What’s In a Scent?
Did you know people can distinguish more than 10,000 different scent materials? And remember a scent with 65% accuracy after a whole year?
It’s true…and for most of us, fragrance creates a strong personal reaction. You might catch a whiff of a particular flower and remember your wedding day. Or smell a rich spice and think of your grandmother’s kitchen. Or sniff sea air and relive your last vacation.
How Does Scent Work?
We have scent receptors in our noses that connect into our brains. Simply put, depending on the molecules you smell, these receptors cause a unique electrical signal that your brain interprets as a scent.
The scent region of the brain is in the limbic system, which is also associated with memory and emotion. When you first smell a scent, your brain connects the smell and the memory of that moment. So while we don't all like the same scents, scents are meaningful to all of us.
That’s why just like the perfume you spritz on in the morning, the fragrances you choose for your home give it a mood and personality – whether it’s the fresh scent of a clean kitchen or the soothing aroma of a flickering candle.
How are Fragrances Made?
Only a small proportion of most products are actually made of fragrance – usually less than 2%. Yet that small amount contains many tiny ingredient molecules that must be expertly combined. A typical oil-based fragrance could have as many as 50 different ingredients; a complex fragrance might mix 50 to 200.
Perfumers select from the available fragrance molecules – we call it a palette of fragrance ingredients – and combine them to create a scent. These ingredients can include:
- Naturally occurring: which are extracted from plants and flowers
- Nature-identical: which are synthetic ingredients that chemically mirror naturally occurring scents but are made in a laboratory
- Custom-made: which are made in a laboratory using different combinations of molecules for unique or complex new scents
For SC Johnson’s fragrance ingredient palette, we require that any fragrance materials our perfumers use must meet the International Fragrance Association standards and our own SC Johnson standards.
Our internal analysis may look at the same criteria as IFRA, such as carcinogicity, mutagenicity or reproductive toxicity, but, we may take a different view of an ingredient. In some instances, we may also consider additional factors such as consumer confidence with ingredients or other scientific viewpoints.
What Makes it Smell Good?
A great fragrance requires many different materials because it has “layers” of scent that give it depth and character.
- Top notes are the first thing you smell. They’re usually fresh and light, and evaporate quickly.
- Mid notes are the scents that really define the overall “body” of a fragrance. They emerge as the top note is dissipating.
- Base notes are heavier and longer lasting. They bring depth and leave an impression – you might not really perceive a scent’s base notes until you’ve been around it for 30 minutes!