The Rebirth of Natural Perfumery

roseblossomDid you know that almost all commercial perfumes are made from artificial ingredients nowadays?

Many people think they are allergic to “perfume”, but what they are in fact allergic to is the myriad of artificial fragrance chemicals, scent extenders and bases that are used in perfumes nowadays, even in the expensive French ones! The gorgeous and natural sounding “notes” that you read about aren’t actually real “rose” or “blue violets”, but instead made of a variety of artificial aromachemicals that merely mimic what a rose or a “blue violet” might smell like in real life…

It wasn’t always like this. Up until the beginning of this century, perfumes were made from natural ingredients. Essential oils pressed from fresh plants, Rose absolutes, extracted by hand from crushed rose petals, fragrant tree resins such as frankincense and myrrh.

Perfume was a sacred art, practised for centuries all over the world, often by families that handed down their recipes as sacred treasures from generation to generation.

In Egyptian high society, waxy cones were worn atop of ones head parties where they slowly melted and spread spread their perfumes through the elaborate wigs they wore…Arabia was the centre of high class perfumery for many hundreds of years, and it is here that the first essential oils were created, and then traded all over the world.

lady at dressing tableEuropean perfumery developed relatively late in the picture, and took it’s inspiration from these far older Arabian scent traditions in the wake of the silk and spice trade.

Perfumers in Italy and France began to develop new ways of scenting both the body and the clothing worn by the European Aristocracy, and personalised perfumes developed by the better known perfumers became a much wanted status symbol.

These perfumes, scented leather gloves and pomanders made from exotic and precious ingredients such as true musk pods from the infamous musk ox, exquisite jasmine absolute painstakingly extracted from acres of jasmine flowers etc,  were rather expensive, and really only obtainable by the rich gentry…

As we came closer to our current day, the growth of modern chemistry began to give perfumers cheaper substances to play with. And with these cheap ingredients, and the invention of mechanised packaging and production methods, perfumery slowly became the realm of chemists and factory owners. Perfume became a everyday item in every suburban household and the wholesale marketing of brand name perfume as a status symbol for everyone had begun. With time though, people began to realise that a lot of the modern perfumes had sacrificed the magic that traditional perfumes had had, for the sake of a quick profit.The buzz notes in perfumery became intensity, innovation and above all: price.

modern perfume displayThe main focus with a new perfume launch nowadays, is what celebrity it will be associated with. The problems, apart from the smell of the artificial perfumes themselves, is of course the effects these created scent molecules have on the environment as well as our bodies. There have been many studies linking things like asthma, hormonal disorders and even cancer to some of these created scent chemicals, partly because they simply don’t fit into our carefully balanced biochemistry and can’t be broken down either by our bodies or the environment. And many people are simply allergic to them.

vetiver essential oilsAnd then Aromatherapy was born and began to breath a new lease of life into the fast paced plastic world of modern perfumery.

We all began to re-discover just how beautiful natural scents could be, and the therapeutic effects of essential oils have come to be so well known that virtually all cosmetic manufacturers have started  to add them to their wares in one form or another…(whether or not they use them appropriately is another matter altogether that I’ll maybe look at in a later blogpost!)

Rosepetals and perfumeThe “redisovery” of natural essential oils also led to a rebirth of Natural Perfumery in the Western World.

You can now find more and more Indie perfumers and small perfume houses that specialise in perfumes made entirely from natural ingredients, the way perfumes used to be!    And the difference to what we have come to know as “perfume” is quite amazing. But perhaps the nicest thing about this “rebirth” of natural scents is that people who are sensitive to artificial scent chemicals, can finally wear perfume again! Finally, you can buy beautiful little bottles that smell of of the extracts of REAL roses, fragrant orange blossom, delicious spices such as cinnamon and cardamon and luscious exotic resins such as frankincense and myrrh….

photo of the authorAmbrosia is a perfumer and writer from sunny Australia. She has a bachelors degree in nursing, as well as certificates in Trad. Chinese Accupressure and has spent many years researching the traditional uses of herbs in cosmetics and perfumery all over the world. She also runs the Indie Scent company “Perfume by Nature” and writes for a number of publications, both on and offline.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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