For the longest time, since the ancient era, human beings have had a love affair with perfume. Whether it’s the captivating smells or the mood and confidence-enhancing effects, to date, perfume is still a very much sought-after product.
In modern days, not only can you enjoy your favorite scent through standard perfume, but also perfumed soaps, body wash, body creams, and lotions. However, the process of how perfume is made and why it is so expensive is not always relayed. Today, you have the chance to learn how perfume is made and why it is so expensive.
How Perfume Is Manufactured in the Modern World
Whether you choose to simply make perfume or manufacture scented body lotions, you first need to make the fragrance or perfume.
In perfume making, the first step is to collect the ingredients and materials to be added to the product. In fact, perfume making is a form of art, so considerable time is spent perfecting the craft. Whilst big perfume houses have dedicated mixers, noses, and scientists to develop and fine-tune the best perfume scent profiles, the basic principles of perfume making remain the same.
Ingredients Used to Make Perfume
In the present day, perfume makers use both natural and synthetic ingredients, as both kinds can be easily accessed. The main ingredients—the scent producing ingredients—are scented oils extracted from natural plants, flowers, fruits, wood, and even animal secretions.
Secondary products include chemicals such as alcohol, tar, and petrochemicals. For synthetic ingredients, synthetic chemicals are normally used to mimic the desired scents. This has allowed many perfume makers to introduce a wider variety of scents that could otherwise not be acquired naturally.
Some of the most commonly used natural ingredients include rose petals, sandalwood, vanilla, rosemary, and other similar products. Synthetic ingredients include cologne, lily of the valley, ambergris, and musk. Although, ambergris and musk are also acquired through animal sections such as sperm whales and deer.
The extraction process is the first step in actual manufacturing. Extraction simply means pulling the scented oil out from the products to create the scents for the perfume. There are several ways you can execute this process. You can do it through steam distillation, solvent extraction, expression or cold press, enfleurage, or maceration.
With steam distillation, ingredients are put into a still to purify them into liquid form. The ingredients remain in the still until the extraction phase, when the resulting elements are then passed through the still tubes to be cooled and liquified. If oils are being extracted from plant materials, the plants need to simply be boiled to extract the oils. Then, the oil is purified through the distillation process.
With solvent extraction, the plant ingredients are put into large rotating drums and covered with petroleum benzene or ethers. The plant fibers dissolve, leaving behind a waxy substance that contains oils. The substance is then placed into ethyl alcohol which dissolves the oils. Finally, the alcohol is burnt off which leaves behind highly concentrated fragrance oils.
Expression or Cold Press
The expression process is a simple and straightforward process that has been used since ancient times. This process is normally used for citrus plants and involves mechanically or manually squeezing them to extract the oils.
Enfleurage and Maceration
The enfleurage and maceration processes are somewhat similar. The enfleurage process uses large glasses that are coated with grease. Flowers or plant material is spread across the grease coated surface, and the glass surfaces are then arranged between wooden frames. As time passes, the flowers or plant materials are moved by hand until the grease absorbs the fragrance.
For maceration, the process is the same; however, fats are used in lieu of grease. After this process, the fats are dissolved in alcohol to pull out the fragranced oils.
Mixing the Ingredients
After the fragranced oils are collected, they are blended together according to the perfumer’s formula. Some commercially available perfumes integrate more than 50 different scents that are mixed together to create a perfume profile.
Because the formula is normally a proprietary property, you can never really know all the fragrances used. As oils are mixed, some of them are specifically chosen for their fixative qualities. Fixatives are substances that allow the perfume to last longer by evaporating slowly. Good examples of fixatives include animal products, coal tar, and resins.
Base oils, such as sandalwood, are also considered as fixatives. In addition to the fixative, it is the ratio of alcohol to fragrance oils that determines the strength of your perfume. Therefore, eau de parfum, which contains up to 20% fragrance oil content, is stronger than eau de fraiche—which only contains between 3% to 5% fragrance oil concentration.
Aging is the final process of perfume making. Good quality perfumes must be aged for a couple of months. In fact, some of the best, high-end perfumes are aged for several years after blending the scents. The aging process allows the scents to really combine well and develop a sophisticated scent profile.
For commercial perfumes, quality control and assurance are important processes as well. The quality control and assurance check ensures the perfumes don’t contain any harmful substances. Doing so prevents the brand from any potential lawsuits. Synthetic fragrances are easy to create, so they require less effort when it comes to quality control compared to natural ones.
But Why Is Perfume So Expensive?
Every step of perfume making is both time consuming and costly. Typically, the best quality, high-end luxury perfumes feature some quite rare and unique ingredients—whether it’s a $4000 single ounce Chanel Grand Extrait or a single ounce $1500 Hermes 24 Faubourg.
It’s not only the branding and packaging that require a hefty investment, but also the ingredients. Consider the price of Oud or Jasmine. Typically, a high-quality perfume that integrates a floral jasmine profile can use up to 200,000 handpicked flowers to yield an ounce of essential oil. Such precision is emphasized, to achieve the luxurious scent.
Oud, which is on the other end, is quite rare and is harvested in an extremely small portion of the world. Its oil is distilled from agarwood which is specifically infected with a certain type of mold. Other uniquely harvested ingredients include roses (from various parts of the world), and ambergris. Sometimes, the oils may also be synthetically extracted. Nevertheless, the synthesis costs may still be high.
Other than the manufacturing process, other costs associated with high perfume prices are related to marketing and luxurious packaging. You’ve probably seen those fancy adverts in magazines, on billboards, and even on TV—well, the models, the photoshoots, the graphics, and even the A-list celebrity spokespersons don’t come cheap. Whilst the campaigns certainly do a great job at creating awareness, exclusivity, and drawing in the customers, they also dig deep into the brand’s pockets.
The packaging is important, especially for luxurious perfumes. Whilst advertising is just that—advertising—you don’t want to create too much of an illusion. So, if your campaign focuses on the spritzing part of the perfume, it’s only logical that enough investment is made on the atomizer. Some brands focus on crystal bottles, whilst others will even have diamond stones engraved on the bottle to enhance its look.