What Ingredients Make Perfumes Last?

  • By: Nathan Cherry
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Ever wondered why some perfumes last a long time, and some don’t? And what are the ingredients that make perfumes last? 

The ingredients that make fragrance last are known as fixatives. Fixatives can be natural, heavy base notes like vanilla, sandalwood, and resins, or aroma chemicals such as ambroxan, javanol, and galaxolide. They can significantly increase the tenacity of a fragrance. 

Let’s take a closer look at these perfumery essentials, and explore five long-lasting perfumes. 

What Are Fixatives? 

A fixative, as I mentioned before, is a class of perfumery ingredient that serves to make a perfume longer-lasting. 

Well, to be honest, that’s putting it rather simply. Fixatives are not the end-all-be-all of perfume longevity, but they are critically important to the structure of a fragrance. 

That’s because fixatives reduce or equalize the volatility of the other ingredients in a fragrance formulation. 

What Is Volatility? 

For those of who might not remember high school chemistry class, volatility refers to the readiness with which a substance evaporates. Pure alcohol, for instance, is a highly volatile substance, and will evaporate quickly if exposed to heat. Olive oil, on the other hand, has low volatility, and will retain its density even when exposed to heat. Liquids, in general, are more volatile than solids. 

When substances evaporate, they take their odorants, i.e. their smell, with them. When you deglaze a pan with red wine, for example, you will smell the aroma of the wine quite vividly for the first few seconds. However, once the alcohol has evaporated, you have to get much closer to the pan to smell the wine. By evaporating, the odorants of the wine have been dispersed through the air and disappeared. 

In perfumery, just like in cooking, certain ingredients have varying levels of volatility. Citruses like lemon, orange, or bergamot are highly volatile. Floral notes like lavender, rose, jasmine, or iris are less volatile, depending on the concentration (essential oil, absolute, or concrete). Finally, fixatives are perfume ingredients that have the lowest volatilities. 

What Is the Purpose of Fixatives?

The purpose of fixatives is to reduce, or equalize, the volatilities of other ingredients in a perfume, and hence slow down the evaporation rate of the perfume. 

Basically, if you had a perfume without fixatives, it would evaporate on your skin within a matter of minutes. While some people might be okay with that, I’d wager that most people like a little more bang for their buck. 

Fixatives can reign in even the most volatile of perfume ingredients and make them last longer. Of course, using fixatives is no guarantee of a long-lasting perfume. There is almost no way to make a long-lasting citrus fragrance, for instance, not even if you threw a whole boatload of fixatives at it. 

However, fixatives “ground” or “anchor” a perfume, giving it more stability, slowing down the evaporation rate, and increasing longevity. 

What Are Some of the Most Common Fixatives? 

There are several different fixatives that are widely used in perfumery. 

Natural fixatives include resins like frankincense, benzoin, myrrh, and tolu balsam; animal notes like ambergris, musk, and civet; woods like sandalwood, cedar, and oud; and notes like vanilla, patchouli, amber, incense, and even chocolate. 

There are also a number of synthetic fixatives used – in fact, these are more common than natural fixatives in modern perfumery. 

Because animal notes were obtained by unethical methods in the past, synthetic imitations are most commonly used nowadays. 

Ambroxan, one of the most popular aroma chemicals today (featuring prominently in Dior’s blockbuster hit Sauvage), recreates the smell of ambergris. Civetone, as the name suggests, represents the scent of civet. Muscone and galaxolide reproduce the smell of musk. 

Beyond that, there are numerous aroma chemicals that can make fragrances more long lasting. 

These include chemicals like javanol, a synthetic form of sandalwood; ISO E Super, which smells like a mix of cedarwood, sandalwood, and musk; and other, odorless compounds, such as benzyl benzoate or triethyl citrate, which have very low vapor pressures and serve as effective fixatives. 

No matter what your perfume says on the box, almost every perfume on the market today contains a mix of synthetic fixatives, like ambroxan, and natural fixatives, like patchouli. When combined together, these synthetic and natural materials can create strong, enticing, and long-lasting perfumes. 

Five Long-Lasting Perfumes

Looking to get your fixative fix? 

Here are five long-lasting perfumes that will fix you right up. 

Escentric Molecules Escentric 04

Key notes: javanol, grapefruit, juniper, rose

A potent blend of juicy grapefruit, aromatic juniper, mastic resin, rose, osmanthus, and a big ol’ dollop of javanol, a synthetic sandalwood aroma chemical, this perfume from Geza Schoen’s Escentric Molecules is a crowning achievement in “molecular” perfumery. Perfect for a hot summer’s day, and it’ll last you the whole day, too. 

Christian Dior Dior Sauvage Elixir

Key notes: ambroxan, lavender, cinnamon, amber

Dior Sauvage Elixir adds a new twist to the Sauvage DNA, blending the line’s characteristic ambroxan with a handsome barbershop fougère accord, rich spices, and a warm, fixative heavy base of amber, sandalwood, patchouli, and licorice. The longevity won’t disappoint either, with an average lasting time of ten hours or more. 

Aesop Hwyl

Key notes: cypress, frankincense, woods, spices

For those searching for a long-lasting woody, spicy, herbal, and natural scent, look no further than Hwyl from skincare brand Aesop. Dry, earthy, smoky, woody, spicy, but appealing nevertheless, Hwyl employs natural fixatives like frankincense and oakmoss to create a strong, long-lasting, but never intrusive fragrance. 

Tom Ford Black Orchid Parfum

Key notes: patchouli, truffle, plum, rum

A deeper, richer, and boozier version of the classic Black Orchid eau de parfum, Black Orchid Parfum blends the natural fixative patchouli with sumptuous ylang-ylang, earthy truffle, juicy plum, rum, and the characteristic black orchid, to create an intoxicating, unique, and, of course, long-lasting perfume.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540

Key notes: amberwood, ambergris, saffron, fir resin

Now often imitated, the modern classic Baccarat Rouge 540 is still a powerhouse of performance that must be smelled to be believed. Containing a bevy of synthetic fixatives like amberwood, ambroxan, and ethyl maltol, Baccarat Rouge 540 has an almost indescribable profile that changes from person-to-person. Generally speaking, though, it’s sweet, fresh, and totally intoxicating. 

If you’re looking for more long lasting perfumes, you can find a list of 25 long lasting womens perfume here.

The Final Word

So, to recap: 

Ingredients that make perfume last are known as fixatives. They can be natural ingredients, like resins, woods, musk, oakmoss, and patchouli, or synthetic aroma chemicals like ambroxan, ISO E Super, and galaxolide. Fixatives “ground” perfumes, decrease the evaporation rate of other ingredients, and increase longevity.

So, if you’re looking for a long-lasting perfume, it’s a safe bet to keep an eye out for those ingredients. The more strong, fixative, “base notes” present in a perfume, the longer-lasting it will be.