The Ecologist meets… Tsi-La founder Annie Morton

tsi la
The organic perfumier chats to the Ecologist about why organic is best and what IFRA’s latest legislation means for the natural fragrance industry

Perfume might have been around for millennia but thanks to widespread use of synthetics, it has become a particularly contentious part of the beauty industry. Phthalates, aldehydes and nitro musks have all come under scrutiny from green groups as has the industry’s use of animal-derived ingredients such as civet and musk, both of which have had disastrous consequences for the animals involved. As a result, an eco perfume industry has sprung up with makers eschewing chemical synthetics and conventionally grown botanicals, in favour of natural, organic essences. But the natural perfume industry has also come under attack from critics who say the perfumes produced are insipid and lack the complexity of the best conventional fragrances, while the International Fragrance Association’s complex new rules governing the use of naturals is making organic formulae harder to create. So what’s going on and what should you look out for? We asked Tsi-La’s Annie Morton, to shed some light on the world of perfume.

Along with French organic perfume house, Honoré des Prés, and fellow Americans, Rich Hippie, Tsi-La is one of a new breed of fragrance companies for whom the environment is key.  Founded by Morton and business partner, Natalie Szapowalo, the company produces perfume and skincare based entirely on organic naturals. Recently launched in the UK, Tsi-La’s ‘green luxury’ products are formulated to appeal to everyone – eco warrior or not. Honoré des Prés employs legendary perfumier Olivia Giacobetti to design its award winning fragrances, while Rich Hippie, with its laid back California vibe, has taken Hollywood by storm. Even homegrown brands such as Aveda and The Organic Pharmacy are getting in on the act with perfumes that have garnered as many plaudits as the better-known hair and skincare ranges.  So what’s the secret of a really good organic perfume? ‘Instead of masking the skin with a single scent, organic and natural perfumes are authentic and they wear differently on everybody,’ explains Morton. ‘Tsi-La perfumes are crafted using a complex combination of pure essential oils, active plant botanicals and exotic oils for the moisturising benefits.  The result is an intricate and intriguing scent in every bottle, which can be used individually or layered to enhance your mood – something you won’t get from conventional man-made fragrances.’

Perhaps not but man-made isn’t under threat from IFRA, unlike naturals. Currently revamping health and safety regulations, the perfume industry’s governing body is in the process of formulating new rules that limit the amount of certain naturals (including jasmine and oakmoss) that can be used in any one perfume. Synthetics, on the other hand, are not affected. The logic behind the move is simple. Synthetic essences are made up of just one molecule, whereas natural essences are a compound of thousands. As a result, exhaustive testing for allergenic and toxic properties is easier with synthetics. For naturals, things are infinitely more complex and that presents a problem. It has also caused trouble for older brands that focus on quality naturals such as Creed (which has had to discontinue some of its products) as well as organic brands such as Tsi-La. ‘It can make formulating [products] with certain key ingredients challenging,’ admits Morton, ‘but we are navigating the legislation carefully and appropriately, while at the time same delivering high quality products.’

But despite the gloom surrounding the goings on at IFRA, there’s plenty for natural fragrance fans to be cheerful about, not least the burgeoning number of eco perfumiers. Morton, for one, isn’t surprised. ‘The perfume marketplace has become so overcrowded with low quality, mass manufactured fragrances, women now seek out perfumes which denote both authenticity and quality, and they are intrigued by more personal scents which is where natural and organic has a clear advantage,’ she says. What’s more adds Morton, the success of the natural perfume industry is proof positive that the message about organic is finally getting through to mainstream consumers. ‘Natural and organic are healthy,’ she continues.  ‘And healthy should be a mainstream concept - and reality.  I happen to be allergic to synthetic fragrances and that’s why we created Tsi-La: to offer women the purest, natural and cleanest ingredients.  Other companies that are putting in the time, effort and consciousness in order to offer high grade natural and organic perfumes should also be applauded and welcomed into the marketplace.’

Welcome they might be but the term ‘natural’ has become a loaded one in the beauty industry where it’s often used to describe products that include one or two botanicals plus a lot of hidden synthetics. Morton, not surprisingly, has plenty to say. ‘I believe that to be truly green and natural, a perfume has to be much more than just based on natural ingredients,’ she explains. ‘Tsi-La’s products contain certified organic ingredients, which means they haven’t been subjected to pesticides or artificial fertilisers that may be absorbed into the skin. Organic farming supports sustainable agriculture and it releases less greenhouse gases than non-organic farming methods, so it’s better for the environment as well as your skin.’

So it’s all about going completely organic then? ‘Women are certainly wising up to the benefits of going organic but I would say people definitely need more information about the wellbeing benefits of organic perfume,’ she says. ‘We’re often compared to perfumes that are in fact not organic or natural, which can be very frustrating.  We also need better legislation for ingredients labelling for cosmetics and perfumes as research conducted by the Campaign For Safe Cosmetics in 2010 revealed the average fragrance product now contains up to 14 secret and potentially harmful chemicals that are not listed on the label. You have to wonder whether the potentially harmful synthetics that is disguised in your favourite perfume are really worth it.’

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