About Natural Perfumes

The definition of natural perfumery differs depending on the artist and enthusiast. It is always a passion, sometimes a hobby, often a way of life and both an old and a new art form. By strict definition natural perfumery uses only natural botanical ingredients and a few animal-derived substances such as beeswax. The botanical ingredients include essential oils but may also include concretes and absolutes which are natural plant essences extracted using organic solvents.

Essential oils are steam distilled from plant material. Citrus extracts are called essential oils but are different in that they are expressed or squeezed from the peel. Organic solvents provide the best extractions for substances like jasmine, rose and other delicate florals that may be difficult to steam distill. When a plant material is extracted it generally provides a solid, waxy blend of the soluble material call the concrete. The solvent is then evaporated off to leave miniscule levels in the concrete. If the concrete is then dissolved in alcohol, the alcohol-soluble components are extracted to provide an absolute. Generally ethanol is the alcohol used. The waxy stuff left behind after this extraction is called a floral wax and is used in soap-making and other natural products. Each of these methods yields a different suite of plant extracts and may have quite different scents.

Natural perfumes are more complex than the blends used in aroma therapy. They generally have 8 or more different essences and are formulated in a structured manner. Each perfume will generally have three 'notes' that appear and disappear as the perfume evolves on a person's skin. The first note to appear is the top note - it wafts to the nose quickly and provides a first impression of the perfume. Top notes are often citrus or herbal in nature. This note will often disappear within 15 minutes or so and is replaced by the heart note. The heart note is, as it sounds, the heart and soul of a perfume and is often floral in nature. Rose, jasmine and ylang ylang are commonly used heart notes and are found in most perfumes. Even if used in very small amounts that are not obvious to the nose they will provide a richness and smoothness to the perfume. Base notes are the longest-lived of the fragrances and will remain on the skin for up to a few hours. These notes are generally rich, earthly and tenacious. Often they are very sensual as well and provide the lasting impression of the scent. Oakmoss, patchouli and vetiver are commonly used base notes. Other unusual ones may include tobacco or cocoa absolute.

I would also note that natural perfumes tend to be shorter lived than the synthetic perfumes that are available in drugstores and department stores. This is because the mass-market perfumes use synthetic fragrances, usually derived from petrochemicals, which are designed to make each scent predictable and long-lived. Most of the natural perfumes I have developed will still be noticeable after one to two hours. Natural perfumes also tend to stay close to the wearer and create an intimate environment unlike the widespread cloud we often experience around someone wearing synthetic perfumes.

If you have had a problem such as asthma or headaches with scents in general - including perfumes, room fragrances, scented candles and room sprays - it may be that natural perfumes are for you. Very few people react negatively to the completely natural, botanical ingredients in a natural perfume.

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