What is Perfume?

It might seem like a silly question, but wearing perfume has not always been about just smelling good.

For centuries, wearable fragrances were used for spiritual practices, for communal rituals, and for their medicinal values. And it wasn’t just about the product and its purpose; the process of growing, extracting, and creating the “potions” was just as valued. Historically, fragrances were always derived from nature, and many of the non-toxic perfume brands we share below view perfumery as an art form conceived and inspired by nature. 

We can’t talk about perfume without talking about skin. It is our bodies’ largest organ that a) we apply perfume products to and b) is a protective barrier between the outside and inside of our bodies as part of our integumentary system. Our integumentary system also includes our hair, nails, glands, and nerves. Since this system can absorb so much of what we put on it, it’s good to be mindful of the ingredients used in the fragrances we spray, rub, and dab on ourselves.

In the same way our sense of taste craves nourishment through food, there is an instinctive reason our olfactory sense is attracted to so many healthful botanicals. Let this be a proposal to seek our wearable fragrances not for hiding our detoxing stink, but for helping our body function and battle the toxins around us.

But it’s not just about having skin that smells good. Fragrances also trigger mental associations, memories, and pheromones. This is where the mind, body, and spirit connection is really strong—when it comes to perfume, they’re all connected!

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient/material safety standards.

What Is Perfume Made Of?

That’s the million-dollar question! As we’ll see in a minute, laws surrounding “fragrance” transparency are incredibly lax, especially in the United States. Companies are actually not required to tell you what’s in their “fragrance” (also listed on ingredient labels as “parfum”) because it’s considered a “trade secret.”

As for the other ingredients in perfume (outside of the “fragrance”), the list can vary widely. In general, most perfumes contain some sort of extracted plant or animal material, water, alcohol and/or a carrier oil, and dye for color, along with a bunch of other chemicals that are used for things like making sure the scent sticks to your skin for a longer period of time.

Is Wearing Perfume Bad For You?

Do perfumes contain toxic chemicals? The short answer is: yes. One 2016 study shows that 35% of those studied suffered some sort of negative consequence—from migraines to respiratory issues—when exposed to fragrance.

Many people, however, won’t notice any immediate effects of spraying or dabbing themself with perfume each day. But the hidden chemicals that exist in almost all conventional perfumes add to one’s overall toxic burden (the total amount of environmental toxins you’re exposed to and absorbing on a day-to-day, year-to-year basis). This toxic burden can cause problems over a long period of time, even in an otherwise healthy person.

A few potential health risks common perfume chemicals can cause are:

  • neurotoxicity
  • nervous system damage
  • kidney damage
  • respiratory issues
  • ataxia
  • inflammation, especially in the intestines
  • dizziness
  • fatigue

Then consider the rising number of people who struggle with allergies, chronic illness, auto-immune disease, multiple chemical sensitivity, autism, and other conditions which may make them even more sensitive to certain ingredients. Pregnant women and infants may also be more susceptible to the negative effects of these chemicals. If you or a loved one fits into one of these categories, it’s all the more important to use non-toxic perfume.

How Much Of The Perfume Is Absorbed Into My Body?

There is not yet a straightforward answer to the question of how much our skin actually absorbs. Your skin consists of several different layers, which vary in chemical composition. So the ingredients and compounds they let through to be absorbed into your body vary as well.

Not only that, but the cosmetics industry has found ways (like emulsification, for example) to make things easier for your skin to absorb.

All that being said, though, your skin is still an incredibly powerful barrier when it comes to toxins, and it has measures in place (like toxin-deactivating enzymes) that stop many potentially harmful chemicals from getting into your skin.

There are so many different variables that determine how much perfume is absorbed into your body: age, skin color, environment, type of chemical, allergen history, total toxic burden, and area of the body (the skin on your face is thinner and more absorbent than the skin on the bottoms of your feet).

The point is that we probably absorb some but not all of what we put on our skin (or somewhere around 64% on average). But everyone is different, so that exact amount is going to be different for each person, and maybe even for each season!

Most Popular Perfumes That Are Toxic

It’s unfortunate, but you really can’t trust any of the popular conventional perfumes that are on the market. From Coco Chanel and Gucci to Dolce & Gabbana and Yves Saint Laurent—all of these perfumes contain mystery fragrances that are most likely involve phthalates or other potentially toxic chemicals.

If you’re trying to steer clear of toxins in your daily routine, it’s best just to stay away from the traditional department store brands altogether. (But the good news is that we’ve got several amazing non-toxic perfume brands to choose from below!)

What Ingredients Should You Watch Out For In Perfume?

The top toxic ingredients include, but are not limited to:

  • acetaldehyde
  • acetone
  • benzaldehyde
  • benzophenone
  • benzyl alcohol
  • camphor
  • ethanol
  • ethyl acetate
  • limonene
  • linalool
  • methylene chloride
  • and many phthalates (like diethyl phthalate – see below), stearates, and parabens

Many of these ingredients will not be listed on the label because they’re a part of the “fragrance” loophole that doesn’t require brands to disclose them. This can make perfume shopping confusing and frustrating if you’re an ingredient-conscious consumer.

Why is Non-Toxic Perfume Important?

If you or a loved one has suffered from chronic health issues, then the importance of switching from conventional to non-toxic perfume may seem obvious to you.

As noted above, though, even those who are healthy would do well to consider using non-toxic perfume instead of the conventional stuff in order to reduce your environmental toxin burden over a long period of time. Doing so is not only beneficial for your long-term health, but also that of our home planet.

Not to mention, buying from the brands below is a great opportunity to support small, eco-conscious businesses and artisans!

A key nuance in shopping for non-toxic perfumes is to gauge transparency from the brand about their ingredients. Simply having nothing to hide usually indicates a degree of safety at the very least.

Also, pay attention to the brand’s mission, product ethos, purpose, and environmental impact. This will show you a more robust scope of the brand rather than just checking the product label for non-toxic perfume ingredients.

What Does “Fragrance” Mean?

As mentioned above, it’s not uncommon to see the term “fragrance” on the ingredient lists for both conventional and natural perfumes. The laws in the United States governing cosmetics ingredients allow for a huge, vague range of toxicity through using the term “fragrance.” The word can include anything from a list of over 3,000 stock chemicals, which include known hormone disruptors and allergens.

When brands use the term “fragrance,” they are not legally required to list the ingredients on the labels; “fragrance” could mean toxic chemicals and/or it could mean safe essential oils or other natural ingredients. The problem is that there’s almost no way of knowing what the “fragrance” actually entails.

The regulations in the European Union (E.U.) are different. The E.U. requires more label transparency and has a list of thousands of banned ingredients that brands are not allowed to include in their perfumes (including some natural ingredients).

What Is Diethyl Phthalate?

Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is a type of phthalate that’s commonly used in fragrances and perfumes. (But again, you won’t see this listed on a perfume package because it will be hidden under the “fragrance” label.) Phthalates are endocrine disruptors.

What Do Endocrine Disruptors Do?

In short, endocrine disruptors can disrupt your natural hormone function. Although we typically think of the reproductive system when we think of hormones (and that is a big part of it), our hormones affect a lot more than that, from wake and sleep patterns to hunger and metabolic systems, and more. Endocrine disruptors have been linked to things like decreased sperm motility and fertility, genital abnormalities in baby boys, asthma, allergies, and more.

What Can I Use Instead Of Perfume?

When you think “perfume,” you might only think of a traditional spray. However, there are other forms of clean fragrance that you can use as perfume. In this article, you’ll notice a blurry line between serums, body oils, powders, and spray perfumes—all of these different mediums can be used for the same purpose as a conventional spray perfume.

These non-toxic perfume brands are using ingredients and recipes with intention, so instead of just masking body odor with scent identity, they strive to offer doses of health benefits too. 

Related: Best Non-Toxic Moisturizer & Body Lotion Without Harmful Chemicals

What Is The Best Natural Perfume?

Perhaps even more than other products, non-toxic perfume preferences vary widely from person to person. We each have our our preferences, emotions, and memories associated with different types of scents.

So while there is no one “best” natural perfume, we’ve identified seven amazing brands for you to experiment with so that you can find what’s best for you.

Non-Toxic Perfume Brands You Can Trust

non-toxic-perfume-fragrance-brands-annmarie-the-filtery

Annmarie

For some unconventional luxury scent options, Annmarie carries a Palo Santo Hair & Body Mist (infused with crystals!) along with a Luxury Essential Oil Blend Roll-On. Made using sustainably sourced essential oils and other plant-based ingredients, these formulations really are luscious.

Annmarie is one of our favorite brands for non-toxic and mindfully made skincare products. They’re MADE SAFE certified, which is one of the strictest third-party certifications when it comes to ingredient safety.

Not only that, but everything is vegan and cruelty-free, made in the USA, and non-GMO.

non toxic perfume brands blade and bloom

{blade + bloom} Apothecary

{blade + bloom} is a small batch apothecary that creates 100% natural, plant-based products. Their blends are inspired by familiar scent memories (since scent is the strongest memory trigger). Each story is told on the product labels “to read and share.”

{blade + bloom} products range from body scrubs, serums, lotions, to candles, and more. The product that would most serve a “perfume” purpose is their rich fragrance oil, which is made of fractionated coconut oil and essential oils. This product uses body heat to activate the fragrance and its benefits!

All products are handmade in Chicago using high-quality ingredients, packaged in recyclable/reusable containers, and feature a minimal design.

best non toxic fragrance

Henry Rose

Henry Rose is no tolerance for the “fragrance” loopholes in the industry and is committed to telling consumers everything. They are “removing the last black box in the beauty industry, and revealing our mystery.”

Their standards are super strict. Free from a list of thousands of potentially problematic ingredients, Henry Rose was the first fine fragrance to be both EWG Verified™ and Cradle to Cradle Certified™. Plus, their bottles are made from 90% recycled glass, their caps are made from sustainably-sourced and compostable soy. They give back a portion of profits to Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, too.

best non toxic fragrance brands

Cultus Artem

Cultus: [Latin] the root word for culture or cultivation / Artem: [Latin] the root word for making art

Cultus Artem is unhurried; they produce their fragrances in-house to eschew the mass production and disposable possessions that proliferate our culture today. In addition to steps to decrease waste throughout the entire production process, the team at Cultus Artem adheres to the European Union standards for ingredient regulations and works with a toxicologist to make sure that nothing potentially harmful makes its way into their bottles.

best non toxic fragrance brands

LVNEA

pronounced: [lou – nay – uh] – {Romanian – Lunea : Monday} (n) the moon’s day; day of the moon. 

LVNEA employs an experience-based, nature-focused, and art-forward ethos to create their hand-crafted, natural, botanical, unisex products. Their perfumes come in multiple formats: oil, eau de parfum, eau de cologne, perfume creme, and perfume sets, amongst other apothecary products. Each scent tells a story and lists the ingredients made from authentic, raw botanical essences. Check out LVNEA‘s website to read more about their beautifully inspirational explorations. Additionally, the FAQs provide every ounce of transparency possible regarding the ingredients and process. 

Each scent begins as a distinct story, transforming the conceptual into high olfactory art. Traditional French parfumerie techniques are juxtaposed with luxuriantly minimal design, creating scents that are at once reminiscent of another world, yet deeply familiar.

best non toxic gender neutral fragrance brands

Gather

Gather emphasizes the enhanced experience of perfumes vs. body oils with historical and all-hand-made notions that honor sensuality, ritual, botanicals, healing, imagination, art, and harmony. Their perfume ingredients, processes, and philosophical identity all are synergistic. Gather sets itself apart with its interesting time-based scent blends. Each formula tells a story.

Ingredients are hand-gathered (hence the name), entirely hand-made in small batches of 100% natural botanical aromatics in a stable base of artisanal spirits and/or coconut oil, includes NO synthetics, phthalates, petrochemicals, or synthetic preservatives. Animal products are used in some products by way of beeswax, honey, and lanolin.

natural fragrance

Empress Rose by Sacred Botanica NYC

Sacred Botanica is a retail and education space dedicated to Empress Karen Rose’s work as a Plant Teacher, Astrologer, and Medicine Woman. From her native home in Guyana, Karen Rose brings generations of African, Caribbean, and Latin American traditions and legacies in plant medicine and community healing to Brooklyn, NY.

Her apothecary, Made By Empress Rose, is just one part of the whole of her work. Magic, autonomy, empowerment, wisdom, knowledge, power, connection, and ancestry are woven into her products. Aura Sprays and Magical Oils are the wearable fragrances most relevant to this article. But, these aren’t limited to just wearing on the body and hair – these are used also on objects, furniture, and spaces. Ingredients are magical and simple: herbs in sunflower oil or floral waters. 

Find Empress Rose oils and sprays amongst candles, burners, incense and resin, floor wash, bath products, etc. The power of ancestry, culture, and magic provide each product with a healing purpose.

best natural nontoxic perfume

Smoke

Smoke offers signature sacred scents of nature into non-toxic botanical perfumes for ceremonial moments. These gender-neutral perfumes are made out of high-quality, ethically sourced, all-natural ingredients that are distilled straight from their natural source. Smoke uses organic oils or 100% organic perfumers alcohol as carriers and identifies each collection with a color and a feeling personal to founder and owner, Kathleen Currie. The products’ thorough profiles make online fragrance shopping a well-rounded and informed experience.

best natural fragrance brands

Alchemy Slow Living

For the bright-minded busy spirits, Alchemy is built with a Leisure Arts foundation to create products that support a slow-living lifestyle and self-care practices. Hand-poured and packaged in Ferndale, Michigan, these fragrances are made with plant-based and 100% synthetic-free ingredients, harvested from all parts of a plant, and created using traditional techniques. With artist letter-pressed packaging and glowing reviews, Alchemy sets itself apart as quintessential.

non toxic perfume brands

Ambre Blends

Ambre Blends’ products are categorized by their five signature, uniquely designed blends which are made to be worn together and alternated. Each scent’s line of products includes Pure Essence Oil, Body Cream, Spritzer, Natural Deodorant, Skin Tonic, Bath products, Candles, Illuminating Moisturizer, Organic Lip Remedy, and more.

Ambre talks about scent immunity as the acclimation of your sense of smell to one particular scent, which decreases your sensual experience. In order to resist and remediate this ‘numbness,’ they promote rotating their blends. Hand-made and packaged in Indianapolis, Indiana, product packaging is recycled and biodegradable.

best non toxic gender neutral fragrance

DedCool

Founder Carina Chaz grew up in a family that was well-versed in the wellness industry—she was in her family’s laboratory mixing up scented concoctions before clean beauty was “cool.”

DedCool is gender-neutral, vegan, cruelty-free, non-toxic and made in L.A.

Natural, non-toxic perfumes are not impossible to find and your body and your nose will thank you in the long run!

You may also like this article: Where to Buy Natural, Non-Toxic Nail Polish (And Remover!)


About the Author

Jaclyn Stephens is an artist, farmer, and writer. Her work generates associative play between environments, materials, meanings, and sensory perceptions. Utilizing a variety of mediums, her work suspends the buoyancy we experience between the known and unknown about nature. Cultivating a relationship with landscape is both a way of living and a way of making, but primarily what connects everything she is constantly doing.


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Image Credits: all product images belong to respective brands