Perfume, Cologne, Aroma, Fragrance, Scent.
I still wear perfume despite having sung along to this little ditty more than once or twice:
Can’t be a queen bee without a bee throne
I wanna buy ya everything
’cause it’s poison”
So why do we hate perfume?
The song appeals to the ‘crunchy’ demographic of which I am 1/2 of one – I often find that I sit with one leg in the hippyesque camp while the other is trying to run off into the world of art, fashion and crazy design. It makes for some interesting brain talk, especially as I’m a scientist.
Hating perfume has become a ‘thing’ that ‘we’ (see above) do not least because every brand worth it’s salt is now using essential oils to PARFUM their offerings. Or are they?
I remember the slightly dismayed feeling I got when I realised for the first time that the much loved, respected and emulated brand Aveda used perfumes as well as (and sometimes instead of) essential oils. Aveda have the tag line ‘the art and science of pure flower and plant essences’. I felt cheated mainly because I’d had a number of people come to my company for formulation work and part of the task was to re-create a particular Aveda aroma. While I don’t like copy jobs the challenge to create something beautiful, natural and ‘not-your-traditional-essential-oil’ smell was a fun one. Fun but difficult verging on impossible in this cases. The fragrance just needed something else.
I feel that there is often an ‘all or nothing’ mentality with fragrances, that people feel that Essential oils are 100% pure, natural and beautiful while fragrances are 100% synthetic, nasty and irritating. The truth is far from black and white.
Having spent time working with a perfumer I have seen how as little as 1-5% nature identical or synthetic note in an essential oil blend can really lift it and make it pop. Perfect for a cosmetic brand that you want to have stable and beautiful for up to three years shelf life but natural? Not any more according to the labelling laws.
There is no denying that our obsession with all things perfumed has contributed to several terrible things including:
- The cruelty of the musk industry.
- The environmental impact of the synthetic polycyclic musks that replaced the natural material.
- The gender bending pthalates that were commonly used as solvents (the backbone of a perfume) and to prolong the shelf-life until a review in the 1990’s reviewed their safety. Some ‘safer’ pthalates are still used though no where near as much as before.
- The allergen potential of perfume ingredients and risk posed by poorly formulated fragrance blends (skilled perfumers can quench the allergen material, preventing it from reacting with the skin).
- So that song is right then? Cologne is poison and we are killing ourselves and our planet by using it…..
Personally I feel it is all a matter of balance and applying the know-how that we now have.
One of the first things we do when we pick up a cosmetic product is smell it. Like it or not that is what we do. Even if it is unscented we have expectations of how that should smell and are highly sensitive to things that don’t smell ‘right’.
I don’t believe that everything has to smell, I am absolutely against my loo paper smelling for example but I do like to indulge in a good quality aromatic body butter.
Essential oils are amazing things but in my mind they are actives, not perfumes. Yes they can be blended to smell great and can give a product a beautiful aroma. Yes aroma is all part of an essential oils appeal but I believe they are too valuable to just be used for their aromatic beauty. I feel that choosing to fragrance with an essential oil just because it smells nice is like employing a receptionist because they have a great sense of style. Yes you will achieve that instant ‘wow’ factor but aren’t there more important things like how well they do the job day after day, week after week. What impact they have on your ongoing business and other such things?
Essential oils can increase the rate that a cosmetic formula penetrates across the skin. This isn’t always a good thing especially when the essential oil is also potentially being absorbed and ‘medicating’ you for whatever essential oils medicate for. Perfumes are designed to do nothing more than smell nice and if the perfumer is any good they are designed not to irritate when used correctly.
I absolutely adore essential oils but also have a fascination and deep appreciation for the art and science of perfumery. I also understand that not all ‘perfumes’ are 100% Synthetic and not all essential oils are 100% safe or ‘crunchy’ in the way of environmentally sustainable in terms of cosmetic use.
As such, when I just need to create a beautiful aroma that will last for years to come I look to perfumery, when I want to harness the active benefits of an aromatic botanical I choose essential oils and when I want something with no added ‘aroma’ I look to my base formula for help. I believe there is a place for everything as long as everything is considered and that just takes a bit of time, effort and independent thinking.