Water in perfume: Why? What? How much?

The American Society of Perfumers once posted definitions of perfume extrait, eau de parfum (EDP), eau de toilette (EDT), and eau de cologne (EDC) on their website. Each was defined by the ratio of compound to alcohol. But beyond that, each was defined by what proof of alcohol was used, ranging from 200 proof — pure ethyl alcohol — down to about 170 proof — 85% alcohol diluted by 15% water.

It is no secret that as both the alcohol content and the water content go up, the price goes down. And, with the alcohol itself, as the water content goes up, the alcohol becomes cheaper.

This leads to the not untrue impression that the purpose of water in perfume is to reduce is manufacturing cost. Water is cheaper than alcohol and, unlike alcohol, is not government regulated and government taxed.

But there is more to water than its low cost. You begin to realize this when you notice that some quite costly fragrances include water, and fragrances which include water are far more trendy today than the increasingly rare and more costly "extraits" compounded from fragrance and alcohol alone.

Moreover, EDTs frequently come out ahead in reviewers preference to EDPs and pure perfumes. This suggest that while water may reduce the price, it also adds something pleasing to the fragrance. So what, I would ask, is the true role of water in perfume?

F.V. Wells (Bilot & Wells, Perfumery Technology) suggests ""The presence of water... generally increases the persistence of odours on the skin.""

Asking around, I received some additional insights into the value of water being added to the alcohol used in perfumery.

There was a general agreement that the addition of water lessens the harsh, drying effect of alcohol on the skin. So a less than 200 proof alcohol would make the perfume more pleasant when sprayed on the skin.

Other points were made. Agreeing with Wells, it was suggested that water would retard the evaporation of the alcohol, giving the top notes greater persistence (staying power), and perfumes are generally sold by the aroma of the top notes.

Water and oil don't mix... but when you add some alcohol... You can see what happens in this short video. Watch closely at the 2:56 minute mark!

It was noted that a perfume with water would appear stronger to the nose as the water would help release the scent from the oil while pure alcohol would hold it back. This can lead to a balancing act by which less fragrance can produce the desired "smell strength" when alcohol of lower proof and higher water content is used, and this might explain why some find dollar store fragrances as acceptable or even nicer than their far more expensive originals.

Another point in favor of water is that in drying, alcohol can release "some boozy off-notes" from side products formed in traces. It was noted that even vodka produces smells beyond that of pure alcohol.

Finally, in a balancing act on which I am missing direct research, I was told that European and US formulations differed in compound strength because of differences in national diets, the US being a meat eating culture, requiring greater amounts of compound to achieve the same effect (or perhaps more water?) On this I was referred to the work of the late Paul Bedoukian who had written on the subject but have not been able to locate the original paper.

Summing up, water in the alcohol that is used to make perfume is not simply a "save money" ingredient. While there are different views on its overall role, there is general agreement that it works for the improvement of the user experience.

I personally suspect that a bit more is involved in the use of water in perfumery. Two points. Prior to the development of atomizers in the late 19th century, perfume was more viscous (less alcohol used) and more likely to be applied to articles of clothing or to fans or handkerchiefs than to skin. When applied to skin, it was dabbed on sparingly.

At the same time, toilet waters were on the market, lightly fragranced waters that required little or no alcohol as the flower essences were mostly soluble in water.

The atomizer brought about the need for lighter, more water-laden, fragrances that could be sprayed. Originally atomizers were sold separate from perfumes, to be self-filled by the consumer. But in the late 1930's, Coty for one developed locking, anti-leak atomizer bottles in which the fragrance itself could be sold.

So it seems to me that this technology brought about a merging of perfume and toilette water, the one gaining more water, the other gaining more alcohol. And this I would guess is how we have come to have water in our perfume today.

I have listed some vendors of de-ionized water here.


archander
Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin

Steffen Arctander's Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin was first published in 1960 and is the classic, authoritative reference for natural products used in perfumes, scents, flavorings, foods, and medicine throughout the world. Part One defines and describes processing methods used to extract or refine the products into usable form; Part Two includes more than 500 monographs on the natural raw materials used to produce perfumes, flavorings, etc. Appendices include a classification of important materials by their scent, and worldwide production figures for major products. Fully indexed, the book also includes 62 pages of photographs, making this the standard reference work on natural materials for perfumers and flavor chemists. The preface contains practical descriptions of available materials, their origin, production and processing methods, appearance, odor and flavor type with brief notes on their main constituents, replacements and common adulterants.


Creating Your Own Perfume With A 1700 Percent Markup! (3rd edition)

Perfume is famous for the markup it can achieve, even for a middle market fragrance. While "everybody knows" that perfume costs next to nothing to make (not completely true) the making of it is often considered an esoteric secret. "Creating Your Own Perfume With A 1700 Percent Markup!" details how a 3-person company with no experience created their own fragrance in response to a marketing opportunity that was too good to pass up. The book explains exactly what was done to create a fragrance for that opportunity but it is far more than a history of the author's project. "Creating Your Own Perfume With A 1700 Percent Markup!" lays out every step in the process of creating your own perfume, either as a do-it-yourself project – and without the benefit of automated equipment some compromises and workarounds are required – or full bore professional production under your supervision. Either way you will be producing a quality fragrance at a remarkably low cost. Do you have a marketing opportunity that would be wildly profitable if only you could obtain your fragrance at a ridiculously low cost? "Creating Your Own Perfume With A 1700 Percent Markup!" is the guide you need to do it.


Naming Your Perfume And Protecting Your Name

A really great name, a special name that is just right for a particular perfume or perfume marketer (or entrepreneur with money to invest!) can be worth a ton of money. But few individuals with great ideas ever manage to cash in on those brilliant ideas. Instead they wait while others "discover" their idea, acquire legal rights to it and make all the money while they are left out in the cold without a penny having been earned for what was once THEIR idea.

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Never had an idea for a product name? Never thought much about perfume? "Naming Your Perfume And Protecting Your Name" may stimulate your interest in a whole new game that, when played well, can make you lots of money without your having to leave the comfort of your home office.


How To Launch Your Own Perfume Company: A Simple Business Plan

You can build a perfume business of your own using this business plan as a guide. By following its detailed strategy you learn to identify motivated groups of potential perfume buyers. Members of these groups are near the tipping point of desire for a new perfume. You don't know these people and they don't know you but you know a marketer they trust, one who does not currently sell perfume and might never think of selling perfume were it not for your approach. Here is where you step in with a professional plan, promotion, and perfume to take advantage of this ripe opportunity for mutual profit. Before your first promotion has peaked, you will already be developing a relationship with your next marketing partner. Following this plan, you will gain more and more profit with each new marketing partnership.


Creating your own perfume from dropper bottles: Methods, mechanics, and mathematics

Now when you make your own perfume you can make it fully "commercial" meaning you will be creating a product ready for regular, continuous sales to friends, relatives, and the public! If the fragrance you've made has already won praise, why not share it with others? Some might pay you for it and want it for their web stores or retail boutiques! Creating your own perfume from dropper bottles: Methods, mechanics, and mathematics guides you through steps that can turn your hobby project into a perfume business. Discover how close you are now and how little more you must do to take what you made with essential oils and dropper bottles into a business of your own! For an introduction to this book, watch this video.


How To Create A More Valuable Name For Your Perfume

When you name a perfume you create a valuable asset – the name itself. To sell your perfume you want the most effective name possible. But a good name can have value beyond the edge it gives your sales. In naming your fragrance you are creating a trademark and a trademark can have value independent of the product. The value of that trademark can vary. Much depends on how well, in naming your perfume, you follow the trademark "rules." How To Create A More Valuable Name For Your Perfume first helps you develop a name that will be effective in selling your perfume. It then prods you to make use of certain techniques that can turn a good name into a great trademark, strong and valuable. If you have questions about how to protect a name, How To Create A More Valuable Name For Your Perfume will answer many such as:

  • Can you protect your name yourself or do you need a lawyer?
  • Can you register a trademark without a lawyer?
  • What does it cost to register a trademark?
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How To Create A More Valuable Name For Your Perfume covers both state, federal, and international protection.


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Philip Goutell
Lightyears, Inc.