If you can no longer wear commercial fragrances due to allergies or sensitivities; or if you no longer choose to wear them because you demand a natural alternative, then join a growing population who are turning to Natural or Botanical Perfumery.
Until the mid 19th century botanical essences from roots, flowers, seeds, leaves, grasses, resins, mosses and woods along with animal essences were the only components found in perfumes. However, in the past 150 years, fragrance companies have increasingly relied on the ability of scientists to isolate and synthesize chemicals. Although some have been tested for safety, few have been tested for their effects in combination. When the average fragrance contains over 300 synthetic chemicals there’s a good chance that many combinations are potentially harmful.
The most important reasons for choosing natural perfumes are the health of your body and the environment. In 1986, the National Academy of Sciences reported that “95% of the ingredients used to create fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum [a non renewable energy source] including benzene derivatives, aldehydes and many other known toxins and sensitizers. Many of these substances have been linked to cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions.” (”Stop Making Scents: the Hidden Hazards of Synthetic Fragrances”, Jill Sverdlove, Alternative Medicine, April 2007).
The Classical French method of perfumery is based on layering chords of base, heart and top notes. When you inhale a perfume, top notes like citrus and spice greet you initially. These essences evaporate fairly quickly giving way to the floral heart notes like Tuberose, Orange Blossom, Magnolia and Lotus. Finally the overall impression of the perfume dries down to the long-lasting and sultry base notes like Benzoin, Spikenard and Opoponax.
Often clients ask how long a perfume will last. Perfume staying power depends on the ability of base notes or fixatives to hold the scent on the skin. Some like Patchouli perform this function better than a lighter base like Angelica Root. Synthetic fragrances endure because they contain preservatives and additives that may be harmful to the body. The shorter life span of a natural perfume coupled with the essential oil’s potential therapeutic benefits allow for reapplication as much as you wish
Perfumes are also classified into Families. The Oriental family uses the deeply sensuous resins like Frankincence, Peru Balsam and Myrrh along with exotic florals like Ylang Ylang, Jasmine and Champaca. The most popular is the Floral Family with subcategories of Floral Green, Floral Amber and Floral Fresh. The Chypre family is usually characterized by contrast of Bergamot and a rich mossy base note like Oakmoss. A fairly new category is Gourmand consisting of delicious edible essences like Vanilla, Cocoa, Turkish Coffee, Cardamom and Cinnamon. Heavenly.
Often the family you are drawn to closely mirrors the qualities of your own personality. In the 19th century people understood more intuitively the connection between themselves and nature and valued the process of consulting with a perfumer to have a Signature Scent created specially for them. According to Marguerite Maury, a pioneer Aromatherapist, one purpose of a perfume was to help balance unfavorable aspects of the personality. She called this the Individual Prescription.
Another issue is cost. For commercial fragrance companies most of the budget goes to packaging and marketing since their synthetic ingredients can be made at a fraction of the cost of real materials. Natural Perfumers on the other hand must source their rare and precious botanical essences globally. For example the luxurious Vanilla from the Reunion Islands may cost $100 per ounce while the exquisite Australian Tuberose is about $160 per ounce. Costs can quickly mount but you’ll know that every single drop in your natural perfume is made with real materials-essences that also have the mood-enhancing and aphrodisiac properties of essential oils.