If you are just starting to explore the world of natural scent, you might wonder why you’d need advice on how to wear botanical perfumes. Perfumes are spray-dispensed (mostly) or dabbed (occasionally) from an open flacon, irrespective of whether they are composed predominantly of naturals or synthetics. How much more complicated is it?
Naturals do need some knowledge aforethought if they are to be enjoyed to their full potential and handled with ease. It’s a small learning curve.
Some advice about how to wear botanical perfumes is about overcoming the criticisms of, for instance, their poor longevity or sillage. Much myth circulates and a lot of cynicism accompanies talk of botanical perfume. I often wonder why, given that the sector is small in comparison to the multi-millon dollar synthetic-dominated fragrance market. Indications are though that natural perfumes are set to drive perfume market growth this year and beyond. As botanical perfumes start to garner a greater following, perhaps we’ll see them benchmarked less against synthetics.
My post on 10 Things to Know about Buying Natural Perfumes is a good place to start if you are totally new to naturals. Here, I cover how best to wear botanical perfumes once you’ve bottle in your possession and are committed to trying some out.
Botanical perfumes are often released in limited editions by small, niche indie perfumers. The beauty here is that you can buy small volumes of 30ml down to 7ml luxe phials as well as 2ml samples. These volumes are ideal as you might need to juggle the botanical perfumes you wear according to the season and your mood. The smaller sizes mean that your cherished botanical perfume won’t go past its ‘best before date’ lingering on a shelf while it waits for you to choose it for the next season round.
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How to Wear Botanical Perfumes
Botanical perfumes tend not to have the sillage – aura of dispersed scent – that synthetic-based fragrances do. The reason being that natural perfumes don’t include the cleverly-structured synthetic fragrance oils and molecules that are designed to trail and linger long after the wearer has passed by.
Given the complexities of the individual natural ingredients used in botanical perfumes, they can easily have considerable impact and also good longevity. This depends on the creative brief of the perfumer, the effect desired and choice of raw perfumery materials. Generally though, what they may lack in the sillage stakes, they make up for in other ways.
When you wear botanical perfumes, it is mostly an intimate affair for you and those close to you. Be prepared for this and you will know when and where to enjoy botanicals at their most scintillating and surrender to their complexity. The scent world is waking up to the beauty and advantages of natural perfume’s intimacy. According this a article in the FT’s How to Spend It weekend magazine, naturals are being seen as ‘eco chic’; almost insider cache’ for a certain crowd of perfume aficionados. Leaving a large vapour trail is falling out of favour. Less wastage and less discomfort for those around the perfume wearer then.
Perfume Price vs Spritz
There’s a steady but growing trend for natural perfumes to be packaged in flacons rather than atomizers. This is because natural perfumes mostly have higher perfume oil percentages to alcohol and so are far more concentrated and usually higher priced. To spray a perfume extract (Extrait de Parfum), which might be at a 40% concentrate, would be to waste the precious oils in the air. When you wear botanical perfumes, don’t expect therefore to be able to spray liberally, unless you can afford to! In any case, given the lower sillage of most naturals, there would be little point in doing so.
I advise a short, gentle spray close to your skin if your botanical comes as an atomizer. If you’ve an open flacon with stopper, then dab on pulse points, nape of neck and decollete’ and repeat a dab every few hours depending on the style of botanical perfume. Those with more volatility, such as those emphasising top notes of citrus or some spices notes for instance, may require repeat dabbing. Others with their ‘heart’ lying more in narcotic florals, resins, balsams and so on might easily last five hours without need to repeat dab.
Again, it comes down to wearing botanicals in harmony with their makeup. Don’t expect to fit a botanical perfume into a round hole if it’s composition requires different handling. Another trending reason for the use of flacons is sustainability of the packaging. A perfume atomizer may include several plastic or aluminium parts. These are not easy for consumers to recycle conscienciously.
Layering Botanical Perfumes
I mentioned how natural perfumers work with limitations of longevity, turning their lack of synthetic fixatives to their advantage, in this post on what to know about buying natural perfumes. But what can you do if you love citrus notes and wish a botanical cologne or top-note blast natural scent to last just that bit longer?
To wear botanical perfumes with more volatile notes, I suggest layering perfumes choosing one with a proportion of complementary base notes that can help ‘fix’ your beloved citrus longer. Many natural perfumers will suggest which of their range layer well in harmony. Creating your own scents in situ on your skin through the effect of layering is an enthralling way to discover and wear botanical perfumes.
Moisturize your Skin
Another easy way to ‘fix’ your botanical perfumes to release slower is to moisturize your skin before applying them. Perfumery oils whether essential oils, absolutes, tinctures or CO2 extracts are oil soluble. This means that once in an oil-based emulsion or carrier oil they will be more easily and evenly dispersed, and be bound to other oil molecules.
The heavier we make the base for a perfume – think of solid wax perfumes – the slower the evaporation of the perfume oils themselves. When our botanical perfume is dabbed on to well-moisturized skin, it will bond with the base emollient and ‘fix’ better. Ensure you use an unfragranced moisturizer, of course, and if you opt for a heavier body butter or lotion, the fixative properties will be stronger.
Perfume Things not Self
When the first perfumes were worn, they were used to adorn. They scented not wearer but our accessories from gloves to lockets and scented ‘pockets’. As I explain in why we wear perfume as self expression, there is much sense in scenting things rather than our skin.
Today, with heightened awareness of and regulations governing fragrance material as allergens and sensitisers, we are seeing more advice about not putting perfume directly on the skin. Instead, we can opt to spray our hair or dab a silk scarf with perfume to avoid it having direct contact with the skin. I do this sometimes to protect a garment from permanent scent that may cling from my skin to cuffs or collar. Certainly, it’s one approach to wearing botanical perfumes that is worth investigating, for a variety of reasons.
Where to Wear Botanical Perfumes
Let me give a hint. There are some botanical perfumes I wear when I am alone, at home, just for the sheer pleasure and to indulge in their complex and evolving nuances. Some are deep and base-note rich; more animalic and impactful. I save them for special moments. Others are light-headed and redolent of the sea. I love marine notes in perfume and the challenge of creating them in botanicals. These perfumes I find are my day to day, for applying more liberally and often.
Given that mostly you won’t be spraying on nor expecting heavy sillage when you wear botanical perfumes, you can indulge in them on any occasion and anywhere; once you have got to know them up close and personal.
I advise finding out how some botanical perfumes wear on your skin. We each have what I call a unique perfume diaspora. How a botanical wears on one person, is not how it might on another.
This is true of course also for synthetics, but when we wear botanical perfumes we are using natural ingredients that themselves vary with each harvest, climate and terroir. We are using the essences that are exceptional and individualistic. They are not as predictable nor as linear in their development as synthetic fragrances. Their backstory requires us to live in part with the unknown.
I would say, that once you know botanicals and make the move to wearing them, it might be difficult to depart from their pleasures.