When learning perfumery, the place of some aroma-chemicals in one’s aroma palette is fairly easy to understand. On the other hand, there are some aroma-chemicals that completely mystify. Hedione is pretty high on that list. If one has worked with aromatherapy in the past, an enormous difference found when undertaking perfumery is that there are certain scent molecules some of us just cannot smell. It is not that the aroma-chemical in question does not have a scent to it, but that the molecules are considered large, so our sense of smell cannot register them accurately. Some musks are a common case. In these events, perfumers simply say, “You’re anosmic to the molecule,” meaning, you cannot smell it. Anosmia is a term used for the loss of sense of smell, either due to illness, medications or accident. Perfumers say one can actually train oneself to smell these particular molecules. My own experience can testify to the veracity of that, but there are still some I cannot consciously perceive.

I remember when I first started studying perfumery and was sampling the first batch of aroma-chemicals I had purchased. I remember smelling one in particular and thinking, “Hey, was I just sent water? This smells like nothing!” It had no apparent scent. Digging deeper into that particular aroma-chemical I realized I was not alone in not being able to smell it. Many other people were anosmic to it. I had never experienced that with aromatherapy. Every essential oil I had ever come in contact with had a noticeable scent. Not so with aroma-chemicals.

Hedione was such a case. On a smelling strip, it was initially disappointing. I could detect a faint (very faint) scent of woodsy Jasmine. It was so faint, though, that I could barely perceive it. So, I took the smelling strip and left it by my bedside as I slept. I awoke in the middle of the night almost suffocating from the scent. It was not that the scent was so powerful, but that it had become diffusive. Since starting my perfumery journey, I had noticed many a night when I’d wake up smelling something that was not there, as if my brain kept processing aroma materials I had worked with earlier. In this case, the scent was very much there and I guess my brain was detecting Hedione’s full blast whereas, consciously, I was not.

Something else one learns when studying perfumery is that just because you may not be able to smell a scent molecule, this does not mean it is not there. More so, that aroma-chemical you may not be able to consciously detect could affect your perfume in ways you cannot at first conceive. This is definitely the case with Hedione. And this is why I like to call Hedione the fairy godmother of aroma-chemicals. Imagine Cinderella, standing in her drab, torn dress (her step sisters had done a number on her mice-crafted dress, but that is another story), while her fairy godmother is transforming anything that moves into some sort of carriage or valet. Suddenly, her fairy godmother, with the wave of her wand, sends the magic Cinderella’s way and a transformation occurs. Surrounded by fairy dust, her drab dress suddenly turns into a gorgeous evening gown Coco Chanel would have killed for. This is what Hedione does for a perfume formula. It can take a perfume to a magical level.  And this is why Hedione has been in use for more than 50 years dating back to 1957, when Edouard Demole, a researcher for the perfume house Firmenich, identified methyl jasmonate in the Jasmine flower’s scent and synthesized its derivative, methyl dihydrojasmonate, better known as Hedione.

Still, all of this not being able to smell a material can certainly complicate things for a beginner. If you can barely smell something, if at all, how do you use it? You can learn from people who have done this before, you can ask questions and then, you experience it for yourself. As your sense of smells becomes more aware, you begin to notice subtleties you never have before. Creating a formula with Hedione in it and replicating the same formula without it, then waiting a few days…magic. It is almost like when I was in school sitting in math class. I had no clue what the teacher was explaining, and I had to fudge the results to pass the class. But somewhere along the way, I figured something worked. I could not tell you what or why (something the teacher would have preferred), but it just worked. A chemist could tell you why Hedione works, but I am not a chemist and, chances are, neither are you. I need to understand it in lay terms, or at least in my own terms. So, while I have read several articles that delve into the chemistry of Hedione, let me just say: it works. And its facets seem never ending. Master perfumer Alberto Morillas says, “If you use it with fresh [accords] it becomes much more floral and transparent. When you use it with dark woody [scents] it becomes magical.”[1]

But how is Hedione used?  The aroma-chemical is extremely versatile, as perfumer Morillas pointed out in the quote above. Hedione itself smells faintly of Jasmine, with a slight note of woody citrus. But Hedione’s true magic is in its powerful diffusiveness.  Besides its use in floral perfumes, Hedione gives original effects in virtually all fragrance types.  Hedione develops a beautiful natural smoothness and radiance in a wide range of perfume types. Besides its use in jasmine and its family of florals (Hedione is often used to enhance Jasmine, making it more modern), it can give original effects in virtually all fragrance types. It is normally used at a concentration of between 2% and 15%, but can be used at levels of 35% and above. It imparts compositions a delicate, fresh, smooth, radiant, warm and elegant character. The strength of a composition does not necessarily increase, but more presence, noticeability, and diffusivity are bestowed by an addition of Hedione. [2] “When you add it to a perfume it becomes very different,” says perfumer Jacques Cavallier. [3] Recently, actress Michelle Pfeiffer released a line of perfumes called Henry Rose. Her intention was that these perfumes would be fully safe and transparent. So, with this in mind, the perfumers at IFF were assigned the difficult task of creating five perfumes for which all (and I mean all) ingredients are listed on the website. If you take a look, Hedione appears in every single one.

It is this versatility and effusiveness that has made Hedione one of the most useful and widely used aroma chemicals in modern perfumery, ranking among the top 10 most used. [4] Indeed, Hedione can be found at staggering overdosed levels and in a large percentage of perfumes, such as L’Eau d’Issey (Issey Miyake) for women, ckOne (Calvin Klein), Acqua Di Gio (Giorgio Armani), Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue and L’Eau par Kenzo for women.   A perfume composition can be taken to another level by the addition of Hedione, and it is an impressive thing to experience for oneself. 

References

[1] 2011 Perfumer & Flavorist Magazine, Vol. 36, September 2011, pg. 24.
[2] K Dastur, 6th PAFAI, Bombay, India (1982).
[3] 2011 Perfumer & Flavorist Magazine, Vol. 36, September 2011, pg. 24.
[4] Aroma Chemical Usage Trends In Modern Perfumery, By Ronald S. Fenn, Vice President, IFF, Union Beach, NJ – Perfumer & Flavorist, Vol. 14, March/April 1989, pg. 3

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