What Makes a Perfume Natural?

We'll get to that in a moment. First, I have a bit of news... I’m now a certified natural perfumer. It's always been my M.O. to use only botanical ingredients in my perfume oils, but I recently took things one step further and registered Press & Still as a certified natural perfumer through the Natural Perfumers Guild (NPG).

What is the Natural Perfumers Guild?

The guild is an international trade association that:

  • Builds and strengthens the existing community of natural perfumers,
  • Boosts public awareness and education about pure and natural perfumes, and
  • Establishes standards of excellence in perfumery.

What does it take to become a certified natural perfumer?

As part of the application process, I submitted marketing materials, samples of my perfumes, a list of the aromatics used, as well as my suppliers’ names.

Side note: In my website FAQs, I mention that supplier information is top secret. Perfumers don’t generally share their ingredient lists, let alone where they buy their ingredients. In fact, the FDA allows cosmetic companies to label their perfumes as “fragrance” without having to list the actual fragrance components. But sharing this information with NPG allows the review committee to vet the materials, evaluate the perfumes and ultimately decide whether to certify the artisan.

I’m thrilled to now be in an artisanal, clean perfume community with the likes of Strange Invisible Perfumes, Lurk and Aromantik.

What makes a perfume natural?

Good question! The term “natural” isn't regulated in the world of perfumery or in skincare. Unlike organic certification, which is regulated by the government, natural products are whatever we say they are.

The NPG hopes to see this change. It has come up with a definition of natural perfume (see below) and set standards for certified natural perfumers in anticipation of government regulation on the use of the word natural.

The guild’s criteria for the naturalness of materials helps set its artisans apart from the growing number of companies using unnatural isolates in what those companies are calling natural perfumes.

To be fair, some isolates are natural, but many aren't, yet are being passed off as natural. This is one of the distinctions the guild aims to highlight. Isolates, and the perfumes that contain them, are joining concretes, absolutes and essential oils in the examination of what's natural.

How does the guild define natural perfume?

NPG says that “Natural perfumery is the art of blending fragrance ingredients of natural origin."

Not only must the fragrance be natural, but the carrier must also be wholly natural. For example, our perfumes are between 15% and 40% essential oil, CO2 extract or organic absolute and the carrier is organic jojoba oil (which is technically a wax).

The guild hopes that, eventually, fragrant products made with partly or wholly synthetic carriers and partly or wholly synthetic fragrance compounds will not be able to include the term "natural" on their labels.

What are fragrance ingredients of natural origin?

According to the guild, these include:

  • Botanical raw materials, such as flowers, barks, seeds, leaves, twigs, roots and rinds
  • Exuded plant materials, such as oleoresins, balsams and gums
  • Animal derivatives, such as ambergris and hyraceum tinctures and absolutes
  • Soil products, such as mitti, and minerals, such as amber
  • Essential oils derived from natural raw materials by dry (destructive), steam, or water distillation or by mechanical processes, such as expression or pressure. Also included are other forms of essential oils, such as rectified oils, fractional distillations, molecular distillations, terpene-less oils and folded oils
  • Natural isolates, which are molecules removed/isolated from a natural fragrance material. Acceptable processes for removing/isolating are: fractional distillations, rectifications and molecular distillations
  • Other distillation products, such as hydrolats (hydrosols, floral waters)
  • Tinctures derived by macerating a natural raw material in ethanol
  • Infusions derived by macerating a natural raw material in a wax, such as jojoba, or a fixed oil, such as almond oil
  • Concretes, absolutes, and resinoids extracted from natural raw materials using a solvent other than water, followed by removal of the solvent by natural methods, such as distillation/evaporation. Solvents may include hexane, CO2 and others. Also included are absolutes and pomades from enfleurage by these same methods
  • Attars, rhus and choyas

How do our perfumes conform?

We scent with essential oils, CO2 extracts and absolutes only, which means we conform to the guild’s standards. We may even exceed some of those standards by using only hexane-free, organic solvent extracted absolutes.

Although natural isolates are allowed, we prefer the complexity and aromatherapeutic benefits of whole essential oils and extracts.

We also, at this point, have not included animal-derived fragrances.

Natural vs. synthetic perfumes

There are so many more things to say about natural perfumes and how they differ from synthetics. But this is a topic for another day. Stay tuned for a much larger discussion of naturals and synthetics, and the pros and cons of both.


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