What is a natural perfume?

For several years and this accelerate in recent months, brands have increasingly claimed 100% natural products, more respectful of the environment… Is a 100% natural perfume more respectful for the environment than when the chemistry is involved? I won’t wait for the end of my article to tell you, the answer is no. 


What interests us in the 100% natural perfume? Is it the respect of the environment? In this case it is better to turn to other claim and certification label. Is it the “energy or the vibration” that we give to the nature? Is it the organic we are looking for? 

One day, a client asked me to create his perfume and told me: “But, I warn you, I’m allergic to synthetic materials”. 

Creating a 100% natural perfume is a real pleasure but I always ask my costumer why. According to their answers, we think about the project together to adjust the perfume ingredients to their values. 

These comments made me realise how confusing the messages were (deliberately or not). This made me want to clarify some points, some relation between perfume, the environment, chemistry, natural, synthetic, artificial and even the biochemistry. 

My goal is not to tell you what do you have to buy or what do you have to think. It is more to create coherence between your purchases and your values, your convictions and your desires by knowing what is hidden behind each term.  

What is a natural ingredient?

A natural ingredient – in perfumery – comes from plants or animals. 

I can already imagine the stupefaction of some of you when I talk about animals. So, I going to start with this category to reassure you as much as possible without hide anything. 

The animal materials which cause a damage to the animals are forbidden. Those which are rejected naturally by this one are authorized. Except for the castoreum. 

Nevertheless, some brands specify in their brief the prohibition of using ingredients derived from animals. 

Then there are the plants by which we can obtain essential oils, absolutes, resinoids or concretes depending on the extraction method. Different parts of the plants can be used. Sometimes the flowers, sometimes the roots, the seeds, the floral summits, the leaves, the bark, the peel, the berries, the pod or even the fruits, more precisely the citrus fruit which are the only fruit that can be extract. 

What is a synthetic ingredient?

There are two forms:  

  • Nature identical  
  • Artificial 

The nature identical ingredients are molecules that are found naturally even when they are obtained synthetically. You should ask yourself, what is the interest of synthetising molecules already present in the nature? 

Take the example of vanilla.  Vanilla pod, an incredible raw material whose price has multiplied by more than ten those last years.  

The main constituent and its characteristic of its odor is the vanillin. The price of the pod and the low quantity of vanillin it contains encourage to obtain vanillin in another way. Cowpat for example! Yes, one chemistry laboratory trip and after some synthesis, cleaning and extraction we find the vanillin. Let’s continue the synthesis and we obtain the ethyl vanillin, more powerful and more floral than its sister, the latter does not naturally exist.   

So, we have all the ingredients categories:  

  • Vanilla pod: natural, 
  • Vanillin: synthetic – nature identical 
  • Ethyl vanillin: synthetic – artificial  

Chemistry in perfumes, good or bad idea?

Despite my chemistry studies, I have never really liked it. Too abstract for a long time, it was quite late that I understood its possibilities. Why put mustard in the French dressing, how a laundry cleans our clothes or the biochemical mechanisms of the human body… 

Behind the term chemistry is hidden an idea that is bad for the health and for the environment. Sometimes it is quite the opposite. 

All the ingredients, natural or synthetic, are composed of chemical molecules. The vanilla pod contains over 200.  

In perfumery, chemistry allows us to extract the materials from the plants for example. 

Chemistry makes it possible to remove the carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic, allergenic or photosensitizing molecules. In this way, they are no longer harmful to health. 

It also allows to replace the forbidden animal raw materials. The synthetic musks for example were created to substitute animal raw materials. A great discovery, but today it has been concluded that some of them are not biodegradable and so are bad for the environment. 

The synthetic molecules are also developed to replace some plant material in order to protect them. India Sandalwood almost disappeared. This wood is used for construction, religious rites, perfumery or even aromatherapy. Its over-exploitation has been responsible for a huge deforestation. Its use is limited today and often replaced by synthetic molecules. 

There are also these artificial ingredients to interpret fruits which nothing can be extracted. For example, the stemone with its fig milk, green and creamy fragrance at the same time. The damascone with the scent of juicy and sweet apples. 

Is the 100% natural perfume the best solution for the environment?

Now you understand it, not all the time. The rosewood, the sandalwood, the Atlas cedarwood and many more species almost did disappear because of their important uses and the low yield to obtain just one drop of essential oil or absolute. 

Obviously, the synthetic is not the best solution either, especially when the molecules are not biodegradable. 

 Charles Sell, in his perfume chemistry writes: “the majority of natural ingredients have a higher impact on the environment than some synthetic products (higher CO2 production and fossil fuel consumption, depletion of natural resources).” 

How do you know if the product that you buy is really a natural perfume and in line with your values?

Some certification labels can help you.

  • Cosmos : 
    • Bio: 95% of the plants come from organic agriculture; on the total product (from the content to the container), minimum 95% of natural ingredients and minimum 10% of organic ingredient. 
    • Natural: on the total product, minimum 95% of natural ingredients. 
    • Organic: 95% of the plants come from organic agriculture; on the total product, minimum 95% of natural product, and more precisely, limitation of petrochemical products as well as a minimum of 20% organic ingredient. 
    • Ecocert: systematically involves production processes and processing that respect the environment and human health, promoting the use of natural or organic ingredients, responsible management of natural resources, banning most petrochemical ingredients, 
      • Ecocert Cosmos Organic : also includes the development of the concept of green chemistry, respect for biodiversity, the absence of GMOs, recyclable packaging and organic cosmos constraints. 
      • Ecodetergent : values natural ingredients, includes up to 5% synthetic ingredients from a restrictive list, no environmental risk phrase is allowed on the product. 
      • “Controled by Ecocert natural air freshner perfumes”: 100% of the ingredients must be natural. 
      • “Controled by Ecocert biological air freshner perfumes”: 100% of the ingredients must be of organic origin, at least 95% of plant ingredients (excluding alcohol) must be from organic farming, at least 10% of the ingredients must be from organic farming, the alcohol contained in the formulas must be organic 

    My opinion?

    Take the best of nature and synthesis to preserve our planet and pay attention to our health.    

    A bit like in food, you must know how to vary for a better balance. 

    I hope this article will help you to find the best product for you.