It’s time to clear the air about natural perfume and what it means for a fragrance to contain natural materials. First let’s explore some common misconceptions about natural fragrances.
Natural materials are extracted naturally
Our natural perfumes are made using essential oils, CO2 extracts, and absolutes, yet each of these extractions methods require different means to achieve their ends. Essential oils such as bergamot, patchouli, and lavender are manufactured using either cold-press extraction or steam distillation. CO2 extracts such as cardamom, champaca, and saffron are produced using supercritical CO2 as an inert solvent that returns to its gaseous state after extraction. Absolutes such as tuberose, jasmine, and tobacco are manufactured first using a solvent such as hexane to extract the aroma, and then adding ethyl alcohol to remove waxes and/or other deposits. Companies can further isolate aromatic compounds from natural materials to produce what are known as isolates. (For the record, we do not use any isolates or fractionals in our perfumes.)
Natural materials do not contain chemicals
It is the chemical constituents in natural materials that create their unique aromatic properties. (Synthetic fragrance materials are generally made using petrochemicals.) And it is the chemical constituents in natural materials that can be combined to create a singular fragrance compound. For example, the chemical isophorone in peppermint can be used with other natural materials to create a plum fragrance, and the chemical acetaldehyde in white cognac can be combined with other natural materials to create the scent of lychee. The chemicals in natural materials allow for endless fragrance combinations.
Natural materials are safe
Bergamot oil is distilled from the peel of the bergamot orange, its distinct aroma is what gives Earl Grey tea such a dramatic flavor. Bergamot oil, like most citrus oils, is phototoxic due to the chemical constituents responsible for extreme sensitization of the skin to sunlight. If one wanted to wear bergamot oil directly on the skin – after dilution – it must be a bergapten-free oil. We use a bergamot oil that does not contain furanocoumarin, thereby ensuring our perfume is not phototoxic for the wearer.
We always encourage you to sample our fragrances before committing to a full bottle. We recommend using the samples to patch test your skin to determine if you may have any sensitivities or allergic reactions toward our perfumes.
Then why do perfumers use synthetic materials?
Lily of the Valley (Muguet) is perhaps one of the most revered floral scents, but it is not available as a natural material. Flowers such as lily of the valley, lilac, and hyacinth do not have enough oil to make an essential oil or absolute, so synthetics are used in their place. Some aroma compounds such as aldehyde have no natural counterpart, yet the synthetic is able to add a new or unexpected effect to the perfume.
When is a drop not a drop? The answer has everything to do with mass: the viscosity of a natural material affects its mass which in turn affects a perfume. Guaiacwood is a wonderfully deep, smoky wood note in fragrance, and at room temperature it is in a waxy solid state. Once heated guaiacwood has a very light viscosity and can be added to a perfume formula. Guaiacwood does not immediately return to a solid state, however as it cools the material acquires a thicker viscosity. Its synthetic counterpart guaiacol can replicate the aroma properties without needing to account for heating or viscosity. A synthetic allows a perfumer a consistent mass, thereby ensuring an accurate parfum concentrate every time.
Natural fragrances such as orris root and oud (agarwood) are quite costly to use in commercial perfumes, whereas their synthetic counterparts can provide the same aroma at a fraction of the cost. Methyl Ionone (synthetic orris) is a mere $32/kg compared to $66K/kg for orris root. Synthetic oud is $1197/kg compared to a quality oud oil that sells for $240K/kg.
In a previous post we discussed what it means to be a vegan perfume, listing all known animalic fragrances and their source of origin. Synthetic musk and civetone were created to replace natural musk and civet, respectively, because the manufacturing of the material is now considered unethical. Ambergris is illegal to possess or trade in the United States and Australia, so perfumers will use Ambroxide (more commonly known by its brand name Ambroxan) in its place. Ambergris is also incredibly expensive to buy so Ambroxide is also a practical material for commercial perfumery.
This subject is particularly touchy, depending on one’s personal opinion toward IFRA (International Fragrance Association). IFRA provides guidelines for the safe usage of fragrance materials – both synthetic and natural – in perfume and skincare. IFRA regards oakmoss absolute as a restricted material and states in its guidelines that it cannot comprise more than 0.1 percent of a fragrance. Synthetic oakmoss is produced in accordance with IFRA guidelines, however many perfumers find it a poor substitute for true oakmoss. Saffron is incredibly aromatic but IFRA restricts the material to 0.005% in a fragrance due to the compound safranal. Because of the restrictions perfumers will use a synthetic to recreate the scent of saffron without involving the component that can pose a danger to the wearer.
So why wear natural perfumes?
Let’s get physical
All too often a person will be walking ahead of us and their fragrance is so strong that it makes our eyes tear. It is not uncommon for a synthetic fragrance, especially when applied liberally, to trigger a runny nose, watery eyes, or even a headache in the general population. Around the globe an estimated 10–30% of the general population reported scented products on others to be physically irritating.
The good news is that natural scents may be less likely to bother people with fragrance sensitivity. There may be several factors that account for this, such as lower concentrations of a perfume compound or less tenacity than synthetic perfumes. For people who have allergies to specific natural materials, we are happy to indicate which perfumes are appropriate to sample.
The chemicals between us
Commercial perfumes are expected to have a long shelf life whilst maintaining their scent profile. Synthetic chemicals such as diethyl phthalate (DEP) and dipropylene glycol (DPG) may be used to hold a fragrance together, thus preserving the scent profile (and physical appearance) of the fragrance. DEP is known to affect the liver and reproductive system in large amounts, but on average it composes no more than 0.5% of a commercial perfume. DPG is found to be of low toxicity but it is an active irritant of the skin and eye area. Commercial perfumes contain more than just fragrance and alcohol, and that grey area of what comprises “more” can pose a health risk.
Our eau de parfum contains 85% organic alcohol (95% alcohol, 5% water) and 15% parfum. Our huile de parfum contains 80% organic jojoba oil and 20% parfum. We do not use any phthalates, parabens, aroma chemicals, or synthetic materials in our perfumes. Our perfumes containing citrus notes will have a shelf life of 2–3 years as the materials will naturally evaporate from the perfume. Wood and resin materials will improve with age over time, similar to a fine Scotch or Brandy.
The song remains the same
Commercial perfumes do not behave the same as their natural counterparts that change scent on the wearer over time. A synthetic scent applied in the morning will still smell the same in the afternoon, and the evening, and even the next morning until a shower breaks the cycle. Apply that same synthetic scent to any number of individuals and the result will be the same scent profile. You and everyone you know can smell exactly like your favorite celebrity’s newest perfume, because that is what it is designed to do.
Our natural perfumes are designed to last 6–12 hours, using no more than 1–2 sprays. A good rule of thumb when applying perfume is that it should enhance, not announce, the wearer. Our huile de parfum does not emit the same sillage (wake) as eau de parfum, rather it is a more intimate presence on the skin.
In many ways natural perfume is different than synthetic fragrance, and in other ways it is better. Perfumers will use a combination of natural and synthetic materials in their fragrances, but for us there is nothing quite like the real thing. And with the vast number of natural materials available, the permutations for natural perfume are myriad.
We hope you found this information to be helpful. If there is something we overlooked or missed, please let us know.