Thursday, May 17, 2012

Natural Isolates and the Natural Perfumer - Being the Captain of Your Own Fragrant Ship

Get a cup of coffee or tea - this is a long blog post, with lots of twists and turns and
surprises - good surprises!  Please see the blog post yesterday on the Guild member vote on the definition of natural isolates if you have not already read it.


Do you ever wonder why I never taught a course in natural isolates or began to sell them on
my website? After all, I was the pioneer natural perfumer who first used them in my MoonDance and StarFlower perfumes, both best sellers and award winners.

Something told me that I needed to do a lot more research because a wrong move, the wrong isolate sold, could ruin the creations of lots of perfumes made by my (natural perfumer) customers. I have a duty as a trusted authority in natural perfumery, a person who heads the Natural Perfumers Guild, and who started a Yahoo discussion group on natural perfumeryin 2002, to be responsible and proceed slowly.

Currently there are no regulations that address natural isolates, or even natural perfumes,
except for the Guild's standards.  There are lots of perfumers claiming to be natural
perfumers who use synthetics.  We are the only organization that demands 100% natural raw materials in the perfumes of our Professional Perfumers. Other than that, there are no
guidelines or standards that any natural perfumer must abide by or follow to be in compliance when stating their perfumes/fragrances are natural.

The Guild wants, and needs to be the standard bearer of natural perfumery, and a self-regulating association. So, with this in mind, we moved forward and heard all sides. In April, 2010 I posted a short blog post about natural isolates.  I stated my intent to teach a short course about them at the Natural Perfumery Institute.   Guild Manager Elise Pearlstine and I began research on the subject, and joined up with a perfume chemist. The more we delved into what we thought were 100% natural isolates, the more it became apparent that a lot of them were being produced by laboratory processes far outside of the definition of what I originally knew as the only process to produce natural isolates.

I had often told, and coaxed, in fact, natural perfumers into stepping outside of the typical raw materials of essential oils and absolutes by informing them that the various fractional distillates of ylang ylang oil they used - Extra, I, II and III, were, in fact, natural isolates. The distiller stopped the process momentarily at specific odor profile points in the process to "isolate" the desired  fraction of the essential oil. I also had natural geraniol and some other isolates, but I needed to research further to confirm what was natural and what was not.

We had been talked into believing, by two perfume chemists that we thought were leading us to natural isolate definitions that fermentation, among other lab practices were giving us natural isolates - even microbes got into the mix.  At that point, Elise and I decided that we needed to write a book before we taught the course, and do a lot more research.  That's where the layers of the onion began to be peeled back.  The more folks we talked to, the more confusion arose about "natural" isolates. As mentioned, I found that what I was told were natural isolates, and the section I wrote about them in my textbook, were very problematic.  I started studying chemistry.  I didn't absorb the chemistry info very well, and got more confused, more unsure of it all. A major concern to me is that during this period (Apr. 10 to Oct. 11) was that I saw many starting to sell "natural" isolates and kits of isolates that I was concerned were far afield from "natural". 

Very troubling to me was the fact that many natural perfumers were buying them, using
them,loving them, and that the horse was out of the barn before these isolates were properly vetted. Also, some were selling proprietary "compounds" from the flavoring industry that had fruity (very desired in the NP community) aromas, and that if the seller or the sources stopped making them, the perfumer was out of luck, that perfume either had to be reformulated without it, or discontinued.

It was time to open this subject for discussion and put the matter to a vote by the members
Natural Perfumers Guild. As the president of the Guild, I have put in motion steps necessary to firmly position the Guild as a self-regulating association.  This means that the Guild members will adopt, step-by-step, self-imposed compliance elements that will allow us to be viewed by governmental agencies as responsible artisans that have high standards and accountability about our products and processes.  

These high standards will allow us to call our perfumes natural and to get the government off our backs in some regulatory matters.  I'll be blogging more about this soon, but in the meantime, the big concern was Guild perfumers perhaps using these isolates and compounds before we had a good handle on them. Damage could be done to the Guild's standing as self-regulating if government scrutiny of member use of these materials came after they were declared non-natural by any agency. At this point, I believe there are only two perfumers in the Guild using isolates besides myself.

The best bet, I thought was to take the most conservative path, but that was not my call, the
Guild members needed to see all sides and decide themselves. In November, 2011 the discussion began in the Guild Yahoo group.  There were many sides to the analysis presented by a number of Guild members.

The exchanges were passionate, probably the most passionate the Guild members have ever had.  I said a little here and there, but I was just there to move the discussion along.  Several members had a much better understanding of the processes, and discussed them in the most incredible detail, down to the molecular level.  Lab processes were debated back and forth.

The Guild Standards Committee took all the comments under advisement and worked over the holidays to sort through the pros and cons on both sides. In February 2012, the committee put the definition they had selected as the best one that exemplified the goals and ideals of natural perfumery regarding natural isolates and put it to a vote themselves. 

They voted unanimously to present the following to the Guild members for a vote:

"A natural isolate is a molecule that was removed/isolated from a natural fragrance material
that contains the isolate.  Processes that are acceptable for removing/isolation are:

fractional distillations, rectifications, and molecular distillations of natural fragrance materials, also as defined by the Guild."

After a week, the Guild members had voted to adopt that definition by a 78% majority.
The members voted to adopt as acceptable isolates, those produced by methods similar to those used to produce ylang ylang(s), geraniol, menthol, citral and other distilled fractions and accept them as natural isolates (see partial list below).

What is natural in the USA and the EU?

Bruce Bolmes of SMK Fragrances was of great help in this project.  Not only was he the
project manager for the Standards Committee, he has a keen understanding of the laws of the US and the EU regarding fragrance and flavor materials. When the Guild members questioned the definition of natural, Bruce copied and pasted a series of informative links and writings on the subject.  Here is a sampling of what he shared with the Guild members.



Subpart B—Specific Food Labeling Requirements


(3) The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence
or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or
enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit
juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar
plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products
thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
Natural flavors include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in

§§182.10, 182.20, 182.40, and 182.50 and part 184 of this chapter, and the substances listed

in §172.510 of this chapter.

EEU Natural Certificate:

The Product can be labeled according to articles 3(2)(c) and (k) of Regulation
(EC) No 1334/20081 regarding natural flavoring substances.
Regulation (EC) No1334/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16
December 2008 on flavourings and certain food ingredients with flavoring properties for use
in and on foods

3(2)(c) `natural flavouring substance' shall mean a flavouring substance obtained by
appropriate physical, enzymatic or microbiological processes from material of vegetable,
animal or microbiological origin either in the raw state or after processing for human
consumption by one or more of the traditional food preparation processes listed in Annex II.
Natural flavouring substances correspond to substances that are naturally
present and have been identified in nature;
3(2)(k) `appropriate physical process' shall mean a physical process which does not
intentionally modify the chemical nature of the components of the flavouring, without
prejudice to the listing of traditional food preparation processes in Annex II, and does not
involve, inter alia, the use of singlet oxygen, ozone, inorganic catalysts, metal catalysts,
organometallic reagents and/or UV radiation.


List of traditional food preparation processes

Heating, cooking, baking, frying (up to 240 °C at atmospheric pressure) and
pressure cooking (up to 120 °C)
Evaporation Extraction, incl. solvent extraction in accordance with Directive
Microbiological processes

An isolate is simply one piece of a pie, so to speak....or a single piece of a whole.

For example water is 2 parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, right.  So hydrogen would be an isolate of water. We all seem to agree that a natural isolate is a part of something, and if we can agree that it must be removed from, rather than created / man made from another material - materials then the task at hand would be a fairly simple process

We would call the whole a compound in chemistry, and the pieces, are called molecules or for this topic they can also be called constituents, or isolates. Therefore we can state, hydrogen is an isolate of water, or a molecule found in water and it is a constituent of water.

Now we know phenylethyl alcohol is found in rose essential oil, then we can state phenylethyl alcohol is a molecule found in rose essential oil, it is also a constituent of rose oil and it can be removed / isolated from rose oil, so it is a natural isolate.  Everyone in the guild knows what a natural perfuming material is, e.g. essential oil, absolute, etc. etc.. And everyone knows what an aroma chemical is, it could be man made molecule not found in nature, e.g. ambrox, or a man made copy of a molecule found in nature, e.g. exaltone, in other-words a synthesized molecule - a synthetic.

However the term 'Natural Isolate' is not defined, at least when it applies to a 'natural

fragrance material'. If we first look at the root words 'natural isolate', 'natural' denotes 'found in nature' -  'naturally occurring' 'isolate' denotes 'isolated' - 'removed from' 'isolate' from a
technical dictionary: to separate (as a chemical compound) from all other substances, obtain pure or in a free state'.

A 'compound' is any substance that is formed of two or more elements/molecules.
An example of a compound is water, for our use, it could be vanilla absolute...

So to sum that up a 'natural isolate' of vanilla abs. would be a substance that has been
separated from all of the other substances found in vanilla abs., e.g. vanillin.

I apologize if I have bored everyone to death so far, and I do not mean to be condescending
or come across as a "know it all", but it is very important we all are on the same page
moving forward. In addition, if we all agree to these definitions they can be used later on
in the guild's position paper on defining natural perfumery.

To continue;

We know 'vanillin' is a molecule found in the compound vanilla absolute, therefore 'vanillin'
is a 'natural isolate'. We also know that a natural isolate is separated from, or removed
from a compound, by definition. We can then conclude that the natural isolate vanillin is not
man-made/ synthesized, it was removed from a natural compound, that already contained
vanillin as part of that compounds constituents.

We also know that synthetic vanillin, a commonly used aroma chemical is a synthetic molecule [man made - created] and as such is not allowed to be used in the natural perfumes, as per current guild standards.

Synthetic vanillin, 'synthesized vanillin' can be made very inexpensively, by a number of
common organic chemistry reactions, some of which render it useless for food/flavor use.

Synthetic vanillin, 'bio-synthesized vanillin' can also be made inexpensively, by a number
of the so-called bio-synthesized methods, these methods have been approved by the above-mentioned regulatory bodies for use in the food/flavor industries.

The bio-synthesized methods still produce a synthetic material, since it is man-made, these
methods replace the dangerous chemicals used in organic reactions, with modified strains
of fungus, aspergillus niger, one of the Candida species, etc..etc.. to render the products
food safe.

So in conclusion, if we would apply the above definition of what a natural isolate is or
should be in this case, we then could conclude that a bio-synthesized molecule is NOT a
natural isolate, since it was created in the lab / man-made, rather than removed from or
separated from a compound. Of course this is just one example of the current approved methods that will allow the term 'Natural'(*) to be used in the label.

Some Natural Isolates

Ambrettolide - Isolated from: Hibiscus abelmoschus
Benzyl acetate - Isolated from: Cananga odorata
Carvone dextro - Isolated from: Anethum graveolens
Caryophyllene beta - Isolated from: Eugenia caryophyllus
Cinnamic alcohol - Isolated from: Liquidambar styraciflua
Cinnamic aldehyde - Isolated from: Cinnamomum cassia
Cinnamyl cinnamate - Isolated from: Liquidambar styraciflua
Citral - Isolated from: Litsea cubeba
Citronellal - Isolated from: Cymbopogon spp.
Citronellol laevo - Isolated from: Pelargonium graveolens l'Herit.
Diosphenol - Isolated from: Barosma betulina
Elemol - Isolated from: Canarium spp
Ester 816 - Isolated from: Vitis vinifera
Estragol - Isolated from: Illicium verum
Eugenol - Isolated from: Eugenia caryophyllus
Galbanol - Isolated from: Ferula galbaniflua
Geraniol - Isolated from: Cymbopogon martinii
Geraniol - Isolated from: Monarda fistulosa menthaefolia
Linalool dextro - Isolated from: Coriandrum sativum
Linalool laevo - Isolated from: Mentha X piperita
Linalyl acetate - Isolated from: Citrus aurantium
Linalyl acetate - Isolated from: Mentha X piperita
Methyl methylanthranilate - Isolated from: Citrus reticulata Blanco
Nerolidol - Isolated from: Myrocarpus frondosus and fastigiatus
Ocimene - Isolated from: Tagetes glandulifera
Octyl butyrate - Isolated from: rectification of 100% various natural products
Phenylethyl alcohol - Isolated from: Rosa damascena
Rhodinol - Isolated from: Cymbopogon
Terpenyl acetate - Isolated from: rectification of 100% various natural products


Being the Captain of Your Own Fragrant Ship:

Boat on the Perfume River, Vietnam

Correspondence with A Natural Perfumer Wishing to Join the Guild

Well, now that all the above has been read and digested by you, I hope that you see the logic and naturalness of how the Guild members arrived at the vote. As we in the Guild were
readying the press release, I coincidentally received an email from Alex Groppe, who had
previously told me of his intentions to join the Guild as a Professional Perfumer.  I have known Alex for many years, since he joined the Yahoo NP group.

With Alec's permission, here is our correspondence of May 9 and 10, 2012:

Hey Anya:

I'm having to come to terms with the issue of isolates. I have recently begun to use (name
deleted) isolates with great satisfaction and I concur that, as she proffers, a whole new
world  can be opened up for us through their employ in our scent creations.
I've read your most recent position article about the use of isolates - and I trust your
wisdom and sense here as much as I trust (name deleted) = a conundrum.

She seems, in this matter, to be boldly going where angels fear to tread; you seem more
reticent in the use of the isolates. Though I'm a philosopher/theologian/historian by way of
my academic journey, I believe your academic background is in environmental/botanical science - which leads me to trust your instinct. Microbes are natural yet not botanical. I get it.

For me,  it is unequivocally clear that an isolate product used in 'natural perfumery' ought
to be derived from a natural source - 'botanical,' 'organic,' or 'natural' - nothing from
petroleum, lab-designed molecular soups, etc…

Your call to inquire as to isolate product provenance is completely warranted and gravely
important to the integrity of natural perfumery.  I suppose I am struggling with the thought that while (name deleted) has embraced the use of sound isolates, you seem not to have done so - it leaves me in a quandary … do I ? ...don't I?

How do current professional Guild Members view the use of botanical - organic- TRULY natural - isolates? I can imagine this issue might be a perennial question of late, so, if you offer me  a link to a prior response without having to recapitulate the whole thing, I won't be
offended ;) If, however, you've not had an opportunity to either consider or address this
particular sort of uncertainty, I'd hope you'd oblige ;)

...with all my hopes and best wishes~

Hi Alex:

I rue the day I convinced (name deleted) to try isolates.  I used ylang ylang as an example. 
She went on to also source compounds from suppliers that keep their formula secret.  Just on the grounds I'm a natural perfumer who wants to be able to replicate my perfumes with the raw materials that I *know*, I refused to try them when suppliers offered them years ago.  Then I found out more about the processes used to make what I call synthetic isolates, and well, I'll let you read the press release that will go out next week, as I decided to turn the issue over to the Guild members.  It will affect you.


(snipped the press release LINK HERE where in the final paragraph I describe how I'm going to

reformulate my best seller StarFlower because it contains a questionable isolate).

Hi Alex:

I think our exchange was illuminating, logical, and really goes to the heart of one of the
biggest problems I was speaking with others about, natural perfumers using the stuff that
won't let them 'captain their own fragrant ships' (the compounds) or heavily manipulated
isolates from sources other than a parent material that naturally contains it.


Hi Anya~

bedrock - solid  reasons to avoid the stuff! I wholeheartedly concur.
I like the part about captaining your own fragrant ship = another great reason to garden,
tincture and extract your own goodies ;))
It shouldn't be so difficult to back out the isolates and tweak my formulas - it affects two
current projects and one completed product.
Thank goodness I hadn't gone further than that with the materials…

Thanks so much. Take care and good luck with StarFlower II ; Here's to it being even better than its previous incarnation!


Alexander J. Groppe, MA Th.


I cannot tell you how delighted I was that Alex, who had invested much time and effort into
perfecting his perfumes, has decided to go 100% certified natural. Delightful doesn't begin
to describe it actually, ecstatic! 

"Captain of my own fragrant ship" - yes, that sums it up. No mysterious "fruity compounds"
from unnamed sources, no dodgy isolates, just isolates that anyone with some distillation
skills can create from rose, ylang ylang, lemongrass, patchouli... ah, how lovely. How

Bruce Bolmes has agreed to guest blog here on the subject.  I'm hoping it'll be at least once
a month.  He has tremendous knowledge on this subject, and many more perfumery topics, with decades of experience.

Thank you everyone for all your feedback, research, sharing and being able to steer your own fragrant ship!


  1. Very interesting. I have always found myself suspicious of new aromatic oils/essences that seem to land quickly in a supply site. Thank goodness my miserly ways kept me from buying isolates from a certain perfumery site. I have been looking into natural isolates for awhile, and after about a year or so, I think I may be ready to play with them. Thanks for the informative posting :)

  2. AbdesSalaam Attar5/17/2012 12:24 PM

    I add to this that all the perfumers who chose to use synthetic aromas or dubbious bio-tech "natural isolates" have always the same argument to justify their own righteousness, "artistry", "artistic freedom", "not imposing limitations to art", "artistic choice" ecc...
    It is very interesting.
    Let us take a good lesson from that.

  3. Dear Aer:

    Thank you for your comments - and your caution. It always pays to be cautious when new materials arrive, yes?


  4. Dear Salaam:

    You said it better than I could. Thanks so much for your summation of the subterfuge. Some may call themselves "natural perfumers" but use up to 15% synths in their perfumes. If the government cracks down, and some overseas governments have already, they will *have* to drop the word natural.

    There are so many "mixed messages" about "mixed media" and "artistic freedom" that confuse the customer - and the government, too.

    As the Guild goes forward to adopt labeling requirements, submittals of ingredients and suppliers, and report forms (in case of allergic reaction), the members of the Guild will have transparency with customers and the government, and it may protect them from government interference for their small businesses. The isolates problem was just the first of these measures.


  5. Yes, definitely. I really appreciate that you looked thoroughly into isolates, and have written very informative pieces on it. Thanks!

  6. Interesting Anya, you still not speak about INCI, no one single time you mentioned INCI.... in this paper
    and ...

    if a fermented isolate can not be used by your members, what happens then with alcohol???

  7. Dear Alfredo:

    Press releases are written for a single topic, so INCI would not be relevant for a PR on isolates.

    The PR was on natural *aromatics*, no mention or focus on alcohol. Alcohol has been distilled for many centuries, there is no controversy about it.


  8. While I do not condemn any perfumer who uses synthetic materials, I do have a real problem with those that do and use the label ‘natural’. Natural means, AS NATURE CREATED. An isolate, while technically from nature, purposefully skirts around the whole reason anyone would create or buy a natural perfume in the first place. You may be able to isolate hundreds of molecules from say, Ylang; but only Mother Nature created all those molecules as one entity in the tree. They arose together through millions of years of evolution. THAT IS THE VERY ESSENCE AND BEAUTY OF WHAT IS CONSIDERED NATURAL. Those molecules must stay together to be Ylang, to be natural. They are a ‘team’ if you will. If you removed all of the Benzyl acetate, it would no longer be what nature created, and vise-versa. If the Guild of Natural Perfumery does not remain true to the point of the group, then it should also change the name. Once you cross the Rubicon, there is no going back. Thanks Anya!

  9. Dear Ruh Kewda:

    Thanks for your feedback on the subject. I doubt the members would vote to change the name of the Guild as they are of the belief that ylang ylang and other isolates are simple stops in the distillation process.


  10. I appreciate all of the effort that has gone into identifying what constitutes a natural isolate.

    I still don't understand why the process of fermentation is not considered natural, especially since it has been used for thousands of years to create many of the foods we eat such as yoghurt, cheese, sourdough bread and wine. Innoculating with a particular strain ensures that specific bacteria digest a component to create a different product: milk becomes cheese, grapes become wine. So if a particular strain can produce vanillin through digestion which can then be isolated through distillation or another approved method, why would that not be considered natural? That is how alcohol is created. Grape juice is innoculated with a particular strain, the bacteria feed on the sugars, their digestion produces alcohol which is then isolated through distillation.


  11. Hi Maggie:

    Fermentation of yoghurt and the other products you cite has gone on for thousands of years, including, of course, the alcohol we use in our perfumes. We were looking at new processes and what it (they, if you expand beyond fermentation) included.

    It was the concensus that the new bio tech methods of creating isolates via fermentation often involved *GMO* manipulations and intensive lab procedures. Members who understood the process, and also the ways that governments will be looking at these products, and in some cases, already are, put forth that it was best to protect our ability to call our products natural.

    My response may be oversimplification, as I am not a chemist and others who worked on this are more knowledgeable about the process. If you wish, you can wait until Bruce holds a guest blog here and ask him further.

    The Guild will be rolling out lots more to protect our member's small businesses in the next year, this is just the first step.

    Thanks for stopping by,


  12. Hello Anya,

    You may know that alcohol can be produced in different ways, different kinds of fermentation (industrial secret!) and then fractioned distilled, so that it does not have more than traces of other bad alcohols. Only those using organic alcohol (after the EU law of organic control are free of GMO origine and other kinds of fermentation processes). About this you must inform!

    Regarding INCI, this is the only way to declare unmistakable ON the PRODUCT and nearby the products in the HOMEPAGES, this is the reason it should be always mentioned in any posts regarding the declarations of content inside real natural perfumers. Any other way to do it extensively with an own commitment is taking people away of searching for a fast and direct indication of what is inside a product, also in the homepages and shops and in the bloggs of the members of your guild.
    Using INCI will reveal (among others) the never mentioned controversy of the legal obbligation to use denaturized alcohol in real natural perfumes in the US.
    Using INCI as a legal opportunity for real natural perfumers like: INCI: Perfume (100% natural) will reveal even more!.
    I believe this issue should be first taken into discussion now and not too late.

    People wish to know the true, not the "natural" perfumers, they know already what fuel their nice smelling ship is using!
    Don´t you think that the public deserve this?


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