How is it possible today to be an aficionado of perfume oils and balms, those most ancient of scent carriers, when we have aisles of spritz and spray, sillage-trailing fragrances that seem far more glamorous than smearing on an unguent? The answer lies in my question: the fact that solid perfumes are such an ancient way to impart fragrance is their enduring appeal.
Alcohol gives lift and sillage, and no one is going to give it up in a hurry. I love all citrus top notes and, of course, alcohol is the perfect medium to deliver those with enticing, sparkling effect. Top notes can be more muted in heavier scented perfume oils and balms. These need different crafting, with emphasis placed on heart and base notes. This is however both part of their beauty and allure as their scent can linger long.
Perfume Balms & Oils’ Scent Secrets
I love too the way perfume balms and oils hug close to the skin; a kind of secret liaison between unguent and wearer. An illicit moment, a sensual pleasure as the balm glides on decollete’, pulse points and nape of neck.
As natural perfumer and pioneer Mandy Aftel says in her book ‘Fragrant, the Secret Life of Scent‘, “A solid perfume is magic: an olfactory, visual and tactile pleasure all at once’.
Balms are are for intimate moments when you don’t need scent to hang in the air. But they are more than that. Their secret powers lie also in the oils, butters and waxes used to create them. While the scent they are laced with seduces our senses and caresses us, the carrier mediums sucour our skin.
For the Love of Lipids
This is the part of perfume balm and scented oil creation I truly find fascinating. My choice of carrier is immense, spanning millennia-worth knowledge of unguents. I can choose from absolutes created using the age-old technique of enfleurage or discover a panoply of cold-pressed seed and kernal oils. Alternatively, I can opt for CO2 extracts; a method of extraction which can protect botanical properties without resorting to excess heat that can damage their structure.
The perfume balm is a form of scent close to my heart – literally. I trained in natural and organic skincare and fell in love with the richness and rewards of lipids. There are host of reasons to use unadulterated natural oils, butters and waxes, but chief among them is the good they can do our skin.
There are those that are rich in Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), and others that have natural, inbuilt UVA protective elements, and others that work on hyperpigmentation, and others still that deliver antioxidants and a great many fabulous emollient properties.
From humble grapeseed and sunflower oils which are great sources of skin-loving Vitamin E to ancient gain oils like Amaranth, which is rich in the antioxidant and moisturising lipid squalane, or safflower, which has been found in Egyptian tombs, including that of Tutankhamen, lipids are skincare’s silent heroes.
To create a balm then, is to create not just a way to deliver scent, but a perfect pot of skincare salve; and one that can be formulated precisely to deliver specific skincare benefits drawing on both carrier oils and essential oil properties.
History repeating itself
Ancient lipids used the the Egyptians, traded by the Phoenicians and prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans, all would have passed by and through the Mediterranean islands I call home.
Malta lies at the near centre of the Mediterranean, right on strategic trading routes. Malta’s first documented inhabitants were the Phoenicians who discovered its vast natural ‘Grand Harbour’, using it as a settlement, trading port and safe haven. The Egyptians paid high prices for various resins and oils from what it now modern-day Lebanon, the homelands of the ancient Phoenicians, who were wily traders.
There is something both exciting and comforting in using raw perfumery ingredients that would have traveled the Mediterranean millennia ago. They are materials man has come to understand well; our tolerance of them documented down the ages. That said, research today is looking ever more at the beneficiary aspects of these ancient lipids as we try to reverse engineer potions of the past and revive ancient wisdoms in order to find more scientific rationale for applying them today using modern phytotherapeutic methods.
Precious seed oils and sensuous scents in the form of perfume balms and parfums solides are what truly anchors Parfums Clandestins to what we create. It’s this connection to perfumery past that gives us our lifeblood and perfumes of the present.
Photo credit: Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash