in a solvent. Luxury perfume brands typically use either pure ethanol or add a bit of water to create an effective solvent.

Natural and man-made components

The type of solvent used isn’t nearly as interesting or evocative as the raw materials used to create the fragrance. Many are chosen for their scent as well as their natural ability to produce oil that can then be extracted. Common materials include: wood, fruit, flowers, spices, resins, grasses and leaves.

Essential oils are a necessary ingredient. However, of the 250,000 types of flowers only 2,000 of them naturally produce it. This is where man-made chemical come in. Synthetic components are created to produce the scent of non-oily plants as well as unique scents that don’t exist in the natural world.

Still, flower extract and ethanol can not alone produce a long lasting scent. The answer to what is in a luxury perfume also may include some animal products. The primary role they play is as a fixative, meaning they extend the life of the scent by inhibiting evaporation. 

Examples of materials used as fixatives are musk from the male deer and castor from beavers. Synthetic materials are also used, as well as moss and coal tar. In some fragrances, alcohol or water are added to dilute potent ingredients and produce a more subtle scent. 
While many refer to men’s fragrances as colognes and women’s as perfumes, the distinction has nothing to do with the gender it’s marketed to. Rather it’s the proportion of alcohol to pure scent that dictates if a perfume is labeled a cologne or “eau de toilette”.


Creating a scent is no easy task. It can take years for a master mixer, also referred to as a “nose”, to find the right blend for a single fragrance. The final product sometimes consists of a few ingredients while others contain up to 800!

And it’s not done yet. Coming up with the right mix is the first of many rungs producers climb in order to bring a luxury perfume to market. Some scents are aged for anywhere from a few months to years until it hits the right notes.

Fragrances have three main notes: top, central and base. The top notes are often the first ones your nose will detect, like citrus or the tangy type of scent high school girls wear. The central, also known as the “heart” notes, are the body of a fragrance and offer lingering floral or jasmine aromas. The base scents last the longest and provide the woody element.

Modern perfumes

Natural perfumes are more expensive for good reason. Extreme weather can easily ruin an entire crop of flowers, which is disastrous when a producer relies on a consistent harvest. It takes thousands of blossoms to produce a single pound of essential oil. A poor harvest will send prices sky high.

Manufacturers are producing much higher quantities than ever before as more people wear a fragrance daily. When you ask what is in a luxury perfume today, you’re most likely to discover synthetic materials. Though many consumers prefer natural materials, the logistics and high costs often make it difficult for producers to rely entirely on nature. 

Ultimately what matters most is how a scent makes you feel. When you find one you like, wear it knowing a lot of love and hard work went into making it.

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