The essential oils are obtained by distillation of flowers, plants, and grasses, such as orange blossom, jasmine, and roses. Aromatic chemicals are also used. Fixatives, which bind the various fragrances together, include balsams, ambergris, and secretions from the scent glands of civets and musk deer (undiluted these have unpleasant smells but in alcoholic solution they act as preserving agents). The amount of alcohol added depends on whether perfumes, toilet waters, or Eaux de Cologne are required. The mixture is normally aged for one year. On application, body heat causes the alcohol to evaporate quickly, leaving the fragrant substances on the skin to evaporate gradually over several hours.
The art of making perfume began in ancient Egypt, was developed by the Romans and the Arabs, and came to Europe in the Renaissance period. By the 14th century flowers were being grown for perfume in France, which remains the centre of the European perfume design and trade.
In some cases, an excessive use of perfumes may cause allergic reactions of the skin.