Saturday, September 23, 2006

A bee's gotta do what a bee's gotta do, a whale's gotta do what a whale's gotta do....

Photo of a woman perfuming her garments with incense of Ambergris "Fumée d ambre gris" by Sargent.
Vegans beware -- this post is not for you. Squeamish folks beware -- same warning. Animal products in perfume. There, we all settled in now for a nice discussion of using animal "stuff" in perfume? Well, not all perfume. I'm going to discuss the animal products I use in my perfume. As long as the animal isn't harmed, I'm for it. No need to address goat hair again, Frontrunner (see post below) has been ID'd and we can all see he's quite healthy and unharmed. I find that the incredible complexity, the pheromonal pull, and the staying power of perfume is fabulous when a tiny bit of animal "stuff" is in the mix. I won't use anything that harms an animal. Period.

One anonymous grouch (they're always anonymouse, lol) wrote me trying to be sarcastic and accusatory that there's no need for animal products in perfume. Well, that goes against centuries of perfumery, and I will purposely ignore any "holier than thou" person as being a self-appointed policeman. Or judge. People have to learn to leave other people alone, period. Unless you feel the need to take someone to task for possibly harming others, the world would be a better place without finger-pointing uptight folks, don't you agree?

Finger-pointers are usually the biggest hypocrites, like Jimmy Swaggart or racist Pat Robertson. Bible thumping in the name of perfume, probably eating meat and wearing leather in their "real" life, grouchy and strident. I mean, if you don't like what's in my perfume, don't buy it. Don't try to regulate me,or harass me, cause that'll get you nowhere (ok, maybe one paragraph on my blog where I can thumb my nose at you.) Sales and general delight over Pan (see post, I Steeled Myself, below) and my other perfumes rule my world, as well any positive response to an artistic product should -- money talks, BS walks.

Now we can move on to Yum! - ambergris, a bile mass that whales throw up. It floats on the sea for years before it is usable in perfumery. The sun and the salt need to work their magic, and like a well aged cheese, (a product that transforms via microbes) the wise humans know how to turn it into something even more transcendent. Ambergris has a gorgeous effect upon perfumes, marrying together the aromatics, providing a complex and long-lasting drydown - essentially making a perfume memorable (click here). In the Middle East and Africa, it has been used for centuries to scent clothes, as in Sargent's painting, and a tiny bit is pressed into the lid of a ceramic teapot to release the scent and flavor to the drink. It is also added to red wine for the same reason.

A few years ago a couple of women on aromatherapy/perfumery boards simultaneously came up with the idea of tincturing what they both called "bee goo". I got some from Jen in North Carolina, who raised bees and made products from them. Seems the scent of the "scrapings", i.e. end caps, soft beeswax, dead bees, yellow gooey stuff, brown gooey stuff and bits and pieces of hive detritus smelled so good that it wound up in oil or alcohol to tincture. Beeswax absolute is quite pricey, so many of us looked into this as a substitute. Found out later that the yellow "goo"ey stuff is bee poop (click here) yep, sure is (click here, too) and heck, y'all know that honey, that sweet yummy stuff you eat is dried bee vomit, right? (click here) I have no problem using beeswax absolute in my perfumes. Bee goo - maybe. Haven't yet. It's rather inferior to the absolute, and I prefer primo products in my juice.

More foodstuff turned aromatic -- seashells, some with the little critters still inside. In India, they're co-distilled with (usually) sandalwood oil and the yield the most smokey aromatic . It's called Choya Nakh and one drop in a liter of perfume is usually enough. Very, very potent. Treif! Not for Kosher use, for sure. That reminds me to mention what makes Kosher oils Kosher. A rabbi certifies that the aromatic brought in for distillation, whether it be mint, vanilla beans, roses, whatever -- is free of insects or little critters like lizards, mice, etc. Not to say any of the aromatic's properties are changed by the inclusion of Mickey Mouse in the distillate, but something to be aware of if you are vegan or opposed to any animal products in perfume. You'll have to purchase perfume that is made only with certified Kosher aromatics if that's your goal.

So there we have it -- the animal scents I use in my perfumes. Maybe someday I'll add others, but since I am an animal lover, I won't use any where the animal is harmed. Live and let live, and blend for yourself, wear what is comfortable to you, and most of all, enjoy the fact that we're able to create and enjoy the world of natural perfumery.

OhBeehiveYourself photo from isolatediguana at Flickr
Seashells photo from liyen at Flickr


  1. Amen Sista.
    Nice post. I love bee products and use them in a lot of my perfumes. Honey absolutes bees wax abs. as well as a few tinctured thingys.
    I have one tincture with organic propolis, royal jelly and bees wax. I sometimes do a 50/50 of this with mushroom tincture, or use it as a drop for drop percentage of an amber note. I tend to make my tinctures very strong (so that I can dilute them as needed) Saves from having to make them all the time too.
    Every little signature thing that a perfumer can do, only adds to the uniqueness of their line. Like your goat hair tincture. I should say artisan perfumer. Because the big guys would not know where to begin, to know how to make this workable.

  2. GODDAM, girl, I said... GODDAM !
    You are a wealth of information...!

    What a pleasure for me to inhale your post this am- it helps gird my loins for the day, and howl in the bargain...

    Best to you-
    have a magnificent day !

  3. Very informative and useful, on a controversial subject which is important to address. Thanks for doing it with clarity and thoroughness...

  4. Lizzz
    I just got in a beeswax absolute that is very different from any others I've used -- rather liquidy, honey-like with a lighter, higher note to it. Quite lovely. It is so true that we are able to so finely craft our perfumes with a unique beauty because of our treasure chest of tinctures and infusions ;-)

    Chaya -- girding and howling in the morning -- if only I woke up with such energy! LOL. Glad you enjoyed the trip through the fragrant animal world.

    Lucy - glad you found it informative and useful. I am in no way the end word on the subject, and I can only share my experiences and observations.

  5. What a useful, informative post!

    Being very busy I only managed to comment today, but still it deserves attention.
    Thanks for elaborating on those elusive ingredients and for your stance on the animal abuse issue.

  6. Hello! I'm Lori Titus from The Bee Folks, and since you so kindly linked to our FAQ in this blog, I wanted to add one more piece of information to the entire "bee poop/bee vomit" issue.

    Bees do make one other product - propolis - which is a gooey resin used to plug cracks in the hive. It is possible (though tricky) to collect it, sells for large sums of money (did I mention tricky to collect it?), and can be used as a tincture. Personally, I have only heard of it bee-ing used as a topical antibiotic when dissolved in alcohol, though I don't see why it couldn't be used as a binder.

    Thanks so much! I found your blog very informative!


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