What Are Aldehydes In Perfume?

  • By: Ash Iris
  • Time to read: 6 min.

Ever read the ingredients on the side of a boxed perfume bottle or do an internet deep-dive on perfume notes, and Aldehydes pop up as one of the ingredients?

You may be wondering, is it an extract? Completely synthetic? A type of chemical?

You’d be right on any presumptions, as Aldehydes can be made in multiple ways! 

Aldehydes triggered a cultural reset in the perfumery industry when its global fame began in 1921. Aromatic, nose-catching Aldehydes hooked both smellers and wearers alike, becoming an obsession and staple in many scent lines for decades. 

Its fizz bursts like champagne when spritzed. The strength in longevity maintains its flow for many hours into the day. Intoxication and addiction are what Aldehydes are in their most organic forms.  

The science and history behind this now relatively unexploited scent compared to earlier years is insightful when taking a looking glass at the subject of what Aldehydes genuinely are. 

Aldehydes are organically or synthetically bonded compounds derived from extracts and essences from orange rinds, cinnamon bark, or Vanilla. The fragrance can range from metallic to citrusy depending on the molecular composition formula and weight of the atoms. 

What Are Aldehydes?

Aldehydes are symbiotically bonded organic compounds derived from alcohol made of natural essences such as citrus rinds, essential oils, florals like Rose, and sweet spices like Vanilla. Its pleasurable scent is the reason why it’s contained in so many fragrances. 

Some natural aldehyde extracts are Vanillin, procured from Vanilla, or Cinnamaldehyde, extracted from Cinnamon.

Synthetic versions of the organic Aldehyde can be mock-made in perfumery laboratories, manufactured specifically as makeshift resins, perfumes, and at times, preservatives and disinfectants.  

One synthetic example of an aldehyde is (Z)-HEX-3-ENAL, smelling of freshly cut grass and is utilized as an attractant for insects.  

Laboratory-made Aldehyde is created by bonding a carbon atom and a hydrogen atom in addition to a single covalent bond and a double-bonded oxygen atom. During the bonding process, Aldehydes are subjected to various chemical reactions to properly create the derivative. 

Size Matters 

An argument for the ages, but it really does matter in this case.

Lower molecular weights create a stench paralleling rotting fruit.

While on the opposite end of the scale, higher molecular weight produces charming aromas of pungent metallics, thick starchy odors, and waxes, to soapy, wild-like citruses and greens. 

While aldehydes have versatile profile types, the most common is a strong greasy wax scent with a slight metallic twist. The other most common profile is a citrus or rosebud accord. 

Aldehydes citrus scents are most commonly used as lemony fragrances in cleaning agents such as detergents, floor cleaners, and soaps, not as often in perfume as citrus extracts are cheap and readily available to manufacturers. 

The Popularization of Aldehydes 

Aldehydes debuted in 1905 as a featured keynote in the Rêve D’Or by Armingeat. Following suit in 1912, Houbigant’s eldest Eau De Parfum, Quelques Fleurs was released into the mainstream. 

An article on the Quelques Fleurs description and history has been highlighted in our What Princess Diana Wore as Perfume-article if you’re interested in more details. 

Aldehydes became a trend for luxury perfumeries which later ensued Lanvin’s Arpège, 1927, hitting the market in stride. But Coco Chanel’s most iconic Eau De Parfum, Chanel N°5, cleared all competition in its wake, popularizing the encompassing, then unique, aroma. 

As myths go like a game of ‘telephone,’ some believe Coco Chanel’s organic use of the compound was the first perfume to use the composition. Although incorrect, Chanel N°5 most definitely put the scent in the spotlight. 

Rumor has it the 1% aldehydes in Chanel N°5 wasn’t perfumer Ernest Beaux’s intention. Theories swirl on whether Monsieur Beaux may have misread his calculations or overdosed the original formulation with the scent. Either way, Mademoiselle Chanel adored the metallic fragrance and promptly approved for production to make way. 

Aldehydes Today 

Quickly after Chanel N°5’s release on May 5, 1921, aldehydes were the go-to for many luxury fragrances through the decades. Some include; White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor, featured as an incredibly prominent and potent soapy Top Note; Yves Saint Laurant’s Rive Gauche, also naming Aldehydes as their central accord; and Caleche by Hermès, released in 1961. 

The many great perfumes aldehydes severed well for decades and fell out of style after being faced with overuse. The near abandonment of the fragrance lasted multiple decades, only to begin its reign again in the 2010s, saved by the niche perfumery industry, bringing back the reworked nostalgic aroma to the forefront.  

Popular Niche Perfumes Enlist  

Byredo’s Blanche, 2009, comprises Top Notes of Aldehydes, Rose Centifolia; Heart Notes, Peony, Violet; and Base Accords of deep Musks and Sandalwood. A 50ml bottle retails for 200 USD today.

Lazy Sunday Morning by Maison Martin Margiela, launched in 2013, is a delicate blend holding Top Notes of Aldehydes, Lily-of-the-Valley, and Pear; Middle Notes dry down to florally Rose, Iris, and Orange Blossom; Finally, a Base of White Musk, Ambrette, and Indonesian Patchouli Leaf. Today it retails for 188 USD at 100 ml. 

French luxury niche brand Valmont’s 2018 Alessandrite Extrait de Parfum showcases its simplistic, full embodiment of Aldehydes with a few Notes containing Bergamot, Jasmine, and Aldehydes. It retails at 395 USD for 50 ml or 550 USD for a 100 ml bottle.

Designer luxury brands jumped on the bandwagon after seeing the door of desire from the public opening up. 

Tom Ford’s Metallique for Women is an ode to the previously forgotten scent. The 2019 fragrance has Top notes of Aldehydes, Pink Pepper and Bergamot; Heart Notes of Heliotrope, Hawthorn, and Lily-of-the-Valley; Base Notes are Vanilla, Ambrette (Musk Mallow), Peru Balsam, and Sandalwood. Today, its market value is 295 USD at 100 ml. 

Musk Butterfly By Kilian for women is a florally aldehydic fragrance. Relatively new, its release came in 2021, exclusive to the UAE & Russia. 

Crafted by the nose of Mathieu Nardin, creator of Kilian’s popular L’Heure Verte Eau de Parfume. The Top Notes contain Aldehydes, Damask Rose, Turkish Rose, and Geranium; Middle Notes are Violet and Violet Leaf; the Base Notes are Ambrette (Musk Mallow) and Sandalwood. Each bottle sells for a pricey converted estimation of 250 USD for 50 ml. 

Lastly, Unisex 724 by Maison Francis Kukrdijan, the creator of the Iconic Eau De Parfume Baccarat Rouge 540. The newest edition of his fragrance line launched in 2022. The Top Notes are Aldehydes and Calabrian Bergamot; Middle Notes are Sweet Pea, Egyptian Jasmine, and Mock Orange; The final Base Notes are White Musk and Sandalwood. You can pick up Maison’s 70 ml fragrance bottle for 275 USD. 

Final Word

These beloved little molecules are far from having their last word. 

Exiling a fragrance due to the perfume industry’s over-exploitation of such a versatile aroma was saddening for those who still weren’t sick of it.

Its brilliant modernized minor comeback has given a reassurance that it’s here to stay and popularize once again. Renders of metallic twists surrounding the single scent are developing a new genre of futuristic cyber-pop-like aesthetics encased in a bottle.

Revolutionizing perfume as we know it; it’s possibly the start of a new rebellious fragrance renaissance.