A beautiful perfume is the best finishing touch to any daily beauty routine. You get yourself ready for work or a night out, splash your favourite scent, and feel empowered. Perfume has been an important part of human life for over a millennia and is more popular today than ever.
People wear perfume to feel good. A pleasant scent can instil confidence and boost self-esteem just before walking out of the door or walking into a meeting.
A captivating scent can even attract a potential love interest. Others simply wear perfume to promote their own individuality. Kings and Queens also once had a unique fragrance just for them. Some smells have the power to reignite fond memories and send you back in time.
Whatever your reason for wearing perfume, understanding how perfume is made can help you appreciate that bottle of perfume that much more. The same way that people are connected to a fine wine once they have visited the vineyard on which the grapes grow.
Raw materials must be collected before any process can begin. The selection of these raw materials and the combination is the most critical and challenging part of the process. Some might say creating a beautiful smelling perfume is an art, others will argue it’s purely science.
Either way, getting the right mix of raw materials is essential. These raw materials include many natural ingredients, such as:
Some perfumes also contain the secretions of animals. Vegan perfumes do not contain any animal ingredients whatsoever.
Synthetic ingredients are also an essential part of the mix. Synthetics have been given a bad reputation over the last decade being labelled dangerous and environmentally unfriendly. The truth is, some synthetics are bad, and others are good.
At Dolma, we use a minimal number of safe synthetics in our perfumes that have been certified and approved by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).
IFRA is “is the global representative body of the fragrance industry. It seeks to represent the collective interests of the industry and promote the safe use of fragrances.”
Synthetic ingredients can help save animals, trees and plants from harm and going extinct by replicating their oils. In some cases, natural ingredients are worse for the environment than synthetic alternatives. This is due to intensive harvesting, poaching, the black market, and human rights violations.
Natural ingredients such as ambergris from sperm whales, musk from deer, rose petals, and sandalwood are all unethical and environmentally unfriendly ingredients. Using safe synthetic ingredients is, therefore, common sense but the demand for natural everything in cosmetics is painting ALL synthetics with a bad name.
Some synthetics for plant scents exist purely because the plant does not naturally produce oil. Therefore, it must be synthetic to replicate the smell, such as lily of the valley.
In fact, just 2,000 of the 250,000 known flowering plant species contain these essential oils.
We all must inform each other on the difference between harmful synthetics and safe and eco-friendly synthetics.
Safe synthetic ingredients used by perfume companies may include:
Before extraction begins, all the raw materials are collected and brought to the manufacturing plant. Here, the oils are extracted from the plant substances that have been received.
There are several methods of extracting oils, including:
- Steam distillation
- Solvent extraction
The plant materials are held in still, and steam is passed through allowing the essential oil to turn to gas. This gas is then sent through several tubes to be cooled and then liquified.
Plant materials can also be boiled to extract oils such as flower petals.
Using large rotating tanks, benzene or petroleum is poured over the flowers, which helps to extract the essential oils.
Once the flowers dissolve, you’re left with a waxy material that contains the essential oils. These oils are then placed with ethyl alcohol which helps the oils rise to the top. Using heat, the alcohol evaporates, and you’re left with the perfume oil at the bottom of the tank.
The most natural and eco-friendly brands do not use this process due to the use of petroleum in the process.
Enfleurage requires glass sheets that are covered in grease. Flowers are spread on top of the glass and grease, and then the glass is placed between wooden frames. The grease slowly absorbs the essential oils, and the flowers are removed.
The process of maceration is very similar to the enfleurage method above. Instead of using grease, fats are used to absorb essential oils. The fats are then dissolved in alcohol to produce the oils.
This is the most traditional way of extracting essential oils from plants. Expression is used to gently squeeze the oils out. You may have seen several cosmetic oil products that claim to be “cold-pressed”. This is just one type of expression technique.
Once all the essential oils are collected, they’re ready to be blended into the formula designed by a perfume master. These perfume experts are also referred to as “the nose”.
Developing formulas for perfumes can be a long and delicate process. It can take hundreds of ingredients and years of work to develop the desired fragrance.
Once the scent is agreed on by all parties, it can then be mixed with alcohol. The type of alcohol will depend on the manufacturer and brand. Mixing with alcohol or synthetic alcohol preserves the essential oils and their smells.
Some very fine perfumes are aged just like wine or whisky. This helps the essential oils develop a unique and pleasant smell. However, ageing is not necessary for a good perfume and is now a less common method. Most modern perfumes, including vegan perfumes, are not aged.
Once a perfume has been aged, the master “nose” is again brought in to test the fragrance. The “nose” will assess the notes of the oils and ensure the scent has been achieved.
A Note About Sustainability
As we continue to discover more about our impact on the planet, all industries must adjust and mitigate their impact. The perfume industry is no different, with massive demand from consumers for more natural, sustainable, and eco-friendly products.
Sustainability is a tricky thing when it comes to perfumes. Most fragrances use natural oils from plants and trees. All these plants must then be harvested for use. This has substantial environmental impacts.
Thousands of flowers are used to create small amounts of oil. This is where safe synthetics are becoming increasingly useful. Natural is not always better, and the cosmetics industry needs to do more to convey this message.
Suppose we don’t make consumers aware of the implications of natural ingredients. We risk perpetuating the environmental damage while simultaneously believing we’re buying products that are having the opposite effect.
Sustainability then can be found by creating a balance between sustainable natural ingredients and necessary safe synthetic ingredients. Consistency in quality is also jeopardized with natural oils. Species of plants change harvested over years yield oils with slightly different scents.
Animal ingredients are, by far, the most damaging to the environment. The sourcing of such ingredients has led to some animals being pushed to the edge of extinction, such as the musk deer. Vegan perfumes avoid animal ingredients and so are already mitigating their impact in a huge way.
But, there is always room for improvement.
All the following needs to be considered to help keep the perfume industry sustainable:
- Sustainable sources for natural ingredients
- Safe synthetics for natural ingredients that can’t be made sustainable
- 100% avoidance of animal-derived ingredients and animal-testing
- Sustainable manufacturing methods
- Carbon neutral programs and initiatives
These six factors can transform the perfume industry into a more sustainable and ethical industry. Many perfume companies are already achieving a number of these factors. We can only hope that all other perfume companies follow suit and quickly.
The process of creating beautiful smelling perfumes has a long and interesting history. But with today’s demand for more sustainability, it’s likely the industry and its methods will evolve accordingly.
Next time you need a new perfume, consider the impacts of the products. Are products sustainable? Is the company ethical? Is the brand helping to mitigate its impact on the planet, or is it simply adding the existing problems?
Make better and more informed choices wherever you can.
Dolma Vegan Perfumes
We’re not perfect (yet). We still have a long way to go to evolve into the eco-friendly pioneer perfume brand we want to be. Dolma has already made significant changes to the way we source materials, manufacture and deliver our perfumes.
In the upcoming months, plan to move to even more sustainable bottles and packaging, join neutral carbon initiatives and support programs that raise more awareness about our planet and animal rights.
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