Extraction 101: How Perfumes Derive Absolutes & Essences From Natural Raw Materials

While savoring the delicate fragrance of a bouquet of roses at your local florist, have you ever wondered how it evolves into your favorite perfume? Before translating to ingredients in a perfumer’s palette, natural raw materials must not only deliver their scents, but also undergo the extraction of their essences and absolutes.

What are the different methods of extraction, and how do they work? From ancient to modern, we’ve uncovered an array of techniques.

ENFLEURAGE: Ancient History (Literally)

Developed in antiquity and favored by ancient Egyptian culture as well as medieval alchemists, enfleurage was perfected in Grasse, France. As the historic world capital of perfumery, Grasse is also the location at which Dossier perfumes are made. First, flower petals and roots were deposited on layers of vegetable fat until saturation occurred. Afterward, the fat was combined with alcohol to recover the absolute of the plant; as with essential oils, absolutes are highly aromatic liquids extracted from plants. Since the process of enfleurage involved saturating individual petals by hand (both extraordinarily time consuming and labor intensive), enfleurage has become obsolete.

VOLATILE SOLVENT: The Industrial Age

Developed on an industrial scale in 19th century Grasse, this method generates absolutes. It entails placing natural aromatic raw materials into a vessel alongside a solvent; fragile materials remain on racks, while other plants are stored inside an extractor. Interestingly, some raw materials are either too delicate or too inert for distillation (including jasmine), and can only yield their aroma through solvent extraction.

Among the raw materials implementing this process in Dossier’s collection are rose absolute (found in Woody Freesia, Floral Berries, Floral Violet & Spicy Vanilla) and blackcurrant absolute (for Fruity Neroli).

EXPRESSION: Citrus Punch

Dreaming of an escape to the Italian Riviera? Find it in a bottle via Dossier’s Citrus Neroli, which incorporates such ingredients from the region as neroli, bergamot, lemon and mandarin. Reserved solely for citrus fruits, expression involves extraction by pressure to obtain the essence contained in peels. (Thankfully, with this process, the juice can be saved for drinking!) Since citrus fruits areacidic, sharp and full of juice, their scents are fresh and zesty.

DISTILLATION: Full Steam Ahead

A relatively common method for extraction, distillation relies upon steam to capture the essential oils contained in plants. Along with seeds and leaves, flower petals are placed in stills(large steel tanksplaced beneath coiled pipes) and exposed to steam—which in turn carries the scented components before being cooled yet again. A separation occurs, yielding essential oil on one side followed by water in a liquid state. In fact, the still process is similar to how spirits are made. Dossier incorporates distillation for a number of its fragrances, including Woody Oakmoss (patchouli essence) and Woody Sandalwood (cardamom essence).


While the name immediately conjures the dreaded carbon footprint we’re all striving to reduce, high-tech CO2 extraction is both environmentally friendly and innovative. In a fluid state, CO2 is placed at a high-pressure level; no longer a gas, it acts as a solvent. When immersed in plants, it extracts any scented elements. Recovered by depressurization, the CO2 is eliminated to form a pure essence. At Dossier, pink pepper stands out as a CO2 extraction both as a top note in Pink Pepper Fougere, and at the heart of our beloved Floral Pink Pepper.

While each of these methods transform these beautiful, delicate natural scents into perfumery notes, some fragile plants still refuse to give up their secrets. For example, it’s still impossible today to extract the distinctive fresh, floral scent of lily of the valley. Perfumers still recreate it by combining other natural and synthetic raw materials (just as an artist mixed blue and yellow to create the color green).

Whether you want to create your own essential oils, or just impress friends with your knowledge of the perfumery process, consider yourself an expert on extraction!


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