With more and more artisan perfume companies offering 100 per cent natural perfumes, 2013 is the perfect time to make the switch, ditch the chemicals and find your new signature scent!
Why perfume? Why natural perfume? These are two questions I am often asked when I tell people I am a natural perfumer. It has actually been said that today there are more astronauts than perfumers – so it is no surprise that people are intrigued by what is actually one of the oldest professions, first beginning in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.
My journey into the world of perfume started out as a very personal one. A while after my mother passed away, I opened a box with some of her belongings and spritzed a bottle of her favourite perfume. Suddenly it was as if she was right there with me again. Having never been into wearing perfume as a teenager, I was suddenly hooked – not so much by the fragrance itself, but by the power of scent to instantly connect with a deeper part of our memory.
I knew then and there that I wanted to make perfume, but I really didn’t know anything about it. Like most people, when I thought of perfume the first thing that came to mind was the kind of mass-produced perfume spruiked by glamorous-looking men and women in the beauty halls of department stores; the kind of perfume, I would come to learn, where the bottle is often worth more than what’s inside, and the “juice” itself is largely a mix of inexpensive synthetic aroma chemicals (of which most are derived from petroleum) and alcohol. As alluring as the commercial perfume industry makes it all appear, this is an industry where people are often lured into thinking their favourite “rose” perfume is actually derived from a real rose, or that the scent of a lilac or an orchid can be extracted from natural sources.
The era of modern perfumery began in the late 19th century with the commercial synthesis of aroma compounds. It was the start of a chemical revolution that provided perfumers with access to fragrances not found in nature and opened up the palette of the perfumer to a range of options previously unattainable. It was around this time that perfumers made the change from creating fragrances exclusively from natural materials to mainly using synthetic ingredients.
As my own research and study into the art and science of perfumery deepened, I made the decision to only use natural fragrance materials and to return to the age-old blending techniques used prior to this chemical revolution. This emerging field – known as natural perfumery – limits its palette to only 100 per cent natural fragrance materials. These are largely made up of essential oils, absolutes and extracts from flowers, blossoms, fruits, leaves, twigs, resins, roots and bark. Although natural materials are expensive by comparison (it takes approximately eight million hand-picked jasmine blossoms to produce just one kilo of oil!) nothing compares to the complexity, mystery and subtle nuances of botanical ingredients.
Considering how long perfume has been around, synthetic aroma chemicals are a relatively new invention and many of these chemicals are the subject of investigation and fierce debate regarding their safety. Two examples of this are synthetic musk and phthalates, frequently found in commercially available perfumes. Certain classes of synthetic musk – not only used in perfume, but also used to scent laundry detergents – have been used so widely that they are now commonly found in blood, breast milk, and even in newborns. There is also now scientific evidence that some aroma chemicals are carcinogenic, and others can disrupt the body’s natural balance of hormones. A loophole in the law allows chemicals such as musk and phthalates to be added to perfume without disclosure to consumers, listed only as “fragrance” or “perfume” in the ingredient list.
It makes perfect sense to me that as we have become increasingly aware about the foods we eat, what we put on our skin and the products we use in and around our home, we are also starting to turn our attention to the perfumes we use. With the offerings of all-natural perfumes increasing all the time there is no better time to detox your fragrance wardrobe.
Making the switch to natural perfumes
1. Become an avid reader of ingredient lists. If your favourite perfume or scented body product simply has “fragrance” listed as an ingredient, it most likely includes a cocktail of synthetic fragrance materials. Be aware that many large companies often touting natural ingredients also include synthetic chemicals.
2. Natural perfumes are best tried on your skin, as opposed to just smelling them straight from the bottle or on a tester strip. They tend to blend with your own skin chemistry creating a scent that is uniquely yours. Most natural perfume companies offer sample vials for sale that allow you to find your favourite scent before committing to a full bottle.
3. Natural perfumes wear closer to the skin than their synthetic counterparts so you may need to apply them several times throughout the day. Look for packaging that is easily carried in your handbag (such as a roll-on) and apply them to pulse points whenever required.
4. Have fun and be adventurous! Our noses have become so accustomed to the one-size-fits-all perfumes on offer that it’s amazing how invigorating and exciting natural perfumes can be.
Sally Woodward-Hawes is the founder and head perfumer of natural perfume label Aromantik, which offers sample packs starting from $25. For more information, visit www.aromantik.com.au