Holistic make-up artist Sjaniël Turrell shares her insights into all things natural fragrance and the best brands to look out for.
Spring is in the air and with it comes the need to revive and spruce our homes and ourselves - it always feels like a good time for an overhaul. With thoughts of summer holidays and trips away in the diary, summery days on the beach or heady warm evenings, part of our imagined selves has to be fragrance. Perfume has been one of the hardest swaps for me in the clean beauty world - we are so attached to scent in known and unknown ways. In our current culture, it is often a genuine stamp of individuality that we apply before we leave the house and hope will imprint a memorable version of ourselves on other’s minds with a touch of wonder and mystery.
The sad reality however is that ‘fragrance’ is one of the most toxic aspects of all products we use - whether in our perfume, washing powder or cleaning products. The myriad of synthetic chemicals and fragrances run into the thousands. There are over 3,000 synthetic scents that are used to create perfumed smells in products whereas, if we whittle that down to only natural scents, it becomes less than 300. You can imagine that formulating a great natural perfume is a very challenging process and the reason that it is very difficult to find ‘typical’ perfumes in the natural world. If you love the essential oil and aromatherapy scents, then finding something you love will be less challenging as these are the smells that are available to use and done expertly will deliver some beautiful scents, but if you’re used to sweet, floral or commercially complex scents you may find it more difficult to find what you love.
It’s important to understand what the word ‘fragrance’ means when you buy any product. You can be vigilant about reading ingredients and still not know what is contained in a perfumed product because age old legislation has allowed for the word ‘fragrance’ to include any chemicals used to create the scent (on average 14) in the product - it does not need to be divulged as it is protected under a ‘trade secret’ clause. Fragrances routinely contain parabens, phthalates, camphor and formaldehyde - these can be carcinogenic and hormone disrupting causing a myriad of short and long term health issues. If you feel you need to understand these concepts better there is currently a brilliant documentary on Netflix called ‘STINK’ that delves into the hidden ingredients in ‘fragrance’ all around us - a must watch.
Below I have rounded up the best perfumes in the natural beauty realm. Many of these perfumes are made of 100% natural ingredients and some have combined the best of both worlds by sourcing the best natural and some safe synthetic fragrances to create a more commercially desirable, but safer alternative to the norm. All the fragrances below are phthalate free as that is the number one ingredient you would want to avoid, however, just because a perfume is 100% natural does not mean you will not have a reaction to it, essential oils can cause severe reactions in people with sensitivities (though you’d usually already know this) so it is always important to test them for your own safety.
Originally a winemaker, New Zealand-born creator Frances Shoemack has made it her personal mission to create “the world's best natural perfume without compromising on ethics or aesthetics”. With eight beautifully complex fragrances, ABEL is definitely a front runner when it comes to combining natural ingredients with better than commercial level complexity. These are not essential oil blends, they are masterfully created by Australasia’s only master perfumer Isaac StClair using only the best available natural ingredients. They have an old world air with a modern twist, complex and long lasting, these fragrances work with your skin’s natural chemicals to create a scent that is simply original to you. The selection lends itself to unisex scents and it’s newly launched ‘PINK IRIS’ is their first floral that gives you a combination of old Parisian chic with modern city cool.
Created by social worker and entrepreneur Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed, Sana Jardin is the first socially conscious, luxury perfume house with a grand mission to be a vehicle for social change and economic empowerment of women through their ‘Beyond Sustainability Movement’. Having partnered with internationally acclaimed Master Perfumer Carlos Banaïm of Frederick Malle fame, their stunning selection of seven Eau de Parfum scents reflects their joint mission of using nature’s most exotic scents with high concentrations of naturally perfumed essential oils. This is your best of both world fragrance option - the scents are gorgeous and complex using only the bare necessities of synthetics and free from parabens, artificial colours, phthalates and formaldehydes. You are not only buying into a beautiful high end fragrance but into an amazing story of bettering the lives of the very women who are extracting these amazing essential oil scents in their homes in Morocco, where they are taught to use waste products from production to make their own scented products to sell and use in their communities.
Art, literature and perfume meet with these wonderfully artisanal unisex scents. Edition likens their perfumes to a good book - a story that unfolds on your skin over time and takes you on a journey of the unexpected. These unique fragrances have so much depth that that is exactly how you discover them, over time on your skin - different on different days. Each batch is numbered as an ‘edition’ of ingredients, since organic and naturally-sourced botanical ingredients change with seasons and weather, and each ‘edition’ or vintage of a fragrance will reflect those changes. Beautifully curated with limited art prints on each box - which coincidentally are designed to be the size of a literary paperback so that it can fit in your bookshelf! Ingenious.
Hiram Green is a Canada-born perfumer residing in the Netherlands. His scents can be described as opulent and expressive mainly because he goes to great lengths to source the highest quality ingredients - they are the scents for those who want to leave an impression, the ones who are obsessed with all things perfume and smells. The selection of seven fragrances vary in style but all set out to challenge the idea that natural perfumes are boring. They conjure up thoughts of travels to exotic and far off places - the kind of perfumes I imagine the most interesting characters in grand stories wearing. Again, storytelling is a theme - but with perfumes and smells, stories are intricately linked, as is art, music and memories.
Walden is inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s book of the same name written whilst living in the Walden forest - a handbook for simple living in harmony with nature. The five fragrances have names that conjure up images of romantic notions of old and the scents follow suit. Made only from the finest absolutes, resins and essential oils in small batches, the fragrances have truly old world blends of the most natural scents - they range from sweet and feminine to woody and masculine.
A small batch eco-luxury brand originating and handmade in northern Sweden, these scents are inspired by the myriad of changes and traditions held in the Swedish forests. Björk is the Swedish word for Birch, known as the ‘life giving tree’, and is one of the brand’s signature ingredients. The five intricately designed fragrances have strong links to scents found in different seasons and conjure up thoughts of dense forest walks or summer fruits found in nature. Their motto is ‘Slow Beauty’ with a focus on sustainability - they source only what is needed to produce their seasonal offerings, when a product is sold out, it’s because they are waiting for a new harvest of ingredients. Using only the highest quality natural and clean synthetic fragrances, their perfumes are paraben, phthalate and cruelty-free. Another best-of-both worlds options for those who are seeking a signature fragrance that represents their mood.
This French perfume house has been the trail blazer for natural perfumes and has been around for over 10 years now. Using only naturally-derived ingredients, scents are free from petrochemicals, phthalates and are cruelty-free. Their mission was to create “tailor made scents for urbanites in search of simplicity and nature”. Consisting of seven modern scents that range from green and light, to sweet, floral and fruity, to more heady, they are the perfect choice for those who love the lighter, sweeter and feminine scents that we’ve become accustomed to over the past few decades.
The Nue Company is a supplement company that has just launched a supplement in the form of a perfume called a “Functional Fragrance”. This ingenious concept was designed by data insight and research into the connection between cognitive function and the olfactory system and is touted as an anti-stress supplement in a unisex fragrance. The fragrance itself is so interesting and surprising that one must simply try it just for the experience. This is not a fragrance for you to smell good for those around you, but a fragrance for you to smell for yourself and benefit. It is complex and constantly changing and I have no doubt will be a unique experience for each individual. It is vegan, cruelty-free, Phthalate-, paraben-, and hexane-free.
The use of scents to support or manage our moods is an ancient tradition. Here, cult skincare hero Tata Harper has harnessed the best combinations of aromatherapy to bring together scents that help with Stress, Irritability, Bedtime and Energy - as much as these are therapeutic, they also smell beautiful and are a great scent alternative for those who prefer more subdued or very natural scents that compliment their mood.
De Mamiel is a master in aromatherapy formulation and each and every product in their range smells incredible. Their selection of sleep aid oils are created to work on a much deeper level than just a lovely calming scent, they are designed to improve sleep quality over time and help you restore and repair. The Rise and Shine oils will help bring clarity and double up as a lovely scent throughout the day. The De Mamiel Altitude Oil is also a cult must have for traveling - helping you keep a clear head and an energised mind when always on the go - it’s a scent that keeps those with non-stop schedules sane.