Written by Grove Collaborative

Smell It Like It Is: 10 Best Natural Perfumes

Last Updated: February 4, 2021

Learn about the dangers of conventional perfumes, why natural perfumes are better for your health, and see 10 best natural perfumes customers love.

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!

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 customers and we at Grove 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.

Are natural perfumes safe?

We cannot smell a lie

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.


Our motto is: When given the choice, why wouldn't you choose a simpler, safer, cleaner product?

GROVE TIP

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

Earthy notes

  • sandalwood
  • vanilla
  • patchouli
  • cedar
  • clove

GROVE FAQ

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.

Best natural perfumes

Creating perfumes is a delicate and time-consuming process. That's why we've done the research for you, and chosen our favorite natural perfumes that Grove customers and staff love. They're made with natural and safe synthetic ingredients, and their companies pass our strict criteria for being conscious of the health of body and planet.

Good Chemistry

Good Chemistry is transparent about using only natural and "safe synthetic raw materials," and customers are transparent about how much they love this brand. Vegan, cruelty-free, and no sulfates, parabens, or propylene glycol are ever used. Good Chemistry is a top natural fragrance purveyor. Here are three of their most beloved fragrances:



Abel

Beautifully made and stunningly presented perfumes are what Abel is all about. They couldn't be more transparent, listing every single ingredient along with its country of origin, plus possible allergens. A bit pricier than some others, but customers swear by this thoughtful perfumier — including these top-rated fragrances:


  • Abel Grey Labdanum Eau de Parfum — The heck is "labdanum," you ask? Nope, not a body part. It's what you know as an amber scent — woody, earthy, warm, and musky. Labdanum, along with notes of sandalwood and patchouli and finished with bitter orange and violet, creates an amazing, sexy, and lasting scent in this perfume.
  • Abel Golden Neroli Eau de Parfum — This fragrance took home the gold in 2019 from Dirty Thinkers Choice Awards for Best Clean Fragrance, and we see why. Neroli is extracted from bitter orange tree blossoms. It's citrus-y and slightly floral, with a bit of herbal bitterness that's unmistakable. Additional notes in this perfume include ylang ylang, matcha tea, and East Indian sandalwood. Customers call it light, warm, and sensual.
  • Abel Red Santal Eau de Parfum — Red Santal starts with a note of black pepper but settles in with clove, bergamot, ginger, and thyme, and finishes with its base of sandalwood. It's woodsy and spicy, with a lasting sandalwood warmth.

Little Moon Essentials

Little Moon Essentials have a fiercely loyal following for their refreshing bath salts and mists — the most popular of which is called Tired Old Ass — no, really! This Colorado-based company takes a unique approach to creating their products: They use the phases of the moon rather than conventional heating processes to extract their essential oils. Those oils and other ingredients remain pure and potent, helping to create Little Moon's signature mists that address one's mood as much as one's scent. Their products are cruelty-, paraben-, and preservative-free. These four mists are meant to be lighter and used more often than perfume, and customers rave about each spritz.


  • Little Moon Essentials Tired Old Ass - Mist — One of our highest reviewed fragrances, Tired Old Ass is meant to wake you up — and that it does. Fresh, invigorating notes of eucalyptus, rosemary, vetiver, and balsam create a clean, woodsy aroma.
  • Little Moon Essentials Sleep Comes Easy - Mist — Relax with this mist, rife with notes of lavender, bergamot, frankincense, vetiver, coriander, and more. Customers use this to fall asleep more easily, to de-stress, and even to help kids unwind for bedtime. We say ahhhhh-men to this chill-out tonic.
  • Little Moon Essentials Clear Skies Ahead - Mist — This mist also starts with soothing lavender, but Little Moon adds fresh, floral notes of geranium, chamomile, and ylang ylang, providing a wonderful way to lift your senses — and your mood.
  • Little Moon Essentials Clear Mind - Mist — Grapefruit is the refreshing note in this mist, along with spa-day-esque eucalyptus and piney rosemary. Together, they can break up a dragging day, help you hit reset, and remind you to breathe in a little more joy.

DID YOU KNOW?

(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.

Shop natural perfume


Looking for more sustainable skin care swaps and other eco-friendly switches you can make at home? Grove has you covered. From timely topics such as our handwashing and hand sanitizer breakdown to evergreen primers like our simple ways to reduce your plastic use at home, our handy guides are here to answer your most pressing questions. And let us know how if you have any menstrual cup questions (or share your own tips for making the switch using #grovehome) by following Grove Collaborative on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

If you're ready to make the switch to natural fragrance or other eco- and body-friendly products, explore Grove Collaborative's beauty selection.

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