Ever since my grandmother bought me my first bottle of Nina Ricci perfume while on a trip to Paris when I was 11, I’ve been hooked on fragrances. These days, my collection is so extensive, I often find myself at a loss as to how I should rotate through the various bottles that litter my dresser. And while I definitely consider myself to have a daily signature scent, (Le Labo Labdanum 18) I’m always looking for new options to mix it up on special occasions, which is how I inadvertently wandered into the world of clean fragrance brands.
I’ll admit that I was skeptical when I first heard the term “natural perfume.” It sounded like wellness-y branding that didn’t hold a lot of scientific stock. But like most things, once I started digging, I realized that not only are clean fragrances markedly different than the average perfume, there are scientifically-backed benefits to using these alternatives, too. I was shocked to find just how little the fragrance industry is regulated, and how there can be serious side effects to some of the ingredients that are commonly found in perfumes.
Not only is there no authority that regulates the safety of fragrances, but as Janet Nudelman, policy director for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, told The Guardian, no state, federal, or global authority even knows which chemicals appear in which products. Luckily, websites like EWG and its Skin Deep database can help you suss out which brands prioritize clean and natural ingredients so that you can feel confident that your purchase is healthy for both your body and the environment.
What is a natural fragrance?
Perfumes and fragrances made from natural ingredients like essential oils and absolutes (which are concentrated, super aromatic, oily mixtures extracted from plants) are considered natural fragrances. Many use handcrafted flower tinctures, spices, C02 extracts, and other ingredients harvested from sustainably grown plants as opposed to petrochemicals.
Opponents of natural fragrance will tell you that fully synthetic fragrances are usually stronger and last longer, with more layered and refined scents. However, major perfumers and natural fragrance brands alike are finding ways to create clean perfumes that can stand shoulder to shoulder with synthetic fragrances.
The 411 on VOCs
Synthetic fragrances often have hundreds of undisclosed ingredients, anything from petrochemicals, unknown allergens, and phthalates. A single scent can have anywhere from a whopping 50-300 distinct chemicals! And if you can believe it, a study found that most of these synthetic chemicals emit the same amount of chemical vapors as petroleum emissions from cars. In fact, an alarming amount of vapors (volatile organic compounds known as VOCs) emitted are classified as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws.
These VOCs can cause immune responses like difficulty breathing, migraines, contact dermatitis, asthma attacks, and more. As if that weren’t disconcerting enough, these problems can compound and lead to long-term health issues, including neurological and cognitive problems.
Ingredients to avoid in fragrance
The most common and most toxic ingredients found in fragrance include the endocrine disruptors, benzene derivatives, neurotoxins, and carcinogens listed above. Unfortunately, most brands rarely disclose this information, as they are not required by law to do so. Until then, we’ve put together this handy list of clean fragrance brands that are committed to transparency and creating healthy fragrances.
Scroll on for our 14 favorite clean fragrance brands:
1. Henry Rose
Created by actor Michelle Pfeiffer, Henry Rose is the first collection of fine fragrances that is both EWG Verified and Cradle to Cradle Certified. She set out to develop a line of perfumes with total ingredient transparency that didn’t sacrifice quality and sophistication for safety, and she succeeded.
Jake’s House is a fresh, clean scent that layers honeyed neroli, jasmine, and a bit of musk with fresh marine. It’s perfect for a hot summer day.
Goop fragrances are made with natural essences that are composed of entirely natural ingredients. All of the ingredients were extracted from a plant by steam or heat extraction, cold pressing, or carbon dioxide extraction. All Goop beauty products are free of parabens, petroleum, phthalates, artificial dyes, or fragrances. And if that’s not good enough, their formulas are never tested on animals.
Edition 4 – Orchard is a blend of accords made from grasses, herbs, and flowers. Sandalwood, orris root, apricot, and hay give this scent a grounded, sexy quality.
From the formulas to the packaging, all of Dedcool’s products are made with the highest quality ingredients. The brand uses innovative formulas that don’t require the use of water, they’re vegan, biodegradable, and locally sourced for maximum sustainability. As if that weren’t enough, the brand and its products are simply cool as hell. (Get it?)
Velvet Monroe features a smoky, woody accord blended with a hybrid of mimosa flower—an intoxicatingly warm scent you’ll definitely want to check out.
This clean and sustainable brand is committed to creating formulas that are free from preservatives and additives, using only organic, vegan, and cruelty-free ingredients. They are sustainably sourced from around the world and recyclable.
This fragrance is quite literally functional, designed to help during moments of high stress. The Nue Co. used data insight and research about the connection between cognitive function and the olfactory system to create an anti-stress unisex fragrance. It’s clean, woody, spicy, and smoky thanks to green cardamom, iris, palo santo, and cilantro.
Skylar is an OG clean perfume brand, developing hypoallergenic, natural fragrances long before the term hit the mainstream. Their collection is free of allergens and harmful chemicals while still being fresh and sophisticated. The founder worked with world-class perfumers to create a line of natural perfumes that smells as good as it is healthy for you.
Capri is a sparkling and sweet Mediterranean-inspired scent with notes of bergamot, neroli, and blood orange. A beachside vacation in a bottle!
Once the founder of Ellis Brooklyn, New York Times beauty writer Bea Shapiro, became pregnant with her first child, she realized that there were almost no sophisticated clean fragrance brands. Inspired by the strides made in skincare and makeup, Shapiro became committed to creating high-end fragrances without intentionally murky ingredients. The result is a gorgeous line of fresh, chic, vegan, and cruelty-free timeless perfumes.
Myth is a subtly warm floral perfume inspired by crisp clean sheets. Jasmine petals, pink lotus, and tiger orchid meld with white musk and white cedarwood.
By Rosie Jane’s motto is “Clean Beauty for Cool Humans.” The brand uses the highest quality ingredients they can find around the world. The fragrances are hand-mixed in Los Angeles using essential oils, absolutes, nature identicals, and fragrance oils. All products are free of phthalates parabens, and endocrine disruptors. Just what we were looking for!
Powdery florals like rose, nude musk, and vanilla give this signature perfume its clean scent.
Heretic’s perfumers handcraft natural fragrances that are made from naturally derived botanical ingredients. These vibrant non-gendered scents are blended in organic non-GMO sugarcane alcohol which makes it possible for those using it to experience the Ayurvedic benefits of the plants. Ancient perfumery traditions to handcraft small batches in Los Angeles.
Looking for a calming aphrodisiac? Then Dirty Coconut is the scent for you. It’s a blend of warm vanilla, sustainably harvested sandalwood, and creamy coconut. It almost sounds good enough to eat.
9. Lake & Skye
Lake & Skye uses organic, sugar cane alcohol in their perfumes, mindful of the ingredients used and how the products are handled throughout the process. Essential oils and floral waters are sourced from conscious, ethical farms in the U.S., Europe, India, and South America. All their products are free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, or palm oil.
11 11 is a crisp genderless blend that mixes musk, white ambers, and the ocean air.
Named after a leader in French botanical history, this brand is committed to clean beauty and non-toxic fragrances. Their products have unique scents with zero toxic or environmentally harmful ingredients. All Maison Louis Marie products are phthalate-, paraben-, sulfate- and cruelty-free.
No. 4 Bois de Balincourt has an earthy, woody scent with notes of sandalwood, vetiver, and amber wood. It’s an elegant and classic French scent.
Sigil’s line consists of long-wearing, complex fragrances that are 100% natural. The collection is inspired by ancient traditions, reinterpreted through a contemporary lens. Personally, I can’t get enough of the delicate packaging and branding.
Check out Amor Fait for its smoky, lively, and fresh scent thanks to bergamot, green pine needles, palo santo, and more.
You can rest easy with Kai’s vegan products, as all of them (fragrance included) are paraben, sulfate, phthalate, phosphate & gluten-free. This perfume is sustainably packaged, recyclable, and free of secret harmful chemicals.
Rose devotees such as myself know that it doesn’t get much better than Kai for a pure, gorgeous rose scent.
Phlur uses both botanical ingredients and carefully selected and studied synthetic ingredients that are gentle on the skin and planet. Their gender-neutral fragrances are paraben, phthalate, sulfate-free. Phlur partnered with the IUCN to ensure their ingredients are responsibly sourced, and a full ingredient list is available for every perfume.
I can’t get enough of Ameline, a modern rose perfume made unique and complex thanks to notes of bergamot, patchouli, and sandalwood.
14. Boy Smells
What began as a candle company has now turned into a cult favorite brand that has added fragrance to its repertoire. All of Boy Smells products are vegan and clean, so you don’t have to worry about any petrochemicals getting into your system. Even better, Boy Smells will donate a portion of every sale to The Trevor Project, the nation’s leading organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.
Marble Fruit is Boy Smells latest scent and it’s a lush blend of fruit skins, spice, and woods. It’s a gorgeous perfume with traditionally masculine and feminine accords woven together for a truly unisex fragrance.