What is a Natural Perfume?
In our exclusive interview, MU Australia speaks to Perfumer, Jocelyn Fullerton about what a natural perfume actually is – and why you need one in your life.
Jocelyn Fullerton has one of those jobs you thought only existed in the movies. She’s an independent perfumer, with a speciality in natural perfume made from aromatic and medicinal plants. That’s right, she makes scents for a living, like this beautiful, natural range from KYND. And since natural perfume is relatively new, booming and very confusing category, we sat down with Jocelyn to clear up the confusion for us.
What does it mean for a fragrance to be “natural”?
For a fragrance to be considered 100% natural it must contain aromatic natural raw materials - which can be of vegetal, animal or microbiological origin. In simple terms; naturally occurring substances such as essential oils, absolutes and resins as well as aromatic animal extracts (musk – which is severely restricted for ethical reasons), or microbes (petrichor – the smell of rain comes from soil microbes). This also includes fractions of essential oils such as linalool from Ho Wood and Menthol from Peppermint oil.
Adding to this “natural” also encompasses compounds that have been made in a lab to be nature identical, or have been fermented from these natural compounds to create new ones using clever microbes.
What are the regulations around perfumes in Australia?
In Australia the regulation of perfumes comes under the same umbrella as cosmetics. Rules for packaging and presentation are governed by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) and professional recommendations are made by the ASCC (Australian Society of Cosmetic Chemists). All cosmetic products need to have all of their ingredients listed either on the outer box, the product itself or near at hand at the point of sale (or website) for the purchaser to be able to make a decision about the product.
What must be listed according to the EU cosmetic directive are the potential allergens in the fragrance. These can come from natural essential oils or be isolates or synthetics, a large portion are commonly found in essential oil blends. There are 26 allergens that are recommended to be listed on cosmetic products. Australia largely follows the EU in this.
How do you read the ingredients lising?
All ingredients above 1% concentration should be listed in descending order. For ingredients of less than 1% the ingredient needs to be listed, but the order doesn’t matter at this concentration. The format that is used internationally is standardised according to INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) so that no matter what language you speak, there is an international one too!
The reason you may not see all the ingredients listed in a fragrance is that fragrance formulations are very precious, taking many many hours of work and testing to get just perfect. A perfume can become part of the DNA brand. Do you remember the aniseed scents of Darrell Lea stores? Or of course, think of Chanel 5! To protect the intellectual property of a scent, it can be listed as ‘Parfum’ or ‘Fragrance’ according to INCI.
However, there is an increasing trend of full disclosure of the ingredients listed in perfumes, like what we’ve done with KYND scents. What then becomes the ‘trade secret’ is the source and the balance of the ingredients. For example, Jasmine absolute is different depending on where it is grown and how it is extracted, and the exact proportions of the final formula of course!
This space is so complex! Do you have any tips for consumers navigating this space?
As a professional I look for holes in the marketing as above. Some brands will present as ‘all natural’, but have hidden or hard to find info on their site that contradicts this. The same goes for brands that say they are sustainable, without any real explanation. In the cosmetics trade this kind of behaviour is called ‘greenwashing’. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure, just make sure you are respectful and polite so you get a good response.
What is the difference between “natural” and “organic” in a perfume?
Organic certification encompasses the soil management, chemicals used in the growing of the plants, harvesting, and the methods of extraction of the oils as well as how waste is managed. Fully organic is great, as is biodynamic.
Certification for organic however, can be hard and costly to achieve and may also take a number of years to achieve. Even pristine wild plantations may not achieve organic status. Organic products are regulated country to country and in Australia it is ACO who oversees this.
What does a natural perfume NOT have in it that a regular perfume does?
Simply put; synthetics! There are a few organisations that have created their own definitions of what it means to be a 100% natural perfume, but there seems to be a bit of a disagreement between them as to the exact definition of “what's in vs what’s out”. A number of these organisations charge for you to become a ‘member’ and then you become ‘certified’ by them, but my concern is also that there is quite a flimsy scientific basis for some of the rules. Some go as far as to spread misinformation and unfounded panic where there is no need for it – is this really ethical?
Do natural fragrances include preservatives? If not, do they have a shorter lifespan than other scents?
Ideally there is some kind of preservation to give the product a decent shelf life. If the blend is in an oil base, using natural Vitamin E (tocopherol/tocopheryl acetate) will help stop the oils from oxidising too quickly. Rosemary resin extract can also be used, but it does have a bit of its own scent – perfect in a herbal blend though! If a scent is in a water base like some non oil based, alcohol free formulas a natural antimicrobial (check the COSMOS database for these) will keep it from growing nasty bugs.
What is the best way to store a natural perfume?
The best way to store all scents is in a cool dark and dry place. UV light and heat are the enemy of the lifetime of a perfume and cause it to break down over time.
What are the challenges in formulating a natural perfume?
Price fluctuations on natural ingredients! Honestly the price of excellent natural ingredients can be really high, and balancing quality and price with economy can be a challenge. The availability of natural ingredients and the scent of them can also change from harvest to harvest, so making sure each batch is as close as possible to our vision takes some finesse. That being said, that is also one of the wonderful things of working with all natural ingredients. You can smell the sun and the soil in them.
What is your favourite oil or ingredient to work with and why?
Oh that is such a hard question as there are so many to love! Working with beautiful natural ingredients is what drew me to perfumery and continues to inspire me everyday. I adore plants and love all aspects of natural medicines and aromatics from the way they are grown and harvested to be made into materials for use. One of my favourite parts of my work is visiting producers and distillers and sharing this, being inspired by the ingredients and the care taken to produce the extracts that will become my palette of ingredients to use in natural perfumes or cosmetics. My challenge and privilege is to make them shine in each formula I create.
Some favourites at the moment are fresh ginger, timut pepper, lavendin absolute and Australian Sandalwood oil. I also have always loved and continue to adore rose, orange blossom and jasmine absolutes.. I have luxe tastes!
You can see (and smell!) Jocelyn’s magic in action via the 100% natural, Australian natural perfume range, KYND Scents.