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Are natural perfumes possible?

perfumes naturales

According to a report by Claight Corp, by 2023, the perfume market will reach a value of approximately USD 48.42 billion. The report forecasts growth over the next few years of 5.5% to reach a value of USD 78.40 billion in 2032. This represents a great opportunity for natural perfumes.

Composition of a conventional perfume: Beyond synthetic molecules

Conventional perfumes are mainly composed of a combination of synthetic molecules, alcohol and water. In addition to these artificial molecules, conventional perfumes may contain a variety of ingredients, such as preservatives, colorants and stabilizers, which serve to enhance the longevity and stability of the fragrance.

Let’s take a look at some of the fundamental ingredients in the formulation of a conventional perfume:

  • Solvents: a solvent is the base used to dilute the rest of the perfume ingredients. Ethyl alcohol is the most commonly used solvent in conventional perfumes due to its ability to evaporate quickly without leaving residues. They may also include deionized water or other approved solvents such as DPG (dipropylene glycol) or benzyl benzoate. The main function of the solvent is to transport and disperse the rest of the fragrance components evenly over the skin.
  • “Fixatives”: there is a belief that there is a substance that is added to perfumes that fixes the aromas, making it stay longer on the skin, without interfering with the final scent. However, this substance does not actually exist as such, but are molecules, with a higher molecular weight, which make the perfume take longer to evaporate and contribute to the cohesion and persistence of the fragrance as a whole. The duration and longevity of a perfume depends on a variety of factors, including the quality of the ingredients, fragrance concentration, interaction with the skin and other individual factors. Natural perfumes tend to avoid these chemical “fixatives” and look for organic alternatives that respect the natural environment.
  • Synthetic perfuming substancesThese are synthetic molecules created in the laboratory to reproduce natural scents, such as synthetic linalool, naturally contained in lavender, or to create new scents not found in nature, such as calone or methylbenzodiazepinone, which was the first molecule to reproduce the scent of sea breezes. These synthetic molecules are the fundamental part of conventional perfumes, as they provide a wide range of fragrances that can be consistent and reproducible.
  • Colorants and Stabilizers: Colorants are sometimes used to color the perfume, most colorants are synthetic, and appear in the list of ingredients with two letters (Color Index), followed by a number, for example, the violet color would be found like this, CI 73900. Stabilizers, on the other hand, are used to maintain the integrity of the fragrance during its shelf life, protecting it from degradation caused by light, heat or oxygen.

We have to know that perfumes are considered cosmetic products, therefore, they are regulated by the ROYAL DECREE 1599/1997, which monitors their placing on the market, including perfumes, and in Chapter V, which regulates labeling, we see that it is allowed not to identify the aromatic ingredients that are part of a perfume or a cosmetic product. What we will find instead is the word “Parfum” in the list of ingredients or INCI, and this is one of the reasons why we cannot know what ingredients have been used in its formulation. The only thing we will find reflected are the allergens it may contain and that it is mandatory to declare.

Most conventional perfumes use synthetic fragrances and this applies to most soaps and shampoos currently on the market (including baby products).

Are natural perfumes possible? 1

Do natural perfumes really exist?

The formulated perfumes that are approved for use in natural or organic cosmetics are not often made with organic ingredients, but their ingredients are usually natural or of natural origin. It should be noted that all current eco-natural cosmetics standards allow for a certain percentage of natural (non-organic) ingredients even in the organic category.

There are standards such as NATRUE that clearly specify that synthetic fragrances identical to natural fragrances cannot be used in natural cosmetics. NATRUE allows natural cosmetics to contain natural fragrances (e.g. essential oils) that correspond to ISO standard No. 9235. This includes isolated essential oil fractions and essential oils reconstituted from these fractions.

It must be taken into account that a natural ingredient is not exactly the same as one of natural origin.

Essential oils, for example, are natural complex substances that come from distillation, expression (citrus peels) or extraction with CO₂, i.e. they have been obtained by a physical process. We can also find natural isolated molecules, which have been extracted from an essential oil, such as eugenol, which is extracted from clove essential oil, or geraniol, which is extracted from palmarosa essential oil.

There are other ingredients also considered natural, which require chemical transformation in the laboratory for their extraction, such as eugenol, which can be used as an isolated molecule of clove essential oil, but if we subject it to oxidation by nitrobenzene, we obtain vanillin, which would be another isolated molecule of natural origin.

And finally, we can also find other ingredients such as phenylethyl alcohol or alpha ionone, which has required a microbial fermentation process to be obtained from a natural ingredient. Natural cosmetics standards establish which chemical processes are allowed.

Thus, it is common to find COSMOS-approved perfumes, for example, in which the majority of ingredients have been obtained by chemical transformation methods, fermentation or enzymatic or microbiological processes, even if they are of natural origin. This means that they contain few pure essential oils.perfumes in natural cosmetics

Natural Perfumery: A Return to Botanical Origins

A natural perfume is a fragrance composed exclusively of ingredients of natural origin, obtained mainly from plants, flowers, fruits, spices, roots, resins, woods, seeds or lichens.

Unlike conventional perfumes that use laboratory-created synthetic molecules, natural perfumes rely on the use of essential oils, absolutes, CO₂ extracts, botanical extracts and other natural components to create a unique scent, including the natural isolated molecules we have just seen. Mainly those obtained directly from essential oils, such as eugenol extracted from cloves, citral from litsea cubeba, geraniol from palmarosa or menthol from mint.

Let’s take a look at the main components of a natural perfume:

  • Essential Oils: These are volatile aromatic compounds extracted from plants by distillation methods, citrus peel expression or CO2 extraction. Essential oils are the pure essence of the plant and provide the characteristic aromas of natural perfumes.
  • Absolutes: These are highly concentrated extracts obtained from natural raw materials, such as jasmine or centifolia rose flowers, which do not withstand the high temperatures of the distillation process and the aroma is extracted using organic solvents, such as hexane. First, we obtain a mass called “concrete” or “resinoid” and after washing in alcohol, we obtain the absolute, which are usually very rich in fragrance and provide depth and complexity in the formulation of a natural perfume.
  • Botanical ExtractsTinctures can be made from most of the ingredients used in natural perfumery, herbs, spices, fruit peels, woods, resins, etc. …. A tincture is a maceration of a natural ingredient in alcohol. This alcohol can serve as a base for the construction of our perfume, providing unique nuances to the fragrance.
  • Natural alcohol: in natural perfumery, ethanol, an alcohol derived from cereals, grapes or sugar cane, is often used. This type of alcohol is obtained through fermentation and is a more sustainable alternative to the synthetic ethyl alcohol used in conventional perfumes. It must be 96 proof alcohol, denatured, undenatured alcohol is not allowed in the manufacture of perfumes.


The search for natural perfume

Finding a perfume made from 100% natural ingredients on the market has become an impossible mission. There is a niche sector within the world of perfumery, but “niche” does not mean “natural”, in fact, practically all niche perfumes are formulated with synthetic molecules, but this does not mean that they can use a higher percentage of natural ingredients, which makes them more complex.

An independent perfumer who pioneered the use of 100% natural ingredients in the formulation of a perfume is
Marina Barcenilla
an Academician of the Academy of Perfume, is an astrobiologist and scientific researcher. Marina is dedicated to the dissemination and training in natural perfumery in Spanish, I make this digression, because there is no official training in Spain with which you can be trained in 100% natural perfumery formulation.

I have been training with Marina Barcenilla for several years in the formulation of 100% natural perfumes.

When I considered bringing a perfume to the market, I wanted it to be in line with the philosophy of the laboratory and with the rest of the products we offer to our customers. It was at that moment, looking for a training in natural perfumery, when I met Marina Barcenilla and started this journey, which is already 4 years old, although the knowledge of natural raw materials can take a lifetime, this step is only the beginning.

The formulation of a 100% natural perfume, has some limitations, as we have already seen, only essential oils, absolutes, tinctures, CO₂ extracts or natural isolated molecules can be used. Within these ingredients, essential oils can be organically produced and certified, in this case we would have a 100% natural perfume, with a % of organic ingredients, the development of a 100% organic perfume is almost impossible, because there are many key ingredients in natural perfumery, which do not come from certified organic plantations.

For example: vetiver from Haiti, many resins such as frankincense, myrrh or elemi, or balsams such as tolu from Central America or benzoin from Sumatra. What is possible, however, is to make a 100% natural perfume, using only natural ingredients of natural origin, and where the alcohol comes from the fermentation of cereals, grapes or sugar cane.

As we have seen before, there is no single ingredient to fix a perfume. In natural perfumery, ingredients such as resins (myrrh, elemi), balsams (benzoin, tolu), woods (sandalwood, cedar), and other ingredients used in very low concentrations, such as angelica root or oak moss, can help the perfume to be more tenacious and persistent.

In case we want to make an oil-based perfume, we can use organic jojoba oil. It is the most recommended base, since jojoba is not an “oil”, it is a liquid wax, so its chemical composition is not fatty acids, but fatty esters, which are much more resistant to oxidation, so it does not go rancid so easily, and that makes the perfume more durable.

perfumes natural cosmetics

Development of natural perfumes

In recent years, there has been a growing interest on the part of consumers to purchase natural products in the area of personal care. There we have seen a very large growth in natural and organic cosmetics, but in the world of perfumery this massive interest has not yet arrived, and it seems that it is governed by other rules.

The use of perfume goes beyond simply adding a fragrance to our body. Behind every choice of perfume is a series of motives, desires and expectations that guide consumers in their decision. In addition, advertising plays a crucial role in conveying messages that influence the final choice. Perfume becomes an expression of each individual’s personal identity. People choose fragrances that align with their personality, lifestyle and mood. A perfume can boost a person’s confidence and self-esteem and make them feel more self-confident and more attractive to others.

In addition, we must keep in mind that smell is one of the first senses developed by human beings, and perfumes have the power to evoke memories and emotions. People choose fragrances that remind them of special moments, loved ones or significant places in their lives.

Many perfume advertising campaigns emphasize the idea of exclusivity and luxury. They use images and messages that suggest that the perfume is a high-end product, intended for those who seek quality and refinement, or they use images and narratives that evoke sensuality and passion. Fragrances are associated with intimate and romantic moments, and it is suggested that perfume can arouse desire and attraction.

Emotion, fantasy, identity, self-expression, lifestyle, luxury, exclusivity, sensuality, passion. These are some of the things that consumers look for, consciously or unconsciously, when faced with the choice of a perfume, they do not consider whether it is natural or not, the ultimate goal is another.

The formulation of 100% natural perfumes is very, very scarce, there are only a few independent perfumers who use exclusively natural ingredients, the most common is to find perfumes containing a mixture of natural ingredients and synthetic molecules.

From a sustainability point of view, the massive use of natural ingredients by the industry would be a very important environmental challenge, for example, 4 tons of roses are needed. To obtain 1 kilo of essential oil, this is one of the most extreme cases, but for example, lavender flowers need 250 kilos to obtain one liter of essential oil. Therefore, the use of synthetic molecules in the formulation of perfumes is difficult to replace, but what must be achieved is that diethyl phthalate and synthetic musks (nitromusks, polycyclic musks and macrocyclic musks) are replaced by ingredients that are not considered toxic to human health.

A Greenpeace study found that synthetic musks can accumulate in the tissues of living beings. There is increasing evidence that some nitromusks and polycyclic musks, including those used in perfumes, are capable of interfering with the hormonal system of fish, amphibians and mammals.

Therefore, we find that in the world of perfumery, natural ingredients coexist with synthetic molecules, and in most perfumes we will find exclusively synthetic molecules. There are many cases in which a small percentage of some natural ingredient is always used, such as rose, jasmine, vetiver, lavender, or patchouli, and resins such as incense or myrrh, and woods, such as sandalwood or cedar, to make a perfume more complex, and by the way, make it more difficult to copy or counterfeit.

To find perfumes made exclusively with natural ingredients, we have to look outside the conventional commercial circuits and look within the niche perfumery, independent perfumers, who have decided to formulate exclusively with natural ingredients, but beware, niche perfumery is not synonymous with natural perfumery.

And this is the path I am on at the moment, training myself in the world of perfume formulation with exclusively natural ingredients. A long road, but exciting and full of challenges.


Article originally published in English in the Organics Standard Magazine, you can see it in this link.



About the author
Picture of Victoria Sánchez
Victoria Sánchez
Soy una apasionada de la cosmética natural y ecológica, y creadora de la marca Saper Organic Skincare en 2011. Máster en Cosmetología y experta en evaluación y seguridad del producto cosmético. Mi objetivo es la belleza, la salud y la sostenibilidad del planeta. Para ello busco siempre los mejores ingredientes e investigo formulaciones de cosmética vegana, obteniendo los mejores resultados para la piel, cuidando siempre del medio ambiente.
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