A few months ago we wrote an article about the different perfumed molecules most used in fragrances. From ionones to the smell of violet, through the gourmand vanillin or the calone with a marine scent… The synthetic molecules of perfume have almost no secret for you! So now that you are seasoned noses, let’s review new and less common olfactory compounds… but just as interesting and fragrant!
The creation of a synthetic molecule for perfume
Perfume and synthetic molecule: a real opportunity
Unfortunately, synthetic molecules in perfume are still too often decried, but they are a real boon for the fragrance industry. They allow the preservation of certain protected species, the democratization of endangered odors and the reproduction of scents that are impossible to capture naturally. For several decades, they have represented a very large majority of the substances used in your perfumes because of their numerous economic and ecological advantages. If you want to know more about the benefits of synthesis, go here.
The synthesis of a molecule
As you can see, the objective of synthesis is to reproduce a natural smell as closely as possible. This process is quite complex and requires several steps.
Profile of a scented molecule
An odor is the result of several molecules that intertwine with each other. First, the chemist will analyze and deconstruct the natural smell of an ingredient to identify the different odoriferous molecules it contains. This is done through different methods of separation and identification. This crucial step allows to isolate the famous molecules, in order to draw a kind of chemical portrait. To achieve this first phase, the perfumer can use fractionation. This process will separate a liquid into several fractions, each with different properties. The essences are thus “purified” into several successive fractions that can be studied.
The more modern technique of head space, invented in 1975, can also be used. Thanks to a kind of glass bubble in which the natural ingredient is placed, it is possible to capture its smell and then analyze it.
The molecules thus isolated give the chemists a very important amount of information. From them, the can reproduce the molecules directly in the laboratory. This is the process of chemical synthesis. It is also called organic chemistry. He can thus recreate a compound “from scratch” from one or more chemical reactions. This is called total synthesis. The second option is that of hemisynthesis. Here, the chemist bases himself on a molecule of natural origin and slightly modifies its “skeleton” to add odorant properties.
Perfume and synthetic molecules: the compounds
Bitter and artificial almond – From nitrobenzene to benzaldehyde
As early as the 1800s, perfumers used for the very first time a synthetic material that does not exist in nature. Its name: nitrobenzene. Industrially manufactured in 1834, this light yellow oil has an odor very reminiscent of bitter almond. To make it a little more “sexy”, it is called mirbane oil. Thanks to its very good stability, it will be used during some years in perfumes and soaps. Despite the technical exploit, this material proved to be irritating to the skin and was quickly withdrawn from the market. Thirty years later, chemists succeeded in synthetically reproducing the benzaldehyde molecule, naturally present in almonds. Its odor will perfume in particular the white glues of which we were fond as children, but also cosmetic and perfumed products.
IBQ: laboratory leather
A few years later, organic chemistry began to develop in earnest. In 1880, a perfumed synthetic molecule with a new wake was created with leathery notes and some earthy and tobacco tones. This totally non-existent natural compound was developed using a highly innovative process for the time. This was the birth of isobutyl quinoline, more commonly known as IBQ. Integrated in ready-to-use bases or used alone, this synthetic molecule gives off an extraordinary fragrance with a strong character! A few years later, it will be found in French perfumery masterpieces, notably the famous Bandit by Robert Piguet, created by Germaine Cellier.
Jasmine for everyone thanks to Hedione
Due to the high cost of jasmine absolute, perfumers have tried to “dissect” the components of this precious flower to synthetically reproduce its smell. There are about 250 fragrant components in jasmine absolute, but one molecule in particular has made perfumery sublime. Hedione, which means pleasure in Greek, was synthesized and patented in 1962. At first very expensive, it was gradually democratized to be used in many fragrances. This molecule brings a real breath of freshness to a composition. It is found in very large quantities in perfumes for children and in fresh waters. Its sweet but relatively persistent perfume is used as a fragrance enhancer.
Lily of the valley: silent bells
Often used in fine perfumery, the note of lily of the valley has long been appreciated by the nose. However, it is a particularly difficult ingredient to exploit since neither its flowers nor its stems can be used to obtain an essence. Nevertheless, the beautiful May flower contains an impressive mixture of natural odorant molecules. All the chemist’s work will be to reproduce its various facets to create an artificial lily of the valley. The first synthetic molecule with the perfume of this plant was created in 1905 with hydroxycitronellal. It flourishes in many cosmetic products and dresses up many fragrances with its spring nuances. In 2013, IFRA will considerably reduce its use in fragrances because of potential skin irritation problems.
Another synthetic lily of the valley was developed in 1946. More potent and easier to produce, lilial is now the world’s best-selling lily of the valley scent molecule. IFRA will again issue a recommendation to limit this material in 2015. Since then, chemists have been working on the development of a molecule that combines odor power and stability, while removing its allergenic properties. This is how Nympheal was born in 2014.
Damscones & the rose
Thanks to technical advances in the process of isolating the molecules of a natural ingredient, perfumers will be able to identify very interesting compounds in the structure of the Damascena rose. The essence of this flower from Bulgaria with its green, lemony and elegant fragrance exists in natural form. But in 1970, Édouard Demole succeeded in isolating a compound that is not very present in the rose, but which has a very powerful smell, with apple accents. He called this new family of perfumed synthetic molecules damascones. These are often used with natural rose essence to accentuate its fruity facets.
Thanks to this olfactory overview, you are now ready to put on your lab coat and become an apprentice perfumer-chemist!
Did you know about these perfumed synthetic molecules?
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