What is natural perfume? (Part 1 of a 3 part series)

Can natural perfume really work? We are often asked this question. In fact the answer lies in understanding three schools of thought: aromatherapy; the perfumery tradition; and the flavourist perspective. For today we are just going to look at aromatherapy.

 

1. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy recognises healing qualities in natural essential oils when applied to the skin or simply inhaled. Many essential oils are beautiful in their own right. Think of lavender or sandalwood, jasmine or rose. Each has its own complex abilities to heal and lift our moods. Studying these botanical materials grows our understanding of their potential for both functional and creative use in skincare and beauty products. In fact we are thankful this industry is booming since, as more and better grade plants are grown for essential oil extraction, natural perfumery has increasing scope for both quality and variety. There has probably never been a more exciting time to be making natural perfumes, with the emergence of rare ingredients such as candlewood, pemou  and buddhawood all of which have been used for hundreds of years by indigenous peoples as medicines. These three ingredients all give a new definition to the woody notes, and each is a mysterious, multi-faceted perfume in its own right.

Aromatherapists classify groups of oils by function or effect, such as happiness, romance, sleep aid or mental clarity. Many oils have affinities with others with which they blend especially well or are synergistic. Although Prosody London perfumes aren't designed around such functions, this perspective does inform our approach indirectly. It seems certain,  when comparing synthetic aroma chemicals with natural oils it seems clear that synthetics have no intrinsic therapeutic properties. That said, not all essential oils are created equal, some are more beneficial than others. Aromatherapy always underlines what is safe and what must be used with caution. Another safety principle in aromatherapy is to avoid using materials extracted with petroleum-derived solvents such as hexane; the preference is for CO2 extraction, although this is generally quite a bit more costly. A good aromatherapist will avoid Jasmine Absolute but may use Jasmine CO2, a far superior product but almost twice as expensive. CO2 extracts and absolutes will be the subject of a separate article.

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