Our interest in fragrance is as old as civilisation itself. Here are some answers to questions people often ask us about fragrance manufacture.
What is a fragrance or perfume?
Fragrance is the modern term for perfume. The word perfume comes from the ancient language Latin. Par fumum, meaning "by smoke". Perfume is known to have been used by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans. The way they used perfume was by sprinkling crystals of myrrh, incense, camphor and other natural plant and resin materials over hot coals to emit a pleasant aroma or perfume into their living space. Later, when the extraction of essential oils from these materials was discovered, they began using them in their baths and body oils.
What then is a modern fragrance?
A modern fragrance is a blend of essential oils, extracts of resinous materials, synthetic aromatic materials and fixatives, which may be either natural or synthetic. These materials are skillfully blended to produce a modern fragrance.
What is the difference between an essential oil and a synthetic aromatic material?
An essential oil is extracted exclusively from plant, flower or resinous materials. A synthetic aromatic substance is produced by chemical synthesis to produce a replication of the natural material.
Are essential oils better to use than synthetic aromatic substances?
Not necessarily. It depends on the final application. In the case of Aromatherapy, it would be advisable to use a natural essential oil rather than a synthetic substitute. On the other hand, in common household products, synthetic replacements are not only economical but also more stable in the end product. Moreover, synthetic materials, under strict quality control procedures, provide batch consistency time after time and there is no shortage of supply. In the case of essential oils, the quality depends on a number of factors beyond human control. Factors such as climate (rainfall and or drought) and soil conditions can effect the quality and availability of the oil.
Why are essential oils so expensive?
Essential oils are produced by a number of methods. Cold pressed as in the case of citrus oils; enfleurage as in the case of rose and jasmine oils; and steam distillation as in the case of lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus and geranium oils, to name a few. It is a long drawn out procedure to first harvest the material, bring it to the manufacturing site and then proceed with extraction. Adding to the labour costs is the fact that most of these plant materials do not yield much essential oil. For example, it takes 6000 Kilos of rose petals to yield one kilo of essential oil of rose.
What do these extraction methods mean?
Cold Pressing: Essential oils of citrus fruit are contained in its outer skin or rind. In order to extract this oil, the fruit is halved, the pulp removed and then the outer skin is physically pressed on to an absorbent material like a sponge. Once the sponge is saturated, it is squeezed into a container to collect the oil. Enfleurage: rose and jasmine oils are extracted by enfleurage. This method involves harvesting the petals very early morning, just before sunrise, when the petals yield the maximum oil. The petals are then brought back to base and sprinkled over trays of lard or fat. Over a few weeks, the lard absorbs the essential oil from the petals. The petals are then discarded and a fresh batch of petals sprinkled over the lard. This procedure goes on till the lard is saturated with the oil from the petals. The lard is then dissolved in a volatile solvent such as benzene. The benzene is removed by vacuum, leaving a sediment of rose oil. Steam Distillation: This method involves collecting the plant or flower material, such as eucalyptus leaves, and packing them into a chamber. The chamber is fitted with a vertical funnel or tube, running upwards to a cooling tower and then bent downward to a collection vessel. A steam bath is prepared under this chamber, allowing the steam to pass over the leaves. Because steam rises, it dissolves the oil from the leaves and carries it upward into the cooling chamber where it condenses into a mixture of oil and water. This mixture in turn drips into the collection vessel. The water is later drained out, leaving a pure essential oil behind in the vessel.
What is Aromatherapy?
As the name suggests, Aromatherapy is therapy by smell or aroma. Just as Physiotherapy involves physical manipulation of the muscles and joints, Aromatherapy involves the inhalation or application of essential oils to soothe, relieve stress and improve wellbeing. As is the case with any therapy, care should be taken with the application of aromatherapy, since some essential oils are not recommended for direct skin application involving children under the age of three or pregnant women.