I will admit that I am somewhat vain.




Though I virtually never go clothes shopping, don’t ‘work out’, and usually cut my hair myself, one thing I do care about, aside how I smell, obviously, is skin.



Though middle age may be encroaching (or has already encroached), and I can accept the realities of ‘ageing’ to a large degree  (and I have to say that being 43 is way more enjoyable than I ever would have possibly imagined), I nevertheless see no reason why I should dry up like a crinkled, Clint Eastwood husk if I can help it, at least not yet; and like the Egyptians, and their rituals of mummification, I will continue to try to preserve this doomed,  disintegrating epidermis as long as is humanly possible.




I have always been one of those morbidly attracted to moisture. In fact, I am a confirmed dehydrophobe (Duncan has even suggested hypnotherapy), but I won’t go into too much of that now, suffice it to say that there is a lot of water and herb tea (rooibos or lemongrass) by my bed at night, and that when the earthquake hit two years ago, and I clung to the walls, I thanked the heavens that I happened to be clutching a bottle of iced Japanese green tea in my hand: being trapped under rubble without water and slowly drying to a parched death is genuinely far more terrifying to me than pain or the more simple loss of my life).





Moisturizing creams are essential. And by and large, I prefer to (semi) make my own, because, in essence, they are better. Using a cheapish, generic unscented skin milk by Shiseido, I add small amounts of quality essential oils, depending on my mood (palmarosa, geranium, ylang ylang, lavender, frankincense or myrrh being some of the essences that suit my skin best), though the crown of skin-loving oils, by far the most effective and most naturally luxuriant, will always go to neroli.




Ah…..neroli. Just that word…





Brian Eno even once made a whole album about this essence, ‘Neroli’, the most relaxing ambient soundtrack I know, somnolent to the point of coma : perhaps this is why I don’t seem to review neroli or orange blossom perfumes so often, because much as I love the scent of orange blossom flowers in the flesh (one of nature’s headiest, most erotic savours), for me the extracted essence is more a medicine, a face ointment, not a perfume; a cooling, soothing nerve tonic and rejuvenating skin-cell balm that worn at night has an immediately dream-like, sedative effect – the next day I usually wake up more bright-skinned, refreshed. The stuff is gorgeous, and over the years friends that have stayed at the house have often taken a shine to ‘my neroli’: as a result I have often ended up shipping bottles of the stuff to various people at their request (but don’t get any ideas…) It isn’t cheap: essential oils are very expensive here in Japan for some reason (about three times the cost of those in England, which is why I always really stock up when I go back), and a 1ml tiny bottle of pure neroli will usually set you back about 3000-5000 yen (fifty dollars).





The Black Narcissus is primarily a perfume-worshipping oasis, but as those perfumes, at least in theory, are comprised mainly of essential oils, I would like today to take a look at one single, high quality, essential oil just for a change.




Can essential oils be reviewed? I never have before, but I do know that the quality, timbre, and sensation of aromatherapeutic essential oils, not to mention the smell, vary greatly from company to company, depending on the source, the ethos, the harvest of any particular year, how mass produced (ie adulterated) they are, and the essential integrity of the aromatherapy house in question.





The more you use essential oils- in my case, at least twenty years –  the deeper you go, know which company’s oils are purest and most effective. You find your favourites. My own most used oil would probably have to be marjoram, but only, onlyonly Maggie Tisserand’s, a sweet marjoram from Spain that is like my missing link and I find healing and invigorating simultaneously. There is simply nothing else like it.




For invigoration and morning zest I sometimes use rosemary, geranium, ylang ylang, black pepper or cardamom in the bath (instantaneous results guaranteed), but at night, Maggie Tisserand’s sweet Spanish marjoram is the only thing I can be sure will take me from my overstimulated state (from teaching til late or writing posts on here), to sleep – it is basically my sleeping drug, a haven; herbaceous, strong, but warming, almost balsamic, and I absolutely cannot live without it.




As for Eden Botanicals, some samples of which were sent me by the lovely Brie of Fragrant Man and Australian Perfume Junkies, who makes her own bespoke perfumes using essential oils – you should smell the tobacco amber she has done for Birgit from Olfactoria – all I can say is wow. And express my deep frustration that I have no access to these natural beauties on a regular basis.




The lime ( I love a good lime) is by miles the best lime I have ever smelled, and in a blink of an eye it went straight into a bottle of Harry Lehmann Laguna cologne, which, nice though it is, had a slightly dissatisfying top note – a problem rectified exquisitely by this zinging citron vert; the orange so dazzlingly gorgeous that I would buy it by the litre if I could and just spray it all over the house for the sheer hell of it; unfortunately I was testing Atelier Cologne’s Orange Sanguine on the other hand at the time, and the Eden blasted it instantly into a banal nothingness of uppity New York musk; the orange I was experiencing on my other wrist so vivacious, so alive that my interest in the other wilted immediately.





In contrast, Petitgrain Sur Fleurs (is that not the most beautiful name?) smelled wrong, horribly, on the skin at first as it is just too unrectified, too brutally real, as if the entire spirit of the bitter orange tree – the petitgrain leaf oil, the twigs, and the orange blossom flowers had not been ‘extracted’ or distilled or hexaned or coldpressed, but lifted directly, the soul of the tree intact, a diffusion, or transfusion even, and in concentration on the skin all was too heady, nature’s chemicals colliding, evaporating all over the shop ( I was never a huge fan of petitgrain oil anyway – it is one of the oils that give me headaches, along with basil, cinnamon leaf and aniseed).




This is no ordinary petitgrain oil however, and it wasn’t intended for direct use as a perfume on the skin anyway. Here, there is none of that sharpness, that needle-in-eye citricity, of certain petitgrains; no, this is the tree, as I said, petitgrain sur fleurs, as its name suggests, a beautiful expression of freshly opening neroli with a slightly harsher backdrop of bark, and leafy, verdant chlorophyll, and suspended, as it was last night, in a bottle of Shiseido’s simple skin milk; diluted, or rather allowed to breathe and reshuffle itself into its new surroundings it bloomed, beautifully, and is definitely the best bitter orange tree oil I have ever experienced.





I wouldn’t put this on every night ( I have strange intuitions about essential oils – I always know, somehow, which ones are right to use, which ones aren’t, and at what time), but last night, exhausted from work, I felt like Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream; assuaged, alone in nature and coroneted in green-leaved orange flowers.

















I have to say I didn’t look so bad this morning, either….










Filed under Flowers


  1. Very clever. I like the intuition too; as Rumi stills says “what you seek is seeking you”. What can I say but Evian Spray! Just wish they had a non-pink bottle. A Matt-black or Klein blue would really capture the dehydraphobe market.

  2. “extracted essence is more a medicine” how apt. I like how you describe that, it’s the same for me too. The raw, natural state of a flower is a thing of beauty, the essential oil is something else! And also, I love your black pepper, geranium, ylang ylang combo in the bath. Might have to try that one out. Give neroli and vetiver a try together in a cream… Heaven…

  3. I’m just now starting to get into essential oils and single note exploration. This was a welcome piece.

  4. Lilybelle

    I took note of the intuition part, too! Your subconscious does indeed know what you need. I use a couple of drops of lavender oil in about 1/8 tsp almond oil as a facial oil to wear to bed (when I remember!). I think what makes me look most refreshed is a good, uninterrupted sleep, however! Now you have me craving neroli oil.

  5. I wonder what the overlap is between perfume obsession and essential-oil madness. It must be considerable. There are some that I sniff from the bottle but can’t use any other way. My vial of precious aged vetiver EO is in that category. A sniff from the bottle is grounding and head-clearing, while even a drop in my skin cream is vaguely horrifying. I’ve done a little (very) amateur perfume compounding, but haven’t yet figured out how to blend the exquisite but temperamental vetiver successfully.

    • I ‘suffer’ from both manias gladly, and know exactly what you mean about vetiver. I adore the smell of it, but on my skin. WAY too harsh. Even in the bath it is problematic. I prefer it on walls, or on the top of doors, to waft earthily and serenely as I walk by.

      • I never thought of scenting household areas with it. There is a carved screen in our bedroom that might take very kindly to a little vetiver. My current obsessions among essential oil type things are the CO2 extracts.I have a little bottle of vanilla CO2 extract that is a thick, viscous amalgam of all things vanilla. I am fascinated by it without yet knowing quite what to do with it. But then, just by huffing at it periodically with intense pleasure, I am doing something with it. Brie, you’re the compounder; have you worked with CO2 extracts?

      • brie

        I have worked with several CO2 extracts (but bear in mind feraljasmine I am truly an AMATEUR compounder!!)…..agarwood CO2, ambrette seed CO2, cardamom CO2 and vanilla bourbon CO2 have all made their way into a variety of my blends….but my absolute favorite is the bourbon vanilla…this one probalbly makes an appearance in every single one of my blends…..I think that is why Neil likes them so, given that he is a vanilla fiend!

  6. I bet you looked stunningly gorgeous in the morning…and I must now berate YOU for calling yourself “middle aged”!! I adored this post and wish that more perfume bloggers would write about E.Os…they are a lifeforce unto themselves! Thrilled that you enjoyed the blends and happy to hear you experimenting with the essential oils as well….there is plenty more if you need!

  7. Katherine

    This is so timely for me as I’ve recently been so conflicted about the use of essential oils in skin care. I’ve been using Chantecaille products for a while, who’s approach to ‘anti-aging’ is to focus on inflammation and supposedly uses the purest botanicals etc, and Darphin do a fantastic ‘purifying balm’ that seems to work wonders, and well I love to spritz rose water on my face. And apart from the cost of some of the skin care I’m sort of addicted to, and the fact that none of these products have really cleared up my spot-prone skin anyway, I read some convincing arguments that applying fragrant plant oils, especially lavender, directly to the skin can cause irritation to the skin deep down and all sorts of problems (the opposite to the anti-inflammatory claims). But then the benefits of essential oils are so widely acknowledged! And I obviously think that aromatherapy has amazing powers. Anyway I could go on and on about it as I’m perhaps unhealthily obsessed with skin care! Perhaps if one can irradicate irritation, one can reap the benefits of EOs, as I’m sure they give skin a glow like nothing else. Do you ever put your facial lotion on unfragranced?? And i wonder what Sheisido lotion it is. And do you really notice a difference to your complexion?

  8. Brie’s blends are wonderful, aren’t they? I am also a moisturizing freak, an obsession that began as a child when my mother shoved some Creme de la mer in my face (was I 7?) and told me I could slather up now or get plastic surgery later. What a mom!

    Since last year, I have been making the switch from lotions and creams to oils. Facial oils, dry oils. My skin has always been very sensitive and has responded much better to them.

    And no worries about the Orange Sanguine 🙂

  9. Katherine

    (I mean obviously not undiluted lavender oil btw – I read that even in small proportions fragrant oils can be irritating..) I suspect the common sense answer to all my confusion is trial and error and not chopping and changing as frantically as I do!

    • Everyone’s skin is very different of course, and I would never go against what the general views are about using essential oils neat and so on ( I actually can: lavender on the face when I have any spots, just a little, then rinse it off and sleep with what is left on my face and wake up zit free, seriously). So perhaps my membranes and dermises are mangled and damaged but they don’t seem to be.

      Like I said, I wouldn’t use these moisturizers every night, but I have pretty tough skin that can definitely withstand them, and yes, definitely I do see results! The basic cream (Shiseido Lait De Beaute, unfragranced) is ok but not as good by any means. You should try it.

      • elf

        Lavender is one of the most benign of the essential oils and can indeed be used “neat”…for any others I would research and probably dilute with a carrier oil if one is using on the face.

      • Katherine

        I’ve always loved the idea of making my own skin care, and so interesting how Brie describes them as a life force. I think I shall, once I’ve sorted out the basics of what I use. They do so many complex things now, and reformulate some of the best things, and of course Shiseido have a whole different range here to Japan so I can’t see it on their website. Actually I have recently spent far too long trying to research stuff on the Internet so apologies for such a rant, it was just exactly as I was trying to balance an overload of information. I’m sort of yearning for some aromatic remedy right now.

        Brian Eno is so funny! I love some of his stuff, will have to check out Neroli, and also look forward to familiarising myself with the scent more!

  10. Katherine

    And also intuition is so important, and sleeping well, and believing that we are doing positive things for ourselves. I think perhaps my belief might shift to less expensive necessities anyhow as i’m starting to doubt even the most basic claims of the cosmetics companies. Also there are so many different variants, and everyone’s skin is different. And it is all about finding a harmonious balance. I just can’t get my head around the science. I suppose being an alchemist is fine if you have unproblematic skin. I’ve started using a fragrance free Olay moisturiser, something I never thought I’d hear myself saying! Sorry for rambling on a bit of a tangent I think!

  11. Martha

    An interesting piece for sure. Since it leans toward DIY, I want to pass on a website I know of only through browsing. It is called Makingcosmetics.com. One could order the components of a good moisturizer and then whip up a batch of custom cream.

  12. arline

    I adore essential oils, and Edan Botanicals is my favorite place to get them.

    I make two serums lately. One is with Helicrysum, carrot oil, arnica, rosehip oil, in a base of, argan,

    The other has neroli, sandalwood (try it, you cant even smell it in the blend), frankinscense, meadowfoam!!! My skin loves these oils!!!!

    I put a tiny (not even a whole drop) of geranium oil, in my hand, and spray rose water onto it, pat my face, then rinse it off, rather than using a cleanser. My skin loves that too!!!

  13. Veritas

    Brie is selling her essential oil blends to private customers now. Your consistent positive attitude towards her perfume blends has been a great inspiration and fostered this new endeavour.

  14. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    It’s approaching the end of term and you can see it on my face.
    Not having used my neroli skin cream for a couple of months I decided to make some again the other day, interested to see if what I wrote here about the essence before were still objectively observable.

    It was. There is no face saver like essential oil of neroli : it is rejuvenation central. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

  15. ooh fun! I haven’t read this post of yours. I love EOs and absolutes too and started getting into them years ago, before I had fully immersed myself into niche perfumery (or these might have been parallel processes- I don’t recall). I remember loving the ‘Neroli extra’ of eden botanicals and used the few precious drops in my sample in several experiments. Their cocoa absolute is also yummy!! Jasmine and tuberose absolutes I had my mom source some for me from India (I think the guy I got mine from is one of the suppliers of White Lotus Aromatics)..Anyway it has been soo long since I have played around with these, though I do add them to some homemade creams/whipped shea butter from time to time..I love carrot seed EO for the face, and frankincense..Your neroli face cream sounds delish!

    • It really is. But I think different things suit different people: carrot seed doesn’t work for me in terms of its effects or smell. Actually I tried neroli and frankincense together recently and it was even more effective. The vanity!

  16. I also adore the sublime rejuvenating properties of Neroli. I also adore the scent of it, yet not in fragrance either. In fragrance it seems to become medicinal very easily. I actually adore all things associated with neroli, except as I said feagrances; Nina Ricci Bigarade was too medicinal, yet it was also one of the better scents with neroli. L’Occitane en Provance used to make a fabulous neroli room scent, candle also, which was divine…sadly now discontinued.
    Your face cream must smell and work wonderfully. I am jealous.

  17. What a lovely post.
    I too have a big box of essential oils and absolutes that are adored on a frequent basis. I am currently spraying myself in the face with a lavender absolute diluted in rose water which is an astonishing spirit lifter. My lavender (from Neat wholesale) is utterly orchestral, so many facets, so complex, superbly musky, in the manner of ‘old fashioned’ musk. I never could have imagined lavender as ‘feral’ until I smelt the absolute. I have the feeling I might be repeating myself here, a blog comment ‘deja-vu’. Did I spaff on about it with your Diptyque post?
    Oh well.
    Maybe this is a sign of middle age, early onset memory failure and a love of repeating that which pleases you.
    Enjoy the summer weather drama, we are forecast torrential thunder storms here in the UK this weekend. I shall adopt your actions and make sure I’m outside with my nose open.

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