A Breath of Fresh Air: How Natural Perfumes Are Prioritizing Sustainability
Perfume has the potential to be both deeply personal and a wholesale celebration of the environment. Here’s what’s going on in the world of natural fragrance.
Research tells us that scents associated with positive experiences have the potential to boost mood, curb cravings, and minimize stress. As such, selecting an everyday fragrance can actually contribute to your overall well-being—and if said fragrance is sustainable, it can ease the burden on the planet, too. The next phase in our seemingly endless conversation about what constitutes clean, eco-friendly skincare? Aside from increased regulation, we posit that sustainable fragrance is soon to be a top note.
Let’s talk about the beauty industry as a whole. To begin, it’s growing at an impossible (and unsustainable) pace—according to NPD, those with household incomes of $100,000 or more ramped up their beauty product consumption by 14% in the first half of 2022 for a total spend of nearly $9 billion. The cosmetic sector produces more than 120 billion units of packaging every year globally and features a wealth of synthetic ingredients that, when rinsed from our skin, wind up in the oceans and waterways where they pose threats to marine life.
Though “clean beauty” is on the rise, it's largely unregulated, forcing consumers to rely on brand transparency around mindful ingredient sourcing, packaging, social impact, and production rates—all of which are vital to our environment. Fragrance is part of this equation, and there are currently no industrywide (or legal) definitions of sustainability around spritzable scents. Somewhat paradoxically, most perfumes pull inspiration from the natural world, blending extracts to create a layered cocktail of scent that reveals itself in different ways throughout the day.
Basically, championing natural and sustainable perfume is the only sensical choice.
“Natural fragrances can really help us to connect to the natural world, and to our memories,” says Emily Cameron, founder of Ffern, a natural fragrance maker. Ffern’s made-to-order fragrance releases align with the seasons, feature natural ingredients, and are housed in plastic-free, reusable, recycled, and recyclable (and in some instances compostable) packaging.
“Being a young fragrance house is a great advantage in being as sustainable as possible,” says Cameron. “We have been able to make this central to our work from the very beginning.”
Brands like Sana Jardin, Le Labo, and Floral Street have taken similar steps to ensure sustainability is a part of the company's DNA. Sana Jardin's luxury perfumes come with supply chain transparency, championing female flower harvesters while limiting waste; Le Labo favors refillable bottles; and Floral Street's vegan scents are packaged in pulp made from renewable and recyclable wood fibers and upcycled coffee cups.
For larger beauty brands like Lancôme, commitments to sustainability are a bit more theatrical—but still a step in the right direction. The brand plans to open Le Domaine de la Rose to the public this year. Located in the Grasse region of France, the "ecological site" focuses on the organic cultivation of roses and other perfume plants with the goal of showcasing a commitment to the environment and lessening its overall footprint. The site aims to highlight the importance of ingredient cultivation, regenerative agriculture, and biodiversity—all crucial factors when considering sustainable ingredients.
For its own sourcing, Ffern prioritizes quality and seed-to-bottle sustainability, selecting sandalwood from newly cultivated groves in Australia, for example, rather than the wild forests of India, where the trees are becoming more endangered. The brand’s frankincense, from Somalia, comes from a supplier that limits harvest to protect the trees while providing local employment, while its Haitian vetiver is both luxurious (“We love the Haitian variety’s sparkling earthiness,” says Cameron) and beneficial to the local population.
Le Labo follows a similar path, providing consumers clarity around where its ingredients come from (and offering information about what they actually are), while Floral Street partners with sustainable sourcing group Robertet to ensure its raw materials are both responsibly sourced and traceable.
If you ask Cameron, though, natural fragrance isn’t just the ethical choice—it’s more luxurious (and effective) than the alternative.
"It’s a bit like the difference between burning a candle and flicking on the electric light—the electric light is reliable and gets the job done, but can be pretty one note and, at its worst, will give you a headache,” says Cameron. “A candle flickers, it responds to its environment and gives out a beautiful subtle glow. It changes over time and feels (in a world filled with electric light!) more mindful and special. Natural fragrances are like candles."
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