Notes on Scents: Natural vs Synthetic Fragrance


What's in the Bottle? Real or Wrought?

What's in the Bottle?

A lovely journalist from Natural Health Magazine asked me recently about the difference between natural and synthetic fragances. Here’s the scoop:

Natural fragrances are based on essential oils which come from plants or animals (we only offer those from plants, of course!). Plant-based oils have been used in perfumes for thousands of years, starting with the Egyptians back in 3500 B.C.; they are also used in many other healing and alternative therapies and in organic beauty products.  It’s important to understand how essential oils are are processed- they should be cold-pressed or steam-distilled, without using any solvents to obtain the essential oils from the plants.

Synthetic fragrances are chemically synthesized. They were discovered in 1874; the first synthetic fragrance was marketed shortly thereafter.  In a 1986 study, the National Academy of Sciences determined that up to 95% of chemicals used to obtain synthetic fragrances were derived from petroleum, including many known toxins that are capable of causing cancer, birth defects and allergic reactions. Some of the toxins in synthetic fragrances that have been identified include phthalaltes, linked to birth defects and male infertility, and musk, which has been know to cause cancer in animals.

In the USA, you can simply label products as containing “fragrance”, without identifying the actual ingredients in the products. This means that you often do not know what chemcials are in something containing artificial fragrance. The Skin Deep database lists 13,000 products containing fragrance, and rates them with a red 8 (on a scale 0-10, with 0 being safest). This is in part due to the lack of transparency in knowing what exactly is in these synthetics. 

Natural fragrances are difficult to produce and require large quantities of plants to obtain the oils. For  example- it takes 1000 pounds of rose petals to produce just one ounce of rose essential oil. It’s not surprising that  they are also expensive- much more expensive than synthetic fragrances. An ounce of synthetic jasmine for example, can cost $35, compared to $1500 for the real deal.

One natural perfumer likens the difference between natural and synthetic to playing a piano. Natural fragrance would be like an old Steinway- rich, reverberating, full of subtle harmony and complexity; while  synthetic would be more like an electric piano- consistent, clean, perfect notes in tone and pitch,  but lacking in depth.

So which smell nicer: how do the notes play out? Click here for some wonderful natural fragrances to try. My personal favorite: redflower— the scents are rich, addictive & amazing! !

If you’re not sure, Farfalla, Switzerland’s oldest natural parfumeur,  offers a fabulous  trial set with four different scents for women or for men:

Farfalla Natural Perfume Trial Set

Farfalla Natural Perfume Trial Set






 The following have been used as sources for this post (thank you!):

You may also wish to consult: www.

Thanks to Margaret for pointing this out.


One Comment

  1. Mimosa
    Posted October 7, 2008 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Several of your comments are incorrect.

    The Egyptians did not have essential oils. Distillation had not been invented. They used infused oils and unguents.

    Perfumes containing synthetics have been mass-marketed since 1879, when Jicky was introduced.

    Simple research would show that the Natural Perfumers Guild is the main source of information and links regarding natural perfumes

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: