Natural vs. Synthetic Fragrances: What's the Difference in Perfume Making?

A fragrance can come from natural sources such as essential oils and absolutes, or from synthetic sources such as aroma chemicals.

Some people have very strong opinions about the use of natural versus synthetic products in their perfume. There are benefits and drawbacks to both.

One important thing to note is that safety can be an issue with both natural and synthetic ingredients. Just because something is natural does not mean it is safe (think arsenic!).

With any ingredient, it is important to check whether it is skin-safe before using in perfume. For example, Chanel No5 faced a ban back in 2012 and had to reformulate.

The unsafe ingredient? Natural mosses.

Essential Oils for Making Perfume

Essential oils are concentrated liquids taken directly from the roots, bark, leaves, stems, flowers, or other part of a plant. Most essential oils are distilled from a plant using steam or water. The oil carries a distinctive scent (also called “essence”) of the plant.

Essential oils are used in aromatherapy, which is a centuries-old practice of using natural essences to promote mental and physical well-being. They vary in price, and are typically more expensive than fragrance oils, but well worth the additional cost for the aroma and psychological benefits they bring to the field of perfumery.

These benefits of essential oils must be weighed against environmental issues such as sustainability. For example, the harvesting of sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli have extreme negative impacts on the land.

Synthetic Materials for Making Perfume

Synthetic aromatic materials are created in a lab; they can start as naturals and have their chemical structure modified, or they can be created uniquely through the magic of science.

Molecules can replicate what you might find in a natural ingredient (for example, vanillin can be created synthetically, thus saving the environment from unsustainable vanilla harvesting).

With synthetic scents, you have available to you an expansive library of fragrances that you cannot find in natural perfumery, like apple, chocolate, or fresh cut grass.

However, these do not carry the aromatherapy benefits of essential oils, and they can contain dangerous ingredients too, like phthalates.

About Vetiver Aromatics' Fragrance Notes

Vetiver Aromatics' fragrance notes are a blend of aromachemicals and essential oils -- bringing you the best of both worlds. Our fragrance notes are not diluted, so you should treat them like essential oils: don’t apply undiluted to your skin and don’t consume them.