a bottle of perfume artfully placed next to a flower with white petals

Smells Like Clean Spirit: Your Guide to Clean Fragrance & Natural Perfume

Last Updated: August 23, 2022

Learn about the potential dangers of conventional perfumes, why natural perfumes are better for your health, and check out the best natural perfumes our members love.

How fitting that the word "perfume" is derived from the Latin "per fume," which means "through smoke." We're here to cut through the smoke and mirrors when it comes to manufacturing conventional — and often chemical-laden — modern perfumes. Read on to learn about possible dangerous ingredients found in perfumes, why natural perfumes are the way to go, and our top 10 natural perfumes that members feel make good scents. (Pun always intended.)

What are natural perfumes?

As is so often the case with our guides to natural products, we find it helpful to look first at what natural perfumesdon't contain. Here are our top ingredients to avoid in perfume:

Sniff out these stinkers

  • Phthalates: Often used in fragrances; phthalates have been linked to hormone disruption and breast cancer.
  • Parabens: These preservatives mimic hormones and can disrupt hormones in the body.
  • Propylene glycol: This is a skin conditioner that can cause irritation and allergic reactions.
  • Benzyl acetate, benzaldehyde, benzophenone: These range from irritants to known carcinogens. Just avoid any "benz," except maybe the ones that have a "Mercedes" in front of them.
  • Musk ketones/artificial musks: The scent of musk is so popular that synthetic musks are the only way to meet demand — and these chemicals show up in human tissue. Avoid "galaxolide" and "helvetolide" especially — these artificial musks are linked to skin irritation and hormone disruption.

Check out our guide to natural home fragrances and scent your abode naturally, too!

Are natural perfumes safe?

The biggest problem with conventional perfumes is what we can't see on the label, thanks to a loophole in Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disclosure and testing. Manufacturers are allowed to simply list the word "fragrance" among their ingredients — and that one word can represent literally 3,000+ chemicals, most of them untested for safety.

Under a sort of "trade secret" umbrella, companies aren't required to list all of the many chemicals used to create their fragrances. So even if you were looking for a scary ingredient we listed, you might not see it, but it could be present as part of "fragrance."

Today's best natural perfumes resemble the original perfumes recorded thousands of years ago, with essential oils and natural alcohols among their top ingredients.


Do due diligence

Since the terms "natural perfume" and "natural fragrance" aren't regulated, it’s a good idea to read the labels and do a little brand recon to check out the company’s values and natural claims. On the label, look for plant-derived essential oils and natural carrier oils like coconut, jojoba, and olive.

How are natural perfumes made?

Standard methods of making perfumes are basically the same for both conventional and natural — it's the base ingredients that differ.

Conventional perfumes typically start with a host of synthetic ingredients to create a scent, and many of these are known toxins. Natural perfumes start with plants — namely, their essential oils — which are highly aromatic and — hopefully — pleasing to the olfactory sense. Pure essential plant oils are very strong, and many shouldn't be directly applied to the skin, so in natural perfumes, they’re diluted with alcohol or carrier oils, which also help blend the scents.

Essential oil extraction methods

  • Steam distillation: Plant material is put in a still, and steam from hot water draws out oils and impurities, leaving behind the plant’s essential oils.
  • Solvent extraction: Plants are dissolved in alcohol, mixed until they form a waxy substance, and then placed in ethyl alcohol again to dissolve the wax. Once that alcohol evaporates, essential oils are left behind.
  • Cold-pressing: Also known as expression, this process is used to extract essential oils from citrus fruits and involves scoring the rind and placing it in a centrifuge with water.

  • Here are some of the most popular essential oils in natural perfumes:


Citrus notes

  • lemon
  • tangerine
  • orange
  • bergamot
  • grapefruit

Floral notes

  • rose
  • geranium
  • ylang ylang
  • lavender
  • jasmine
Vanilla and wood illustration

Earthy notes

  • sandalwood
  • vanilla
  • patchouli
  • cedar
  • clove

Don’t like scents? No problem! Check out the best fragrance-free products available on Grove.


How long does natural perfume last?

How long a natural perfume lasts depends on the quality of the essential oils, the carrier oil, the production process, and the variety of notes. A quality natural perfume can last as long as conventional perfumes.

Brand we love: Good Chemistry

Good Chemistry wants to treat your nose to beautifully crafted perfumes that are so yummy, they’ll have everyone asking what scent you're wearing. This brand uses plant-based essential oils and thoughtfully chosen formulas to create its perfumes — no parabens, propylene glycol, phthalates, or dyes are invited to this VIP list of clean ingredients. They’re also vegan, cruelty-free, and PETA-certified because good vibes are just as important as good smells.

But that’s not the only reason we love ‘em. Good Chemistry is on the pulse point of sustainability with brand partnerships with companies like Terracycle that make it super easy to recycle each and every component of the brand's perfume bottles. And with full transparency on all of Good Chemistry's ingredients, you can count on a seriously delicious experience down to the last drop. Science has never smelled so good.

Need a new scent? Discover a few of our favorite perfumes below:

Good Chemistry Queen Bee Eau de Parfum

Queen Bee is a royal celebration of sparkling fruits with notes of black currant, peony, and amber that are vibrant and bold with a hint of sass.

Good Chemistry Queen Bee Eau de Parfum Travel Spray

Sassy, but make it travel-sized. Queen Bee’s vibrant fruity aspects melt through to warm undertones that unfold to reveal its fresh, floral heart.

Good Chemistry Sugar Berry Eau de Parfum Travel Spray

With its delightful balance of freesia, raspberry, and vanilla that are both playful and at ease, Sugar Berry evokes an image of a pink sands paradise with a sweet and irresistible energy.

Good Chemistry Magnolia Violet Eau de Parfum Travel Spray

Magnolia Violet invites you on a unique adventure with captivating notes of magnolia, peony, and amber, making it an elegantly romantic delight to wear.

Good Chemistry Pink Palm Eau de Parfum Travel Spray

Vacation vibes? Check. Notes of dragonfruit, magnolia, and sugared vanilla make Good Chemistry’s Pink Palm fragrance fresh and lively with a free spirit.

Good Chemistry Cheerful Charmer Eau de Parfum Travel Spray

This skin-loving formula has notes of coconut milk, apple blossom, and vanilla, giving Cheerful Charmer an indulgent and flirty charm.

Good Chemistry Tiger Lily Eau de Parfum Travel Spray

Are you a sublime floral or flirtatious gourmand? Tiger Lily is a happy balance of both, with delightful and daring notes of orange flower, vanilla, and amber.

Good Chemistry Coco Blush Eau de Parfum Travel Spray

Designed with notes of juicy tropical fruits, fresh-cracked coconut, and oceanic driftwood, Coco Blush delivers a summer state of mind all year round.


A micro-history of perfume

Records show that the first documented perfume maker was a woman named Tapputi who lived in Cyprus about 4,000 years ago. Throughout history, perfumes have been used for religious ceremonies, clothing, food, bathing rituals, and of course, as a seductive tool to entice one's paramour.

Here at Grove Collaborative, we’re big believers in the power of natural products — both for ourselves and for the planet. But we know making the switch can be daunting, especially if you’re accustomed to conventional products and are new to the world of natural, eco-friendly alternatives. That’s why we’ve created Beginner’s Guides to Natural. Each week, we’ll give you a primer on the ins and outs of transitioning to a natural version of a common household item, plus a few of our favorite brands for making the switch. Let’s get to swapping!

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