Myths to debunk: natural vs. synthetic, what's the truth?

There is a dilemma that all fragrance enthusiasts eventually ponder: when creating a fragrance, are natural raw materials always preferable to synthetically obtained isolates and molecules? One of Aquaflor's Fragrance Specialists helps shed light on this controversial topic.

A perfume is born from the combination of multiple odoriferous raw materials, which can be extracted from natural ingredients through a distillation process, yielding essential oils, extracts, and absolutes. Alternatively, they can be recreated in a laboratory by isolating a natural molecule (in this case, referred to as isolates) that is exactly identical to the one found in nature. When attempting to reproduce a natural scent that cannot be extracted from nature itself, pure synthesis is employed using so-called aroma chemicals—synthetic molecules created from scratch, which do not exist in nature.

While it is crucial to rely on natural extracts as much as possible to give a fragrance that special touch of uniqueness and distinctiveness, relying solely on natural materials is inherently complex from a production standpoint and comes with a series of implications to consider. On one hand, there is a safety issue related to possible allergies or adverse reactions that certain natural ingredients may cause. From this perspective, Europe is now much more vigilant than in the past thanks to the oversight of an organization called IFRA (International Fragrance Association), which conducts skin tests each year to monitor the reaction and potential toxicity of various raw materials. All findings from IFRA studies result in regulations that manufacturers must strictly adhere to, requiring perfumes made with natural components to undergo an analysis that indicates the presence of flagged raw materials, ensuring consumer protection as much as possible.

From this perspective, the use of isolates provides an additional element of safety for customers while also facilitating production. Synthetic molecules obtained through synthesis are not only safe but also guarantee consistent production over time by freeing it from problems related to the availability of certain natural ingredients, which can sometimes take years to become available again. Without the support of synthesis, production would not be able to keep up with demand and would fail to ensure a stable standard of quality. Isolates enable the creation of perfumes that remain consistent throughout the years, not only because they solve the problem of ingredient availability but also because nature often provides us with raw materials that possess different characteristics, resulting in olfactory differences as well.