I get it — change is uncomfortable — but it can also be a very good thing. Especially if you want to improve your health and reduce your impact on the planet — just to name two of many reasons why you should say no to synthetic fragrances. Transitions sometimes bring heaps of frustration and disappointment — but I’d like to make your switch to natural alchemic perfumery a very rewarding and enjoyable journey.
So, let’s dive a little bit deeper into the world of perfume and understand some key information. I’m a firm believer that fear mostly comes from lack of knowledge — the more we educate ourselves the more confident we walk on any pathway.
Longevity vs Sillage
Perfume terminology might be a bit complex for an amateur — however to make sure you are fully informed it’s important to understand what certain perfumes can render and how they perform so you make the most out of your next choice.
Longevity of a perfume is the ‘lifetime’ of the perfume. This means the length of time a perfume lasts on the skin. The longevity of the perfume is based on how long you can still get a whiff of the perfume from your skin.
Sillage is a French word that means the trail your perfume leaves behind you. Sillage is capable of both good and evil. Therefore, choose your fragrance with wisdom and careful consideration. You may feel your sillage is your best friend, but it can also make enemies of those around around you. Be sure you’re remembered for the sweetest reasons and your exquisite refinement. The right sillage talks about that person’s elegance — ‘better safe than sorry’ is the golden rule to apply because ‘less is always more’.
‘A woman's perfume tells more about her than her handwriting’ —Christian Dior
Longevity and sillage depend on a variety of elements such as your skin chemistry, olfactory sensitivity, where you sprayed the perfume and the composition of the blend. Nourished and hydrated skin holds a fragrance for longer. Getting used to your everyday scent does not mean others can’t smell it. And misting your perfume onto the pulse points will also help to disperse your fragrance. You can read our blog post Four Tricks To Make Perfume Last Longer for more tips.
Composition and Labelling
According to legislation, companies aren’t required to disclose anything they deem a Trade Secret or Intellectual Property on the packaging. In my case I do not disclose the whole list of essential oils on our labels — however we list the main chemical compounds of the most prominent essential oils used in the formula. On occasion, we have supplied the entire list to a client or stockist who has requested it (after signing of a confidentiality agreement). The reason for this is not to hide any toxic ingredient from our clients— we are committed to 100% natural, sustainable and healthy products — but because we greatly cherish our way of creating a scent and the true alchemic method that makes our products truly different from other natural creations.
However, ours is not the most common reason to hide the full list of ingredients. In fact, the main reason others do so is to hide the nasties included in that product. Research shows that almost one in five people are sensitive to chemicals, with one-third experiencing health problems as a result.
So, how do you tell the difference between a true natural perfume and a not-so-natural one? Follow these steps:
1. Read the label.
In Australia, cosmetic labelling laws are fairly lax — by experience we know that regulations are more strict in Europe — so reading between the lines is important here. There is a huge difference between saying, “we only use 100% natural ingredients,” or “we don't use synthetic ingredients,” than simply marketing a product as ‘clean’ or ‘safe.’ You see, the beauty industry doesn’t have any clear-cut or regulated definitions for these terms, so brands are free to label their products any way they like.
2. Train your nose.
There is a difference between ‘notes’ and ‘ingredients’. ‘Notes’ is just a fancy word to describe what you’re likely to smell in the perfume, not necessarily what the perfume is made of. This is where it gets confusing: a fragrance can feature notes of something derived from nature (i.e. jasmine) without actually containing real jasmine extract or absolute. In fact, more often than not, you’re smelling synthetic chemicals produced in a lab, which are unhealthy when spritzed directly on your skin.
Having clarified this — take a whiff… Does it smell natural, like a plant? This can often be the first clue that something is missing. Natural fragrances are limited to botanicals such as flowers, fruits, seeds, resins, roots and woods. Synthetic fragrances, on the other hand, are composed of man-made molecules that are often designed to mimic more unusual natural odours (like fresh air or ocean breeze) or the scent of plants that can’t be distilled as essential oils (i.e. orchids, peonies or lilacs.)
3. Ask the brand.
Still in doubt? Get in touch with the company via email or social media. Tell them you’re actively avoiding using products that contain any synthetics and would like to know if their fragrance ticks the boxes. While they may not give away their exact formulations, they should be happy to answer your query and let you know if something has been left off the label. As I stated above, I have shared the whole list of ingredients with some stockists and clients with a confidentiality agreement. Transparency is very important.
No response? That’s a strong indicator that the bottle may be contain some not-so-nice ingredients.
In short, looking for honest brands and educating yourself about ingredients and natural scents will help you make the right choice.
However, there are some common mistakes people fall into when they make the first step to natural, which can cause disappointment. For a smooth and happy transition, these are the keys to watch out for.
Avoid these common mistakes
Expecting a like-for-like product.
There is no natural equivalent that will perfectly match your go-to scent. Most fragrances are created using chemically-derived ingredients— even the high-end brands you pay a fortune for. This is because some scents or aromas are virtually impossible to recreate using pure botanicals.
On the other hand, don’t assume it will last in the same way either. Natural perfume is comprised entirely of plant essences. As opposed, man-made molecules (like the ones you’ll find in synthetic fragrances), have been engineered to linger around for longer thanks to phthalates — chemicals that enhance the strength of an aroma and essentially act like a liquid plastic by sticking to your skin — linked to pregnancy complications, infertility, asthma and allergic reactions just to name some issues.
Not giving yourself enough time to adjust.
Don’t dismiss a scent after a single spritz. It’s an old cliché but it’s totally true — good things come to those who wait. Natural perfumes are designed to evolve slowly throughout the day as the heat of your body activates the oils and fragrance notes. Top notes dissipate quickly giving the way to middle notes (i.e. flowers like rose) that may last for 2 to 4 hours, while base notes (woods, resins) unfold over 4 to 6 hours or longer depending on many factors (as explained above). My recommendation? Allow up to a week or more for your senses to adjust, especially if you have been using not-so-natural fragrance. It will take some time — be aware that your nose might be suffering some kind of numbness. The good news is that truly natural scents have more layers to be discovered over time as they are made from living ingredients which makes them both better for your health and more interesting.
Never fall for marketing hype. A beautiful photo of a rose in an ad or some packaging doesn’t mean the perfume actually contains natural rose extract. ‘Notes’ doesn’t mean ‘ingredients’ and doesn’t smell like the real deal.
It takes a little bit of time to educate your senses back to what’s truly natural. But as I was told one day more than 20 years ago "Once you switch to natural scents there's no way back; your nose will tell you". I thought that for a perfume lover and a not-without-my-perfume person like me that was too big a statement. After several months educating my nose to the alchemical perfumery a conventional perfume (and a very fine one) hit my nose and it felt like a punch. She was right; after natural, there's no way back. Your body, your brain, your olfactory cells will tell you.
If you put a lot of effort into choosing raw and wholesome ingredients to nurture your body, why wouldn’t you do the same with your cosmetics? At the end of the day it will impact too on the same body — yours.
Be naturally perfumed,