Distillation in the perfume making
It’s not possible to make an eau de toilette yourself. Making a perfume involves specific techniques to produce essential oils with which to create high-quality raw materials. The distillation process is required to create the essential oils of some plants.
What is distillation?
Distillation is a very distinctive technique with a long history. Still widely used today, the process produces the essential oils that are used to make perfumes.
A brief history of distillation
We know that perfume distillation has been around since ancient times: it was the Greeks who first discovered the process. They used a large vat with a bent pipe and applied the same principles as we do today.
- heating plants with water,
- collecting the essential oil after evaporation.
How does perfume distillation work?
In perfume distilleries, perfumers use stills. These are large steel tanks which sit underneath coiled pipes. To create an essential oil, plants must be placed in the tank, along with between 5 and 10 times the volume of water. Quantities can vary, depending on the flowers, plants, barks and roots that are distilled. The mixture is heated, the steam traps the scent of the plants and then rises in the coiled pipe. When it cools, it forms condensation which is collected: this is the floral water. This is decanted to separate it from the essential oil which is then collected.
What types of essential oils can distillation produce?
Distillation makes it possible to capture the fragrance of many plants, barks, seeds and even some roots. Orange blossom essence is used to make Perfume 001 with orange blossom, petitgrain and bergamot and has a fresh, floral scent. Damask rose essence features in the heart notes of Perfume 203 with raspberry, vanilla and blackberry for a wonderfully comforting scent. Are you a fan of lavender from the south of France? Its essential oil can also be made by distillation and you’ll find it in Perfume 702. The essence of Hawaiian vetiver, reminiscent of the smell of wet earth, is included in the base notes of Perfume 601. Indonesian patchouli essential oil is the base note of Perfume 501.
Distillation is just one of the techniques for recovering fragrant molecules from plants. Other techniques are also used, including enfleurage, expression and extraction, and each one involves a slightly different process. Processes like headspace technology and carbon dioxide extraction are two other techniques for capturing odorant molecules: they are different from the other techniques and make it possible to create original notes that were previously unobtainable.