Article

Every spring, workers in Pégomas, France, pick 37 tons of roses for Chanel to turn into perfume.

Pari Dukovic/Trunk Archive

STANDARDS

CCSS: 6.RP.A.3.B, MP1, MP2, MP4

TEKS: 6.4B

What's in a Scent?

Perfumers bottle timeless smells by using careful ratios

Each 30-milliliter bottle of Chanel No. 5 contains the concentrated scent of about 12 roses, along with dozens of other ingredients. It takes two weeks to harvest the roses needed for the best-selling scent!

For thousands of years, people have tried to capture the smells of nature—like roses—and put them in a bottle. The easiest way to do this is to extract and collect fragrant oils that occur naturally in most plants, from roses to grass to oranges. “The oils you extract from nature are a complex mixture of maybe hundreds of molecules,” says Jen Bayline. She’s a chemist at Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. “Together, they create a rich and complex fragrance,” she adds (see From Rose to Perfume).

But these natural oils can be expensive to collect. Perfumes that use natural oils, like Chanel No. 5, have a steep price tag. Many perfumers turn to cheaper synthetic scents, composed of lab-made molecules, to create budget-friendly perfumes. Making a synthetic scent requires chemists to first identify the hundreds of molecules responsible for a particular natural smell so that they can re-create them.

Chanel No. 5 is one of the world’s most famous perfumes. Each small bottle contains the scent of about 12 roses. It takes two weeks to harvest the flowers for the best-selling fragrance. Their scent is concentrated and mixed with dozens of other ingredients.

For thousands of years, people have tried to capture the smells of nature in perfumes. The easiest way to do this is to extract the fragrant oils that occur naturally in most plants. Everything from roses to grass to oranges has these scented substances. "The oils you extract from nature are a complex mixture of maybe hundreds of molecules," says Jen Bayline. She's a chemist at Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. "Together, they create a rich and complex fragrance," she adds.

But these natural oils can be expensive to collect. Perfumes that use natural oils, like Chanel No. 5, are expensive too. Many companies make more affordable perfumes by using synthetic scents. These substances are created in a lab to mimic natural fragrances. To make them, chemists first need to identify the hundreds of molecules responsible for a particular natural smell.

Perfumers mix together natural and synthetic ingredients to create new, distinctive aromas. They also have to consider how the mixed scents will hit a person’s nose at different times, says Anne Serrano-McClain. She owns and operates a small perfumery called MCMC Fragrances in Brooklyn, New York.

“There are about 1,500 scents that you can choose to work from, but only 20 to 50 of them wind up in the bottle,” says Serrano-McClain. “You go through rounds and rounds of creating perfumes and evaluating them until you find the perfect one.”

Perfumers mix together natural and synthetic ingredients. This helps them create new and unique aromas. Figuring out just the right combination can take time, says Anne Serrano-McClain. She runs a small perfumery called MCMC Fragrances in Brooklyn, New York.

"There are about 1,500 scents that you can choose from,” says Serrano-McClain. “But only 20 to 50 of them wind up in the bottle. You go through rounds and rounds of creating perfumes and evaluating them until you find the perfect one."

The table below shows the ratio of milliliters (mL) of fragrance oil to the total volume of fluid in different types of perfumes. Use it to answer the questions that follow. Round your answers to the nearest tenth. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

The table below shows the ratio of milliliters (mL) of fragrance oil to the total volume of fluid in different types of perfumes. Use it to answer the questions that follow. Round your answers to the nearest tenth. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

There are 2 mL of fragrance oil in a bottle of perfume. What’s the total volume of perfume in that bottle?

There are 2 mL of fragrance oil in a bottle of perfume. What’s the total volume of perfume in that bottle?

How many milliliters of fragrance oil would you expect in a 75 mL bottle of cologne?

How many milliliters of fragrance oil would you expect in a 75 mL bottle of cologne?

A travel-sized eau de parfum comes in a 5 mL bottle. What is the volume of solvent (the mix of alcohol and water that is not fragrance oil)?

A travel-sized eau de parfum comes in a 5 mL bottle. What is the volume of solvent (the mix of alcohol and water that is not fragrance oil)?

An unlabeled 30 mL bottle of fragrance has 1.5 mL of fragrance oil. What type of fragrance is it?

An unlabeled 30 mL bottle of fragrance has 1.5 mL of fragrance oil. What type of fragrance is it?

Google Quiz

Click the Google Quiz button below to share an interactive version of the questions with your class. Click Download PDF for the non-interactive blank answer sheet.

Download PDF
Back to top
videos (1)
Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)
Skills Sheets (6)
Lesson Plan (2)
Lesson Plan (2)