The natural, or "clean," beauty industry is booming, and there are plenty of natural skin-care and cosmetic brands popping up every day to support that. However, one sector of the beauty industry that often tends to be overlooked by natural beauty enthusiasts is fragrance.
Unfortunately, many of the perfumes we know and love contain some pretty nasty additives—from potentially toxic phthalates and parabens to ethanol-derived ingredients, which take a toll on the environment. And let’s not forget the use of pesticides on non-organic crops, which aren’t necessarily something we want to spritz directly onto our skin.
But what goes into clean fragrance? Natural ingredients, of course, play an important role, but, despite what many may assume, natural is not always the answer—or, at least, the full answer.
There is a definite taboo against the use of synthetics in fragrances, but the argument of natural vs. synthetic is not as black and white as it may seem. Not all synthetics are necessarily bad; they can often be less irritating and allergenic than naturally derived ingredients and, in more recent years, there have been many innovations in clean, safe synthetics. We should also keep in mind that it's more than just what goes into the bottle. It’s how and where these ingredients are sourced, product transparency, and all-around sustainability.
Thankfully, there are plenty of clean fragrance brands out there shaking up the world of perfume as we know it. Below, we chatted with 10 that you should get to know, all doing their part in changing the industry for the better. Oh, and we got their expert spring fragrance recommendations, too.
Smoke Perfume was founded by massage therapist and aromatherapist Kathleen Currie, whose love for essential oils led her to start her own perfume business.
Not only does Smoke Perfume pride itself in its all-natural products, but also in its practices of sustainability and transparency in business. Sourcing high-quality ingredients, a commitment to buying fair trade (and organic when possible), and working directly with small artisan producers are just a few of the ways the brand incorporates these values.
“In general, the aim of green beauty is to minimize the toxic chemicals we are subjecting our bodies to, and perfume definitely should be included in this practice. Not to mention, the natural ingredients are so interesting and morph and change to suit our unique chemistry, making them smell unique to each wearer, something conventional perfumes don’ t do. We think this is part of the magic!”
Currie’s recommendation for spring? Wellspring. “It’s a deep green floral musk with notes of amber, cacao, ylang ylang, and violet leaf. Notes of green spice give way to a soft dry down. Floral, green, wet earth and honey evoke a feeling of spring that is much welcome after a long winter,” she says.
Anne Nelson Sanford created Lurk, a luxury pure fragrance brand, on the foundation that perfume should be complex, beautiful, and exceptional—as well as authentic. “Simply put, we want to upend preconceived notions about green luxury. Sustainable fragrance is not the wave of the future, but the new standard,” she says.
Each of Lurk’s scents is formulated with organic, sustainable, and wild-crafted oils and botanical essences and hexane-free absolutes. Sanford believes that natural fragrance is critically important to one's health and well-being. “I always ask the question, ‘Wouldn’t you rather wear the beautiful living essence of a rose as opposed to a chemically rendered facsimile?’ I think when people look at natural perfumery from that aspect, the answer is, hands down, yes to natural for sure.”
Sanford recommends the PRJ V1 perfume oil for the season. “This is a modern white flower fragrance with a beautiful twist and one of our most popular scents,” she says. “Created with jasmine sambac—which is lighter, fresher, sexier, and more sophisticated than jasmine grandiflorum, which is found in most white flower perfumes and has a sweeter, heavier fragrance profile—PRJ V1 is a floral explosion, and one that has a beautiful effervescent quality,” she says.
Florescent is a natural, botanical perfume brand run by perfumer Susannah Compton. Every ingredient used in her products is, according to her, “the real deal” and her practices are sustainable on all levels. “Every aroma is distilled or extracted from flowers, woods, fruits, and other botanicals. We source organic and wild-crafted ingredients from responsible, eco-friendly growers, producers, and distributors to ensure that our fragrance is authentic, healthy, and worthy of wearing,” she says.
Additionally, the use of additives like phthalates and parabens are never permitted, and a much higher grade of alcohol, organic grape alcohol, is used as the base, rather than standard perfumer’s alcohol.
For springtime, Compton recommends Sundays, a jasmine-heavy floral scent with warm woody undertones. “The sandalwood and frankincense keep it cozy during the spring thaw while balmy white florals, which include two types of jasmine, hint at the warm summer nights to come. It’s the perfect replacement for those winter layers,” says Compton.
Elizabeth Gaynes felt compelled to create a line of natural fragrance after she witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of global over-farming on agarwood tree crops. Thus, strangelove was born, boasting Helena Christensen as its creative director and Christophe Laudamiel as its master perfumer.
Strangelove’s compelling scents are created with rare ingredients sourced sustainably from all over the world, such as oud, oris butter, red champaca, and ambergris. “I believe that natural is always the best when it comes to the quality of fragrance, and strangelove prides itself on that, regardless of cost. We want our customer to experience the power of real ingredients,” says Gaynes. “How can one truly experience the profound effect of fragrance when they’re not smelling the real, natural ingredients?”
For spring, she recommends the brand's latest, lostinflowers, a scent bursting with pure flower essences such as gardenia enfleurage, champaca, and lily of the valley.
For Cat Chen, using a perfume was always a core part of her beauty routine. After finding that most commercial perfumes use synthetic fragrances, parabens, and phthalates, she decided to create clean, hypoallergenic, and natural fragrances of her own. Introducing: Skylar Body.
Skylar Beauty cares for the environment at its core. All fragrances are vegan and cruelty-free and consciously crafted in L.A. Sustainably sourced flowers, fruits, and spices are mixed with the brand’s propriety parfum—a blend of natural and essential oils—to create each scent, while organic and sustainably harvested sugar cane alcohol is used as the base over the typical ethanol.
For spring, Chen recommends Meadow. “March is here, and we’re putting the winter behind us and focusing on our spring refresh. Meadow is our dreamy spring sidekick—infused with soft notes of tuberose, jasmine, and orange blossom This light and flirty scent embodies everything we love about flowers without being overly fragrant,” she says
by Rosie Jane
By Rosie Jane was born from makeup artist Rosie Johnston’s desire to create an eco-focused beauty brand using high-quality ingredients. Combining naturals and nature identicals, Johnston strives for her brand’s handcrafted fragrances to be as clean as possible.
The brand uses only vegan ingredients, and never phthalates or parabens. “When it comes to fragrance, it’s about finding safe, non-toxic alternatives. Naturals in fragrances are not always the best option due to their high allergen levels, but having the conversation is so important. It’s pushing brands to find the best possible ingredients,” says Johnston. Additionally, the packaging is created with recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable materials, and a recycling program has been put in motion to reduce and reuse the company’s waste.
For the upcoming spring season, Johnston recommends the lightly floral Leila Lou. “It’s my go-to spring fragrance because it’s feminine and discreetly sexy.”
Spitfire Girl is the entrepreneurial venture of artist Kristin Schroder. In addition to the uniquely illustrated ceramics, serving trays, candles, and other home goods, Schroder's lineup now includes scent.
Spitfire Girl’s current offering of fragrance, made with naturally derived essential oils, is inspired by ancient mysticism and Egyptian gods—and the bottle illustrations are undoubtedly display-worthy. “Both of our designers are visual artists, so we come up with a feeling or concept and work backward to the fragrance, oftentimes spending years tweaking and refining until it hits the special part of your brain, and you feel—through the scent—our intent,” says Schroder.
As the weather begins to warm up, she recommends Transformation. “It’s perfect for spring, blended and worn specifically to shed the old and to allow for new growth. Tranformation is a unique perfume that combines ancient mysticism with a profoundly modern twist. It’s very clean,” she says. You’ll smell a subtly scented blend of lemon flower, spicy cardamom, and grapefruit peel, with a touch of Asian vanilla.
Honoré des Prés
Honoré des Prés’ line of natural and organic perfumes is the first to be certified by Ecocert. The modern Parisian perfume house creates its scents sans synthetic ingredients, colorants, and phthalates and strives to bring together some of the biggest talents in sustainability to create a fully eco-friendly brand, from the farming engineers sourcing ingredients to the craftspeople creating the packaging.
For spring, the brand recommends a fragrance created with master perfumer Olivia Giacobetti: Vamp à NY. This tuberose and rum scent boasts a heart of bourbon vanilla and base of benjoin, perou balm, and tolu balm, three balms that take the tuberose to an entirely new level—blending both nature and the atmosphere of New York City into one bottle.
Ellis Brooklyn is the brainchild of New York Times writer Bee Shapiro. Her line of fragrances is more focused on ingredient safety, rather than the argument of naturals vs. synthetics, and formulated using a high percentage of naturals and some safe synthetics. “We strive for sustainable practices, so often times, the synthetic fragrance is not only the more environmentally responsible choice but also the one with fewer allergens,” she says. Additionally, any naturals are sourced sustainably and follow CITES regulations.
For warmer weather, Shapiro recommends Fawn, her upcoming fragrance launch inspired by “coming-of-age novels and the underlying tension between innocence and growing up.” We won’t be able to shop this beachy scent until it drops at Credo next month, but we’ll be dreaming of its bergamot, coconut milk, amber, lily of the valley, and magnolia notes until then.
Dasein is a small-batch, hand-blended and -bottled fragrance line based out of L.A. Owner Sam Rader, a self-taught indie perfumer, creates everything out of her home when she’s not running her private psychology practice. The line is mostly natural, using sustainable ingredients such as Australian sandalwood (rather than sandalwood from India and Southeast Asia, where the crops are dwindling).
Rader also incorporates the use of safe synthetic aroma molecules into the mix. She explains that, while many tend to shy away from the use of synthetics, they can be safer than we think. “These synthetic molecules made in a lab are under so much more rigorous testing for safety and health standards,” she explains. They also help keep an otherwise-natural scent stabilized and prevent it from going rancid.
For spring, Rader recommends her fittingly named fragrance, Spring, a unisex scent that incorporates vetiver from both India and El Salvador, Egyptian rose, sandalwood, yuzu essential oil, and black pepper, meant to evoke a sunny spring morning.