The move towards ecologically friendly products has extended to perfumes and manufacturers are now increasingly using lavender, jasmine and rose essences or creating compositions with grapefruit and orange. The aromas are extracted from petals, bark or the skins of fruit to collect intensive odours. However, organic perfumes are nothing new — perfumers in the 16th and 17th centuries used natural ingredients to create fragrances.
“The most important considerations are the quality of the raw material and its correct preparation,” says perfumer Roland Tentunian. “Rose petals, for example, must be plucked early in the morning,” explains the managing director of the German company Florascent. The heat of the midday sun can evaporate the roses’ valuable essential oil. Animal fragrances such as musk or food products like chocolate, honey or almond are also often found in eco-perfumes.
Natural essences are more complex than their synthetic counterparts which can lead to some difficult-to-solve problems for perfumers. “One of the components of lemon oil is phototoxic,” explains Frank Hahlbohm, manager of the scent maker Kurt Kitzing. His company is a member of the German Association of Fragrance Makers.
“That means it is hardly ever used in products such as sun blocker or body lotions.” Synthetic lemon oil contains no natural aroma that could be harmful to the skin if exposed to the sun. Synthetic lemon scent is not as good as the real thing but it means it can be used in skin care products.
“In general it is much more difficult to extract essential oils than to make a synthetic version,” says Hahlbohm. The amount of essential oil extracted is also usually quite small and drought or pest infestation can also cause a bad harvest of the raw material.
All of these factors help to drive up the cost of some essential oils.
That explains why eco-perfumes still make up only a tiny proportion of the market, according to the German cosmetic association VKE. It is a different matter when it comes to grooming products where essential oils are becoming increasingly important.
“Pure organic perfumes continue to be niche products due to their high raw material costs and because of the substantial allergy risks associated with them,” says Martin Ruppmann from VKE.
Assessing the allergy risk posed by an eco-perfume is difficult, according to the dermatologist and allergist Johannes Geier. Geier is also president of the Contact Allergy Group at the University of Goettingen. “In many cases we do not know the eco-perfume’s complete composition.” Dermatologist Gertraud Kremer from Berlin has this advice for allergy sufferers: “Before you buy you should test the perfume on your skin. Preferably not on your face but on your elbow.” There is no evidence to show that essential oils are kinder to your skin than synthetic fragrances. Allergy sufferers should pay attention to the ingredients label which should follow the international INCI standard.