Finding the Perfect Natural Perfume
Posted on July 17 2023
Photo Credit by Wit, Owner & Perfumer for Wit & West Perfumes (Photo of a bottle of Honeysuckle Halcyon)
Finding the perfect perfume (whether a natural perfume or not) can be overwhelming. With so many options available, it is understandable not to know where to begin. Whether you already have an idea of what you are looking for or not, it is important to consider several things to help you find a perfume you will love. In this blog, I talk about the general considerations for finding a new perfume as well as how to find the perfect natural perfume.
Things to Consider When Looking for a New Perfume
1. When will you wear your new perfume?
Wearing perfume to match the occasion or time of year can be a wonderful way to rotate through different perfumes in your “perfume wardrobe.” If this sounds like you then you will want to ask yourself some additional questions such as whether you want something you can wear daily/to work, or something for evenings, going out with friends or going out on a date. Aside from the occasion, you can also opt for choosing your new perfume based on the season. For example, if you are looking for something that you can wear daily to work, chances are you might to opt for something a bit lighter and fresher like a woody or citrusy scent than say, an amber scent as those tend to be heavier perfumes with a focus on ingredients like vanilla, tonka bean, resins, spices, and heavy florals.
2. What perfume notes or fragrance families are you looking for?
If you already know which perfume notes appeal to you then you can start your search for a new perfume with those notes in mind. So, what exactly is a note in perfumery? A note in perfumery can be thought of in a comparable way to a note in a music composition; an individual element or ingredient such as orange, clove, jasmine, rose, cedarwood or sandalwood. Borrowing terms used in music, a perfume is composed of different “notes” or aromatic materials that are arranged into “accords” (another musical term, i.e., “chords”) which are then further combined to create a final perfume. Notes are classified based on their rate of evaporation as either base, heart, or top notes. The top notes, which you smell upon the first spritz are the most fleeting and only last between a few minutes and thirty or so minutes, and are light, sweet, slightly spicy, or citrusy. The middle, or heart notes, are floral, sometimes spicy. Middle notes linger a bit longer, between 2-3 hours. The base notes, which last the longest, consist of balsamic, woody, resinous and/or musky notes and last 3 or more hours. How does knowing this help you determine which perfume is right for you? Knowing which notes appeal to you can give you an idea of which type of scent profile or fragrance family or olfactive family to consider (fragrance or olfactive families are the fragrance industry’s classification system based on olfactory characteristics; woody, floral, fresh/citrus, gourmand, amber, fougère and chypre). For example, if you know you like citrusy notes like lemon, bergamot, orange or neroli. then you may want to consider a citrus/fresh or floral perfume. Another example is if you know you like heavier perfumes with rich, resinous, and balsamic notes like vanilla, benzoin, labdanum (three ingredients that make up the basic amber accord in perfumery), would be to consider perfumes that fall into the amber category such as spicy ambers, floral ambers or woody ambers. A great resource that breaks down notes, fragrance families, specific perfumes and more is The Perfume Society’s website: Perfume Families - The Perfume Society.
3. Consider the concentration of the perfume.
The term concentration in perfumery refers to the percentage of fragrance concentrate (e.g., essential oils, absolute oils, etc.) in the perfume. While the concentration might vary by brand, in general, the below can serve as a loose guideline for understanding what you are getting based on the concentration that is listed on the bottle:
- Extract (also known as pure perfume) = 20-40% concentration
- Parfum = 15-25% concentration
- Eau de Parfum = 8-20% concentration
- Eau de Toilette = 5-15% concentration
- Eau de Cologne = 3-5% concentration
- Eau Fraiche = 1-3% concentration
There are a few reasons understanding concentration is important. First, perfumes with a higher concentration like a parfum or eau de parfum tend to linger longer than those with a lower concentration like an eau de cologne or eau fraiche. However, it is important to note that while concentration can help you understand the perfume in terms of its potency, it does not necessarily mean it will have longevity and last for hours and hours. For example, eau de parfum that falls into the fresh and citrusy fragrance family will not last as long as a perfume that falls into the chypre family (or others like amber or fougère). This is because citrusy and fresh perfumes often include citrus ingredients like bergamot, lemon, orange or grapefruit, and lighter florals like mimosa, jasmine, violet or lily of the valley, and lighter woody notes like sandalwood. In contrast, chypre perfumes tend to be warm, dry, and almost always built around a rich and woody accord that contains notes of bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli and labdanum, and because of the ingredients used in the composition, tend to last longer than a citrus perfume. Second, is that the price point often varies based on the concentration. In general, the lower the concentration the lower the price point of the perfume. Some perfume houses have the same fragrance in multiple concentrations, while others have specific fragrances that only come in one type of concentration (the Wit & West Cologne Collection features our line of 100% all-natural perfumes in an eau de cologne concentration that are light, herbal, citrusy, floral and gender neutral and great for anyone). Third, concentration can help determine how much perfume you should apply. For example, you might not need or want to apply a parfum or eau de parfum as liberally or as often as a perfume in eau de cologne or eau de toilette concentration. How much you might want to apply may also differ depending on your personal preferences and whether you are multi-spray wearer or a single spray wearer.
4. Make sure to sample and test out new perfumes before committing to a bottle.
While this might seem obvious, it is important to make sure you sample new perfumes before buying a full-size bottle. Sampling provides a low-risk option for you to smell several different perfumes and experience their evolution on skin over the course of a day. Today, many perfume brands offer samples on their brand websites where you can purchase several samples or a sample set. Depending on the brand, the samples are often more than enough to truly experience the perfume before landing on your favorite. Wit & West Perfumes offers several options for sampling including Individual Samples, one of our Sample Sets such as the Signature & Cologne Collection Sample Set which includes a $20 digital gift card that you can use toward the purchase of a full-size bottle, the Customizable Sample Set that allows you to select the 5 samples of your choice, as well as the Reserve Collection Sample Set and the Cologne Collection Sample Set. Once you have selected some samples you can test them by spritzing on a scent strip first, but make sure to also test a new perfume on skin as it will not smell the same on a scent strip as it does on your skin. In addition, do not rule out a perfume after the initial spritz as the initial impression you get from a perfume is based on its top notes which are the most volatile and disappear the quickest. Make sure to take note of the perfume’s evolution from top to heart to base as many perfumes will change over time. However, sometimes a perfume may not change much, and you might find that certain ones are more linear than others. Either way, it is always best to try and fully experience a perfume’s evolution throughout the day to determine if it is something you like or not.
5. Use Scent Quizzes and Perfume Finders
Today, not only do many brands offer diverse ways to sample their products, but many also offer a way to narrow down your options through interactive tools like perfume finders and scent quizzes. Scent quizzes are a terrific way to find out which scent will suit you best based on your answers to questions like when and where your will wear your new scent, what notes or olfactive families appeal to you most, or what feeling or emotion you are looking for in your new scent. Check out the Wit & West Perfumes Scent Quiz, plus, if you take our quiz and sign-up for email, you’ll receive a discount code for 30% off your next order.
Other options such as perfume finders on perfume databases like Fragrantica provide an easier way to sort through thousands of different perfumes. Check out the Fragrantica Search Tool to search for a new perfume based on specific criteria such as notes, olfactive family (called “Groups” in their search tool) perfumer name, country, etc. (they even have a way to narrow your options down to Natural Perfumery or Niche Designer under the category Specialty Designers), or, check out their Perfume Finder Tool which allows you to enter a perfume that you or someone you know likes and then it will display similar perfumes.
What is Natural Perfume?
So, what exactly is natural perfume? In general, the experience of 100% all-natural perfume is quite different from mainstream perfumes – both due to the ingredients used as well as the experience of wearing the perfumes. Let us start with the ingredients. If you see a perfume marketed as 100% all-natural, then that means that the ingredients used in the perfume are composed from 100% natural botanical or plant-derived ingredients. These ingredients include wildcrafted and organic essential oils, CO2 extracts, absolutes, and naturally derived isolates. To put it more simply, natural perfume is formulated with aromatics distilled or extracted from plants, flowers, spices, and resins (learn more about natural perfume and natural perfume ingredients in the Wit & West FAQs as well as in our blog post, What is Natural Perfume?). However, it is important to note that there is no regulated standard for the term “natural.” If it is important to you and you want to know if a brand’s ingredients are truly 100% all-natural, then the best thing to do is reach out to them to confirm. Why does this matter? The short answer is it depends on personal preferences. Some individuals like natural perfumes due to the nuance and beauty that comes from natural ingredients, some like that they tend to wear closer to the skin and do not overwhelm, some like them for other reasons such as lifestyle preferences. At Wit & West Perfumes we view natural ingredients and the use of them for our perfumer’s palette as an artistic choice and love for the ingredients. We think of it like a genre in music – natural perfumery as a genre or style of perfumery.
Beyond the ingredients, it is important to also understand that natural perfumes and their wearing experience is different than what you may be used to. Wearing natural perfume is a unique and beautiful experience that allows you experience the ingredients as they evolve throughout the day. It is worth noting that because of this evolution in scent profile experienced throughout the day, natural perfumes tend to not last as long on the skin as many mainstream perfumes that contain synthetic ingredients. However, there is a straightforward way to solve this problem – just like a mid-day lipstick refresh, you can refresh your perfume with a quick spritz (Tip: Choose a travel-size spritzer as a handy option to carry with you on the go. You can opt for something between 7ml or 15ml like the Wit & West Perfumes 15ml bottle available for each of our perfumes and colognes).
Finding the Perfect Natural Perfume
Now that you know a bit more about natural perfume in terms of ingredients and wearing experience, let us talk about how to find the perfect natural perfume.
1. Expect the unexpected and make sure to sample several different scents.
One of the things I have found in talking to people in-person and having them test different perfumes is that people often think they like things that they do not and vice versa. For example, people will tell me they do not like roses and then I will have them smell one of the Wit & West rose-centric perfumes and they will tell me they like it. While this is not always the case and sometimes people who say they do not like rose as a note in perfumery really do not like it, it is worth remaining open-minded before taking a firm stance of being for or against a particular note or ingredient. The best thing to do is to try a few different perfumes as well as a few different brands to really understand what you like and do not like.
2. Do not expect a like for like experience with natural perfume.
In other words, if you have never tried natural perfume before do not expect the same experience you have had with other perfumes. This is not to say that natural perfume is any better or worse than perfume that includes only synthetic ingredients or a combination of synthetic and natural ingredients, it is just that some synthetic aroma chemicals truly do not exist in nature, or sometimes what we think something smells like is often not what it smells like in nature.
For example, some perfumes that do not necessarily have a like for like experience in natural perfumery would be those that fall into the aquatic or oceanic category. The reason for this is because the aroma chemicals used to achieve an aquatic or oceanic effect cannot be found in nature (ingredients like calone, hydroxycitronellal, etc.). While there are some natural ingredients that can work to give a similar effect that could be considered fresh and ocean-like, they are limited to things like seaweed absolute, ambergris (obtained from the sperm whale and very difficult to find in modern perfumes due to cost as well as issues around sourcing it sustainably and ethically) or some natural isolates like melonal (but none of these smell the same as the synthetic ingredients used to create the ocean-like effect we usually expect in perfumery). Another example is one that is found in nature, but often the natural ingredient is only a small part of what people like and think they are smelling based on the perfume’s description. I have had people tell me they love sandalwood-forward scents, and while I love sandalwood too, 100% natural sandalwood oil is actually very soft and close wearing with minimal sillage (e.g., the trail of scent you leave behind you when you walk away) or projection (the static “scent bubble” that is noticed when people are standing near you). In this scenario, what people usually mean when they say they love sandalwood perfumes is that they love the combination of synthetic sandalwood aroma chemicals and other synthetic ingredients like musk. In natural perfumery, what you would find is that if a perfume has sandalwood oil (a base note), it will also have other heart and top notes as well. This means that the perfume is not necessarily going to be the linear, sandalwood-centric perfume that you might be expecting or looking for.
In short, it’s important to be open to new possibilities when trying natural perfume and not to expect to find the exact same experience that you would with a mainstream perfume comprised of mostly synthetic ingredients (this goes for the olfactory experience as well as the longevity as both will not be the same when wearing natural perfume).
3. Give the perfume time to unfold throughout the day and wear it more than once.
As mentioned previously, natural perfumes evolve throughout the day. The wearing experience can vary significantly from person to person as natural ingredients are not linear and express themselves differently based on factors such as how often and where you apply your perfume, how well moisturized your skin is, etc. It is important not to dismiss a natural perfume after the initial spritz as most natural ingredients that are classified as top notes may only last a couple of minutes or at the most, up to a half hour or so. Just because you do not love the initial top notes does not mean you will not like the perfume as it evolves and settles into the heart and base notes. In addition, if you took the time to purchase samples, I would recommend wearing the perfume more than once to determine if you genuinely like it or not. While this is important to do for any perfume, it is even more important for natural perfumes.
How to Make Natural Perfume Last Longer
One of the complaints I hear most often about natural perfume is that they do not last as long as other more mainstream. While this is certainly true, there are ways to make your natural (or any) perfume last longer.
Things to Do
- Spritz perfume after you shower and make sure your skin is well-moisturized (preferably with a fragrance-free moisturizer).
- Try adding a few spritzes of your perfume to your moisturizer, then apply moisturizer as normal.
- Spray your perfume on your wrists, neck, décolleté, behind the ankles and behind the ears.
- Keep your perfume out of direct sunlight and away from heat or other temperature fluctuations.
- Buy a travel-size bottle and refresh your perfume once or twice a day.
- Try spritzing in your hair for additional longevity.
Things Not to Do
- Do not rub your wrists together. All this does is speed up the rate of evaporation which means the perfume will not last as long. Instead, spray each wrist separately.
- Do not store your perfume in the bathroom – even if it is in the pantry or on a shelf away from direct sunlight – humidity can also cause damage to your perfume over time.
Other Things to Consider
- Natural perfume is often darker colored due to the nature of the ingredients used so if you are concerned about staining due to the perfume’s color then make sure to spritz further away from you and do not spray on light colored clothing or clothing that stains easily.
- Natural perfumes are made from botanical ingredients and therefore will not last as long as other perfumes. This is true for longevity on the skin (2-5 hours on the skin vs. up to 12 or more hours for synthetic perfumes) as well as shelf-life (depending on the perfume's base, most natural perfumes can last between 1-3 years in the bottle if stored properly).
- If your perfume is older than a few years, it may not last as long as it did when you first purchased it depending on how it has been stored, the cap or enclosure and how secure it is, how often you have sprayed it as well as how much is left in the bottle (if the bottle is almost empty then that means what is left is exposed to oxygen causing oxidation). Also, oxidized perfume (e.g. perfume that has been exposed to oxygen) can cause adverse skin reactions so if you feel like there’s a chance your perfume is oxidized spray it in the air first to see if the smell seems like it is still OK and if so, do a patch test on skin to determine if you experience any skin reactions.
- Depending on the ingredients, some perfumes can degrade more quickly over time. Alcohol-based perfumes tend to last longer in the bottle than oil-based perfumes. This is because alcohol acts as a preservative whereas oil-based perfumes that use jojoba oil do not have the same effect.
- Instead of opting for large bottles of perfume, purchase smaller bottles such as those in 7ml to 30ml sizes. This will allow you to rotate through several different perfumes while ensuring you do not let one go to waste because you purchased too large a bottle.
Wit & West Natural Perfumes
Wit & West Perfumes is a Colorado-based 100% all-natural botanical perfumery with a focus on rare natural ingredients and unique scents for those who do not want to smell like everyone else. Our perfumes are handcrafted completely in-house in small batches using only the finest, high-quality 100% natural whole botanicals and naturally derived ingredients. If you’re interested in sampling some of our perfumes and colognes check out individual samples as well as our sample sets check out our samples on our website by visiting the Wit & West Samples page.