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What is Bay Rum?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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Bay rum is a distillation of the leaves of Pimenta racemosa or the West Indian Bay Tree. Traditionally, the leaves have been steeped in rum to pull out their essential oils, although modern versions are made by blending distilled oils with a variety of tropical fragrances, leaving the rum out. This liquid is used to scent an assortment of products, most of which are aimed at men, and it is typically available in markets and stores which provide men's skincare items.

The scent of bay rum is very distinctive. It is used in aftershave, cologne, soaps, and moisturizers, and in addition to bay, the product may include things like citrus, lavender, rosemary, juniper, and other fragrances. Most blends have a slightly woody, sweet, earthy scent, which will slowly dissipate throughout the day, especially when the wearer is in warm weather.

This scent originates in the West Indies, where sailors have been using the leaves of the bay tree for centuries. With the establishment of formal colonies in the West Indies, people came up with all sorts of creative ways to use local products, and bay rum was one of them. Thanks to sugar cultivation, rum would have been readily available in the area, making it convenient as a medium for steeping bay leaves and other plant products from the region, such as vanilla, which originated in Mexico.

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To make modern bay rum, producers press the leaves and subject them to a steam distillation process to extract the fragrant oils. Once extracted, the pure oils can be blended with carrier oils, water, and other fragrance oils to make products. Several West Indian companies continue to produce bay rum, relying on formulas which they have been using for decades to create a familiar product. Producers outside the West Indies also make their own blends, which may use ingredients from outside the tropics for a distinctive scent.

Because bay rum is most commonly associated with shaving products, many people perceive the scent as very masculine. Although there is no particular reason why women shouldn't wear it, they may encounter confused looks if they wear it, and many women would have difficulty wearing the scent well. As with any fragrance, on men or women, bay rum should be applied lightly, creating a hint of a scent, rather than an overwhelming odor.

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