Prefer Alcohol-Free Perfumes? Water-Based Fragrances Are On The Rise

Perfumers break it down.

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Alcohol-free perfumes are easier to find then ever. Here are the best water-based perfumes to try.
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Love perfume but can’t stand overpowering scents? Water-based fragrances may be for you.

While the water-based fragrance category has become more popular as of late, alcohol-free perfumes aren’t entirely new. They can be traced back to 2014 with the revival of French apothecary brand Buly 1803 and its creation of the first water-based perfume, the Eau Triple. Since then, more have been popping up in the market, giving those who might be fragrance-averse a lovely, barely-there scent.

What are they exactly? As the name implies, they are scents created using water rather than alcohol to distill aromatic oils. Christopher Brosius, perfumer and founder of CB I Hate Perfume, only uses oil and water for his fragrances and explains that because water evaporates more readily than oil. The result is a scent that may be more subtle, but it smells more natural than alcohol-based fragrances that can be packed with synthetics.

“Mine always come out of the bottle exactly the way I design them,” Brosius says. “The story begins immediately.”

He further explains that alcohol-based scents have a distinctive odor that takes a while to “burn off” before you can properly smell the notes. Fragrances with oils, on the other hand, have a richer interpretation of scent though he notes they are still fainter to smell because they rely on the warmth of the skin for the scent to evaporate. Brosius adds that they don’t lend themselves well to spray formats; the best way to apply them is by applying a few drops at a time to specific areas on your body.

Since water and oil do not mix well, creating water-based fragrances usually requires special emulsion techniques. Fashion designer and founder of her eponymous fragrance brand, Behnaz Sarafpour, for example, creates her three water-based fragrances — the Pure Rose, Pure Neroli, and Pure Jasmine — through a process where freshly cut flowers are distilled with steam. “This results in a light natural fragrance that contains small amounts of the flowers’ essential oils without the use of any synthetic emulsifiers,” Sarafpour says.

Dior’s newest fragrance, the J’adore Parfum d’Eau, is the latest water-based fragrance launch in the market and is formed through a nano-emulsion technique where water and flower oils are blended under extremely high pressure. The result is a soft mist that subtly settles on the skin.

You can find many different types of notes in alcohol-free perfumes, but cosmetic chemist Ginger King says that popular scents you’re likely to find in include floral and fruity notes, as those are lighter and more stringent.

One huge benefit, King says, is that they are perfect for those with sensitive skin. Sarafpour agrees and explains that without the addition of alcohol or synthetic ingredients that could cause irritation, water-based fragrances are safe for those who may be allergic to synthetic perfumes.

Another plus is that they go on lighter, which King says makes them ideal for those looking for a lingering scent. But don’t let the soft aroma fool you; it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t last as long as an alcohol or oil-based perfume. Though most fragrances contain alcohol so that their scent has longer staying power, Brosius counters that popular thought and argues that a scent with a water base is less volatile than alcohol on the skin, making it last longer.

If your interest is piqued, below are four water-based fragrances to try.

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J’adore Parfum d’Eau, Dior’s first foray into water-based fragrances, is similar to the original Eau de Parfum — just with a softer touch. D’Eau is an aromatic floral scent that features a subtle yet long-lasting mix of orange blossom water, solar sambac jasmine, Damascena rose, and magnolia.

Buly 1803

The OG water-based fragrance, Buly 1803 has been laying out the blueprint for years. It’s a lovely blend of tuberose, clove, musk, and vanilla for a warm floral that’s not overwhelmingly sweet.

CB I Hate Perfume

This rose scent is made of real Moroccan rose absolute balanced with Indian black tea. The result is a quiet burst of floral aroma that will entice you even if you claim to not like rosy scents.

Behnaz Sarafpour

Made with only rose petals and water, this all-natural fragrance smells exactly what being in a rose garden is like — fresh, earthy, and only subtlety sweet.

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