What You Need To Know About Alcohol-Free Fragrances, And A Roundup Of The Best Ones

“Flowers, water, that’s it.” The tagline for Dior’s latest J’adore Parfum d’eau is certainly alluring, though it’s also got us curious — does its introduction signal a rising demand for alcohol-free fragrances, and have there been other similar precedents in the beauty world?

First up, a clarification: alcohol is not necessarily a bad thing, at least not when we’re sipping on a cocktail by the bar, but there’s a reason why it’s viewed more controversially when it comes to beauty products; too much of it in a product can dehydrate skin and harm our skin barrier, especially for those with sensitive skin. Perhaps spurred on by the clean beauty movement, we’ve learnt to look out for alcohol content in our skincare products, but should we do the same when it comes to our favourite scents as well? Read on to find out.

Why is alcohol used in fragrances in the first place? 

Alcohol is often the main ingredient in the composition of perfumes, for three key purposes. One, it works well with oils, and is widely used as a solvent for the aromatic compounds of the other materials in the formula; alcohol helps extract the essential oils from natural ingredients such as our precious flower petals. Secondly, it’s the optimal option to dilute the perfume to an appropriate strength, and lastly, it acts as a carrier to help evenly disperse the scent molecules across our skin or into the air around us.

Additionally, we know that alcohol tends to evaporate faster than the other more aromatic substances, so it often gives a touch of freshness just after application, bringing the top notes of the composition into the spotlight.

What about alcohol-free perfumes — how are they created? 

Fun fact: the very first perfumes were non-alcoholic ones called ‘attars’. Originating from India and the Middle East, these are basically highly concentrated perfumes made by distilling botanicals (herbs, ground spices, flowers) and then adding these essences to essential oils such as sandalwood. These still exist today, and as such, oil-based fragrances are an example of a type of alcohol-free perfume. Modern brands may present these perfume oils in dropper or rollerball forms.

Another form would be fragrance concentrates, where scents are supported by wax or butters of vegetable or mineral origin — more commonly known as solid perfume. You might also be familiar with water-based perfume, which has actually existed for centuries, though it’s been gaining more popularity in our current era, favoured for its purity and all-natural nature. In water-based perfumes, the perfume oil is mixed with distilled water to create the fragrance.

Why might alcohol-free perfume be preferred?

There’s no absolute right or wrong, of course, but those who opt for alcohol-free fragrances might be particular about the composition of their scent. Water-based perfumes, for instance, are 100% alcohol free, and have been touted as the new gold standard by advocates of clean beauty, as these represent a more natural scent that smells cleaner, purer, more subtle, and truer to the botanicals that go into them. Unlike what you might think, these natural perfumes can be rather long-lasting as well, since they’re essentially an emulsion of organic oil and water, with a lower evaporation rate.

Water-based perfumes are also seen as a delicate, alcohol-free alternative for those with sensitive skin. Alcohol may dry out the skin over time that then causes irritation or breakouts; the benefit of a water-based formula, then, does away with this, and is often kinder and has a more hydrating effect on skin, hair, or body. Oil-based perfumes are also widely used in the Middle East, especially by Muslims, as they do not contain alcohol, a substance prohibited by Islam.


Alcohol-free fragrances, and especially water-based ones, are being presented as cleaner, more delicate alternatives to classic formulas. For those who might now be more interested in them, we’ve listed 7 perfume variants you can try:


Just flowers and water — the make-up for Dior’s J’adore Parfum d’eau is certainly unique, as the water-based scent is crafted without alcohol, yet with all the captivating floral notes we know and love. Key to the fragrance is its bouquet of white florals, where fresh Neroli now entwines with sunny Jasmine Sambac and velvety Chinese Magnolia.

The innovation here is a Dior-exclusive patented alcohol-free formula, rare in the perfume world, where they’ve promised the same long-lasting intensity you’d get from an eau de parfum. As for the bottle, its silhouette is in line with the rest of the J’adore scents, with this one in an opalescent white and an alabaster texture and evokes the soft feel of flower petals.

$192 (50ml), $275 (100ml), available at all Dior Beauty boutiques and counters, Sephora, and via the Dior Beauty Online Boutique.


Parisian label Hermetica was founded as recently as 2018, and represents the dedication and desire of founders Clara and John Molloy in wanting to create clean, alcohol-free perfumes “as close as possible to the skin”, a sensation they’ve likened to an olfactive dance. Housed in elegant emerald green bottles with debossed gold caps, their fragrances manage to do so by using a hybrid formula of natural ingredients and a groundbreaking green molecule, produced according to a patented process from bagasse, or sugarcane stalk residue, which acts as a solvent while creating a velvety scented effect.

The Spiceair Eau de Parfum is a popular scent inspired by the nostalgia of rainy London. Created by Senior Perfumer Aliénor Massenet, the green scent recreates the feel of mist rising up from slick pavements by including complementary notes of Fresh Molecule and Green Moss accord. Sustainably-harvested Cinnamon Oil from Madagascar and Bergamot Oil then add a warm spiciness to the composition, which captures the mysterious charm of London.

$265, available at escentials boutiques and escentials.com.


Long known for evocative scents that inspire intimate and personal memories, Goutal Paris introduces a new Alcohol-Free Fragrances collection of water-based perfumes that leave a soft scent on the skin. The house has taken some of their most well-loved scents, which are then presented as delicate alternatives to their classic fragrance formulas, further represented by the porcelain-like white bottles used across throughout the series; you’re free to use them all over your body, hair, and clothes as well. This collection is available in the following scents: Eau d’Hadrien, Petite Chérie, Rose Pompon, Songes, and l’Ile au Thé, a fresh citrus scent with heart notes of tea, mandarin blossom and osmanthus.

84€, available at goutalparis.com. Other Goutal Paris fragrances, available at Escentials


With Gypsy Water being one of the most popular scents from Stockholm-based perfumery Byredo, its perfume oil version is quite a steal if you’re on the lookout for alcohol-free perfumes in a convenient rollerball format. Not only is this a concentrated, genderless scent that you’re free to glide over your skin at any point of the day, it also evokes feelings of nomadism, as woody notes of pine needle and sandalwood give way to intense amber, while top notes of lemon and pepper keep things fresh, light and interesting.

$91, available at escentials boutiques and escentials.com.


Trust Le Labo to come up with perfume oils that smell as good as the originals. The esteemed brand’s full range of creations are also available in botanical safflower oil form that’s presented in a 1 ounce perfume eyedropper. Being made with a base that’s enriched with essential fatty acids, we expect the fragrance to come with moisturising, soothing and softening properties as well, which is why it can be used everywhere from your pulse points to one’s hair, neck, and beard. If you love a citrus-floral number, go for the NEROLI 36, centred around the sunny, zesty Orange Blossom, paired with an irresistibly warm and sensual base.

Available at Le Labo stores. 


Solid perfumes are another good option if you decide to go the alcohol-free route — we’d especially recommend them if you’re constantly on-the-go and aren’t about to risk having vials of perfumes in your bags or onboard a flight. For Jo Malone London, their range of solid scents come encased in a sleek, travel-ready palette that holds two fragrances of your choice, and are easily applied with the dab of a fingertip. It comes with a protective pouch and is perfectly sized for you to slip it into your pockets or your purse with lots of room to spare. Solid scents are refillable, and include: English Pear & Freesia, Oud & Bergamot, Blackberry & Bay, Peony & Blush Suede, Wood Sage & Sea Salt, and more for a total of 11 scents.

$56 for the Solid Scent Duo Palette, and $36 – $41 for a Solid Scent Refill. Available at Jo Malone London boutiques and jomalone.com.sg.


Ever the purveyors of clean beauty and natural formulas before they were even trendy, LUSH Cosmetics has a whole line of Solid Perfumes that cater to any alcohol-free fragrance lifestyle, which are simply presented in glass jars for ease of use. Shade is a wonderful gender-neutral scent comprising of warm and comforting Sandalwood and Olibanum, with these ingredients being ethically- and sustainably-sourced as well to tie in with the beauty brand’s conscious mission. To use, warm a little of the solid scent on a fingertip and dab onto wrists, throat, behind the ears, or anywhere you fancy.

$23, available at LUSH store and lushsg.com.