Perfumes have ancient origins steeped in nature. Expressions of flowers, plants, tree resins, and spices were once blended into fragrant oils and applied to the body. Modern day perfumes, however, are a far cry from these natural blends. Cocktails of lab derived ingredients (many of which have never been tested for safety) now dominate the marketplace.
What are Natural Perfumes Made Of?
A natural perfume consists of ingredients extracted solely from nature. This excludes the use of synthetic fragrance. These naturally-derived ingredients are inherently fragrant, and are then blended to create the perfume which is preserved in a carrier (in our case, organic sugarcane alcohol). Some natural perfumes also include animal-derived scent, such as musk and ambergris. At Veyali, I choose to only work with plant essences—creating certified cruelty-free and vegan perfumes.
There are numerous ways in which these naturally scented ingredients can be extracted from their source plant. When reviewing ingredient labels, the following extraction terms indicate a natural perfume: essential oils, absolutes, c02 extracts and tinctures. For a more exhaustive list of accepted ingredients, refer to The Natural Perfumers Guild’s definitions here.
Natural Perfume versus Synthetic Fragrance
Synthetic Fragrance Perfumes are made with inexpensive, often petroleum-derived, aroma-chemicals. Some of these chemicals have been associated with hormone disruption and allergic reactions, and many have not been assessed for safety. Synthetic Perfumes might include one or two naturally-derived oils, but more often than not, the formulation is predominantly comprised of synthetic scent and additives.
There are few products on the market today that are less transparent than perfume. The fragrance industry is not required to disclose all ingredients in their “fragrance” blends. How is such secrecy allowed? It’s all due to the Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1973—which requires companies to list cosmetics ingredients on product labels but explicitly exempts fragrance. On the one hand, this makes sense. As a perfumer, you want to protect the secrecy of your proprietary blend. But manufacturers have manipulated this loophole by listing some chemical ingredients, and hiding others they don’t want to disclose under the generic term of “fragrance.”
Independent laboratory tests of perfumes have shown a myriad of secret chemicals not listed on the label. Hidden within the catchall term “fragrance” were synthetic petrochemicals with troubling hazardous properties, and a propensity to accumulate in human tissues.
Your hormonal system is particularly vulnerable, as many of the undisclosed chemicals were ones suspected or proven to interfere with the body’s endocrine system. This highly complex system is made up of glands that produce and secrete hormones—regulating the body’s growth, metabolism, sexual development and function, sleep and mood.
The list of known and potentially harmful ingredients found in synthetic fragrances includes: chemical sunscreens, BHT, oxybenzone, phthalates, various pesticides, fire retardants, etc. A particularly risky chemical in this group, phthalates, are plasticizers that make your perfume sticky so it lasts longer on your skin. It’s certainly convenient to have a perfume that lasts all day and night. But does this benefit outweigh the considerable danger this carcinogen poses?
This knowledge is alarming. Much of what resides in your synthetic perfume is a mystery. And if it’s a mystery, how can you possibly decide whether or not it’s something you want to expose yourself to?