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What is Natural Perfume?

Posted on January 01 2024

What is Natural Perfume? | Wit & West Perfumes


Photo Credit: Kari Shea, Unsplash

 What is Natural Perfume?

I will start with the obvious. When it comes to ingredients, natural perfume is quite different from most mainstream perfumes. While natural perfume can have different definitions depending on the brand or perfumer you are talking to, in general, natural perfume is defined as a fragrance composed of ingredients that are derived from 100% all-natural and botanical ingredients. At Wit & West, all of our perfumes and colognes are made from 100% all-natural ingredients as defined by ISO 9235:2021 - Natural Aromatic Raw Materials Vocabulary (this is the same definition used by IFRA, or the International Fragrance Association). Under ISO 9235:2021, these ingredients include wildcrafted and organic essential oils (extracted via steam, hydro and molecular distillation methods), CO2 extracts, absolute oils (extracted via solvent extraction methods), naturally derived isolates as well as artisan extracted ingredients such as tinctures and enfleurage extraits (learn more about the enfleurage method in my blog post on the art of enfleurage in perfumery). To put it more simply, natural perfume is formulated with raw materials that are distilled or extracted from botanical (i.e., plant-based) sources including citrus, plants, flowers, spices, wood, leaves, bark and resins. In addition to the ISO 9235:2021 standard for Natural Aromatic Raw Materials Vocabulary, there are other standards that some natural perfume brands may choose to follow as their preferred definition. For example, natural perfumers and brands that are certified under the Perfume Foundation International are restricted from using natural isolates in their perfume compositions but may use other raw materials defined as natural under ISO 9235:2021. Others may choose to get certification through COSMOS standard (COSMOS stands for "COSMetic Organic and Natural Standard"), which sets certification requirements for organic and natural cosmetic products in Europe. These certifications include Ecocert and Cosmebio in France, ICEA in Italy, and BDIH in Germany, to name a few. The certification requirements vary, and in some cases like under COSMOS Organic, raw materials such as absolute oils extracted via solvent would not be allowed (only absolute oils obtained via extraction using ethanol or alcohol), nor would any animal ingredients (exception is beeswax), nor ingredients containing GMOs. So, while there's no universally accepted standard for defining what a natural perfume is, there are different standards as well as certifications that different natural perfume brands choose to adhere to. In contrast with other perfumery raw materials, synthetic ingredients consist of lab created aroma molecules, and include both those that exist in natural (sometimes called nature-identical, e.g., such as geraniol, a raw material that can be extracted naturally from various plants including rose and geranium. In the case of the synthetic version of geraniol, the raw material is synthesized, and while the resulting ingredient has the same chemical structure as the natural isolation of geraniol, it does not start from a natural source) and those that do not exist in nature (e.g., such as ISO E Super, an ingredient that imparts a woody aroma that is popular and used extensively in modern perfumery).

My own personal feelings? I do not have anything against mainstream or mixed-media perfumes (mixed-media perfumes are those composed of a mix of natural and synthetic ingredients), I just choose to use natural ingredients as an artistic choice and appreciation for the medium, not because I think one is better than the other. The art of perfumery – just like any other artform – has different genres contained within the industry. Two of these primary genres are mainstream perfumery (e.g., large corporate-run perfume houses) and indie perfumery (small independent perfumers or small companies who hire an outside perfumer). Within both of the genres I just mentioned there are further sub-genres. This is where I would classify myself as an indie natural perfumer and Wit & West Perfumes as an indie natural perfume brand. Just as in music or the visual arts, different tastes point people toward an affinity for different genres and the same is true in perfumery.

Beyond the clear differences in the palette of ingredients as well as my personal preference for working with natural and botanical ingredients over synthetic aroma chemicals, there is more you should know about natural perfume before you decide to try it. Not surprisingly, there is quite an array of misconceptions when it comes to natural perfume and perfume in general. 

Here are some of the most common myths about natural perfumes:


Myth #1 - Natural perfume is unsophisticated

When I talk to people about natural perfume, they share with me that they are reluctant to try it because they assume it is boring and uninspired fragrance with a heavy focus on ingredients like patchouli, lavender, rosemary or peppermint. Quite the contrary! I have over 300 botanicals I work with including rare and unique floral absolutes such as the gardenia absolute used in the Wit & West Reserve Perfume, Gardenia 'Ono. My goal as an indie natural perfumer is first and foremost to create sophisticated and unique perfumes. You may not necessarily find something that smells like the offerings available at the perfume counter inside a Nordstrom, but you might find something incredibly special that is unlike anything you have experienced before. Plus, you will not smell like everyone you know who bought the same mass-produced perfume that launched last season.

Myth #2 - Perfume is not good if it does not last all day

Often what people mean when they say this is that they believe perfume should smell exactly the same from first spritz until the end of the day. However, what they do not realize is that the reason they think this is because mainstream perfumes contain significant amounts of synthetic fixatives and fillers that cause the scent to linger for 12 hours or longer.

100% all-natural perfume formulated with botanical and other naturally derived ingredients evolves throughout the day. High-quality natural botanical perfume is designed using the French perfume method which is based on top, heart and base notes (notes are classified into these categories based on their rate of evaporation; top notes being the most fleeting and short-lived, heart notes that linger for up to a couple of hours, base notes can last for several hours). This complex composition is what lends interest and sophistication to a perfume. This evolution is what gives the perfume its appeal and character as you experience the scent progress while you wear it. Check out my blog post for tips on how to make natural perfume last longer.

Myth #3 – Natural perfume is too expensive

Natural perfume can be more expensive than synthetic or mixed-media perfume, but this is not always the case. The reason natural perfume can be more expensive is because natural perfumes contain rare and difficult to extract raw materials that are often costly due to their low yields and the labor required to grow, harvest and extract them. For example, 60 roses are required to produce ONE drop of rose oil! The cost of one ounce of rose oil can be more than $500, while other rarities can be upwards of $1,000 or more per ounce. However, it is important to point out that many luxury perfumes that are made from primarily synthetic ingredients can be expensive as well. Do not be fooled…there is a good chance that the price of a mainstream perfume is more a function of the brand name than the actual rarity of the perfume or the ingredients in the perfume.  

Myth #4 – The clean perfume I bought from a beauty retailer is the same thing as natural perfume

This is one of the most common misconceptions I hear from people. The “clean” trend is taking hold in the beauty and perfume world and unfortunately, it can be confusing and misleading. “Clean beauty” is a marketing term with no independent organization governing the standards that define “clean”.  Clean simply means that a company has decided to self-regulate their products by excluding some ingredients considered by the company to be harmful, but it does not mean that the ingredients they choose to include are natural. In fact, most “clean” products are comprised of synthetic materials with little to no natural ingredients. The enthusiasm for “clean” is leveraged by some companies through marketing messaging as a way to create the perception of being more eco-friendly, safe or natural - even when they are not. So how do you know if your “clean” perfume is natural? One easy way to tell is based on the color of the perfume. If it is transparent then it is likely not natural as truly natural ingredients carry their own natural colors and hues. Imagine that! Another way to determine if a perfume is natural is based on the ingredients that are listed on the packaging and on the brand’s website. If you dig a bit deeper, brands that claim to be clean will indicate that their ingredients are actually not 100% natural and instead are a mix of aroma chemicals that are listed as “safe-synthetics” with natural materials comprising only a small portion of the perfume formulation. Lastly, just as "clean" doesn't necessarily equate to natural, natural doesn't necessarily equate to safer and synthetic doesn't equate to more harmful. The short answer is that there is no short answer. Some individuals may find that certain ingredients (natural and/or synthetic) are irritating to their skin, while others may not. If you are concerned about the safety of ingredients in a perfume the best thing to do is conduct an allergy test to see if the perfume causes you an adverse reaction as different ingredients can impact individuals differently.


Myth #5 – Natural botanical perfume is the same thing as aromatherapy

Natural perfume and aromatherapy are not one and the same. Aromatherapy is based on leveraging one or perhaps a few essential oil blends specifically for therapeutic purposes. In contrast, at its most basic level, natural botanical perfumery – as with any form of perfumery be it synthetic or natural – is an artform focusing on the creation of a beautiful perfume and scent profile to be enjoyed by the perfume wearer. Another way to think about it is the difference between form vs. function with perfumery leaning towards the side of form and aromatherapy leaning towards function. While natural botanical perfumery does include the use of some essential oils that are also used in aromatherapy, the palette of ingredients utilized is much larger than what is used in aromatherapy. The natural perfumer’s palette includes not only essential oils but also CO2 extracts, absolutes, resins, tinctures, enfleurage oils and other naturally derived ingredients.


Wit & West Perfumes: 100% All-Natural Perfumes and Colognes

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 100% all-natural perfumes and colognes check out individual samples as well as our sample sets on our website by visiting the Wit & West Samples page. If you're new to natural perfume, we also have a sample set that's perfect for anyone who isn't familiar with the genre of natural perfume. The sample set includes five (5) of our most popular perfumes and colognes curated by Wit & West perfumer, Wit: New to Natural Perfume Sample Set.

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