Life as a committed vegan can sometimes feel like an endless maze of complicated ingredients lists compiled by companies that all seem to have something to hide.
Despite this, there are more vegans than ever before – 540,000 in the UK, up from 150,000 in 2006, according to the Vegan Society – and brands are scrambling to meet consumers’ increasingly eco-friendly demands. Nevertheless, there remain some key ingredients to look out for.
What makes perfume non-vegan?
Perfume lovers must not only avoid fragrances made with extracts of milk, honey, leather and beeswax, but also secretions from animals used to mark their territories, which are often used as fixatives to make a scent last longer.
Civet comes from the anal glands of the endangered wildcat found in India and Africa. The civets are captured and held in cramped cages for years, with the musk being “scraped” out every 10 days. Brutal and icky as this sounds, civet musk is still present in many of the world’s favourite perfumes. The problem is, you wouldn’t know it, because companies are not legally obliged to disclose the ingredients used in their scents. They count as “trade secret formulas” and are exempt. Instead, you’ll simply see “fragrance”, “perfume” or “parfum” on the ingredients list.
Other animals to suffer in the name of humans smelling good are East Asian musk deer and North American and European beavers, killed for their musk and castoreum respectively. There’s also ambergris, from sperm whale intestines. This is sometimes found washed up on beaches or floating as a rank-smelling fecal mass, but whales have been killed for it, too.
What about synthetic perfumes?
These secretions can be unreliable and expensive to obtain, and with more people caring about animal welfare, many perfumiers now use synthetics with a similar sensual, animalistic aroma. Common varieties include civetone, muscone and ambroxide, with synthetic musks estimated to be used in 99 per cent of modern perfumes. Though vegan, the drawback is that the frequently used polycyclic musks (PCMs) are non-biodegradable petrochemicals, with increased use leading to an accumulation in the body and the environment. Possible health concerns upon skin absorption include hormone disruption linked to breast and prostate cancer, thyroid problems and reproductive problems. They can also trigger allergic reactions. It is worth mentioning, though, that many natural ingredients can irritate skin and would be poisonous to eat, too.
Are all vegan perfumes natural and organic?
How important it is to have a “clean” perfume is up to you. Not all the below perfumes are fully natural and free from synthetics, which are widely considered safe in small amounts, but to give you the choice, several of them are, and one is even 100 per cent organic. The biggest complaint about natural perfumes is that the scent does not linger, but as well as smelling glorious, the “clean” fragrances on this list surprised us with their longevity, which we tested by applying first thing in the morning and asking friends whether they could still sniff them on us hours later.
Several of these 100 per cent vegan fragrances will appeal to men as well as women and, even if you aren’t vegan, by default they’re also cruelty-free – not tested on animals or on sale in China where animal testing is required by law – so you can enjoy them guilt-free.
Top tips for longer lasting perfume
Check the concentration. Eau de parfum has a higher concentration of oils (up to 20 per cent), so will last longer than the cheaper but weaker eau de toilette (usually around 10 per cent). Of course, if you’d prefer a more subtle scent, using EDT can be the perfect way to dilute an overpowering fragrance.
Spray perfume at close range onto areas of skin that give off heat, as this helps diffuse the scent. Skip the wrists and target the back of your neck, decolletage and ankles.
Hair and clothing fibres trap perfume, so mist yourself before heading out of the door.
Remember that the base notes stick around the longest, so make sure you’re happy with those dominating the lighter top notes after the first half hour or so.
Keep your bottle away from direct sunlight, which can kill the fragrance.
Eden Perfumes in No.7 Eden Number Five: from £18 for 30ml, Eden Perfumes
Once you discover Eden Perfumes, you may well never splurge your hard-earned pennies on a designer fragrance again. Certified by The Vegan Society, these are cruelty-free scents that are dead ringers for the classics, minus the parabens, preservatives and animal-derived ingredients, which are replaced with natural essential oils. To put this lofty claim to the test, we tried their copy of Chanel No.5, one of the most recognisable and timeless scents and Marilyn Monroe’s go-to. Expecting disappointment, we were stunned by how similar Eden No.5 is, with the same familiar top notes of neroli, ylang ylang and lemon, heart of iris, jasmine and rose and base of patchouli. It would be hard to tell the difference in a scent test, and we do not say that lightly. The second big test was the longevity, and thankfully it impressed, though we topped up after six hours for stronger impact. The bargain price is down to the company, run by a vegan family from Brighton, openly scrimping on packaging and marketing to focus on the quality and intensity of the perfume itself. That said, the slim bottles are simple yet stylish and, best of all, refillable, so you can do your bit for the environment too (see details on how to order a refill online here). Their take on Chloe, unsubtly named Chloey, also impressed us, but if there’s a specific scent you’re lusting after, just type it into Eden’s website and they’ll show you a vegan alternative. No luck? They take requests. Finally, there’s no need to abandon your favourite perfume in the name of animal welfare.
Valeur Absolue in Joie-Eclat: from £59 for 45ml, Cult Beauty
This new vegan range from French perfume house Valeur Absolue is inspired by positive emotions, which lured us in because everyone needs a dose of happiness first thing in the morning. Founded by former Elizabeth Arden perfumier Benedicte Foucart, who wanted to return to perfumery’s 17th-century roots and “bring fine fragrance and wellbeing back together”, each pretty glass bottle is lined with semi-precious crystals you can shake up like a snowglobe. It wasn’t long before we became addicted to Joie-Eclat, the “sparkling champagne” scent, according to the brand. It’s an apt description – tangerine and pink grapefruit top notes bubble up first, followed by wafts of tuberose and herby vertiver, for a cocktail that instantly lifted our spirits on a rainy day and will satisfy fans of citrus, floral and woody fragrances. It also features an extract from the immortelle flower, known for naturally stimulating the production of endorphins. There’s mention of “encapsulated diamond powder”, too, but we weren’t sure what that was supposed to add, other than a further hint of luxury, and could not see it glittering in the solution. The scent is not heavy when on, but hangs around in a natural, subtle way for hours. If you prefer something stronger or want the citrus edge to remain dominant, you’re best off reapplying it every now and then on the move – the spray bottle should fit comfortably in all but the smallest handbags. There are no chemical UV filters in this perfume, so don’t be surprised if the colour changes slightly after exposure to sunlight, and it’s free from PCMs. If you love this scent as much as we do, it’s also available as a candle.
Abel Green Cedar: from £48 for 15ml, Anthropologie
Perfumes don’t come more eco-friendly than Abel’s all-natural range, though at nearly £100 for a 50ml bottle, you’ll need deep pockets to afford it. New, smoky scent Green Cedar is created from a mix of two sustainable, wild-harvested cedars from the Texan forests and Moroccan mountains, sweetened by a touch of magnolia. It’s a unisex fragrance that comes in a chic, minimalist glass bottle and is so long-lasting that we could still sniff it after a hot shower. The reason behind the hefty price tag is that Abel, founded by New Zealander Frances Schoemack in response to her own frustrating struggle to find a natural perfume, uses only the finest quality ingredients from the most ethical suppliers. They use a plant-derived musk taken from the seeds of hisbicus flowers which, though superior in terms of fragrance, health and eco impact, costs five to 10 times more than synthetics. It’s a worthy investment, as perfumes last months and only a couple of sprays of this eau de parfum give off an intense aroma. Plus, for every bottle sold, the company donates a meal to a financially disadvantaged child through charity Mary’s Meals, so as splurges go, this one can be conscience-free. Green Cedar launches later in May.
Available late May
Prosody London Jacinth Jonquil: from £36 for 10ml, Fortnum and Mason
It’s time you introduced yourself to the newest luxury perfume brand on the block: Prosody London. Much of its range is 100 per cent organic, so totally free from the headache-inducing synthetic fragrances that dominate the fragrance industry. Instead, the finest essential oils take the credit for the 12 lush scents, which vary from rich, dewy rose to delicate, honeyed neroli and are all handmade in England. Our favourite is the botanical Jacinth Jonquil for its gorgeous aroma of blooming hyacinths that transports us straight to the Mediterranean, backed up by exotic ylang ylang and juniper berries (the ones used to make gin). Rest assured that quality has not been compromised for ethics; a couple of sprays lasted all day, before another spritz saw us through a night on the tiles. The cute 10ml spray bottles are handy for carrying around, but if you’re buying a gift for someone special or simply want more of the lovely stuff, the bigger 50ml bottles cost £135. The former come packaged in square cream boxes decorated with a colourful, floral-printed roundel, while the latter ooze contemporary elegance in mossy green boxes wrapped in burgundy ribbon.
Le Labo in Santal 33: from £55 for 15ml, Liberty
Santal 33 by Le Labo is a cult favourite. So much so that, chances are, you’ve already smelled the independent New York boutique’s signature scent on someone else. This seriously addictive sandalwood-led fragrance could be described as aged leather with a fresh hint of greenery. It is smoky, sexy and perhaps more traditionally masculine, though Fabrice Penot, the perfumer behind it, reports a 50/50 gender split in its buyers. Both Alexa Chung and Justin Bieber are fans. The hip spray bottle screams Scandi-style minimalism with its simple cream label and typewriter font, and can be personalised with your name. Predictably, given its fashionista status, it is eye-wateringly expensive, setting you back £180 for a 100ml bottle. The good news is that two spritzes – on the wrist and neck – lasted us all day, with the scent still lingering after our shower the next morning. Price per wear, then, is a bargain – we reckon our tiny 1.5ml sample could see us through the better part of a month. Santal 33 also comes in roll-on and solid form, but we love the decadence of a spritz. Though all Le Labo’s perfumes are free from phthalates and parabens, they do contain a small amount of synthetic musk.
Floral Street London Poppy Eau de Parfum: £55 for 50ml, Harvey Nichols
Poppies have to be one of our favourite flowers – their red heads bobbing in the breeze never fail to put a smile on our faces, and they smell divine, too. It seems the noses at London perfumery Floral Street felt similar, though this is more heavily citrus than its name suggests. Florida orange and Sicilian lemon are the star players, backed up by jasmine, apricot blossom, neroli and black amber. It’s a bursting bouquet of different scents that all complement each other beautifully. You can go plastic-free with Floral Street, too, as they have done away with excess packaging and cellophane in a bid to be more environmentally-friendly. The brand has also partnered with a UK paper mill to create biodegradable pulp cartons to box its stunning glass bottles decorated with original flower photography. These perfumes look so fabulous, we’d be tempted to splash out on the entire range for its aesthetic appeal alone, but rest assured they’ve got the substance to back up the style.
Dolma Women’s Vegan Perfume Box Set: £30 for 12 x 1.8ml, Amazon
This small family business dates back to 1982 when Jim Payne, a British chemist, Buddhist and musician, set about making vegan perfumes for his family and friends. Today, Dolma’s range is certified by both The Vegan Society and Cruelty-Free International. Made with sustainably sourced essential oils, these fragrances are all paraben and palm oil-free, though synthetic musks are used to hold the scent. Finding a new scent can be tricky, especially as perfume doesn’t come cheap, which is why we loved the chocolate box-style set of 12 miniature vials – you can have fun choosing a favourite then give the others to friends with different olfactory tastes. Our favourites include the flowery Anahita, apple-tinged Raga and peachy Sonata with its heart of lily. Dolma’s scents become much more warming and attractive once on the skin, where they hang around all day and night – great for helping you discover which ones you love, as well as which ones you’d prefer to steer clear of. When you’re ready to commit, 50ml costs £32 and 100ml costs £65, but don’t expect much from the packaging – the full-size perfumes come in plain khaki green bottles.
Lush Amelie Mae Perfume: from £19 for 30ml, Lush
There’s a charming story behind this girly scent from beauty behemoth Lush. Head perfumer Simon Constantine had already named a fragrance after his eldest daughter Imogen Rose, who ordered him to make one for her sister Amelie Mae, because “she wants to be famous too!”. Simon promptly asked his youngest what she would like her perfume to smell of. Raspberries, roses and lavender was the reply, and this pretty English garden scent is the result. Predictably, it’s another soft, candied fragrance, though ylang ylang oil gives it an added depth and the raspberries have a tart rather than cloying scent. The soothing lavender strengthens on the skin, so we recommend this perfume if you’re in need of stress relief. The longevity slightly disappointed – it lasted until lunchtime before fading, but we liked the simple yet classy glass bottle labelled with Lush’s trademark scrawly black font. The small 30ml bottle is easy to carry around for top-ups, but if you want more for your money, the 100ml bottle costs £39.
Benecos Roll On Fragrance in Heaven Can Wait: £8.91 for 10ml, Ecco Verde
The combination of cinnamon and orange reminds us of Christmas too, but if you’re after a fit-for-spring fragrance, don’t be put off by the description of this latest offering from natural beauty brand Benecos. The citrus top notes – said to lift mood and help relieve tiredness – far overpower the spicy, so it feels fresh and light enough to wear when the sun is shining. Fans of sweeter scents will enjoy the vanilla base, anchored by a heart of earthy sandalwood, and we also detected a hint of sensual jasmine. Be prepared to top this one up every few hours as the longevity leaves a little to be desired, especially if you want those energising top notes to linger. Unlike the other perfumes on this list, it’s a roll-on, meaning you can easily and subtly reapply it on a rammed train without it getting in the eyes or up the noses of your fellow human sardines. Unlike some other roll-ons we tried that didn’t make this list, the applicator releases an adequate amount of perfume without the need to press hard and irritate your skin. The slender bottle is the ideal size to pop in a small evening clutch and its coral colour makes it quick to spot when rummaging around in a cluttered handbag. It’s certified natural by strict German cosmetics regulator, BDIH, which demands that all ingredients come from a plant or mineral source and be organically grown wherever possible.
Pacifica Malibu Lemon Blossom Spray Perfume: £20 for 29ml, Pacifica
Younger fragrance addicts are likely to be the biggest fans of this summer holiday scent from vegan beauty brand Pacifica. It’s an ode to the “sun, surf and flora of southern California beaches”, apparently, and is made in Portland, Oregon, with natural essential oils and pure, corn-sourced alcohol. Expect a tangy pop of lemon that quickly mellows into a honeyed blossom. There’s a slight herby saltiness to it too, which is unexpected but not unpleasant, and presumably meant to echo the ocean. This is not a long-lasting fragrance – an hour tops – but that’s reflected in the bargain price tag. If you want a quick spritz of something cheery that will bring the seaside to you without denting your bank balance, it’s a fun choice. It is free from parabens, sulphates and petroleum, though the “proprietary perfume” mentioned online likely features synthetic musks. It comes in a clear bottle with a gold spray top, packaged in a colourful if kitsch box, and would make a great gift for any teen surfer babes in your life.
The Body Shop Japanese Cherry Blossom Strawberry Kiss Eau de Toilette: from £15 for 50ml, The Body Shop
If it’s a sprinkle of something sweet but not sickly you’re after, this fruity fragrance from cruelty-free stalwarts The Body Shop is calling your name. Strawberry blends with the quintessential spring scent of pink peony and cherry blossom – the latter handpicked and cold-pressed in Japan – before settling on an opulent base of amber. It’s an eau de toilette, so it won’t last as long as some of the eau de parfums listed here, but it’s a bold, bright scent to add to your SS18 perfumery and did linger for about four hours before a top-up spritz was required. The retro pink spray bottle resembles a giant boiled sweet and will sit pretty on your dressing table. We enjoyed plenty of compliments when testing this at a girlie lunch, though fans of earthier scents may find it too sugary. Overall, this perfume looks and smells far more upmarket than you’d expect for its high street price tag, earning a big thumbs up for value.
The Verdict: Vegan perfumes
Eden’s ability to take our favourite designer perfume and veganify it had us in raptures, while we enjoyed the uniqueness of Valeur Absolue’s joyfully scented crystals range. Floral Street won best in show for its exquisite bottles and The Body Shop’s cherry-blossom scent proved our pick of the bunch if you’re searching for a more wallet-friendly option.