Thursday, September 23, 2010

The difference between Aromatherapy and Natural Perfume

There's been a debate withon the natural perfume community lately, as to what the difference is between Natural or Botanical Perfumery and Aromatherapy.

Conventional Perfumery has been poo pooing Aromatherapy ever since it started to become popular in the 1980's. But then Conventional Perfumery poo poos Natural Perfumery too, so I don't really see how their opinion matters either which way here.

Aromatherapy is the art of useing essential oils to create a certain therapeutic effect, both emotionally and physically. As I wrote in my previous blogpost, essential oils have been used for centuries, both in perfumery and for medicinal purposes.
All scents have an effect on our emotions and hence our bodies, be they natural or artificial.
Our sense of smell is directly linked to the emotional part of our brain, which in turn has a direct biochemical effect on our body, raising or dropping levels of hormones and other biochemicals depending on the scent.

Musky scents arouse us, sweet and foody scents make us salivate and increase stomach aci, citrus scents and mints make us feel awake and refreshed, regardless of their origin!

So from that point of view, ALL perfumes are a form of Aromatic- Therapy.

 To get back to the nitty gritty though, modern Aromatherapy defines itself by the use of individual or combinations of pure and natural essential oils, either by diffusion or application to the body in form of massage oils & suchlike. And the focus is initially mainly on the effect of said oils, rather than the actual smell itself.

Natural or Botanical Perfumery in contrast, focuses primarily on the smell created by combining different natural materials.
The pallette of Natural Perfumery is also much larger than the that used in most schools of Aromatherapy, drawing not only on essential oils, but also a wide variety of absolutes, extracts, resins, herbal, fruit and other infusions and basically, anything natural that has a pleasant scent!

I should probably mention here that, much as I love Aromatherapy, use it on a daily basis and am incredibly grateful that it's has introduced millions of people to the benefits of useing essential oils,  I am a bit critical of a lot of the stuff touted in aromatherapy courses.
I started working with essential oils before Aromatherapy had hit the big popularity stakes, and have viewed it's evolution at first with great joy, then with growing annoyance.
Essential oils are wonderful things, and their effects can be amazing...
But a lot of the the textbooks have stolen their information wholesale from each other, and most of it is simply cribbed directly from much older books on herbal medicine. And this simply doesn't work.
An essential oil is the volatile part of a plant made available by distillation. The plant itself in many cases contains many other chemicals that may or may not be important in it's physical effect on the body.
On top of that, there is a huge difference in the way your body aborbs things, and drinking a tea made from a herb (which is the way most herbal medicines are taken) is a very different thing to having the dilted oil from the same plant rubbed onto your skin during massage.

This becomes very obvious when you read the warnings about when which oils are safe for use during pregnancy. They are, for the main part, pure fiction, and merely the result of essential oil traders trying to cover their sue-able butts.
Arnica, for instance, is toxic if drunk as a tea...but makes a fantastic bruise and varicose vein salve when applied to the legs externally!

Unluckily, as I mentioned above, the text books all quote each other, and somehow this new school of thought with the many faulty text books has managed to wrangle it's way into higher education, so you can now become a "certified" aromatherapist....

Enough of the side rave though, getting back to perfumery, and the question of whether a natural perfume can be an "Aromatherapy Perfume".

Like all of these natural terms, there is no official definition.

For myself, I define it this way:

Most of the perfumes I make are essentially Aromatherapy Perfumes, because when I am designing a perfume, I usually have the effect I want it to have formeost in my mind. I have always used Scent primary to create a certain atmosphere, or as a direct kind of scent therapy.
"Love Potion" for instance was designed for a friend in need of that very thing!
And the ingredients in it are all ones that have an aphrodisiac, stimulating effect on the body and on the emotions. It contains things like Jasmine absolute and Coriander and Cardamon essential oil, all of which you can find listed in aromatherapy textbooks as aphrodisiac and stimulating to the senses....
What makes it a great perfume, is the way they are combined. The balance of each ingredient, and the way they all play together in the blend!

The Rebirth of Natural Perfumery

Our sense of smell is more strongly tied to our emotions than any of our other senses. Smells can evoke crystal clear memories too, like vanilla bringing back the scent of a grandmother baking a favourite cake, or the smokey smell of frankincense the deeply moving feeling of a spiritual ceremony...
Scent has been used for thousands of years to evoke special feelings in us...and the earliest from of perfumery was probably incense, burnt in spiritual ceremonies everywhere from Egyptian temples to North American Indian Sweat lodges to invoke a feeling of religious and spiritual awe and connectedness with tree resins and herbs burned to honour the Gods....
Body perfumes made from plant extracts have also been made for thousands of years....scented oils, hair unguents, waxy cones worn atop of ones head in Egytian high society parties where they slowly melted and spread spread their perfumes through the elaborate wigs they wore...
European perfumery deeloped realtively late in the picture, and took it's inspiration from the far older arabian scent traditions in the wake of the silk and spice trade.
Perfumers in Italy and France began to develop new ways of scenting both the body and the clothing worn by the European Aristocracy, and personalized perfumes developed by the better known perfumers became a much wanted status symbol.
These perfumes, scented leather gloves and pomanders made from exotic and precious ingredients such as true musk pods from the infamous musk ox, exquisite jasmine absolute painstakingly extracted from acres of jasmine flowers etc,  were rather expensive, and really only obtainable by the rich gentry...and as we came closer to our current day, the growth of modern chemistry began to give perfumers cheaper substances to play with.And with these cheap ingredients, and the invention of mechanized packaging and production methods, perfumery slowly became the realm of chemists and factory owners.
Perfume became a everyday item in every suburban household and the wholesale marketing of brand name perfume as a status symbol for everyone had begun.
With time though, people began to realize that a lot of the modern perfumes had sacrificed the magic that traditional perfumes had had, for the sake of a quick profit.
The buzz notes in perfumery became intensity, innovation and above all: price.
The main focus with a new perfume launch nowadays, is what celebrity it will be associated with.
I've seen numerous conventional perfume briefs, and the actual cost of the perfume itse;f is always the smallest part of the budget. Most of the money you pay for even the most expensive french perfumes, goes into packaging design, worldwide advertising campaigns! You'd be lucky to find $5 has been spent on the actual perfume itself!

And then Aromatherapy was born and began to breath a new lease of life into the fast paced plastic world of modern perfumery.

I had first bought essential oils in a conventional chemist in Germany around 1980...natural ingredients never went out of style in German, and conventional chemists still stocked a variety of herbal products and at the time, a limited number of essential oils, such as peppermint and rosemary. But it wasn't until some years later that the term "Aromatherapy" first appeared, along with a much wider range of essential oils.
The first literature on aromatherapy that I ever read was put out by a German company called "Primavera". It was a slim pamphlet listing their oils and the various effects on Mind and Body of each of them. I was fascinated! And spent all of my spare cash on them! I soon began to find other books on Aromatherapy,  and Tisserand and others began to do some serious research nto the subject, which has led to such a wealth of literature on the subject....

From there, Aromatherapy has grown to the point that you can find essential oils in every small town the world over...and increasingly, commericaly available scented products use the popularity of Aromatherapy in their own marketing. (Sometimes they even really use some percentage of actual essential oils in their formulations too!)

This rebirth of the popularity of natural scent ingredients has also led to the rebirth of Natural Perfumery.
Like myself, a small but growing number of independent perfumers started to experiement with the these newly available essential oils, and discovered that they offered a clarity, depth, complexity and beauty that simply wasn't there for them in modern perfumes.

I started to research ancient perfume recipes from all over the world, and looking for the herbs, resins and extracts mentioned in them as I travelled around the world.
And 20 years later, I now have a workshop full of all those lovely ingredients mentioned in the old texts and stories...

And people love them.
Conventional perfumers though will still poo poo this modern rebirth of the idea of useing natural ingredients...I have had countless perfumers tell me that it is impossible to make a great natural perfume...

Personally, I don't really care. My customers seem to disagree, and to my great amusement, the general publics love of Aromatherapy has forced more and more conventional perfumers to scrabble to keep up and start producing their own version of natural scents...
Problem is of course, they simply don't have the know how. Creating perfumes out of traditional natural ingredients isn't really part of a conventional perfumers training, where the focus is far more on chemistry and building notes out of individual chemicals...
And their profit margins lead them to fudge and even lie blatantly about the ingredients they are actually useing.
Which has lead to even health food stores stocking such brands such as "Pacifica" which advertises their "natural" tropical fruit scented wares at prices which real natural perfumes of course cannot compete with....
Then you have the inspired marketing of DKNY's "Pure"...."One drop of Vanilla" supposedly from some poor African village....
What about the rest of the thousands of drops of perfume in the bottle? What's it made of??

Sigh...anyway, getting back to the reality of naturals, and my delightfully messy workshop full of whole jars of REAL vanilla pods, frankincense resin from Omani trees, Essential oils from every possible flower and herb...
THIS is real natural perfumery...complicated, amazing and fascinating!