From discovering and choosing to storing and wearing — follow these simple tips to set yourself up for the best organic, natural, or botanical fragrance experience possible.
If you’re curious how to choose natural perfume, let me share with you my best tips. But why should you listen to me, you wonder?
Well, first and foremost, I’m a fine fragrance maniac (and recovering hoarder).
Second, I did interviews with perfumers like Cartier’s Mathilde Laurent as well as with niche perfume visionaries like Frances Shoemack and Killian Hennessy, am in touch with distributors and makers, speak the lingo of top-heart-base notes, olfactory families and more. I even write original product copy for perfumes.
Simply put: I love and I understand the art of creating and wearing perfume.
1 WHAT IS “NATURAL” PERFUME?
When people — and brands! — talk about natural perfume they can mean a bunch of different things.
They can mean perfume made from certified organic oils and ingredients entirely. Or they can mean uncertified perfume that simply contains nothing synthetic at all (like dyes, phthalates, petroleum-based ingredients). Sometimes they will even mean vegan perfume — although natural doesn’t equal botanical, just to be perfectly clear. Honey, ambergris are natural but definitely not vegan-friendly.
And sometimes brands tout their products as natural or even aromatherapeutic but still deploy synthetic molecules or other additives, either to modify the scent, or to create a specific texture or colour of the final product.
So how do you choose a natural perfume that meets your standards?
2 HOW TO CHOOSE A NATURAL PERFUME
There is no other way to know what’s inside a perfume than reading the label. In 100% natural and botanical scents, the full disclosure can read like a list of essential oils. Or it can include ingredients like alcohol, “fragrance”, and compounds of essential oils that are relevant for allergy sufferers and must be listed extra.
If you see “fragrance” listed as one of the ingredients, you need to investigate. While product safety regulations in the EU secure the product quality over here, it’s your job only to make sure that nothing suspicious to you lurks in the ingredient list, and “fragrance” (the ingredient) is nothing short of a black box. I like to investigate even in case it’s marked as organic. Just in case. And most brands that identify as conscious and sustainable will be more than happy to discuss ingredients, sourcing and packaging with interested consumers — within reason of course.
Don’t fall for the marketing, don’t fall for packaging design, don’t fall for clever wording and certainly don’t think the fragrance pyramid equals the ingredient list!
The label is the only thing that matters.
In terms of singular notes, it’s worth knowing that natural perfumery has a few limitations. While perfumers are able to obtain musky notes from hibiscus seeds, some notes are only feasible using synthetics. Not all synthetics are bad, however. Sometimes, a rare extract of an endangered plant can only be mimicked artificially. But here’s a quick round-up of smells that usually can’t be done naturally: red berries, figs, and most fruits except different citrus fruits.
3 WHAT TO CHOOSE?
Can you tell your Eaux apart?
Fragrances dissolved in alcohol are generally available in different — albeit rather unprecise — dilution classes.
Perfume has the most concentration of fragrance of up to 40%, followed by Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Eau de Cologne and Eau Fraîche; plus-minus a few less common terms. Different brands can opt for even fancier definitions like “Eau de Parfum Concentrée” or “Eau de Toilette Légère”, simply adding more descriptions to indicate that their EdP is more intense or the EdT is even lighter than usual. Don’t try to memorise them all, as there is no binding regulation.
Perfume oils and solid perfumes are products in which the fragrance is embedded in a carrier oil or in a wax (which can be 100% plant-based). Perfume oils experience a bit of a comeback these days — brands like Oneself Organics, Leahlani have created aromatic oil blends that are in fact aromatherapeutic. Solid perfums still have that rather old-fashioned, handmade vibe; there are, of course, exceptions.
Knowing your preferences here will help you choose your favourites. Do you prefer a light and sparkly cologne you can refresh during the day or the heavy veil of a perfume oil that clings to your skin for hours and hours? Choose your weapon of seduction.
4 HOW TO TRY THEM ON
First of all, knowing your olfactory families, even roughly, can help you zoom in and avoid an olfactory overkill that can occur when you binge-try fragrances in a shop.
So, looking at your previous favourites, what do you like? Elegant chypres, sweet orientals, powdery florals, fresh citruses, modern woody fragrances or maybe gourmand scents?
Never try perfumes in a stressfull, crowded, smelly environment. Because natural perfumes will react differently depending on your skin’s chemistry, blotter papers (the tester papers most shops will have sitting around) will not be of much help — they can only help determine roughly whether or not you like the direction a perfume is going.
And because of that, most natural perfume brands as well as specialised shops will offer samples for sale. Don’t hesitate to purchase those. As I’m typing this, there is a bag of samples sitting in my wardrobe waiting for me to work my way through them. All of them bought. Other than with industrial perfume, where a 50 ml worth of juice will fall under 1€, niche and natural fragrances are costly to produce.
Once you’ve purchased your tiny treasures, spritz the perfume on your so-called pulse points — the wrists and the inner albows, as I won’t recommend the neck for the very first test. Never rub! And then just wear it. Smell it again after fifteen minutes, after an hour.
5 HOW TO STORE
This is the simplest part: protect your perfume collection from UV light, humidity, and extreme temperatures.
If you, like any perfume aficionada, love putting your treasures on display, and I sure do, choose light protected environment. You know, like your boudoir, your vampire lair, your werewolf vault… Oh, I’m sorry, I’m still in full-on Samhain mode. A vanity table sitting in a room with dark curtains is great. Bathroom, not so much.
READY TO ENJOY YOUR NATURAL PERFUME?