Get Your Scent On without the Chemicals

By Radha Marcum
Senior Editor

Close your eyes and recall your mother’s scent. Was it spritzed from a clear glass bottle? Or a subtle, lingering aroma from shampoo, soap or a favorite hand cream? “Smells spur memory, but they also rouse our dozy senses, pamper and indulge us, help define our self-image, stir the cauldron of our seductiveness . . . wed us to fashion, steep us in luxury,” writes Diane Ackerman in her seminal book A Natural History of the Senses (Vintage, 1990). No wonder we humans have been in love with perfumes for at least the last four millennia.

And yet, for something so natural to us, perfumes have become anything but natural over the last century. No longer distilled directly from nature—flowers, fruits, seeds, resins, roots and, yes, even animals—most contemporary perfumes are concocted in labs with chemicals designed to titillate our smell receptors. (Consider that the “new car” scent is available by the bottle!)

But perfumers like LURK in New York City are turning back the clock on perfume making while creating new bouquets full of fresh complexity. “We are going back to an old way of making perfume and doing it only out of pure essential oils and live plant materials,” says Anne Nelson Sanford, LURK’s founder and creative director. “I think there’s a beauty to it that is very different than other [conventional] fragrances.”


In 2001, Sanford opened an apothecary that sold essential oils, which inspired her to experiment with blending. Now, over a decade later, LURK’s line of eight perfume oils and two eau de toilette fragrances relies on pure essential oils for scent-notes that range from ethereal and floral to spicy or earthy. LURK’s blends often feature citrus, tuberose, neroli, lavender, sandalwood, cedarwood, black pepper and bergamot, in luxurious combinations that “transcend gender, age, race, attitude and affliction.”

Sanford generously sent me sample bottles of every fragrance in LURK’s line. I have worn one per day for over a week now and find them delightfully uplifting, comforting and subtle compared to the harsh smells of conventional perfumes. I have always loved warm, citrusy aromas, but have discovered how much I love rose in LURK’s RSW005 eau de toilette.

LURK perfumes contain no chemical preservatives, stabilizers or additives, which can cause allergic reactions in some. Most of all, the scents’ subtleties make them beautiful. Perfume oils tend to soak into the wearer more quickly than the eau des toilettes, but it would be hard to overdo it with either. “When people wear our fragrance it’s a signature, a subtle signature,” says Sanford.

For more about LURK perfumes, visit lurkmade.com