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Understanding Fragrance in Personal Care

By: Wen Schroeder
Posted: March 3, 2010, from the March 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

Perfume use is as old as human history. In fact, the word perfume derives from the Latin per fumem, meaning “through smoke,” since it was customary in antiquity to burn natural salves, herbs and oils to produce incense for religious rituals. The use of perfume has been recorded in ancient Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Carthaginian, Arab and Roman civilizations. Excavations directed by Maria Rosaria Belgiorno from the Italian Archaeological Mission of the National Research Council found an ancient perfume manufacturing site in Pyrgos, Cyprus, dating back to 2000 B.C., among the oldest known perfume factories in human history. The perfume produced included many scents found in today’s fragrances, including rosemary, lavender, bergamot and coriander.1

In addition, research has suggested that humans are able to retain scent recognition as far back as childhood.2 The link between humans and scent is strong, direct and emotional, and the ability of fragrance to alter or modify moods has been widely studied. In fact, some businesses have practiced piping fragrance through their ventilation systems in attempt to achieve an positive effect on employees.

Scientists, too, have long established a neuronal–olfactory relationship between certain scents and colors. The perceived intensity and pleasantness of a scent is often enhanced when accompanied by an “appropriate” color associated with the particular scent.3

However, individuals perceive odors differently due to difficulties describing and communicating scents accurately. Therefore, odor classification and interpretation have been widely studied and debated. Many people use terms such as green, floral, fruity, woody, animal, spicy, sweet, musk and herbal—which are further associated with certain human moods. Citrus and lavender fragrances often illicit a sense of relaxation, while jasmine and peppermint are often associated as being uplifting, energizing and stimulating.4–6