Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Eco Revolution?

Eco seems to be the new trend in perfumery. Everywhere you look there is Eco" this, "aromatherapy" that on everything from body sprays to bath gels. And most of it is fake.
Apart from a few honourable players like Weleda and the Australian skin care company Jurlique, I don't think I can name a single worldwide brand that actually has more than a token touch of some kind of essential oil in it's ingredient list. Yet many if not most of them are tossing the "natural, ecological aromatherapy" catch phrase around as a hook to the worlds new enviromantal concious buyer.

The resons for this are many fold:

The first and most blatant one is price. I was recently contacted by a wheeler and dealer in the cosmetic industy who wanted to pick my brain about the viability of his newest project. A range of  "household scent products" from perfumes to candles and air fresheners, that would be "excellent quality, top of the range natural" (whenever possible of course) "organic fragrance products that would sell at the middle to lower cost range as a cheaper alternative to ranges like Jo Malone for the urban proffesional" etc etc...
Now apart from having the nice gentleman try and pick my brains for free, what fascinated me was the proposed maximum cost for the scent base for the perfumes: $70 a kilo!

This means that ingredient cost of each bottle of perfume (assuming around 10% of each perfume would be made up of the actual scent base) would be 70 cents!

Now those of you who have bought essential oils know that this is just laughable.
Beyond useing straight eukalyptus oil, there is no way of doing this.
A beautiful natural perfume contains things like Rose absolute and good quality aged patchouli oil...and you are looking at closer to thousands per kilo than the mere $70 this guy was planning on.
When I pointed this out to him (OK, so I was naiv enough to think that he might actually intend to hire me to create the natural scent base), he said that this price was one that had been agreed on after consultation with some of the best and most experienced perfume consultants in the business (why was he talking to me again???) and that he himself had been part of the planning committe of a number of high end projects etc etc..
So there we have it. Out there in the world of the big conglomerates, the actual price of a perfume is based purely on the other costs. Planning, advertising, distributing etc. The actual ingredients themselves are an afterthought, dictated by the tiny bit of budget left over for them. And natural ingredients are expensive.

The scond reason is lack of actual knowledge and understanding of natural perfumery.
If you look closely at the ingredients lists of all these hundreds of "Aromatherapy" body products you find in the average drugstore, those that actuallly contain real essential oils, seem to have been put together totally haphaverdly by someone blindly picking from a catalogue of oils! They rarely have any kind of logic to their actual use in the products. And at times, the oils would actually be contraindicated for their proposed use -if of course they were included in any quantities above the mere molecular level., which they aren't.
The average "Aromatherapy" body lotion will have as ingredients (in decending order of percentages) a lovely lotion base of petroleum based "mositurizers", a team of different chemical surfacants, straight water itself, a variety of artifical preservatives, ARTIFICIAL FRAGRANCES and as a kind of afterthough a few random essential oils or herbal extracts.
What you smell when you open the bottle is the artificial fragrance. which may or may not mimic the scent of the essential oils at the bottom of the ingredient list.

Here's an example for you, from a well known American company from their so called "Aromatherapy " range:

Body Lotion
Sleep - Warm Milk & Honey
"Good night. Cinnamon essential oil is comforting. Clove essential oil is calming. This ultra-creamy body lotion keeps skin soft and moisturized, while an aromatherapy blend of essential oils evokes the comfort of warm milk and honey so you can get a good night's sleep. In addition, natural soybean oil nourishes and moisturizes, and glycerin attracts moisture, so skin is beautifully hydrated. "
  • Breathe deeply for best results
  • Never tested on animals
  • Natural ingredients may cause color variations

For starters these people don't have an actual ingredient list online for any of their products. But what they do tell us is interesting. Firstly, there is no mention of actual milk or honey being used in any form in the lotion. And yet it smells strongly of both of these! So for starters, we KNOW that the fragrance has to be artificial! The "aromatherapy" ingredients they do have in the lotion are Clove and Cinnamon.
Now neither of these oils is renowned for helping anyone sleep better.
Cinnamon is warming, antiseptic and invigorating. It's a great oil for people feeling the cold and strongly stimulating to the digestive organs. It is also used in herbal form to help balance blood sugar levels....but I don't think this is what they had in mind for a "Sleep" themed body lotion!
Clove is an even more interesting choice: It's distinctive odour sends alarm bells ringing in police dogs at airports when Indonesian travellers bring in their renowned clove scented ciggarettes, and you can also find it in a number of prorpeity pain relief ointments. It's a powerful nerve numbing agent, and has been used for centuries to relieve aching teeth.....but a soothing sleepy time scent? I think not.
And this company is by no means one of the worst. They do at least include a few natural ingredients, such as the soy bean oil they have added to the overall chemical base of their lotions. There are companies out there making far broader claims while useing completely artificial ingredients!

Now apart from all of this being decietful, amoral and downright un-ethical, it also leaves those of us who are actually making REAL natural perfumes and cosmetics with a huge problem.

The average consumer out there believes what advertising tells them. And they are also used to paying a specific price for their beauty care products. The market is dominated by a small handful of large cosmetic conglomerates, who can pretty dominate it by power of their advertising dollars. So what they sell is what people buy.

Depressing innit?!


  1. Amazing!! It brings home the message I heard from Mandy Aftel in January...that luxury perfumes are really one of the only "luxury" items that are really anything BUT luxury!! Thanks Ambrosia..I posted your blog on my Shasta EsScents Page!!

  2. I have a bad habit of going into a rage when I pick up a product and read the ingredient list. Friends have actually had to pry stuff out of my hands and make me walk away. I try not to look anymore.:-)

  3. Eye opening. Makes me realise just how little I know of such things. I mean I've always known that advertising generally sucks what I didn't know is how easy it is for the large cosmetic conglomerates to perpetrate their bull. Reading their labels tells people nothing! Where's their transparency?