From time immemorial perfumes have been all natural botanical formulae. Chanel No 5 was the first mass-marketed perfume to utilize synthetics on a large commercial scale The first perfume house to use synthetics was a French house called Houbigant after Coumarin was isolated from Tonka Beans in 1868. Some reasons for synthetic compounds to be introduced into commercial perfumes were: ease of replication of perfume, cost effectiveness (cheaper to create), standardizing the creation of the perfume and, not dependent on plant harvests. At that time the majority of the perfume was still made with natural substances.
Fast forward to today, very few perfumes have any natural oils in them whatsoever. The synthetic compounds used in today’s formulations are untested for long term side effects on the human body, and as such may have harmful effects that are largely unknown. A 1986 report by the National Academy of Sciences reports that 95 percent of the chemicals used in synthetic fragrances are derived from petroleum and include benzene derivatives, aldehydes and many other known toxins and synthesizers known to be capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions.
1 – You know exactly what you’re getting
Many large corporate perfume houses do not disclose what exactly goes into a fragrance they create. The only requirement is that they label “fragrance.” This allows them to hide behind the shield of “trade secrets” when it comes time to talk about ingredients and their potential risks to consumers.
As a natural perfumer, I disclose EVERY single item I use when I blend a perfume composition together. Not only does this ensure those who may not like a particular scent, have choices; you also know what is in my perfumes. This gives you power to choose what you will put on your body.
The skin is the largest organ in our bodies. Everything you put on the skin can potentially be absorbed directly into your bloodstream. I like to know what I’m putting on my body, and I trust my customers do as well.
Any time you come across a natural perfumer who does not disclose what is in their fragrances, make sure you ask them for more information. Some who claim to be natural perfumers use fragrance oils. These fragrance oils are derived from petroleum and other synthetic compounds. In short, always read your labels!
2 – Subtle and intimate
We’ve all been in a small space with someone wearing “too much” perfume. Chances are it was a mainstream/synthetic product. Those moments can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re in an elevator. Usually you can even smell them for some time after they’ve vacated the vicinity! For those who are sensitive to synthetic perfumes this can be more than just a lingering ghost, this can cause migraines, dizziness and other health complaints.
When we compare this with a natural perfume, natural perfumes are an intimate sensory experience. Others can only smell you once they enter your personal body space. This is because there are no chemicals extending the life of the scent. I find that natural perfume is like life, enjoy it while you are here. Not only will you not be smelled as soon as you walk in the door, chances are no one is going to be able to smell your perfume after you’ve left. This makes natural perfume perfect for those moments when you want something really special and intimate.
3 – Connection to nature
Human beings’ living arrangements have changed a great deal over the last several hundred years. We used to be ruled by the sun, the moon, and the seasons. We used to rely heavily on our own labor for our sustenance. With the invention of electric lights, central heating, electronic entertainment, and “green farming revolution,” all this has changed extremely rapidly. We are generally disconnected from the cycles of the planet on which we live, and nature. This can be hard on our spirits, and we can truly benefit from being involved with the plants and other animals around us in nature.
I believe synthetic fragrances cannot fully offer this connection. Synthetic perfumes are formulated from isolated compounds in a sterile lab by machines.
By comparison, essential oils have numerous emotional and health benefits to offer. They have been used safely for hundreds or thousands of years by healers, alchemists and mystics. Alchemists believed essential oils to be the ‘soul’ of plants, which contained therapeutic and even mystical character that synthetically produced fragrances can never hope to emulate. Natural perfumes provide a much needed connection to nature that so many of us lack today.
4 – Unique to YOUR body chemistry
Natural perfumes have a depth and complexity of scent where ever they are worn. Each person’s unique body chemistry fuses with the fragrance differently, creating a unique signature scent that no one else will be able to perfectly achieve. A natural perfume is truly “your scent.”
5 – The Slow Movements
Perfume comes from the latin, per fumum, meaning through smoke. Perfume started out as incense, an offering of prayers to the gods. Today natural perfume is the creation of a fragrance using only essential oils, absolutes, concretes, resins, or tinctures. Until the advent of synthetic fragrance compounds this is what perfume WAS. There was no such thing as synthetic perfume. Perfumes were the realm of the spiritual class, and of the ruling classes, as the expense of these aromatic liquids were out of reach for most people.
There are many flowers that are expensive to convert into a perfume making botanical. For example, 8000 individual blossoms of Jasmine(carefully hand picked) are required to produce one gram of absolute. No bruised flowers may be used for the extraction! Their aroma is ruined by bruising or mishandling. This makes natural perfume a true luxury, and reflects the price difference you see between synthetic and natural perfumes.
In this age of instant gratification, natural perfumes remind us to slow down, stop and reflect. Good things take TIME to come to fruition. Much like the Slow Food movement, where people expect high quality food, raised in humane conditions, and with methods that ensure coming generations’ soil, water, and air quality. I like to call this a Slow Scent movement. Natural perfumes offer “Quality over Quantity.” Natural perfume making is similar to making wine, as any true alchemy takes time.
Blog post by Amanda at Esscentual Alchemy