Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How Natural is Natural?

Well, the number of cosmetics out there touting the "natural" label is growing by the day....it's the new "thing"...which should make me happy, but.....
BUT (and that's a big but), most of them simply aren't.

There's an ever growing number of pretty sounding concoctions out there in bright shiny bottles with reasuring labels like "organic" and "vegan" plastered all over them, which have as much resemblance to the truly natural bottles of  flower extracts and herbs in my workshop as, well,  the bottle of commercial toilet cleaner my mother stuck in my cupboard many years ago in the hope I'd eventually use it.

I've spent over 20 years researching and developing natural perfumes. I've studied herbs and aromatherapy oils,and pored over ancient texts full of fascinating ingredients...and spoken to thousands of people at my stalls and on my website about natural perfumery and what it means.
And for years, the conventional perfume industry has belittled what we natural perfumers do, claiming it is archaic, and only modern aromachemicals give you a truely beautiful perfume.
Then all of a sudden, they've discovered that we're on to something! And all over the place, you suddenly see so called "natural" perfumes with bright pretty flower pictures!
A collegue pointed me towards a company I'm not going to name the other day....delightful packaging, pretty sounding scents...and "Beauty Habit", where they are sold, writes the following:

"L### & T## believes that natural formulas should function and not fail. These formulas have been vigorously tested for performance and stability.Each product is loaded with the very best natural and organic ingredients, while delivering a luxurious, skin-nurturing experience." And in the listing for their handcreams, list the scent as "botanical perfume blend".

But hang on a minute, the bottles contain completely clear fluid for starters (And natural perfumes just don't come in clear...)....let's have a look at the ingredients of one of them, ": "Vanilla Orchid, White Musk, Jasmine, Ebony Woods, Natural Alcohol"

OK, for starters, that's not an ingredient list, it's a fanciful list of the notes in the fragrance.
There is no such thing as vanilla orchid, white musk or ebony wood. And wtf is natural alcohol supposed to be? As opposed to un-natural alcohol?
These perfumes aren't natural. Not even nearly natural. Yet the advertising sells them as such, loud and clear. 

And it frustrates the hell out of me. Because people believe what they see written. And it seems, you can write whatever you want and get away with it. Loud and clear.


Did you know that you can call anything vegan if it doesn't have animal ingredients in it? plastic gumboots are vegan by that definition!
And "Natural" can mean just about anything. I did a bit of research into natural flavours some time back, and discovered that a natural flavour can be made entirely of individual chemicals, as long as said chemicals were originally extracted from a natural source!
And mind you, that source doesn't have to have anything to do with the the fruit of vegetable it's imitating!

The Truth Seeker writes:  Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature.

To me that seems like cheating. All chemicals are originally extracted from natural sources. It is the degree of processing that takes them from natural to artificial.
Raspberries are natural. raspberry juice is natural. Raspberry ketone is a scent chemical that can be extracted from raspberry juice, or also made by chemical process from other chemicals. It is a white crystaline substance, that can be dissolved in alcohol and used in very diluted form in fruity scents to give the impression of raspberry....
Is it natural? I'm not sure. I have two kinds of raspberry scented ingredients in my workshop:
One, an alcoholic extract of raspberry, which is dark brownie red and slightly sticky, and needs to be filtered before I add it to scents. And the above said raspberry ketone, a strange little bottle of white powdery crystals....the crystals themselves have no scent until disolved further in alcohol.

There are a growing number of companies that are useing natural isolates like raspberry ketone in their perfumes too. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Like many botanical perfumers, I crave some notes that simply aren't available on the market....there are no natural violet extracts, and some fruit notes like "dewberry" simply don't exist in natural form. 
And it is a very tempting idea to follow along the "Natural Flavour" lines and start recreating these scent notes useing individual chemicals extracted from natural sources. But I feel uneasy about it.
The biggest question for me is where do we stop? When does a perfume go from being a real natural product crafted from exquisite absolutes and essential oils, to being, in reality, merely an artificially created scent concoction made purely from ingredients cooked up in a science lab like all of the others out there....

I'm not sure what the answer is. I'm experimenting with isolates, and keeping an open mind...but it does leave me feeling uneasy.
I feel somewhat guilty, as if I were experiementing with illegal drugs.....

I do know one thing for sure: If I do end up useing natural isolates in any of my perfumes, I will be honest and open about this.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Teaching Natural Perfumery

I've been asked many times if I teach classes on natural perfumery here in Australia....and I've finally decided to give in and do just that...
It seems there is a growing number of people out there yearning to learn how to play with all of these delightful natural ingredients...and realistically, there is a vast amount of stuff to learn about useing them safely and truly creatively if you want to make perfumes. And books can only take you so far.
There are a number of people running natural perfumery classes overseas, esp. in the States, but here in Oz, it's still a very new art.
So I'm now making lists and collecting ideas on what and how to do this....

Obviously Safety in working with natural perfumery materials would be one of the first and most important things I would want to impart, but beyond that there are so many different topics and different approaches I can think of...
I've read course descriptions from other perfumers, and they sound really in depth. Covering everything from perfume history, to details about every essential oil in exsistence, creating vertical accords and so much more....

I don't think it would be useful to teach another course along the same lines...some of these are already run by correspondence and easily accesible via the internet...(Anya McKoy has a very detailed one, and so do Mandy Aftel and Lyn Ayre)
And it would like re-designing the wheel sorta....

I would however like to share a bit more my own personal style and creative approach to making perfumes....
What I do think would be useful to teach is the actual hands on how to's of  perfume making. Introducing the individual components in small groups, and showing how combining them in different ways can create so many different effects...
In fact I think it may be the best to run a series....based around creating to certain themes maybe....each a day where you can smell and play with the ingredients that are used to create specific notes and genres in a perfume.....where you can also take home your own creation at the end of the day.

Themes could be:

-Flower perfumes, Scents for Blokes, Gourmand Scents....

And then of course there's the whole chapter of combining Aromatherapy and Perfume.....
Now that's really big chapter. 

My question to all of you now is :

What would you like to learn in a perfume workshop?

(And If you've taken part in other classes overseas, maybe you'd like to share what you thought worked well? What else would you have liked to learn?)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Perfumery Materials: Co2's

Like most perfumers, I'm constantly searching for new and unusual ingredients to work with...
And one of my latest area of exploration is so called CO2's.
It is an extraction method that was first developed for the flavour industry, whereby carbon dioxide is used to extract concentrated materials from spices, fruits and nuts. In recent years it is also being used to create scent materials from flowers like jasmine.
Some perfumers are beginning to use them exclusively, instead of the more common absolutes, which use solvents such as hexane, believing that the method of extraction delivers a gentler and safer alternative.
Personally, I don't think this is necessarily true. Absolutes generally don't contain much, if any of the initial solvent, and these are not that toxic to start with.
 What makes CO2's interesting to me, is that useing them gives me a far greater pallette to play with. I recently obtained a number of really interesting CO2's from a European company called Evonik, delightful things such as honey bush, jasmine tea and hazelnut! Totally yummy!
 The only downside to them is that for some reason, they don't seem to have the same staying power as many absolutes, which is always a big problem in natural perfumery. I'm not sure why this is, but I have generally found this to often be true for Co2's.
The scent is also often softer, and they also don't seem to disolve very well in either alcohol or in oil.
You can get a wide variety of different forms of CO2 extract too...I have found everything from clear liquids to the solid green stuff you see in the photo, which is a nice green tea CO2 from White Lotus Aromatics.

There are also a lot of CO2's which simply don't work for perfumery. I got very excited when I first stumbled upon natural flavourings, but quicly discovered that many of the food CO2's have great flavours, but not much in the way of scent. Which makes them great as, well, flavours, but not perfume ingredients.

It is however a fascinating new area in natural extracts, and hopefully, companies will start producing more that are aimed at the perfumery market in years to come...(how about a violet flower CO2 eh? hint hint!!!)