Making of Natural Fragrances – What does it take?
Smells like Teen Spirit
As Kurt Cobain so aptly defined it, smell captures the essence of what you want to convey. The French slang “Je ne peux pas le sentir” literally means I cannot smell him (her) but what the speaker is communicating is that they cannot stand the person. This is how important our olfactory sense is to the subconscious mind but it is often considered the least vital of our five senses. After all, we have evolved from the animal kingdom where following your nose is the key to survival.
When it comes to scents most of us want to invoke a sense of pleasance but there is more to scents than just the fleeting moment of happiness. In a German study, people spritzed with rose scent during a memory exercise as well as during sleep had a 30% better recall rate. Now, that is NOT something to turn your nose up to (pun intended).
But in the beauty industry what exactly does the term fragrance mean, and more importantly what is a “natural fragrance” since many of us seem to be gravitating to it? This might come as a surprise to some, but in an industry that regulates itself, there are no defined criteria for what a natural fragrance should entail. Consequently, natural fragrances lack the pristine quality they purportedly signify; that said, changes to the industry are afoot as fragrance is now the leading cause of skin inflammation, affecting more than 2 million Americans!
In a 2017 survey of 1,000 U.S. beauty consumers by Harris Poll, 19% of shoppers said that buying all-natural fragrance products is important to them and of late, “natural fragrance” sales have been outshining the plenitude of star-studded/A-List endorsed perfumes in the marketplace. But “natural”, as our educated readers can now decipher, is a term that needs be approached with healthy skepticism.
Mother Nature has nothing to do with almost two-thirds of the most popular fragrances made today! Unraveling of La Rose…
Rose is among many revered scents like Orris (rare), Vanilla, Jasmine, Patchouli and it is all the rage today. The scent is delicate yet powerful and through time, rose oil has not only been used for skincare but also as a mild sedative and for stress relief. So, it behooves us to gain a better understanding of La Rose as we seek to unravel the world of natural fragrance.
The legendary rose flower is known to have made its first mark some 35 million years ago. In fact, the May Rose (100-petalled flower) notably known for its pleasant sweet scent is the very rose that goes into the making of the iconic Chanel No. 5. It is said 35 to 40 tons of rose petals are feverishly harvested during the three-week period in May before being sent out to Chanel where the notes are manipulated (think symbiosis with aliphatic aldehydes), and blended before being turned into a bottle of fragrance.
While Chanel with its influence has access to the highly sought rose petals from Grasse, what do other brands do to achieve a memorable rose scent? Many of them use chemical compounds to derive the rose scent. The seven main components of a rose scent are: rose (damask), nasturtium, orris, violets, apple, clove, and lemon. Scent in roses, depending on the variety, comes from one or more of over 300 chemical compounds. However, in rose oil, only four chemical compounds that make up less than 1% of rose oil produce over 90% of the fragrance.
The oil is extracted from the petals either with alcohol or through distillation and it takes about 250 pounds of petals to make a mere ounce of oil! For this reason, rose oil is often diluted with similarly scented oils or even synthetics to make them affordable for the masses. The rose scent is majorly influenced by the eponymous compound (-)-cis-rose oxide which contributes the typical floral rose fragrance. It’s detectable by our noses at very low concentrations in air – down as low as 5 parts per billion (one part per billion is equivalent to one second in thirty-two years). Another compound that contributes to the scent of roses is beta-damascenone belonging to a family of chemical entities known as rose ketones with its aroma being detectable at just 0.009 parts per billion – Dior “Poison” (1985) was based heavily on the use of damascenone.
Striking the right balance has become key for fragrance makers as savvy wellness conscious consumers are demanding better products and brand transparency
Even iconic perfumes have tweaked their original formulation, whether in response to economic or to health concerns. A 2018 study found potentially hazardous chemicals in 24 commercial essential oils tested. Even though the essential oils were labeled “natural,” “organic,” or “pure,” they were extracted, diluted, or synthesized with petrochemicals. In 2017, the EU banned Lyral and two allergens within oak moss, effective August 2021. Each was so ubiquitous that the change is believed to have forced the reformulation of the vast majority of perfumes, whether in anticipation of the ban or in reaction to it. Dozens of other ingredients are under review.
The global market for fragrances and perfumes is projected to reach US $51 billion by the year 2022 and the fragrance industry is ripe for change and innovation.
There will always be two sides to a debate. Proponents of lab-grown ingredients will say that perfumes driven by synthetics are the true hallmark of innovation, sustainability, quality control, and not to mention lower prices that make product available to swathes of people. However, they would be amiss in not mentioning that 1/3rd of users have bad reactions to synthetic fragrances (research from the University of Melbourne). The other side can rightfully assert that they have the art of botanical perfumery down to a tee like fine art since the practice has been mastered over centuries, and that their claim of being natural is spot-on. But one cannot ignore the fact that even fully natural fragrances can sometimes cause allergic reactions just like the synthetic ones (think oakmoss).
In both cases the buyer would have been charged a pretty penny to smell divine. So, the choice is always yours but one should always read the label carefully and know that the word “Fragrance” or “Parfum” is a trade secret that can cover hundreds of chemicals!
Facts About Fragrance
❖ As defined by IFRA, Natural Fragrances are complex fragrance compounds made exclusively from natural aromatics. The ingredients used in natural fragrances can be essential oils, oleoresins, distillates, fractions, concretes, absolutes, etc. All of the ingredients should be physically obtained from plants without altering their chemical structures.
❖ Organic perfumes have their own certification from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Organic fragrances” are grown and processed under highly controlled conditions that guarantee materials are free from pesticides, heavy metals and synthetic fertilizers. An important takeaway: organic fragrances are always natural.
❖ Buy Cruelty Free – the majority of designer perfume brands are not cruelty-free, the major reason being that they are available on the Chinese market (which requires mandatory animal testing).
❖ Perfume has three notes: (i) Head notes which evaporate within 15 minutes, (ii) Heart notes that last for up to 60 minutes, and (iii) Base notes that linger for hours. Citrus notes are the most common head notes as they are potent and assertive; florals usually make up the heart notes as they’re lighter and airy. When choosing a fragrance, make sure you are happy with the lingering base notes – it is just like choosing a partner for a relationship!
❖ Avoid dabbing perfume oils on wrists, which have more blood flow and evaporates more quickly. Try the nape of the neck and top of the arm as spots for perfumes to make a lasting impact.
❖ If you, your family or your pets have allergies – Choose fragrance free products