According to Greek legend, perfume was created when the nymph Oenone shared some of Venus’s beauty secrets with her husband, and he passed them along to Helen of Troy. Since then, people have extracted essences from flowers, berries, barks, leaves, resins and citrus peels, in an attempt to capture nature’s nectars and create signature scents.
Centuries later, many commercial perfume makers have replaced natural essences with
synthetics and harmful chemicals, including phthalates (used to make fragrances last longer), petrochemicals (derived from petroleum) and their by-products, which are linked with an array of serious health problems, including cancer and birth defects. The Federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1967 exempts cosmetic and personal care product manufacturers from having to disclose any ingredients used to make their products smell good—as long as “fragrance” is listed on the label.
“What is conventional perfume made of? It’s 90 percent water, then a few chemicals that are killing you,” says Vered Back, founder of Vered Organic Botanicals. After becoming extremely ill with what was eventually diagnosed as Lyme disease, Back healed herself with therapeutic-grade essential oil blends. “I think it’s one of the most amazing ways we have today to heal.”
Michael Scholes, founder of Laboratory of Flowers, has over 20 years’ experience in formulating products with high-quality organic essential oils. “I’m making botanical fragrances that have a two-pronged approach: they have a smell, like any perfume, and they have a therapeutic remedy base,” Scholes says. He explains that a natural molecule can’t be replicated: If you shine a polarized light through the same molecule, one synthetic and one natural, they’ll reflect light differently. “The unfortunate side of a synthetic fragrance is that the manufactured scent does not contain the therapeutic properties of their counterpart whole-plant-based essential oils, [therefore] the true power and purpose of aromatherapy is lost,” adds Capi Edgley of OneSelf Organics.
Natural fragrances have a life cycle; they mix with our individual body chemistry and change over time. “Synthetic chemicals are very one-dimensional—they force the body to do something specific,” explains Katie Hess, founder of Lotus Wei, who works with flower essences and essential oils. “Going back to nature and using the whole source, it works with you, it supports you. Nature can teach us something about ourselves. If you’re looking at synthetics, that kind of dialogue dead-ends.”