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When it comes to fragrance, there are two main types: natural and synthetic. But what's the difference between them?


Natural fragrances are made from natural materials, which can include essental oils, resins, and other plant extractions. Synthetic fragrances, on the other hand, are created in a lab, from a variety of materials.


So, which type of fragrance is better? Well, that depends on your preferences.


Natural fragrances tend to be more expensive and have a shorter shelf life than synthetic ones. They also may not be as strong or long-lasting. Synthetic fragrances, on the other hand, are usually cheaper and have a longer shelf life. But they may not be as natural-smelling as you'd like, and they can lack the depth of scent common in naturals.


In this article, we'll be looking in-depth at the difference between naturals and synthetics, so you can make the best decision for which type of scent to select.

What is fragrance?

Fragrance is the pleasant smell that is produced by a combination of ingredients such as essential oils, botanical extracts and other raw materials.


Fragrances can be natural or synthetic, with natural fragrances containing ingredients from a natural origin and synthetic fragrances created in a lab.


The word “fragrance” can be used to include up to 3,000 different chemicals in beauty products as it is considered a trade secret by the perfume industry. Of note, the Environmental Working Group ranks “fragrance” as having high health and hazard risk due to its potential ability to cause allergic reactions or other health issues.


Are all instances of "fragrance" on a label bad? No. It's also the word required for compliance in international packaging.

Are natural fragrances safer than synthetic fragrances?

In general, natural fragrances are believed to be safer than synthetic fragrances. There has been notable attention paid to some of the ingredients used in synthetic fragrances, which have been restricted due to their potential allergenic risks, while natural fragrance oils and essential oils are not necessarily subject to the same level of scrutiny.


However, this belief is not always accurate.


Some natural ingredients can also cause skin allergies and sensitization, while synthetics may offer less allergenic alternatives in certain cases. Furthermore, recent studies suggest that key chemicals in plant-derived oils may possibly disrupt the normal functioning of hormones - a risk that is not necessarily present with synthetic fragrances.


It's a complex reality, and the issue has been largely greenwashed, or been leveraged by brands to create a fear-based narrative that does not accurately convey the situation.

What are the differences between natural and synthetic fragrances?

Natural fragrances are made from natural ingredients, such as herbs, flowers, roots, and resins.

Natural fragrances are scents derived from natural materials such as plants, animals, and trees. They are often used as alternatives to synthetic fragrances due to their lighter scent and lack of added chemicals. The ingredients used to create natural fragrances include oils from lemon peel, litsea fruit peel (also known as 'aroma wood'), lavender flowers or leaves, rosemary oil from the herb rosemary plant, clove oil from cloves of the clove tree (Eugenia caryophyllata), neroli oil extracted from orange blossoms (Citrus aurantium), bergamot oil extracted from bergamot oranges (Citrus bergamia). There are many types of natural ingredients, and many ways to process the original organic matter.


The main difference between synthetic and natural fragrances is that the former is produced in a laboratory while the latter comes from nature.


Synthetic fragrances can also contain preservatives or other additives that may not be present in natural fragrances. Additionally, synthetic fragrance oils tend to be stronger than their natural counterparts so they last longer on the skin without losing their scent strength over time.

Synthetic fragrances are made from chemicals, which are often called "fragrance ingredients".

Synthetic fragrances are produced using three types of chemicals: full synthetics, semi-synthetics, and natural isolates. Synthetics can be made from byproducts of petroleum, while semi-synthetics are made from intentionally modified aroma molecules. Natural isolates are generated using natural and synthetic byproducts as the raw source material. 


These chemicals often include aldehydes (such as benzaldehyde), esters (such as ethyl acetate), ketones (such as methyl ethyl ketone), hydrocarbons (such as toluene), and phenols (such as eugenol).

Natural fragrances often smell different than synthetic fragrances, and may have different health effects.

Natural fragrances are typically lighter than synthetic fragrances. Synthetic fragrances usually contain synthesized molecules that make them stronger smelling than natural fragrances.


Natural materials will slightly change over time, with each harvest having its own particular personality. Much like a wine harvest, this is the unique personality of natural materials and an inherent part of the allure and experience.


The extraction process in obtaining natural ingredients can directly contradict claims of being environmentally safe due to the use of harsh chemicals in the process. Additionally, since natural fragrances are derived from natural ingredients they have a shorter shelf life compared to synthetic ones which can last up to five years or more depending on usage level.

Some natural fragrances are harvested in a sustainable way, while some synthetic fragrances may not be.

Sustainability standards for natural fragrances and synthetic fragrances are generally the same. Both must be tested and regulated before being allowed to reach the market, ensuring that they are safe for humans. However, natural oils require far more resources to produce than synthetic ones, which may lead to exploitation of plantations and local farmers if not properly regulated. Additionally, some natural fragrances can contain components at that can be harmful at certain levels, if not properly formulated to safety standards.

Natural fragrances can be made from organic ingredients, while some synthetic fragrances may not be.

“Organic” is a complex issue in perfume materials, as it can be used to mean many different things, and the terminology is not as straight-forward as it might logically seem.

Organic cultivation is the use of earth-friendly practices to raise natural raw materials. This can include methods such as removing pesticides from cultivation, and creating wastewater cleaning systems. Many small, independent farmers around the world have been utilizing organic cultivation methods for decades, as it often yields the best fragrance, despite the lower harvest.

Organic certification is a very expensive and time consuming process, which effectively limits its attainment to the largest and most well-funded enterprises. In perfumery, many farmers are small and independent, who cannot justify the added expense, despite their farming methods being in full compliance with organic standards (and indeed, oftentimes they have been organic much longer than their certified peers).

Additionally, the term “organic” may or may not be used depending on the processing methods, and the percentage of change a raw material undergoes. Alcohol from organic sugar beets, for example, cannot be labeled “organic” due to the complexity of chemical change, even though this is a normal part of the distillation process. 

Synethetic materials, on the other hand, can sometimes be labeled “organic” even if their materials of origin are coal- or tar-based derivatives.

Some natural fragrances are made in small batches, while some synthetic fragrances may be made on a large scale.

Both natural and synthetic fragrances are created in laboratories using artificial compounds and natural ingredients. Synthetic fragrances also have a longer shelf life than natural alternatives, typically five years compared to one to two years.


The main difference between natural and synthetic fragrances is the amount of additives they contain, such as UV filters, stabilizers, and artificial color. Natural fragrances usually contain fewer harmful components than their synthetic counterparts, though this depends on the quality of the product itself. Additionally, natural fragrances typically have a shorter shelf life than synthetics due to their reliance on naturally occurring materials that may not be as stable over time.

Some natural fragrances are safer for the environment and for animals, while some synthetic fragrances may not be.

Natural fragrances are derived from natural sources such as plants, trees, and flowers. They often contain essential oils which can be soothing and relaxing for consumers. Natural fragrances tend to have a bigger price tag due to the complex nature of extracting the ingredients. Synthetic fragrances are developed in laboratories without harming the environment by sourcing notes through forestry or animals.


The environmental concerns with natural fragrances include their extraction process which can directly contradict claims of being environmentally safe due to its reliance on natural ingredients that may be harmful to the environment or wildlife if harvested incorrectly. 


Additionally, since they only have an average shelf life of one or two years due to being derived from natural ingredients, this increases costs for consumers over time as they have to purchase new bottles more frequently than with synthetic perfumes which can last up to five years on average with fixatives added in order for them not to sour quickly after opening the bottle.

Natural fragrances may be more expensive than synthetic fragrances.

Natural fragrances tend to have a higher price tag than synthetic fragrances due to their complex extraction processes, the use of natural materials which are more expensive and harder to source.

Additionally, natural fragrances typically have a shelf life of one or two years due to the presence of essential oils which adds another layer of complexity when it comes time to purchase them.

What types of fragrances are there?

When choosing a fragrance, it is important to understand the difference between natural and synthetic scents.


Natural scents are sourced directly from nature while synthetic fragrances use chemistry to create new smells or imitate natural scents. New scent molecules are still being discovered today which expands the range of fragrances available to consumers. Additionally, synthetic ingredients allow producers to highlight natural ingredients featured in a particular perfume as well as recreate flower smells that cannot be distilled naturally (e.g., lilies). 


Furthermore, regulations such as those banning certain materials once used at their natural state further encourage the use of synthetic molecules over natural ones for perfumers who want to remain competitive in an increasingly regulated market environment.


So what types of fragrances are there?

Natural Fragrance

There are a variety of natural materials, which can be processed in a variety of different ways, each yielding a different aroma. 

Enfleurage and steam distillation, for example, will each offer a uniquely different personality in a fragrance material, as the processing methods force the raw material to undergo differentn chemical reactions, thus affecting scent quality. Typically, an enfleurage process will yield a scent that is more velvety and rich, while a steam distillation will yield a clearer, brighter olfactory experience.

Synthetic Fragrance

Synthetic fragrances are artificial compounds created in laboratories using synthetic components and natural ingredients. They may contain some natural substances, but they also contain a host of additional chemicals. Synthetics do not offer the same benefits as natural alternatives such as aromatherapy oils or essential oils, which have been shown to reduce stress levels and improve moods.


Perfumes can be divided into two categories: 100% natural perfumes and perfumes with synthetic ingredients.


100% natural perfumes are made with a smaller range of scents and notes, about 500 notes at most, while perfumes with synthetic ingredients have greatly enriched the perfumer's palette and have made it possible to create certain notes that simply must be recreated, instead of sourced naturally.


The best perfumes will usually combine both natural and synthetic raw materials for optimal results. 


A fragrance containing more synthetic products will be more linear, stable on many supports (blotter strips, fabrics etc.), persistent and have more sillage than one with more natural ingredients.


On the other hand, a perfume containing more natural ingredients than synthetic ones will have different vibrations due to its unique soulful quality which makes it stand out from others in its category.

Scent Molecules

Scent molecules are aromatic chemicals that give off a scent when they interact with the olfactory receptors in our noses. They can be naturally derived from flowers, trees and other plants or synthesized in laboratories.

Natural Extracts

Natural extracts are scents derived from plants, animals, and trees. They can be used in fragrances to create lighter smells that are less overwhelming than synthetic ingredients. Examples of common natural fragrances include lemon oil, litsea oil, and lavender oil.


Using natural extracts for fragrance is beneficial because they do not contain as many chemicals as synthetic ingredients do. Furthermore, brands that use these materials tend to be more transparent about listing their ingredients on the product packaging since they only rely on a shortlist of organic materials. 


However, it is important to note that while natural fragrances may appear less alarming than chemicals they can still cause allergic reactions in some people due to their plant-based origins, which should be taken into consideration before using them in products such as perfumes or lotions.


What is the difference between natural and synthetic fragrance?

Natural and synthetic fragrances both play an important role in perfumery. Natural essences are extracted from blossoms, citruses, woods and leaves, spices and resins while semi-synthetic oils can be created from both synthetic or natural ingredients. Synthetic oils are man-made to reproduce artificially natural essences or recreate creative notes such as marine notes or gourmand notes. The main difference between natural and synthetic fragrances is that natural oils are obtained from materials which have to be farmed while synthetics can be produced without relying on crops or plants. Additionally it is mandatory for both types of fragrances to be tested before they reach the market ensuring they won't cause harm to humans.

What ingredients are used to create natural and synthetic fragrances?

Natural fragrances are created from a combination of ingredients that include essential oils, plant extracts, resinoids and absolutes, botanical aromatics and concretes. Synthetic fragrances are developed in labs from artificial compounds and natural materials such as petroleum distillates (petrolatum), lanolin (wool wax) or pine oil. They may also contain fillers such as talc or clay to increase the volume of fragrance in a product without adding more ingredients.

Do natural and synthetic fragrances have different scents?

Yes, natural and synthetic fragrances have different scents. Natural fragrances are derived from plant extracts and essential oils, while synthetic fragrances are created in a laboratory using chemicals. Natural fragrances tend to be stronger than synthetic ones due to their potency, but both types of fragrance can create unique scents. The word “fragrance” on packaging can be used to hide up 3,000 chemicals in beauty products, many of which may come from synthetic sources.

What are the main ingredients used in natural and synthetic fragrances?

The main ingredients used in natural and synthetic fragrances are as follows: Natural Fragrance: Natural fragrances contain ingredients only from a natural origin, such as essential oils and botanical extracts. These fragrances typically have more molecules than their synthetic counterparts. Synthetic Fragrance: Synthetic fragrances are created in a lab using hundreds of perfume raw materials, such as benzene derivatives, ketones, esters, and terpenes. Parabens and phthalates can also be found in some, but not all, synthetic fragrances. Fragrance Compounds: Fragrance compounds release a pleasant scent and mask bad odors; they may also provide durability or functionality to the fragrance mix. Functional Ingredients: Functional ingredients include antioxidants, preservatives, diluents (which reduce the amount of water needed), solvents (which increase dissolving power or reduce viscosity), fixatives (which prolong fragrance life by preventing evaporation), dyes or colors that may be added to enhance appearance

How do natural and synthetic fragrances affect the environment?

Natural fragrances are extracted from plants, flowers, and trees using unsustainable methods that lead to deforestation in many parts of the world. In addition, harvesting these natural ingredients is time-consuming and unpleasant for animals. Synthetic scents are created in laboratories with the potential to allow for repopulation of forests and safeguarding of animal species in areas where the extracts are utilized in popular fragrances. Synthetic fragrances also have the potential to reduce overharvesting of natural ingredients by allowing for their production without harming ecosystems as much as traditional methods do. However, they can have a negative impact on the environment if they contain harmful chemicals or ingredients that should not be used due to their environmental effects. Not all synthetic ingredients are biodegradable; for example, certain types of synthetic musk are known to accumulate in waterways, impacting local fish populations.

Are there any health risks associated with natural and synthetic fragrances?

In general, synthetic fragrances are more likely to contain "toxic" ingredients than natural scents. The Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database rates fragrance as an 8 (with 10 being the most toxic). Synthetics have been linked to photosensitivity, irritant contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, airborne contact dermatitis and pigmented contact dermatitis. The fragrance ingredient list contains chemicals associated with allergic reactions endocrine disruption and cancer. Natural fragrances generally do not contain harmful synthetic ingredients such as phthalates or dioxins that can cause health issues such as endocrine disruption and cancer. Furthermore natural fragrances may also contain essential oils which provide benefits such as antibacterial properties that synthetic fragrances do not possess. It must be said that not all synthetics are toxic, and if you have an allergy to natural materials (lavender is actually a common irritant to people with sensitivities), then synthetics will be a better choice for you.

Are there any regulations governing natural and synthetic fragrances?

There are some regulations governing natural and synthetic fragrances. IFRA ISO 9235 provides guidelines on what constitutes a "natural" scent, which is defined as being physically obtained from plants using distillation, expression, and extraction. The FDA regulates that all beauty and personal care products list their ingredients on the back of the package. Furthermore, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has published a list of over 3000+ ingredients that could be used to make up "fragrance", though this may not be completely accurate due to lack of transparency in the industry.

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