Sophia Du Toit, creator and owner of House of Mir (A beautiful range of natural perfumes which we have just started to sell) answers questions and shares insightful facts and knowledge with us on how the perfume industry has evolved from using natural essences to potentially toxic essences, and on how we should choose our perfume.

How did you get into natural perfumery?

The following quote, really brings it to life:

“Discovering the art of natural perfumery is like crossing the threshold of a beautiful old house and finding it utterly intact and splendidly furnished-but deserted, as if it had been suddenly abandoned. It took centuries to discover ways of extracting scent from aromatic materials. Yet just as a full palette of natural essences became available, commercial perfumers began to set them aside in favor of synthetic ingredients, which are cheaper, sturdier, and more uniform in quality. Unfortunately, they have none of the richness or complexity of the natural ingredients, and they result in ‘linear’ fragrances that strike the senses bluntly, all at once.” – Mandy Aftel

It was exactly because of this blunt, “in your face” nature of modern perfumes that I never used any perfumes. They felt dead to me as opposed to the sparkling aliveness of natural essences. Natural essences contain minute traces of various materials, which is why Moroccan rose smells different from Bulgarian rose or Egyptian rose. Synthetics can approximate the dominant qualities of the natural essences, but they cannot capture the same subtlety or softness, nor can they mimic the way natural perfumes evolve on the skin, uniquely in response to body chemistry.

Why are natural perfumes a better choice than synthetic perfumes?

Most people think of perfumes as being a being a complex blend of exquisite and exotic natural essences. Certainly the glossy advertisements fuels this believe, however, they are often shocked to find out that most modern perfumes contains little if any, natural ingredients.

Indeed, before the mid 1800’s all perfumes were natural perfumes. Perfumery as an art and a profession has a long and distinguished history. For thousands of years they have practiced their art, nature has been both their inspiration and the source of their materials. Perfumer’s creations were used in temples, palaces and ordinary homes, their containers are found among the artefacts of most ancient civilizations.

In the mid 1800’s, scientists began to separate natural raw material into their component parts, isolating aroma chemicals such as courmarin and vanillin. Within decades, scientists found ways to create these aroma chemicals without using natural source material, resulting in the first synthetic perfumery ingredients. With the commercial demands of modern perfumery dictating their choices, perfumers switched from creating perfumes exclusively from natural materials to creating perfumes that were largely or entirely synthetic.

A report from Greenpeace has found that many of the world’s best-selling perfumes contain hazardous levels of certain dangerous chemicals. The organization had the Dutch chemistry lab TNO Environment and Geosciences analyze 36 randomly selected perfumes for the presence of two known toxic hazards: phthalates and synthetic musks, and discovered that both types of chemical were present in the vast majority of samples.

Thirty-four of the tested perfumes were found to contain diethyl phthalate (DEP). Synthetic musks were found in 21 of the tested samples. Both phthalates and synthetic musks are hazardous to human health. Phthalates are solvents added to perfume formulas because they have an ability to easily evaporate at room temperature. This makes them ideal carriers for perfume fragrances. With phthalates added to its formula, a perfume becomes more “smellable” as evaporating phthalate molecules carry the scent with them into the air.

Unfortunately, this ability to enter the air means that phthalates can also easily enter the lungs and the body, where they cause all kinds of havoc. Emerging evidence has linked exposure to phthalates to reproductive and developmental disorders, cancer, organ damage, childhood asthma, and allergies.

Synthetic musks are fragrances manufactured to replace the very expensive natural musks once traditionally used to make perfumes. These compounds have found a home in an a wide variety of scented products including laundry detergents, air fresheners, hand creams, and soaps. As with phthalates, synthetic musks persist in the environment and the human body, where they accumulate as part of the body burden of toxic chemicals that builds up over time in our tissues.

With the exception of natural products, virtually all scented products from household cleaners to scratch-and-sniff kids books use artificial scents like synthetic musks because they are far cheaper to produce. Pound for pound, a natural scenting agent can cost as much as four thousand times its synthetic version. (For more information see the Greenpeace Report)

Today the fragrance industry is worth more than 10 billion US Dollars annually. The essential oils industry is globally worth 10-billion dollars, and rapidly expanding. It seems a staggering amount to spend on fragrance. Why do sweet fragrances have such an allure to us? “Fragrance is liquid emotion”. It reaches to our deepest parts and evokes long lost memories. Scents trigger emotions in all animal life. Natural odours produce instinctive reactions. Perfume aromas stimulate the senses in a more varied and subtle way. What smells nice is tied to the psychology of association which varies from person to person. Scents reflect mood and occasion as well as personality. Reaching back into humanity’s history we see this reflected everywhere.

Just as today where science and the spiritual have become separated, so has the use of fragrances. However just like today, where we find a huge upsurgence in holistic awakening and a striving to unite what was for long separated, so are the same awakening stirring with the fragrances. Today there is a growing number of natural perfumers who practise their art with the same passionate dedication, years of studying, endless hours of sniffing, testing and sourcing the finest ingredients, as do the mainstream perfumers working with synthetics. Creating perfumes with the same awareness that a perfume is silent poetry, an invisible body language that can lift our days, enrich our nights and create the milestones of our memories, naturally.

What is the difference between an aromatherapy blend and a natural perfume?

An Aromatherapy blend is a mixture of fragrant components that create a pleasant impression – such as aromatherapy synergies – they are designed to maximize the potential of the properties of the oils for certain purpose, and also smell pleasant – as pleasant blends work more effectively than those that do not appeal to the person using them. The different notes in a blend are usually very easy to distinguish from one another, and the blend is usually relatively simple in composition.

A perfume is when a new fragrant entity is achieved that is different to the sum of all parts. It is a new olfactory entity, with a distinct character and evolution – where the different notes interact in surprising and harmonious ways. A Perfume is a combination of fragrant ingredients diluted in alcohol, or oil, in a concentration containing about 20-30 percent fragrant ingredient. Eau de parfum contains 10-15% perfume compound, eau de toilette 3-8% concentration of perfume ingredient, and Cologne contains 4% of fragrance ingredient.

See our wonderful new range of House of Mir Natural Perfumes
You can also buy 1.5ml samples of any of the House of Mir fragrances for only R30. To buy a sample, navigate to a fragrance e.g. “House of Mir Natural Oil Based Perfume – Apollo” and then select “1.5ml” from the “Size” drop down box. I have been using the Moondance sample and we can already tell that even the 1.5 ml bottle is going to go a long way. Oh and I love the Apollo frangrance on Chris, Eros is nice for guys too.

How do you select a perfume?

A Perfume is an investment in personality and mood. Each perfume is complex and individual; you have to sniff, to sample, and sniff again. No perfume evokes the same mental image to any two persons. Find one that makes you feel fresh and lively, that stimulates your mind, or evokes your sensuality.You are not expected to buy the whole bottle to find out if you like a perfume, or if it likes you. Tester bottles are there for testing, 1.5 ml sample bottles are available. The same safety precautions as with essential oils applies. IFRA regulations are adhered to in the blends.

COMPARATIVE CATEGORIES Aromatherapy Natural Perfume Synthetic Perfume
Primary Concern Therapeutic Aesthetic with therapeutic benefits Aesthetic
Aesthetic Aims simple Create beauty Create beauty
Ingredient Sources Essential oils Essential oils, concretes and absolutes Mainly, if not totally, synthetic fragrance
Typical Number of Essences Around 5 9 to 30 Over 50
Structure Not a consideration Designed around volativity of top, middle and base notes Can manipulate structure
Drydown on Skin Not a consideration Evolves with body chemistry Synthetic
Duration on Skin Not a consideration Couple of hours Day or more
Duration in Bottle Some carrier oils go bad Ripens with age Can go bad
History Over 4000 years Over 4000 years 100 years
Cost Essential oils are less expensive than absolutes Most expensive and luxurious Most perfume chemicals are not expensive
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