In this blog we will have a look at the perfumery craft in a bit more detail, in order to understand what is the difference between a commercial perfume and a truly natural one. Together with the Aimeé de Mars brand, we will answer some key questions: What is a natural perfume? Is it always organic? Does it limit allergy reactions? Does it last long? … Find everything you need to know about this type of perfume.

Perfumery is art that has its secrets

Perfumery as we know it today dates back to the 19th century with the appearance of petrochemicals. It therefore offers so-called synthetic notes, essential for varied and non-dangerous olfactory scores, but despite this craft had been originally based on natural ingredients only, the alternatives offered to the consumer from a natural point of view after “petrochemical revolution” were rare until recently. Consumers never have the entire list of ingredients of the perfume but only the allergens (often natural), alcohol and the famous word ''parfum/fragrance'' which can contain all the other ingredients not mentioned on the labels. With naturalness, the industry aims for more transparency.

Perfumery is mysterious, because this art is sensitive and because the rules are still very vague in order to protect the work of the noses. This industry has some secrets, particularly concerning perfume formulas. So while the law is very strict regarding the INCI lists of cosmetics and makeup, there is a legal loophole which does not oblige a perfumer to reveal his formula because it is a commercial secret. This is why we very often do not know the origin of the raw materials.

Picture: Perfumery

Florence perfumery course italy


What is a natural perfume?

Concretely, a 100% natural perfume is a perfume without any synthetic note and therefore without any note resulting from petrochemicals. “For a perfume to be natural, it must contain at least 95% natural ingredients according to the ISO standard which is extremely defined. Which reduces the field of possibilities because where a classic perfumery nose has around 4,000 notes, someone who looks at natural formulas will only have around 400”. Thus, this includes depriving oneself of certain olfactory families such as musks which today are only synthetic notes.

However, there is a subtlety among synthetic notes: “You should know that certain notes are called synthetic even though they come from the world of plants. For example, to replace ambergris, which is a musk very popular in perfumery and which originally comes from sperm whales, we can use ambroxan, which is a musk synthesized from sage. So, it is a natural note because it comes from a plant but it has been synthesized”.

In addition, other ingredients such as silicone, dyes and phthalates are also prohibited from natural perfumes.

Natural perfumes

Let’s have a look at some of the key questions about natural perfumes.

The guarantee of a natural perfume

With the arrival of clean beauty from the United States, we are seeing the rise of many brands that highlight a few natural materials without being certified.

Thus, the only guarantee of having a real natural fragrance is that the product be certified by an independent organization (Ecocert, or Cosmecert) with the Cosmebio/COSMOS logo indicated on the product. In this case, it proves that the product follows the very strict charter of organic and natural cosmetic products.

Natural perfume vs. conventional perfume

The best-known product in perfumery is an alcoholic perfume (also so called fine perfume). It is obtained by diluting a perfume concentrate or "juice", a mixture of synthetic fragrant compounds and natural extracts, in ethyl alcohol.

Fine perfumery perfume is a dilution of a perfume concentrate in ethanol.

Depending on the concentration of the perfumed base, several products can be obtained: 

  • perfume (15 to 30%)
  • eau de parfum (8 to 15%)
  • eau de toilette (5 to 8%)
  • Cologne (3 to 5%)
  • sports water (1 to 3%)

Two main families of raw materials are used by the perfumer: natural products and synthetic compounds.

1. Natural compounds:

Different extracts of plant origin (from flowers, leaves, roots, seeds, bark, resins, etc.) and animal origin can be used in the formula of a perfume. Two large families of extracts can be distinguished. Extracts obtained by hydrodistillation, steam distillation or expression, called essential oils or essences. And the products obtained by extraction using an organic solvent called concrete, absolute, resinoid or oleoresin, tincture.

There are also natural isolates, such as:

  • Benzaldehyde NAT: molecule naturally present in almonds.
  • Vanillin NAT: synthesis from natural clove eugenol

2. Synthetic compounds

We can classify two types of synthetic compounds, synthetic molecules from nature: identical molecules, and synthetic molecules invented by man.

Examples of identical molecules (molecule that exists in nature and not invented by chemistry):

  • Synthetic vanillin
  • Synthetic Benzaldehyde
  • Synthetic Linalool

Examples of synthetic molecules (molecule invented and synthesized):

  • Ethyl vanillin: vanilla note ++
  • Methyl ionone: violet candy note

The ingredients of Aimée de Mars eau de parfums are composed of 98% to 100% natural origin, with:

  • ALCOHOL: FROM NATURAL ORGANIC WHEAT naturally denatured by EOs
  • PERFUME CONCENTRATE: The perfume concentrate in the case of a natural perfume is composed of natural raw materials such as essential oils, natural isolates, absolutes, resins and molecules identical to nature. (Synthetic perfumes contain 50-90% molecules of synthetic origin.)
  • CHEMICAL FILTERS: NO (absent in natural formulations)
  • DYES: NO (absent in natural formulations)
  • STABILIZER (BHT, BHA): NO (absent in natural formulations)

Let's go back to alcohol: why denatured?

In cosmetics, unlike food which uses drinking alcohol, producers must prove to customs that the use of alcohol is not intended for food.Also, the alcohol must be “denatured” with an excipient which makes it unfit for consumption. Most often, it is said to be denatured by a chemical ingredient such as bitrex or dietyl phthalate (DEP). And yes, most phthalates are banned for their harmfulness but not yet the DEP!

There are other ways to denature alcohol, for example with essential oils, which must then be validated by customs. This is why even in certain natural perfumes, you will not always see 100% natural listed but 99.9% natural. Only 100% natural is the guarantee that the alcohol has not been denatured by a chemical additive. In organic, the alcohol used is certified organic, it is often wheat alcohol.

The water

Water is included in the composition of a perfume from 10 to 20% depending on the desired alcohol level. Indeed, it is also present to help precipitate solid bodies (waxes) naturally present in the concentrate during the filtration/glazing stage. In the Aimée de Mars perfumes, they have chosen a very special water: Aimée's Celtic spring water which has a very high vibration rate.

Dyes and chemical filters

You can see the names of dyes listed such as violet 2 (CI 60730), red 33 (CI 17200) or yellow 6 (CI 15985) which are part of the family of non-neutral azo dyes for the skin. However, the worst are chemical filters such as benzophenone 3 or butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane which are included in the official list of authorities and proven to be endocrine disruptors.

The concentrate

The concentrate will enter at different percentages in the perfume compositions. And this depends on the type of product: cologne, eau de toilette, eau de parfum or perfume. The concentration increases of course when you go to the perfume category and this goes with the intensity and the hold on the skin. The percentages vary greatly from one perfume brand to another. Among the essential oils, we will find the essential oils of lemon, bergamot, lavender, cedar, sandalwood, etc. Absolutes are plant extracts which do not give their essence with water vapor such as for example absolutes of jasmine, benzoin, or tonka bean. Isolates are natural molecules or derived from petrochemicals such as vanillin (vanilla), ionone (violet), etc.

The difference in price of a synthetic concentrate or a natural concentrate is somewhere between a factor of 10 to 15 between the two.

And without forgetting that this is what will make the big difference between a natural perfume and a synthetic perfume. Indeed, the vibration and energetic action of the perfume will not be the same at all.

Does the natural perfume last long?

Technically, and because there are no longer these synthetic notes like musk which allow the trail to last longer, the 100% natural perfume lasts less long. “Having natural perfumes last is a big challenge but as we use 95% natural ingredients, the 5% that remains allows us to put very small touches of musk in our perfumes in order to guarantee an interesting and captivating trail”.

But the boom in natural perfume houses clearly demonstrates the appetite for greater clarity and transparency. It also proves that great progress has been made and that it is no longer just a question of essential oils with scents smelled. “Natural perfume makes it possible to use very high quality ingredients, but you have to put a budget in front of it and opt for scents that are different and come out of ordinary perfumery”. The market therefore sees the arrival of subtle and sophisticated juices.

Does natural perfume limit allergic reactions?

In reality, few people are allergic to allergenic substances present in formulas such as linalool from lavender essential oil or geraniol from rose essential oil. The real problem is what we add to our cosmetics, the additives, which can cause long-term health problems such as endocrine disruptors, phthalates, parabens, dyes or BHT. “Typically, butylated hydroxytulene (or BHT ) can end up in the word “perfume/fragrance” of the INCI list when it is something that should be banned”.

Pictures: lavender essential oil and rose essential oil
lavender essential oilrose essential oil

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September 10, 2023