In essence, all of those terms can refer to both natural and synthetic compounds, so let's take a deeper look into the perfumery we know, don't know, love and loathe.
When switching from mainstream to botanical perfumes the main difference noticed and commented on is the radiance (the scent’s reach), longevity (how long the scent lasts on a surface; skin, fabric, other) and sillage (the scent trail) of the products. A natural perfume made with pure botanicals is never going to last the same as a mainstream-synthetic perfume. Even natural perfumes made with animal extracts will have an extended lingering scent trail, but it’s not one that I’d personally want to have… Isolates offer a bold version of particular scent 'tones' or notes, but frankly it's like being hit with a cricket ball compared to a cotton ball. Isolates pack a punch aromatically in comparison to essential oils and dilutions.
In the perfume industry they employ people called ‘noses’, because they have the ability to blend and create specific scent, and the knowledge to mask other scents. This is primarily used in the personal care and household maintenance products arena, where toxic chemical is masked by other scents so that it is able to be passed off as ‘pleasant’. In modern synthetic perfumery they are masking cheap filler ingredients and body odour, or trying to mimic natural botanicals.
Due to the excessive use of ‘masking fragrances’ I discover that a lot of people do not know what real scents are. For example, fragrances like lavender, rose, lily of the valley, sweet pea, gardenia, vanilla, grape or green tea. You’ve all seen and or experienced these fragrances used in everything from laundry detergent, toilet cleaner and air freshener to body powder, hand cream and body sprays.
I’d love to set up a scent challenge where we compare a ‘green tea’ scented perfume with a handful of warmed, organic, green tea leaves. It would leave the participants somewhat confused as to what the ‘green tea fragrance’ was actually intended to be mimicking.
The same comparison could be done with Vanilla, which would undoubtedly cause everyone to understand exactly what I am attempting to explain. Vanilla ‘fragrance’ is sickly sweet, devoid of earthy resinous beauty, and soul-less. Vanilla Bean extract is warm, lusciously decadent and intoxicatingly beautiful.
Why do we even have synthetic fragrance?
Commerce. Industry. Price point. Basically, it's cheaper. Would you be ok with paying $79.95 for a 100ml of real-Jasmine body wash, or are you more comfortable paying $7.95 for it's synthetic cousin? The marketing feedback is in, and the cousin version won. This is why chemists deconstruct natural aromatics to find the key chemicals responsible for their most common scent and then construct a synthetic, from petro-chemicals or highly processed vegetable matter, to replicate that for use without the price-tag of pure, natural, botanical essential oils and extracts. When you actively and consciously reduce the amount and frequency of use of synthetic chemical you will find that your ‘nose’ will start to appreciate natural scent far better, and you will appreciate your natural personal care products even more.
As in my case and so many others, the reduction of synthetic usage made it very easy for me to identify synthetic and avoid it. Yes, it promotes a heightened sense of awareness, but it’s one that will provide you with better health, so go with it. "Lean in" as they say…
Natural fragrances do not typically last all day long. Just as a frangipani flower retains its scent for a couple of days when left on a bedside table; fading peacefully and quietly from its delicious, show-off, peachy-tropical notes (that I literally tried to absorb into my Being via my nose, breathing in so deep and so often it gives me a head-spin…) into a softer, paler version that has more of a ‘powdery’ nature to it; natural fragrances do the same thing on skin but in a more rapid time-line. They will last on moisturized skin for up to 6hrs, and begin as bright compositions for the first hour of application, then fade and release different scent notes along the way. It’s very much like watching a flower bloom and fade. I suggest topping up your perfume as you want to and making each application a pause in your day or night.
What's the point in wearing perfume if everyone else can't smell it?
As I mention frequently, natural perfumes are meant for you as an energetic ‘shell’. The perfume is meant for you to enjoy, not for someone on the other side of the room. The perfume stays close to you and fills up your Aura with its magic, gifting on the messages from the natural ingredients and delivering an experience that is as close to any ritual you can perform in a different fashion. Each application of perfume is an invocation to Beauty. Each time you wear it you attract the frequencies that were used to make it. That’s why I find it very important to put only my very best energy into creating a scent. It starts as inspiration, observation and experimentation and ends as a potion I gift on to the world.
Natural perfume is best sampled from glass bottles and I prefer to have small bottles that I can take with me so they are available whenever I want them, wherever I am. You will notice with natural perfumes that they smell best sampled on warm skin; your skin to be precise. Everyone’s biological make-up will determine how a scent is going to manifest in the beginning and how it will last in length and, or, intensity.
How to experience a new perfume: Apply your scent as a drop into the palms of your hands and warm it gently. Cup your hands together and bring them to your nose, gently inhaling the aromatics. Wipe a little onto the inside of your wrist to assess it as a lighter note and leave it on for an hour so that you can measure its longevity for you.
If you take the time to experiment with each scent, you’ll discover that they release different collections or notes with each passing hour, sometimes less. Deep resins and gums may only be acknowledged after a few hours whereas florals, spice and citrus tend to be upfront and instantly say hello to your senses. Natural perfume should not harm your senses as synthetics can, because the very nature of them is gentle and they are meant to be reignited every few hours,...it's aroma-therapy.
However, because every compound, botanical or synthetic, has the potential to cause a reaction it’s important to do a patch test before use. This involves putting a tiny amount onto your skin over a few days and observing any reactions. If the only reaction is pleasure from the scent then that’s wonderful. Never apply perfumes around the eyes. Some solid perfumes are suitable to use on the lips because they are diluted in the balm base, but again, always do a patch test first.
To get the most out of your natural botanical perfumery always:
store your perfumery and aromatherapy bottles in a cool, dark place
talk with a qualified Aromatherapist if you are pregnant, or undergoing treatment for a health condition, so you avoid ingredients that could cause a negative reaction
dilute perfume for children or the elderly as some plant constituents can be very powerful
Enjoy using your perfume often and reap the benefits of synthetic free scent.