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Your guide to natural fragrances for men

A foolproof guide to naturally derived fragrances and body products for men

A man who's clean and smells good
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A few years back, you probably gravitated toward fragrances that appealed to you in the moment and were easiest for you to get your hands on, whether that was a fresh-smelling department store fav or a woody body spray. For laid-back hippies or tree-hugging outdoor types, patchouli oil would have been the old standby. And for those borrowing from Dad’s medicine cabinet right before a hot date, you might have gone with anything from Old Spice body spray to Acqua di Gio.

The old way of choosing a personal fragrance

Adulthood usually brings refinement and adjustments to our style choices, but when it comes to fragrance, we can get stuck in the same patterns of adolescence. White-collar types reach for the latest Chanel, Gucci, or Yves Saint Laurent, while indie types with vinyl collections focus on cedar-whiskey beard balm and hiking enthusiasts stick to a pepperminty handmade soap for a fragrant boost.

Unfortunately, a carelessly chosen fragrance is the quickest way to make your unique personal style appear as a flat and predictable cartoon. But, when chosen with intention — not according to type, but based on your authentic taste— fragrance can astonish, subvert assumptions, and deeply influence the way people perceive you.

“As with all things with style, fragrance communicates who you are as a person, a sense of humility and authenticity. Akin to how you carry yourself, it has so much to do with the impression a person makes, maybe even more so than their clothing.” — Alison Carroll, co-founder of Wonder Valley

However, these benefits, considerable though they may be, all take a backseat to how you feel about wearing your scent. The real benefit of a personal fragrance is what it does for you, and make no mistake, it can do a lot. Given the powerful role that olfaction plays within our brain centers, masterfully activating mood, memory, and even libido, a mindfully chosen fragrance can transform a regular day into one of intrigue, adventure, and endless possibility.

Wonder Valley Hinoki Body Oil
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Facts about common scents

These doors, of course, only open when you’re wearing the right fragrance for you. If you’ve been choosing your personal fragrance out of the limited range of department store brands, it’s time to reconsider and break down some barriers. Would you confine your music collection exclusively to the newest chart toppers? Of course not. Fragrance works the same way.

“When you find that perfect perfume, it’s like the missing puzzle piece that completes your identity. It’s a holistic second skin, when worn right.” — Patrick Kelly, founder of Sigil Scent

Chances are, your go-to scent is too common and easy to identify to help you stand out in the crowd. Mainstream fragrances can be seductive, but an oversaturated market and crowd-friendly formula ensure the scents have too much mass appeal. They pop up everywhere. You definitely don’t want to smell like the last annoying interaction that intriguing person had at a bar, or worse, their ex. Smelling like someone’s boss, sibling, or ex is a direct ticket to being entered into their phone with no assigned name, and staying there.

For another thing, most mainstream fragrances are made out of a harsh combination of synthetic chemicals that can take a real toll on your health as well as the environment. Many fragrance ingredients are respiratory irritants and endocrine disruptors that can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate allergies and sinus conditions, and even contribute to more serious issues (e.g., low sperm count — yikes!) caused by the use of petroleum-based phthalates.

Facts about natural fragrances

Fortunately, there’s a whole world of thoughtfully crafted niche fragrances out there, and it’s blowing up. As more and more people switch from conventional grooming products to those that are naturally derived, more fragrance brands are stepping up to serve their tastes with a variety of colognes, body oils, and other fragrance products that not only make you smell delicious but also nourish your skin and improve your mood.

Many of these natural colognes call to mind real things found in nature — an ancient Japanese pine forest, a cool mist hovering over the ocean, or an idyllic afternoon in 1960s Laurel Canyon. (Intrigued? Keep reading.) Naturally derived fragrance compounds can smell more supple and “alive” as they progress from top notes (the first spritz) and middle notes to the final acts of the base notes. Once you learn the ropes, you can even give scents as thoughtful and memorable gifts for those hard-to-shop-for folks on your list (receipt included, just in case).

“Fragrance adds that special something that we can’t see, but makes us feel a little more ourselves and a little more put together.” — Melina Polly, CEO and co-founder of Henry Rose

We spoke with a number of expert perfumers to create a short, simple guide to help you find your next natural men’s fragrance. After taking a number of natural fragrances for a spin, we’ve curated a list of our favorite fragrances, sprays, and body oils that are made from plant-based ingredients as well as conscientiously produced synthetics.

What should men look for in a natural fragrance?

The world of fragrance is increasingly moving away from the gender binary, finding restrictions as to who may spritz or apply what to be irrelevant. The goal here is to find what you’re drawn to. Some men gravitate toward woody or earthy scents, while others are better suited to a clean, airy scent, a warm spicy one, or a floral. The best way to find what smells good to (and on) you is to get out there and explore.

How to pick the right fragrance for you

If there’s a conventional scented item that you already like (cast a wide net — what about that hand cream you always find yourself borrowing from your partner, or the body wash you particularly enjoy?), take a look at the packaging to identify your personal faves. A fragrance database like Fragrantica can help you narrow down notes and fragrance families you consistently love, and even what you want to avoid. If you’ve never been much of a fragrance person, consider what sorts of smells in nature you find most invigorating or relaxing, such as salt air or zesty green garden scents.

Monongahela National Forest
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Next, visit a shop that specializes in natural fragrances, or ask to be directed to “clean” scents, which is industry shorthand for conscientiously made fragrances with health and the environment in mind. Bonus, they are usually also cruelty-free products. You can also purchase or request sample sets from brands that interest you. Testing out the fragrance is crucial in distinguishing between variations of the same scent profile. For example, if you like a woodsy fragrance, do you prefer cypress, pine, or cedar? You’ll also be able to take the scent for a test drive and see how it works with your body chemistry and moods. This is not the time for impulsiveness.

Choosing a fragrance is like choosing a friend that will be going everywhere with you for a whole day. What seems perfectly charming at first sniff can become annoying, and vice versa — you may find that something you assumed was not for you at all is actually fantastic.

“A personal scent can define one’s daily emotion and how it can make you feel through the day. It carries a memory that one will always identify with when that person crosses their path.” — Angela Shore, Founder/CEO of Jiva Apoha

Types of personal fragrances

Body oils

Body oils can be a great way to “start small” with natural fragrances since they tend to be more subtle than a traditional spray cologne. Because it’s applied directly to the skin and absorbed with the emollients, the fragrance will linger even when your clothes come off.

Body sprays

This form of personal fragrance has a higher alcohol content than a typical cologne, making it a great option for those who want a balance between subtle and assertive. It’s also more travel-friendly, and a great way to explore a fragrance without breaking the bank.

Eau de parfums and eau de toilettes

One of the most common tiers of colognes and fragrances, eau de toilettes have a lower fragrance concentration; they are made to fade a little faster and wear a bit more discreetly. Think one to two spritzes under clothing, hours before the big meeting or family event. Eau de parfums are the “beast modes,” — higher concentrations that last longer and may seem deeper and richer than their eau de toilette sibling of the same name.

Wonder Valley Hinoki Body Oil
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Best natural fragrances for men

Wonder Valley Hinoki Body Oil

This aptly named body oil is formulated in a base of velvety extra-virgin olive oil grown in Northern California. Fear not, it won’t make you smell like pasta salad. The oil absorbs easily into your skin, hydrating and promoting skin elasticity, leaving behind a faint but lingering scent of Siberian fir and Japanese hinoki. The bottle’s design is as sophisticated and simple as the product inside and will look great on your dresser or bathroom counter. This body oil is the perfect solution for when you’re not sure if it’s a “go out” or “stay in” kind of night. Massage this oil on after a long, relaxing bath or shower, and you’ll be in the mood for whatever feels right.

Jiva Apoha Atman Body
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Jiva Apoha Atman Body

Handcrafted from a deeply skin-friendly base of organic sesame oil and a panoply of evocative essential oils, Jiva Apoha body oil offers powerful benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Founder Angela Shore is passionate about helping clients achieve confidence and clarity through their personal scent and even offers personalized fragrance blends based on your needs and tastes. While all the fragrances are gender-neutral, popular picks among the male client base include Thunderbird, 1967, and (our favorite) Atman, which combines frankincense, sandalwood, and neroli for a heady cocktail of creative consciousness and insightful serenity.

Juniper Ridge White Sage Cologne
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Juniper Ridge White Sage Cologne

One of the OG natural fragrance companies, Juniper Ridge recently added a line of spray colognes to round out their selection of soaps and body oils that recall iconic destinations in nature. Just like Juniper Ridge’s other products, the Wilderness in a Bottle collection is formulated from steam-distilled wildcrafted plants responsibly sourced by the company’s team of intrepid “ground-sniffers”, which brings to mind a team of harvest rabbits. If you’re a fan of desert scents, try White Sage, which transports the wearer to the clean and sunbaked Mojave desert with its dry and herbal profile kissed with a hint of spicy and sweet resin.

The Nue Co. Functional Fragrance
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The Nue Co. Functional Fragrance

This natural grooming company’s flagship scent is a “functional fragrance,” intended to improve your state of mind while also making you smell incredible. Utilizing research from the Brain & Behavior Laboratory at the University of Geneva, this body spray combines undertones of spicy green cardamom and smoky, sacred palo santo with a clean breath of cilantro and bergamot for an instant uplift from stress, fatigue, and anxiety. We tried it and can confirm it works.

Lily CBD Essential CBD Parfum Roller
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Lily CBD Essential CBD Parfum Roller

Sometimes the simplest things have the most impact. Case in point: Into Autumn Embers, a roll-on perfume oil that combines just two powerful ingredients, Indian oud, and 200mg full-spectrum CBD. The relaxing effect of cannabidiol combines with the resinous woody influence of the essential oil for a warm, faintly sweet fragrance that is thick with sacral energy. A lot of fragrances claim to be “sex in a bottle”— this might actually be the real thing.

Thin Wild Mercury Laurel Canyon, 1966
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Thin Wild Mercury Laurel Canyon, 1966

Named for Bob Dylan’s description of his record Blonde on Blonde, these naturally formulated scents are created to evoke the spirit of Los Angeles in its Summer of Love glory. We’re a bit obsessed with their Laurel Canyon 1966 scent, which combines patchouli and petitgrain with Italian cannabis (naturally) for an intoxicatingly earthy fragrance profile. If you’re in the mood for a long, strange trip, this scent will take you there and beyond.

Henry Rose Fog
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Henry Rose Fog

Developed by actress Michelle Pfeiffer and a team of both perfumers and environmental scientists, these fragrances are unique for being created in collaboration with Environmental Working Group and Cradle to Cradle, two watchdog agencies that brought strict standards to bear on the creation of these fragrances. These scents combine a limited range of natural ingredients with safe synthetics that have been tested against allergens and environmental hazards. The result is a highly layerable collection that evokes memory and emotion. We love Fog for its clean, airy profile of vetiver, cedar, and citrus with a lingering hint of pillowy mystery from musk.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Sigil Scent Solutio

Made from cane sugar alcohol, tinctures, absolutes, and essential oils, these fragrances are aged for at least two months before being filtered and packaged. The result is an assertive, tenacious fragrance that lingers long after other natural fragrances would have dissipated—as Jack Nicholson said, “A dab’ll do ya.” Complex and nuanced, these colognes are the olfactory version of a tailored European suit. If you’re dressing to impress, make sure to finish off with a spritz of Solutio for a powerful boost of cypriol and an edgy hint of cypress and wild chaparral.

Editors' Recommendations

Claudia Savin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Claudia is a fragrance enthusiast based in the Pacific Northwest. She has a passion for exploring unexpected and overlooked…
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