In recent years, natural ingredients have become popular amongst consumers – their appeal boosted by ideas surrounding improved efficacy, safety and a more holistic approach.

Natural ingredients have often been referred to as the gold standard in both the cosmetic and fragrance industries – but synthetic ones have surprising advantages too.

Read on to discover the differences between both natural and synthetic ingredients. 

What is the difference between natural and synthetic ingredients?

Natural ingredients are derived from nature. They can come from flowers, fruits, herbs, shrubs, nuts, trees or grasses, and some aromatic products can also be found in various parts of plants – such as seeds, barks, roots, leaves, flowers and even balsams and resins. In the past, some natural ingredients (like ambergris) have even been derived from animals, although this is no longer the case at CPL Aromas, and many other fragrance houses globally.

Natural materials are a complex blend of different chemicals that come together in specific ratios that form the odour that we recognise.  

Synthetic ingredients (or aroma chemicals), on the other hand, are single chemicals that are synthesised from mainly petrochemicals or turpentine. These can be nature-identical, meaning the ingredients exist in nature, but are obtained by chemical processes due to ease, cost or better control of purity. 

For example, Vanillin occurs in natural vanilla but is artificially created for fragrance purposes –whereas Ethyl Vanillin is a synthetic material that does not occur naturally.  

How do we obtain natural ingredients?

There are three main methods of deriving natural ingredients from the source:

  1. Essential oils
  2. Absolutes
  3. Resinoids

The first involves obtaining product from raw vegetal materials by steam, CO2 distillation or by expressing citrus fruits. 

The second (absolutes) involves soaking flowers in cold solvent to extract the  fragranced molecules, plant waxes and pigments. The resulting concrete is then mixed with alcohol and filtered to leave the fragrant absolute.

And finally, the third (when using resinoids) involves deriving thick, sticky gum using hydrocarbon solvents directly from plant materials that contain no water e.g. Benzoin.

What are the common misconceptions around natural ingredients?

Recently, more and more consumers have been led to associate natural ingredients with enhanced effects and kindness to skin. But many natural ingredients contain allergens or carcinogens and therefore need to be used carefully. 

Synthetic ingredients are also often shrouded by misconceptions that they’re less effective and more dangerous from a cosmetic point of view. However, all materials used in the fragrance industry, natural & synthetic, are tightly regulated so this isn’t the case. 

In fact, multiple world-renowned classic fragrances wouldn’t exist today without synthetic ingredients, with Chanel No. 5 being the classic example. 

What’s the truth about synthetic ingredients?

And just because a material is natural doesn’t mean it is more ethically or sustainably sourced. Sometimes ‘wild harvesting’ can damage habitats and sometimes fragrance materials are grown on land that could be used for food production. But by using technology and celebrating the best of both natural and synthetic raw materials we can harness the beauty of nature in a lab in an eco friendly way with AromaSpace.  

CPL Aromas’ AromaSpace headspace technology involves both the analytical and perfumery teams. This blending of skills means the team can generate a detailed chemical composition of a plant’s natural wild scent, resulting in true-to-nature fragrances without using often scarce resources.  

What is the challenge for perfumers?

Now, the challenge for fragrance houses across the globe lies with challenging the misconceptions shrouding many consumers’ minds, and combatting the stereotypes around synthetic ingredients within different scents.

Explore all of CPL Aromas’ technologies that are driving change throughout the industry.

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