Everything You Need to Know About the Beauty Industry’s Most Precious Ingredient—Bulgarian Rose Oil

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There is a reason it’s more expensive than gold.

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“Bulgarian Rose Oil is one of the most precious essential oils in the world due to its unique rich chemical composition and deep multi-layered fragrance,” says Kuen Rameson, founder of Gloss Moderne, the Southern California-based clean luxury beauty brand. 

While researching essential oils, Rameson came across Bulgarian Rose Oil and “fell in love with the sensorial experience.” She was so impressed with its fragrance and skincare benefits that she decided to work on an entire line of beauty products formulated with it slated to launch this September.

Gloss Moderne is only one of many luxury companies such as Elizabeth Arden, Channel, Bulgari, Estée Lauder, and Christian Dior that infuse their products with what is known as “the queen of essential oils.” So how did this thorny shrub make its way from the fields of a small Balkan country to our beauty drawers?

Daniel Balakov/Getty Images

Legend has it that during one of the last Crusades, French knights who were passing through the Balkan Peninsula on their way from Syria, brought with them the fragrant Damask rose (or Rosa Damascena). Thanks to the mild climate—warmer winters and cooler summers— and sandy soils of the Kazanlak region in Bulgaria—now known as “the Rose Valley”— this oil-bearing plant found a perfect home there. Historic documents show that the local population started cultivating and distilling Rosa Damascena in the 17th century while Bulgaria was still under Ottoman rule.

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“During this period, the lands with the most fertile soils were usually given to the Ottomans to grow crops such as wheat, corn, and barley, so Bulgarians had to get creative, and they started cultivating this plant [the Damask Rose] in the sandy, unfruitful soils,” explained Radoslav Petkov, the deputy director of the Rose Museum in Kazanlak. 

Fast forward four centuries later, and the small Balkan country that is roughly the same size as New York State and has a population of seven million, is now the largest producer of Rosa Damascena oil in the world. 

Bulgarian Rose Oil also commands the highest prices on the market. In 2019, a kilogram or about 35 ounces of rose oil was worth between $8,200 and $9,400, which made it more expensive than gold. The reason for that is its quality, a lot of which is due to the way it is harvested and distilled, as well as the sheer amount of rose blooms needed for the production of oil—a kilogram requires about three tones of rose blooms. 

In many ways, the way rose oil is extracted hasn’t really changed in centuries. The blooms are still harvested exclusively by hand very early in the morning—from 5 am until no later than 9 AM or 10 AM.

Daniel Balakov/Getty Images

“To get the most in terms of quantity and quality out of the blossoms, they have to be picked while the morning dew is still covering their petals. Once the sun rises and the rose blooms open up, the dew evaporates in the atmosphere, and with it goes some of the oil,” adds Petkov.

For maximum results, distillation also has to occur as soon as the roses are harvested and several products result from it: rose water—widely used in the cosmetics as well as the food industries; rose concrete—orange wax-like material with a fragrant rose smell; rose absolute—extracted from rose concrete using a solvent; and rose oil—the most precious of all four that has over 280 compounds impossible to replicate artificially. All of these four byproducts are then used in fragrances, skincare, and aromatherapy products.

“I find that Bulgarian rose has a more refined lychee top note for the essential oil, even a touch dewier,” said Christophe Laudamiel, the Master Perfumer of DreamAir creative studios in New York City. “For the absolute extract, it has a background that is more apricot, almost passion fruit on top and less woody or less fermented I shall say, than some other roses. A rose absolute gives a richness and opulence without being sweet nor cloying, without invading the fragrance, unless you really want to invade the fragrance with large proportions which can be sexy, too.”

And while synthetic compounds are extremely popular in perfume-making nowadays, the smell of a natural ingredient such as Bulgarian Rose Oil is always preferred by perfumers.

“When you create a perfume, you want to tell a story. Usually, you add it [Bulgarian Rose Oil] because you want to do a floral perfume, like a rose perfume […] So when you do this composition, you would have some rose-like elements [already in it] but adding natural perfume, it just gives another dimension and also quality,” says Nathalie Feisthauer, a Paris-based Master Perfumer. She explains that because of its high price, it’s not always possible to use a lot of Bulgarian Rose Oil in commercial fragrances.

Similar to its diverse olfactory qualities, its skincare benefits are equally impressive. The Rosa Damascena essential oil has natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties. It is known to help soothe red or irritated skin and is appropriate to use on sensitive skin. In some anti-aging products, it is used to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Related: The Best Skincare Products from Around the World to Add to Your Beauty Routine

According to Rachael Pontillo, a licensed aesthetician and herbal skincare formulator, the oil’s antimicrobial and astringent properties make it great for balancing the scalp as it could help with overall volume and scalp health.

“I would recommend it for a leave-in conditioner, overnight hair/scalp treatment, or another type of leave-on hair/scalp treatment,” she said.

If the oil is used topically, Pontillo said that it’s essential for it to be diluted to a 0.6 percent concentration for leave-on skincare products, because otherwise, it could cause irritations or allergies due to the high concentration of geraniol, the compound that carries some of the oil’s antimicrobial properties.

Aromatherapy is another field, where Bulgarian Rose Oil has been extremely popular.

“We discovered the ‘feel good’ benefits of relieving stress and anxiety, reducing cortisol levels, instilling feelings of calm and relaxation, improving sleep quality, premenstrual syndrome and menopausal symptoms, and boosting mood and increasing confidence,” explained Kuen Rameson of Gloss Moderne.

So if you already can’t wait to add this precious ingredient to your beauty routine, we rounded up some of the best fragrances, skincare, and aromatherapy products formulated with Bulgarian Rose Oil to shop right now.

Tom Ford Café Rose Eau de Parfum

Courtesy Sephora

A romantic floral blend of Turkish rose oil and Bulgarian rose absolute is mixed with exotic spices (saffron and black pepper) and dark coffee for an unexpected, sexy, and extremely enticing fragrance. Or as Tom Ford himself puts it, it’s “where rose’s fine breeding gives way to darker pleasures.”

To buy: from $250, sephora.com

Tammy Fender Bulgarian Rose Water

CCourtesy Saks Fifth Avenue

Bulgarian rose water, formulated with rose essence, is a true multi-tasker. Use it during the day when your skin needs a little pick-me-up or apply it on a clean face as a toner. Before going to bed, spritz your pillow with it to help you fall into a blissful sleep.

To buy: $65, saksfifthavenue.com

Sisley-Paris Black Rose Precious Face Oil

Courtesy Neiman Marcus

Sisley Paris’s first-ever skincare oil is formulated with Black Rose extract in combination with Bulgarian Rose oil and Magnolia oil that leave dull and dehydrated skin silky soft and revitalized.

To buy: $240, neimanmarcus.com

Dior Forever and Ever Dior Eau de Toilette

Courtesy Dior

With a top note of fresh freesia and a base note of Bulgarian Rose, Dior’s classic Forever and Ever Dior fragrance is a delicate expression of the French House’s elegant and timeless aesthetic.

To buy: $107, dior.com

Gloss Moderne Clean Luxury Body Crème with Rose Bulgare

Courtesy Gloss Moderne

Gloss Moderne’s ultra-moisturizing Body Crème minimizes the appearance of fine lines while improving the skin’s elasticity and firmness.

To buy: $145, glossmoderne.com

Creed Fleur de The Rose Bulgare Fragrance

Courtesy Saks Fifth Avenue

Creed’s Fleur de The Rose Bulgare is the company’s most popular Private Collection fragrance. It was created in 1890 for the wife (believed to be Edith Roosevelt) of a “historic U.S. president” who first smelled Bulgarian tea roses on her honeymoon and later tasked Creed with the creation of a custom perfume that had the same scent.

In the heart of the delicate fragrance are notes of Bulgarian Rose, Chinese tea flower, and May Rose.

To buy: $660, saksfifthavenue.com

Acqua di Parma Colonia Hair Shampoo and Conditioner

Courtesy Neiman Marcus

Acqua di Parma’s everyday shampoo and conditioner have a gentle formula that will leave your hair shiny, tangle-free, and super soft. Fragranced with Lavender essence, Rosemary, Sicilian citrus, and Bulgarian rose, this unisex haircare duo smells citrusy and fresh.

To buy: $50/each, neimanmarcus.com

Bulgari Rose Goldea Blossom Delight Eau de Parfum

Courtesy Sephora

This new fragrance by Bulgari, created by Master Perfumer Alberto Morillas, is a tribute to femininity. Fresh, youthful, floral, and full of energy, it has notes of papaya, jasmine, Bulgarian Rose, and sensual white musk.

To buy: $114, sephora.com

isoi Bulgarian Rose Natural Lip Color

Courtesy Isoi

Lipstick often dries out your lips but not this one. Formulated with several moisturizing oils such as sunflower, castor, and of course Bulgarian Rose, this trio of bold lip colors will leave your pout soft and hydrated. 

To buy: $37, isoi.com

Gucci Beauty Gucci: The Alchemist’s Garden - A Forgotten Rose Perfume Oil

Courtesy Net-A-Porter

Last year, Gucci launched its first Haute Perfumery line, The Alchemist’s Garden, It was the result of the collaboration between creative director Alessandro Michele and master perfumer Alberto Morillas.

Among other things, the line features three perfumed oils including this floral one, A Forgotten Rose, infused with Bulgarian Rose extract and notes of Pink Pepper and Musk.

To buy: $410, net-a-porter.com

The Harmonist Hypnotizing Fire Candle

Courtesy Saks Fifth Avenue

Formulated with scents of Spicy Pimento Berries and sensuous Bulgarian Rose, the Hypnotising Fire Candle will convince you that opposites attract even when it comes to aromatherapy.

To buy: $80, bergdorfgoodman.com

Iris&Romeo 5-in-1 Best Skin Days

Courtesy Iris & Romeo

A serum, moisturizer, sheer coverage, sunscreen, and blue light/pollution protector, there truly is nothing this instant skin beautifier can’t do. Its vegan formula is enriched with Bulgarian Rose Oil for its anti-inflammatory properties.

The company also has a tinted moisturizing lip balm that has Bulgarian Rosa Damascena, rosa centifolia, shea butter, rosehip, and camellia oil in it.

To buy: $64, irisandromeo.com

Maison Francis Kurkdjian L'Homme à la Rose Eau de Parfum

Courtesy Saks Fifth Avenue

Maison Francis Kurkdjian just launched a brand new men's fragrance featuring both Bulgarian Rose and Centifolia rose, yielding a fresh, bright scent. 

To buy: $275, saksfifthavenue.com