Beauty Basics: Pure Perfumes

hPerfume can set a mood or stoke desire. It has the power of a personal signature. But until recently, making that signature natural often evoked Pepe Le Pew instead of Coco Chanel. Now nonsynthetic scents are increasingly sophisticated as the quality of raw botanical ingredients has risen -- thanks to a demand for boutique-grade natural fragrance.

This blooming of clean scents benefits both your health and the planet's. While a typical designer perfume may evoke heady notes of jasmine or hibiscus, it often contains nothing that ever grew in the ground. The magic trick comes courtesy of the chemical fixatives, synthetic molecules, and preservatives used in these blends to lend longevity and keep prices low, says natural perfumer Mandy Aftel. Unfortunately, some of these common ingredients can exacerbate conditions such as asthma, while others, including certain musks, have been linked to an increased cancer risk. 

Until now, purer scents had their share of shortcomings, too. The simple aromatherapy blends you can find in health stores have a fleeting bouquet, and though they use natural ingredients, those components aren't always of the highest grade. But with an increasing consumer demand for quality organic ingredients, perfumers have raised the bar with a new breed of distinctive, 100 percent natural fragrances. 

Rivaling the quality of top-shelf commercial brands -- without the artificial ingredients -- these scents follow the traditional pyramid structure of French perfumery: Top notes give brightness and lift, middle notes form the center, and base notes provide depth and longevity on the skin. Rather than relying on synthetic materials, though, natural perfumers are keeping it healthy with organic and conventionally grown plant essences in a base of plant oils -- such as jojoba, coconut and safflower -- or pure alcohol.

Of course, as demand for artisan scents rises, many manufacturers will rush to slap labels of "natural" on every bottle, even if they use only a few organic ingredients and plenty of human-made ones. So be wary. Price, longevity, and color are the biggest tip-offs. Natural perfumes garner steep prices -- anywhere from about $45 up to $200 -- because of expensive ingredients. They don't last all day on the skin, and they have rich, deep hues. 

Find a New Fragrance
Gaucho by Ayala Moriel Parfums
A variation on the traditional fougere, Gaucho by Ayala Moriel Parfums is an aromatic, herbal fragrance. Based on the South American mate plant and guaiacwood, it begins on pungent green notes; gradually softening with hints of lavender, neroli, and absinthe; and sweetens as it develops. The 9-milliliter organic alcohol-based parfum sells for $110, and a 5-milliliter roll-on version costs $65.
Fragrance family: Herbaceous
Longevity: Four to five hours

Parfum de Maroc by Aftelier
This warm, enveloping fragrance by Aftelier was inspired by a traditional Moroccan spice mixture, ras el hanout, which can contain more than a hundred spices. It has notes of Bulgarian rose, black pepper (at left), and nutmeg. The perfume's rich base lingers long on the skin. The 0.25-ounce size costs $150, and the 2.2-milliliter, $45.
Fragrance family: Spicy
Longevity: Five hours

Champa by Red Flower
Red Flower makes its certified organic perfumes from flower, leaf, and bark distillations. With its citrus, ylangylang, and mimosa notes, plus a rose-geranium headiness, Champa has broad appeal. The 15-milliliter concentrate in organic grain alcohol costs $186, and the 10-milliliter roll-on in organic safflower oil retails for $48.
Fragrance family: Fruity-floral
Longevity: Two to three hours

Kizes by Tsi-La Organics
Kizes by Tsi-La Organics is an uplifting citrus fragrance that blends Sicilian bergamot with light floral notes of jasmine and orange flower. Sheer and soft, it's not long-lasting but comes in an adorable mini-bottle that's perfect for touch-ups. The 4-milliliter roll-on contains a base of coconut oil infused with pink orchid extract, $45.
Fragrance family: Citrus
Longevity: Three hours

L'Invisible by Strange Invisible Perfumes
Perfumer Alexandra Balahoutis uses an extraction process called hydrodistillation to coax fragrance from delicate flowers, such as hibiscus. This signature scent by Strange Invisible Perfumes recalls the seamless floral bouquets found in classic perfumes, such as Chanel No. 5. Parfum, 0.25 ounce, $185; eau de parfum, 1.7 ounces, $135.
Fragrance family: Floral
Longevity: Four to five hours

Text by Courtney Humphries

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