Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fragrance versus Perfume: Synthetic versus Natural

Before chemicals and synthetically created substances, Mother Nature was the only brand found at the market, the apothecary, the beauty shop and the perfume counter.
This blog focuses on the perfume counter and beauty shop, and ways to make healthier choices in these departments.

Whether you're in your garden or the woods, inhaling a botanical aromatic connects you with nature and, for many of us, has a transformative effect on our mood. For me, I often travel down my imaginary path  into the bygone era of the middle ages, before chemical synthetic substances.  Healers, often women, learned over the centuries which natural substances were toxic and which were beneficial, promoting well-being and cures for ailments.  They were women of science, and were sometimes persecuted as sorceresses.....But that's another story of the struggle of medieval Christianity to dominate society by suppressing knowledge and science in favor of blind faith. It is not the story I'm focusing on in this blog.

This blog is about perfume.  I've given you a hint of where I stand on socio-political issues, and whether or not you're with me there, I hope you're with me on the issue of taking a stand for health by embracing cleaner products, and rejecting the toxic-ridden substances found on shelves at our drugstores and beauty counters.

We've become so dominated by and accustomed to modern chemical-ridden products in all categories, that some among us actually mock "green" naturals and those who embrace botanical simplicity. Many, on the other hand, and especially today's younger generation, have educated themselves and now consciously select products to avoid the toxins and poisons that are FDA approved (!) in our packaged foods and body products.

Food products are labeled, and there are some restrictions on using substances that are fatal within a short time, though some are proven to be potentially fatal over years of use.  Cosmetics are, surprisingly, not so regulated.  Perfumes are, even more surprisingly, completely and 100% unregulated!  Yes, the US FDA allows perfume manufacturers to keep their toxins a secret.

Among the most egregious toxins found in commercial perfumes are parabens and risky ratios of phtalates*  So, for those who admire the beautiful perfumes from couture design houses, this is very bad news.

For lovers of history, myself included, the good news is that beautiful perfumes have been in use since ancient times, and we can refer to historical records for clues to classical formulations. These were made of essences derived from herbs, flowers, plants, trees and animals.  (I object to using animals in any way that may harm them, so the musky aromatics from animals are off of my list of safe substance.  Also, off my safe-substance list is anything derived from endangered species like sandalwood.)

We can also look to designer perfumes for inspirational fragrances that are modern and appropriate to our times. The commercial versions utilize synthetic botanical notes that mimic their natural counterparts.  By sourcing conscientiously made essential oils, we can backwards-engineer some of today's most popular fragrances and turn them into true perfumes by re-building them with pure essential oils. While the naturals differ from commercial perfumes in the brief opening blast (the point of sale,) they can be quite comparable through the middle and end phases where it really counts for wearability.   

Finally, talented artisanal perfume designers can create gorgeous, complex, balanced, and unique concoctions using all-natural ingredients that smell beautiful and are toxin free. That's one of my passions, and why I created Perfumessence.

*more discussion of toxins in beauty products are found in this book: No More Dirty Looks  written by Alexandra Spunt & Siobhan O'Connor