Françoise Rapp

Natural isolates are natural components in the creation of fragrances. These single aromatic molecules are extracted from natural sources such as flowers, fruits, and leaves. They are responsible for the unique scents found in these plant materials. By using those isolated molecules, perfumers can recreate the fragrance of the natural material without using the entire plant or essential oil. The extraction of natural isolates is a meticulous process that requires expertise and precision. Perfumers can blend multiple isolates to create a complex and multifaceted scent. To enhance and stabilize the smell, they may also combine isolates with other fragrance ingredients, such as essential oils, CO2 extracts, absolutes, and natural fixatives (see in French Natural Perfumery Course).

Using natural isolates in perfumery opens up a new range of possibilities in fragrance creation. Perfumers can experiment with different combinations and ratios to achieve their desired result. This flexibility enables them to craft unique and innovative scents that are impossible with traditional essential oils alone. The precision offered by natural isolates allows perfumers to fine-tune their creations, adjusting the intensity and character of specific notes within a fragrance.

Natural isolates offer several specificities over using natural essences in fragrance creation. Firstly, they give perfumers greater control over the scent profile and desired outcomes. You may compare natural isolates like black and white in painting and all the other natural essences being the primary colors. They make the colors darker and lighter, and you can have different shades from one color. This analogy highlights the versatility of natural isolates in perfumery, allowing for subtle adjustments and nuanced variations in scent compositions.

The natural isolates sharpen the facets, for example, adding more profoundness, sweetness, lightness, and sharpness. They also emphasize specific notes like the rosy facet of the rose, the deep earthy green facet of the vetiver, the dry woody aspect of the cedarwood, the sweet gourmand facet of the vanilla, the sharp coumarin (the note you love in lavender and Tonka Bean), etc. By isolating these specific components, perfumers can amplify certain scent characteristics, creating more defined and pronounced olfactory experiences.

Until the middle of the last century, natural products occupied an essential place in the formulation of perfumes. To broaden the perfumer’s palette, chemists have taken an interest in the composition of these natural products to extract purified constituents with more effective olfactory power. This shift in focus marked a significant turning point in the perfume industry, as it opened up new possibilities for scent creation and allowed for more consistent and reliable fragrance formulations.

They discovered that essential oils (EO) were the raw materials best suited to this type of extraction, given their abundance, cost, and presence of interesting molecules in significant quantities. Essential oils proved to be a rich source of aromatic compounds, offering a wide range of scent profiles and molecular structures that could be isolated and utilized in perfumery. Essential oils’ abundance and relative affordability made them an ideal starting point for extracting natural isolates.

Conversely, research quickly stopped for absolutes, which were much more expensive and in which the interesting constituent was always in lower amounts than in the EO. Corresponding. For example, linalyl acetate is more abundant in the E.O. of lavender than in the corresponding absolute. This discovery focused on essential oils as the primary source for natural isolates, as they offered a more efficient and cost-effective means of obtaining desired aromatic compounds.

The extraction of specific natural molecules within an EO leads to an “isolate”; the technique used is “fractionation” of the E.O. This process involves separating the various components of an essential oil based on their different boiling points and molecular weights. Fractionation allows for the isolation of specific compounds, resulting in pure, concentrated aromatic substances that can be used in perfumery.

EOs contain numerous molecules, some particularly interesting for the perfumer. In the majority of cases, it is a terpene molecule. Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds produced by various plants, particularly conifers and other aromatic plants. These molecules are often responsible for the characteristic scents of many plants and are, therefore, of great interest to perfumers.

The molecule is extracted when its concentration in H.E. is high (around 80%). This high concentration makes the extraction process more efficient and economical. Some examples of commonly extracted molecules include:

  1. Linalool from rosewood or Shiu (Ho Wood from China)
  2. Linalool from coriander (sometimes called “coriandrol” by certain manufacturers)
  3. Eugenol from clove leaves
  4. Citral from litsea and lemongrass
  5. Citronellal from lemongrass
  6. Eucalyptol from eucalyptus Globulus
  7. Menthol from Arvensis mint
  8. Anethol from star anise

These isolates play crucial roles in perfumery, offering distinct and recognizable scent profiles that can be used to create complex fragrances. For instance, Rose Jacqueminot (1904) by COTY contains Rhodinol, an isolate that contributes to its classic rose scent.

Sesquiterpene molecules are also extracted from some EOs. These larger, more complex molecules often contribute to a fragrance’s deeper, more persistent notes. Examples include:

  1. Cedrol from Texas cedar
  2. Gaïol from guaiac wood
  3. Amyrol from Amyris
  4. Sclareol from Clary sage

These sesquiterpene isolates often provide woody, earthy, or balsamic notes to fragrances, adding depth and complexity to scent compositions.

Sometimes, these isolates are not made up of a well-defined molecule but a more complex mixture that fractionation cannot separate. This complexity can benefit perfumery, providing a more nuanced and natural-smelling note. Examples of such complex isolates include:

  1. Vetyverol is obtained today from Haitian or Java vetiver (since the disappearance of the vetiver bourbon market). It is a complex mixture of sesquiterpene alcohols, but minor is still identified today (khusimol, isovalencenol, etc.).
  2. Rhodinol, initially obtained from bourbon geranium, is now obtained by fractionating Chinese geranium. It is mainly made up of citronellol, nerol, and geraniol.

These complex isolates often retain more of the character of the original essential oil, providing a richer and more multifaceted scent profile.

Advances in extraction techniques make it possible to extract molecules in lower concentrations in more complex mixtures. This technological progress has expanded the palette of natural isolates available to perfumers, allowing for the extraction of more subtle and unique scent components. Some examples of these more specialized isolates include:

  1. Benzyl acetate from ylang-ylang (20%)
  2. Diosphenol from bucchu
  3. Nerolidol from cabreuva
  4. Carotol from carrot
  5. Undecatriene from galbanum

These advancements have opened up new possibilities in perfumery, creating more sophisticated and nuanced fragrances.

Extracting natural isolates, known as fractional distillation or fractionation, is a sophisticated technique that separates a substance into its parts, or fractions, through distillation. This process takes advantage of the different vapor pressure properties of the various chemical compounds in a component.

The fractional distillation process facilitates separation by heating a mixture to a temperature where one or more of its fractions vaporize. As the mixture is heated, compounds with lower boiling points vaporize first, followed by higher ones. These vapors are then cooled and condensed back into liquid form, effectively separating the different components of the original mixture.

This process allows for isolating specific aromatic compounds from complex natural mixtures like essential oils. By carefully controlling temperature and pressure, perfumers and chemists can extract precise fractions with desired olfactory properties, creating pure, concentrated natural isolates for fragrance creation.

Using natural isolates in perfumery represents a bridge between traditional natural perfumery and modern synthetic fragrance creation. It allows perfumers to harness the power of nature’s aromatic compounds while benefiting from the precision and consistency offered by isolated molecules. This approach enables the creation of fragrances that are both natural in origin and sophisticated in composition, meeting the demands of contemporary perfumery while honoring the rich tradition of natural scents.

This technique allows the production of highly purified products with less effort and shorter turnaround times than possible through repeated simple distillations. The efficiency and precision of fractional distillation have revolutionized the perfume industry, creating more complex and nuanced fragrances.

The place and role of natural isolates in natural perfumery and for perfumers are multifaceted and significant. These pure, isolated compounds have become essential tools in the modern perfumer’s arsenal, offering a range of benefits that enhance the art of fragrance creation.

Precision: Natural isolates allow perfumers to create fragrances with greater accuracy. By isolating individual molecules, perfumers can control the intensity and composition of the perfume more precisely than with essential oils or plant extracts. As explained earlier, they widen the perfumer’s palette and add more precision to the desired results. This level of control enables perfumers to fine-tune their creations, adjusting specific notes to achieve the perfect balance and character in their fragrances.

Consistency: Natural isolates provide consistent results in terms of scent and strength. Because the isolated molecule is pure and standardized, it will always have the same scent and strength, unlike essential oils, which can vary in quality and composition from batch to batch from the same supplier. This consistency is crucial for perfumers who must reproduce fragrances accurately and maintain quality standards across different production runs.

Cost-effectiveness: Natural isolates can be more cost-effective than essential oils or plant extracts. While isolates can be expensive on their own, they are often used in small quantities, which can reduce overall costs compared to using more significant amounts of essential oils or plant extracts. This cost-efficiency allows perfumers to create high-quality fragrances without compromising on ingredients due to budget constraints.

The natural isolates complete the perfumer’s palette and can be used in tiny quantities for optimum results. They should not replace the other natural essences but be used as a plus for precision and refining the scent. This complementary approach allows perfumers to maintain the complexity and depth of natural essences while benefiting from the accuracy and consistency of isolates.

However, it’s important to note that many natural perfumes on the market now are mainly formulated with natural isolates, which raises concerns about authenticity and transparency. These products should not be called natural perfumes, even though they are made of natural plant material. The communication and marketing of such natural perfumes can confuse consumers, who may think they have purchased a natural perfume essence. However, in reality, many noble plants still need to be present in their complete form.

Natural isolates should never replace the plant essence entirely but complement it to a certain extent. This balance ensures that the fragrance retains the complexity and character of natural essences while benefiting from the precision and consistency of isolates. Natural perfumers are responsible for delivering high-quality products and maintaining transparency with consumers, not misleading them about their creations.

In conclusion, while natural isolates offer numerous benefits in perfumery, their use should be balanced with whole plant essences to create genuinely natural and authentic fragrances. Perfumers must strive for transparency in their formulations, ensuring that they understand the nature of the products they purchase. By doing so, the art of natural perfumery can continue to evolve, embracing modern techniques while honoring the rich tradition of using whole plant essences.

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