Animal-derived ingredients and botanical perfumes: sharing my secret!

15th November, 2013

‘Animals are equal – but some animals are more equal than others’. This is a famous quote from George Orwell's Animal Farm that could well apply when making perfume using botanicals. The debate about whether one should use animal-derived ingredients or not is an on-going one: some are taking a stance of being completely against them while others are trying to balance the argument.


As a natural perfumer and one who has a strong stance against harming any animal, it would seem obvious to not use animal ingredients. However, in some of my formulations, particularly the oriental perfumes, an animal, faecal note might be the missing note to give more personality to a creation. I was faced with a choice of either using synthetically recreated musk or amber or selecting a small range of faecal and animal compounds which I knew did not harm the animal. Needless to say that deer musk and civet cat were out of the equation as the first one goes through despicable sufferings mainly for the satisfaction of the herbal medicine market and the second, despite not being killed, is kept captive in a cage in order to collect the matter from his glands. Castoreum is, in my view, sitting between the two thus this ingredient was out of the question.

So what could I turn to? Ambergris, the expulsion from the sperm whale, which, after years of being washed on the ocean, releases a strong amber smell. Unfortunately, at exorbitant cost for a small piece and because it is now part of a worldwide treasure hunt while sperm whale populations are rapidly depleting, I cannot use it on a regular basis. African stone (also called Hyraceum), a urine/feces deposit from the Hyrax, a small mammal in Africa is one that I am more likely to get hold of and I have prepared some tincture of it for the customised perfumes. Its smell is not as strong as ambergris but it does give some intensity to a perfume.

One day, however, I received a sample of an ingredient that has been around and used in cosmetics for hundreds of years, that does not harm the animal (not for the purpose of perfumery anyway – Note: I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan), and that has proven efficient even for babies but yet is not easy to get hold of its pure form. IFRA also declared it an allergen. I am talking about pure lanolin. The potential occurred to me three years ago when I launched my Oriental perfume, Escapade à Oman. After having blended all the oriental ingredients including Oudh, frankincense, cedarwood, rose etc., something was missing to give it this extra’je ne sais quoi’. I decided to add just eight (thick) drops of the pure lanolin in a 50 ml bottle of the perfume. I forgot about it for weeks until I took it out of storage. On opening the bottle, I knew I had a winner.

Sheep Image

But I needed to know how big a winner it was. So I asked my favourite tester aka my wonderful partner-in-life to wear it for the day and give me his frank opinion. Before he left through the door, I kissed him goodbye but this time, I could not get away from his neck where he had sprayed the perfume. It was heaven! Between aphrodisiac and pheromone-like, but getting more towards the pheromone – this intangible scent that wants you to cling to a person for some subconscious reason. The addition of just a few drops of what is simply fat derived from lamb’s wool, had transformed an Oriental perfume into a divine one! My partner phoned me six hours later to say that the smell was still very much there and by the way, he has adopted Escapade à Oman as one of his regular Eaux de toilette!

Next, I am planning to do a trial run with lard (fat from the pig). After all, old French perfumery used to extract essences from the flowers using lard (enfleurage technique). Besides, if we really want to make the best use of what nature offers us, why bother recreating it synthetically. The way forward is to recycle what has been used… and there are many sheep being shaved every day in the world!

Escapade à Oman has been out of production for over 1 year but many of my clients from Germany to the United States, are asking for it as they have adopted it as their favourite Eau de toilette. I am happy to say that it will be available again in a couple of months.


Next: Ambergris

Previous: The Lure and Licencing of using Animal Extracts

Show all in series.

  • Share this


    Advertisement — comments are below


      • lpp | 15th November 2013 13:45


      • David Ruskin | 15th November 2013 18:04

        The quote comes from "Animal Farm" written by George Orwell.

      • Albion9 | 15th November 2013 19:03

        So, where does one acquire pure lanolin?

      • baubo | 15th November 2013 22:17

        Confusing George Orwell with Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) - where was the sub-editor!

        Mistakes such as this really undermine articles, I'm not being unpleasant for the sake of it, just emphasising the importance of checking through anything you submit. We all make errors.

      • JungleNYC | 16th November 2013 01:10

        Happy to try it…where can we buy some?

      • Grant | 16th November 2013 11:25

        Fixed the error now. Three pairs of eyes missed that, thanks for letting us know

      • David Ruskin | 16th November 2013 12:21

        The quote is from Animal Farm not 1984, as I pointed out above. I happen to think that accuracy is important.

        - - - Updated - - -

        Oh well, clearly not important. That says so much.

      • Fleurine | 17th November 2013 02:30

        My only regret about going vegan is that I didn't do it years ago. #compassion. #govegan.

        I am going to refrain from reading the rest of this series because these types of ghoulish topics give me nightmares.

      • edshepp | 18th November 2013 09:19

        Is lanolin soluble in alcohol?

      • David Ruskin | 18th November 2013 10:04

        Thank you; at last.

        As Lanolin is a wax, I doubt if it is soluble in alcohol.

      • purplebird7 | 18th November 2013 13:28

        Lanolin -- brilliant. I hope it works out.

      • AlHamr | 18th November 2013 14:00

        Mrs Hamr and I spent an afternoon last spring packing fleeces on a friend's sheep farm. Lanolin certainly is animalic stuff. Mrs wasn't so convinced by the aphrodisiac qualities, but our hands did end up lovely and soft.

      • Primrose | 21st November 2013 07:16

        I avoid animal ingredients if I know they are in the fragrance. I bought the Mugler Angel Leather (which I love) and was distressed that it was made of real leather. I though it was, like most scents, made of birch or something like that. I like the idea of hyraceum, which is animalic and cruelty free. No animals are harmed in its cultivation, which is from animal urine. Liz Zorn uses it in her natural perfumery.

      • Parfumsisabelle | 28th November 2013 07:05

        I use Liquid lanolin which has emollient properties soluble in alcohol. But when I can't find any, I use the wax which I leave to macerate in the perfume for months and then remove. The pure lanolin wax has such a strong animal smell that it does impregnate the perfume after maceration.

        ''Liquid Lanolin Standard is produced from specially prepared lanolin feedstock that is subjected to low temperature fractional crystallisation. The product is composed of the liquid esters that partly make up Anhydrous Lanolin. It can be used in many applications similar to lanolin but provides a lighter feel with less drag in skincare and offers the substantial handling benefits of a liquid.

        The exceptional colour and odour of Liquid Lanolin Standard make it ideal for lipsticks of all shades and lip balm type products. It can be included in a variety of oil-based formulations such as bath oils, baby oils, cleansing and suntan oils. The high fluidity and clarity mean it can replace part of the mineral oil content providing enhanced emolliency.''

        - - - Updated - - -

        I get it from Baldwins in the UK

        - - - Updated - - -

        The refined version was used for decades as a soothing product for baby nappy rash and worked wonders... It is still used by breastfeeding women too as it has soothing properties.