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Understanding fragrance: An interview with the “nose” of Pai

After exploring the power of scent during last week’s Aromatherapy Awareness Week, we’ve caught up with Marine – our Formulation Chemist here at Pai HQ, who also holds the (unofficial) title of “The nose of Pai”!

Marine is renowned for her incredible sense of smell and puts it to good use, tweaking and testing the scents of new and existing Pai products.

Over to Marine…

Job title?

Formulator Chemist

What does your role entail?

Creating, re-formulating and improving products – paying special attention to how they smell and feel.

Pai products are for sensitive skin – so how do you select natural fragrances to work in harmony with tricky skin?

Very carefully! When we’re formulating products, sensitive skin is always at the front of our minds and naturally fragrance plays a big role in that. We will never use a synthetic fragrance in our products – besides the ecological and health factors associated, they are one of the most common irritants out there.

We use a small selection of naturally derived fragrances or heavily diluted essential oils, extracted via steam or water distillation. Many people assume that natural automatically equals gentle, but unfortunately some oils are highly irritating and can cause reactions on sensitive skin.

For this reason, we need to be extra selective when it comes to selecting the natural oils we use.

How do you go about tailoring the scent of a product?

Top secret information…! To tailor or create a scent, you first need to understand what scent or “perfume” entails. To blend a natural fragrance, you need to blend oils from different categories.

Think of when you try a new perfume – the scent at the beginning of the day when you first spritz it on is totally different from the scent at the end of the day. This is known as the Olfactive Pyramid – it defines the structure of a scent and the notes we perceive as it evolves.

This is an example of the pyramid for a perfume:

Once you understand how a scent is created, it’s time to start testing! At Pai we use high-quality botanicals and raw materials, so it’s a case of working with the natural aroma of these ingredients rather than trying to cover it up.

I select essential oils for their skin benefits and then I blend according to the Olfactive Pyramid bearing in mind the type of scent we’d like to achieve. We always use a tiny amount of perfume (the blend of essential oils) – always less than 0.5% of the overall formula, so skin irritation isn’t an issue.

Does your nose get “tired” testing scents all day?!

Yes, definitely. After a while I can’t smell anything or everything smells the same. There’s only one thing that refreshes your nose – coffee!

Ever been to a perfume shop and wondered why there were bowls of coffee beans all over the place? They’re there to cleanse your sense of smell.

It all comes down to basic psychophysiology (which isn’t all that basic). When you sample scent after scent, you may experience “nasal fatigue”.

Nasal fatigue happens when your nasal receptors become less and less sensitive to certain notes. Therefore, smelling coffee in between fragrance testing can actually “cleanse” out your nasal receptors and provide you with an untainted smelling palate.

Good excuse for a cup of coffee!

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