How to Shop for Natural Perfume
So you want to buy a natural perfume but you're not sure where to start.
Natural perfume isn't something you need to know anything about in order to enjoy. I've been making, and selling, and talking to people about fragrances every day for the past 4+ years, so while I know quite a lot and have picked up a few tips to share - the world of natural fragrances is so, so vast that I still feel like I still have a lot to learn. If you're curious about it, natural perfume can be a never-ending adventure. In a fun way, of course!
It seems like there's so much focus on finding one's perfect scent these days - perhaps that's why you're here? If so, that's awesome! I love the idea of finding your favorite, signature scent that you wear all the time from now until eternity - but if you're looking for forever, there's no reason to rush it, right?
So my first unofficial tip is to relax and enjoy the journey. It might take you a couple of tries to find what you're looking for... or maybe you have no idea what you're looking for... in which case you should definitely relax and enjoy. Don't stress... it's just perfume!
Here are a few more tips I have to share:
1. Forget everything you think you know about fragrance.
(Or at least come with an open mind!)
Listen, we haven't met, so I guess it's possible that you do know everything there is to know about natural fragrance. Or maybe you really do know exactly what you like and what you don't. In which case, maybe you should be doing this job instead of me. I wish you the best of luck with it. LOL.
Or maybe, just maybe, you can open yourself up to the possibility that there's a whole lot to explore when it comes to natural fragrances, (like, ahem, all of the natural world,) and there might be a few surprises in these bottles for you yet. I'm just saying... think about it. You smarty pants.
I've been watching people shop and sniff for a bit now, and I can't tell you how many times it happens: someone comes in with a preconceived notion of a scent that they really love, or really hate, (usually based off of some candle they smelled somewhere,) and everything that does or doesn't contain that ingredient/fit that scent profile gets rejected. And because my vetiver (real vetiver) doesn't smell like that vetiver candle they smelled that one time, they give up and go home, without even bothering to smell something else they might have liked even better.
I can say this because I'm as guilty of it as anyone - for example - my amber fragrance blend (which I use in Pétiller, Amber Spice, Cardigan, Edit. 01, etc., etc.,) is based off of an amber candle I smelled when I visited Paris 15 years ago. Unfortunately I never got the brand name, and no other amber candle I've smelled since has ever smelled the same way... no other amber perfume has ever smelled that way... so when I started making perfume I recreated it myself, (I mean I think... it was a long time ago!) and I consider it to be a real, FRENCH amber and obviously everyone else's amber is all wrong. 🤪
The truth, is that there are a million different ways to make "amber." You can distill fossilized amber, you can collect the "rectal pearl" of a sperm whale - which is ambergris - (obviously not vegan, and this can't be done legally in the US under the endangered species act, FYI,) or you can blend any number of sweet, warm, balsamic, woody notes together and call it amber. You can add things that aren't amber at all - like agarwood and sandalwood and patchouli, and still call it amber... there isn't just one right way to do it. There are no perfume police going around telling people what can be called what. And because fragrance ingredients don't have to be listed on the bottle according to FDA guidelines, anyone could technically put anything in the bottle and call it whatever they want. So a brand may be calling it one thing, like, "This is our 'Sandalwood' fragrance," but it's really just a bit of sandalwood plus a whole bunch of other things which means that you may never know exactly what you're smelling.
So don't come into my store and be all, "No sorry I hate Sandalwood." Because you may not even know what it really smells like. Even if you do, you may not know what the variety of sandalwood that I use is like, or how it smells when I blend it up with other ingredients. Right?? And please don't be the person who comes into my store and tells me that the $200/ounce rose absolute that I use in my perfumes smells "fake." (Yes, this has actually happened, and I assure you, it is not.) 😑
Side note - if you're basing your love (or disdain) of a certain fragrance off a candle, like I did all those years ago in Paris, keep in mind that almost no one is using real essential oils in candles because because essential oils (for the most part) aren't strong enough for candles. If you come across a strong smelling candle that says it was made with essential oils, I'm sorry to report that they are most likely LYING. To clarify: there are lots of candles made with essential oils out in the world, but they don't usually have the "scent throw" of a scented candle made with synthetic fragrance oils - meaning that they don't put off a lot of fragrance while they're burned. Once you've smelled a naturally scented candle it's pretty easy to tell the difference.
Which brings me to my next point - there are so many differences between synthetic fragrances and natural fragrances!!! Even if you do know a lot about perfume, you may not have ever smelled the real deal from an actual plant. It's OK! There aren't very many of us out there making completely natural perfume so it's pretty likely that you haven't. Even if it's made with "clean" ingredients, it's probably not totally natural. For the most part, if you can find it at a department store or a Sephora, or especially at a Target, it ain't natural.
There's a good reason for this: natural fragrances are very difficult to mass produce. It would be incredibly destructive for the environment if every ingredient in every bottle sold in the multi-billion dollar perfume industry actually came from a tree or a flower. There would be nothing left, right?
So, no judgement at all if you're not an expert on natural fragrances. You don't have to be. In fact, it'd be weird if you were. Just come in (or online!) ready for an adventure.
And if you're wondering how to tell if a perfume is really natural? Oh boy... I wish I knew what to tell you. It's very difficult to know because most brands don't list their ingredients. In fact, I might be the only natural perfumer who does. (?!) As you shop, keep in mind that there are some natural-sounding fragrance notes that can't actually be made from natural ingredients - things like apples, pears, berries, peaches, figs, and a surprising number of flowers. If the perfume description has one of these "ingredients" listed, either they a) used a mix of different plant based ingredients to create the effect of something fruity, (certain varieties of chamomile give off an apple-y vibe, for instance,) or b) they're using synthetic fragrance oils, not plant based fragrances. If you really want to keep it natural, look for brands that say their fragrances are made with essential oils, absolutes, resins, co2s and natural plant extracts. Avoid things that say they were made with "natural fragrance oils." Enfleurage and tinctures are other methods of creating natural fragrances, although very few people are using them in natural perfumes. (Enfleurage is not usually vegan by the way, as animal fat is typically used in the process.)
Oh, and be ready to change your mind about what you think you like too. 🙃 I can't tell you how many times someone has come in and said that they hate patchouli, or they only wear sweet and fruity fragrances, and then they end up going home with Nasty Woman (frankincense, lavender, patchouli, cedarwood) or falling in love with Bad B*itch (oakmoss, amber, patchouli, clove, pepper, cannabis, cognac.) I'm serious - it happens ALL THE TIME. That's the beauty of this stuff! If you can keep an open mind, you might end up expanding your world view or at least changing your own opinion of yourself just a tiny bit (say, from "Basic" (vanilla, orange, lavender, lemon) to "Bad B*tch?" lol) No harm in that, right?
2. Everything is everything.
When it comes to natural fragrances, nothing is ever just "fresh" or, just "earthy." Everything is everything. Earthy scents can be fresh, fresh scents are almost always earthy on some level (I mean, they do COME FROM THE EARTH,) and by the way, is now a good time to mention that I am so sick of using the words "fresh" and "earthy" to describe scents?! Those words have basically lost all meaning for me at this point. In nature, nothing is ever just fresh or just earthy, so can we all take this opportunity to expand our vocabulary a bit?
If you just want to smell fresh and "clean," (another word I'm beginning to hate) go to Target and buy a bottle of Tide. If you want to smell like a magical woodland creature who comes from the actual forest with the dirt and the leaves and the twigs, that I can do. That's natural perfume.
If you really can't do the dirt and the leaves and the twigs, it's possible that natural, plant based perfume isn't for you. It's ok! There are plenty of synthetic but mostly non-toxic brands out there who are probably happy to provide that nice "fresh and clean" scent you're looking for. No judgement. Best of luck on your scent adventure!
3. Get it out of the bottle.
If you're still with me, (yay... dirt and twigs people are my people! 🎉) here's the deal. You can't really get a good idea of the perfume when you just hold your nose up to the bottle. Have you ever wondered why brands stick people out on the sales floor of department stores to spray perfumes at people? IT'S BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT YOU HAVE TO GET IT OUT OF THE BOTTLE. 💦
Sure, you can get a (kind of?) good first impression of something when you hold the bottle up to your nose, but it's only the faintest, most surface level of an inkling, and it's usually just the top notes that you're smelling.
And, guess what: the top notes are the ones that disappear the fastest, leaving you with the middle and base notes to wear around all day... so aren't you just a little bit curious about what else is happening in that bottle?
Side note: people keep coming into my store and doing this weird thing where they only hold the cap of the bottle up to their nose, which means they're smelling even less of the scent, and I'm really not sure why this is a thing. Maybe because they're expecting something a lot stronger? Regardless, smelling the cap is telling your nose basically nothing. Spray it on a strip, for the love. That's why they're there. I have plenty, I promise you!
But hey, good news if you're shopping online, now you have an advantage over the in-store shoppers because you actually have to get the scent out of the bottle to know if you're going to like it or not. No sniffing the caps of the testers for you!
4. Actually wear it.
So, once you've smelled the whole thing by getting it out of the bottle, you'll want to put it on your body. Why? Because you many think that you love the scent right off the bat, but after wearing it, you may decide that you don't like smelling it on yourself. Or more positively, perhaps you're on the fence about it on the tester strip but it might be just the thing once you put it on and it develops a bit on your skin. (Solid perfumes, by the way, must be rubbed on before you can truly smell them. Merely holding them up to your nose is basically USELESS.) Or, maybe you were looking for something stronger that lasts longer, or something lighter that only you know is there and you can re-apply whenever you want. Or maybe it just doesn't work on your skin. Or maybe you've changed your mind again. Hey, I don't know. It's your body and your nose. All I'm asking is that you just make sure you really like wearing the thing.
(That is unless, of course, you've signed up for the Perfume Junkie Club and are down to be surprised with a brand-new mystery perfume every month. You guys don't really have to take any of this advice. Umm... hope you like it?!)
And, in case you're wondering how to know which sample to buy? Well, I don't really know. I'm sorry! I've tried very hard to describe my fragrances clearly in the product listings, but words can only take us so far here. Especially words like, "earthy," and "fresh," am I right??
Here's what I'd suggest: get samples of your top 2-3 picks, and then add a "wildcard" option or two... so that you can follow my advice of keeping an open mind. Go totally crazy and get one or two that don't sound like you AT ALL and just... see if you're pleasantly surprised. You never know! (See, #1.)
Or, try the perfume discovery box option - where you pick a word that best describes what you're looking for, and I'll send an assortment of best options. This is probably the best deal if your sample-filled cart is getting out of hand!
5. Consider doing a scent detox.
Sometimes, not always of course, but usually, there are two types of people who come to me looking for natural perfumes. There are the highly sensitive people who are intrigued by the idea of scents but can't tolerate overpowering synthetic smells, (for the record I firmly fit into this category myself, so rest assured that you're in good hands,) and then there are people who love love love perfume and anything scented, but they want to make the switch to naturals. If you're in the latter group, you could probably benefit from a scent detox while you wait for your Twinkle Apothecary order in the mail.
Why? And... what? You might be asking?
First, what. What I mean by "doing a scent detox" is to basically get rid of all of the overpoweringly scented things in your world (or at least begin to pare it down a bit) so that your nose can appreciate and enjoy natural fragrances a little better.
I'm talking laundry detergents, hand soaps, trash bags, air fresheners, body washes, face lotions, deodorants, shampoos and conditioners... any kind of "everyday" item that has fragrance added. If they make an unscented version of it, consider switching over.
Why? Because they are WAY TOO STRONG, and most truly natural perfumes aren't going to be able to compete with that junk. You're simply not going to be able to smell it on top of everything else you're wearing. Personally, I can't even work on making a new perfume when I'm wearing something that was washed with a scented detergent because it's so overpowering. I mean, you might be able to smell it, but you're not going to be able to s m e l l i t !
And you'll know what I mean by that after you do your scent detox.
Take hand soap, for example. If you apply a natural perfume to your wrists, then go wash your hands with something that has a strong scent, the smell of your perfume is going to fade, fast. And if you apply perfume to your neck, but you just sprayed a bunch of hairspray on your hair... the hairspray will always win. Make sense?
And if by any chance you're having trouble smelling your natural perfume right out of the gate, you definitely need to do a scent detox. I've learned that everyone smells differently and some people are way more sensitive than others, but I promise you, the smell is right there under your nose. I can't make them any more concentrated for safety reasons... if you can't smell it, it's not me, it's your nose. Clear out some of the junk and then get back to me with the "I can't really smell it" story, okrrrr?
Now, don't let this scare you, and please don't hate me for suggesting that you make all of these changes. It is just a suggestion! But if you give it a try, I can guarantee that your nose will soon be enjoying a whole new world of fragrances.
After all, isn't that why you're here?
- Stefanie -