Natural ingredients vs synthetic ingredients in perfumes: a real debate?
Written on 29 April 2022
As we become more drawn to organic products, ethical manufacture, and a return to nature, synthetic materials in perfumes may be an unexpected subject for discussion. Here, we shine a light on often misguided preconceptions about synthetics and their use in perfumes. The Perfumer, or « composer of perfumes », has hundreds of raw materials available on their perfume organ to select from. Among them, there is a wide range of both natural and synthetic materials.
What we refer to as « natural » materials are the result of an extraction directly from nature: flowers, plants, fruit, wood, spices, resins…
Conversely, “Synthetic » products are man made using chemical processes : they can be synthesized either from a base of natural materials, or from other molecules which are developed and intended to imitate a natural material.
Why use synthetic products ?
- They provide an extremely diversified palette of fragrances : There are only around 500 natural raw materials existing, while synthetics provide thousands of different scents with new ones being developed each year. Many of the most popular notes utilized in today’s perfumes cannot be extracted naturally : certain flowers such as lily of the valley, lilac, most fruits like peach and apple, iodized or sea notes…
- To recreate certain natural notes which are complex or unethical to source due to various agricultural factors such as climate, water consumption, over-exploitation of land, or that can be environmentally damaging to produce.
- To protect our animals : musk and civet are among the most legendary notes in perfume, and were historically procured from animals. Today, we can recreate these special fragrances without interfering with any unsuspecting beavers.
- And finally, to limit risks of allergy. It may be surprising to learn that natural raw materials are far more likely to cause an allergic reaction than their synthetic counterparts, as it is much easier to identify and remove any potential allergens from a controlled synthetic ingredient.
Synthetics and Perfume, a match made in history!
The utilisation of synthetic molecules in perfumery dates from the end of the 19th century – the perfume industry as we know it would not exist today without these products. The most celebrated perfumes of the 20th century were the result of a harmonious blend of natural and synthetic materials. By limiting a perfumer to only a natural palette of raw materials, compositions can often become heavy, heady, and lack refinement. Adding synthetic materials allows the Perfumer to lighten, diversify, and refine their fragrances.
Still today, the savoir-faire of the perfumer in creating a unique, original fragrance, is to find the ideal equilibrium between the nobility of natural essences, and the diversity of synthetic materials.
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