Solar notes: the perfume of the holidays

Les notes solaires évoquent des souvenirs olfactifs de vacances entre mer, soleil et sable chaud

Every year it is the same thing… As soon as summer comes around, you have an irresistible desire to wrap yourself in sunny fragrances. These perfumes, sometimes floral or sweet, sometimes fruity or iodized, immediately take us back to happy memories of holidays between sun and warm sand. For decades, perfumers have been challenging their creativity to put these emotions in bottles. In doing so, they recreate solar notes that are dear to our hearts and noses. But what is behind these summery fragrances? Pack your bags and head for the fragrance of summer!

The scent of the holidays

Thanks to certain accords, perfume can take us beyond borders. It can also take us straight to the holidays of our childhood, or those that make us dream on glazed paper. When we talk about the scent of holidays, it is a question of olfactory references that spread through us. From our past experiences, but also thanks to certain cultural references, the scent of holidays will be more or less different for each of us. In Europe, for example, the olfactory marker of summer is L’Oréal’s Ambre Solaire, with its balsamic and sweet notes. At the same time, in the United States, it is the Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen product that sets the standard with the sweetness of exotic fruits such as coconut, mango and guava.

In reality, there is no single way to create solar notes. The perfumer can play with natural ingredients and synthetic materials to give compositions a real sunburn.

The solar notes in a mythical ingredient: benzyl salicylate

From a sunscreen…

To understand the solar notes, we have to look at our holiday memories. There is a very specific one: that of a product used on all beaches in Europe from the 1930s to today: the Ambre Solaire. This sun oil was created by Eugène Schueller, a chemist and founder of L’Oréal group. A great lover of sea trip but much less sunburn that he used to get, he had the idea of creating an oil that would protect against the sun’s rays, while optimizing a nice tan. After months of work, the Ambre Solaire was released in supermarkets in 1935. At that time, research on sun filters was much less advanced than it is today. The main synthetic compound known for its sunscreen properties is benzyl salicylate. It had already been used by our American cousins since 1923.

One year after the launch of the Ambre Solaire, the French are enjoying a new freedom thanks to paid leave. Very quickly, the protective oil becomes the essential of the summer. It invades the suitcases of all holidaymakers looking for the freshness of the seaside. Our olfactory memory needed no more to anchor it deeply and lastingly in our brain like the emblematic scent of summer.

The story continues a few years later, when L’Oréal researchers remove benzyl salicylate from the oil’s formula. They replace it with solar filter that were much more effective in terms of protection. The result is immediate, and sales of the Ambre Solaire crush just as quickly! Disappointed customers could no longer find the characteristic smell of sun-warmed skin and sand. Benzyl salicylate was therefore reintroduced into the product’s composition as a real perfuming agent.

…to the perfumers’ palette…

In view of the success of this sunny smell, benzyl salicylate molecule will very quickly become the essential in cosmetics products. A few years later, it became more widely available to perfumers. Solar notes are easily harmonized in many compositions to bring a luminous and spicy aspect. It is often associated with floral notes, to sublimate their freshness and counterbalance the “heavier” side of the molecule. Among the solar fragrances we find the floral-salicylates family. After a certain disenchantment with these notes, wrongly judged as cheap, solar and exotic fragrances are back in the spotlight, enveloping our skins with faraway scents.

But what does benzyl salicylate smell like?

In the Ambre Solaire, benzyl salicylate was combined with rose and jasmine, a classic accord for cosmetic products. But what does this molecule smell like? It releases notes that are both sweet, oily, spicy and balsamic with a floral and caramelized side. Its smell in itself is not very powerful but it is extremely persistent over time. This compound is found notably in the essential oil of ylang-ylang, Peruvian balsam, but also in frangipani, carnation and tiare flower absolutes. Enough to make us travel…

White flowers: summer perfume addiction

We were already telling you about white flowers here, widely used in perfumery to symbolize femininity. These luminous flowers, whether fresh or sweet, are resolutely sensual and bring sunny and exotic tonalities to formulas. There are many varieties, including orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose, gardenia and many others.

Tiare and frangipani, flowers that make us travel

When you think of flowers that evoke the sun, it is hard not to think of the tiare flower, the emblem of Tahiti. In its natural state, its scent is creamy, bewitching. The confusion is often made between monoi and tiare flower. To make monoi, a large quantity of tiare flowers are soaked in copra oil, an oil extracted from the coconut, hence the delicious exotic scent between flower and fruit. The frangipani flower is also often confused with the tiare flower. This sacred flower native to India gives off vanilla and powdery notes. Since it does not release its scent naturally, perfumers resort to synthesis to recreate this sweet and exotic scent.

By integrating white flowers accords into their compositions, perfumers are creating warm and sweet wakes that take us to heavenly landscapes where white sand meets an azure sea, the perfect cocktail to give a summery touch to a fragrance.

Other raw materials that evoke solar notes

When summer arrives, our noses embark on a quest for freshness and lightness. We can count on marine notes, whose iodized and aqueous scent can be reproduced by the alliance of synthesis and natural raw materials. To find out more, go here. Citrus fruits also recall the scents of holidays and sunshine. Bergamot, tangerine, lemon and grapefruit are widely used. These invigorating and sunny cocktails bring hesperide and refreshing tones to the compositions. Finally, perfumers can also find inspiration in exotic fruits to intensify the solar notes. Coconut comes to mind, as well as mango, banana and pineapple, whose scents are reproduced in the lab.

What is the scent of the holidays for you?

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