Fall Fragrance: Synthetic vs. Natural and Organic

From luxurious essences and evocative scents to iconic names and bottles, there’s no sector in the beauty industry as diverse as fragrance. But a new argument has pinned synthetic accords against natural notes, leaving the modern world of perfumery swirling with questions. “The war between naturals and synthetics is really heating up, and there are a lot of misconceptions,” says Virginia Bonofiglio, chairperson of Cosmetics & Fragrance Marketing at Fashion Institute of Technology. So which is safer? We turned to our experts to weigh in.


Synthetic:
Pros:
Widen the palette for a perfumer to work from.
Have all been tested as safe.
Help to control the structure of a fragrance and boost aspects of naturals.
Can be less expensive than some naturals (particularly florals).
Are singular molecules so they are easier to control.
Cons:
Some think of “chemicals” as being unsafe, although this has never been proven nor is it recognized as valid by the FDA.



Natural and Organic:
Pros:
Since essential oils are often incorporated, they can give the added benefit of aromatherapy.
They are sometimes considered “bespoke” or exclusive since the extracts are harvested from unique sources. 
Cons:
Are reliant on the weather and the crops, so from year to year the ingredient could change in smell—or cost.
Additives are not used so they don’t last as long in the bottle (typical shelf life is less than six months).
The scents are stronger and may be more “earthy,” since the notes are interpretations of the direct extracts.


Pictured: Stella McCartney LILY ($80), Mémoire Liquide Aire ($95), Malie Organics Mango Nectar ($32)

1/11

Jasmine

Synthetic:
Lisa Hoffman’s Madagascar Orchid ($65), sophisticatedly tackles the night blooming flower with ever-so-subtle hints of pink peony and exotic orchid.

Natural:
Datura by Persephenie ($65), a heady, almost-musky scent for diehard jasmine fans) will have fragrance fanatics flocking to the oil-based botanical perfume.

Organic:
Jasmine lovers swoon over Intelligent Nutrients Jasmine Absolute ($97), an intense roller-ball formulated with certified organic and food-grade ingredients.

2/11

Rose

Synthetic:
A rose is clearly a rose in Penhaligon’s Peoneve ($120), a blend of Bulgarian rose infusions that evokes an image of understated elegance.

Natural:
L’Occitane Rose Des Champs ($45), offers an incredibly light, almost effervescent mixture of rose and green notes. 

Organic:
A barely-there, subtle interpretation of five different rose essences, Neal’s Yard Remedies Pure Essence No. 2 With Rose ($62), plays up the scent of the powerful flower with a peppery twist.

3/11

Vanilla

Synthetic:
The playful vanilla-meets-fruity notes behind Marc Jacobs Dot ($89), make for a uniquely fun and flirty fragrance.

Natural:
Full of warm notes of vanilla and cedarwood, Kiehl’s Aromatic Blends Fragrance in Vanilla & Cedarwood ($40), allows the true nuances to shine through.

Organic:
A mix of organic soy, coconut wax and essential oils make for the perfect blend of pure vanilla in Pacifica Island Vanilla Solid Perfume ($9).

4/11

Citrus

Synthetic:
L'artisan Séville à l'Aube ($165) take on orange blossom is sweet and unexpected— a perfect sensual scent.

Natural:
Orange blossom notes blend with exotic florals in Houbigant Paris Orangers en Fleurs Eau de Parfum ($180), for a sophisticated scent.

Organic:
A tangy, tart blend that’s slightly sweet, Skeem Blood Orange ($15) roll-on is a bright scent that’s great to wear during the day.

5/11

Fruit

Synthetic:
Jo Malone London Blackberry & Bay ($110) spotlights the accord of berry in a light, subtle and sophisticated way.

Natural:
Natural, top notes of apple play a prominent role in United Scents of America New York ($58), a fragrance inspired by the hustle and bustle of the Big City.

Organic:
Not your typical fruity scent, Sonoma Scent Studio Nostalgie ($105) is a dark interpretation of ripened fruits with a heady quality. 

6/11

Green

Synthetic:
Ineke Balmy Days & Sundays’ ($95) notes of foliage and grass intertwine with the sweetness of honeysuckle and freesia to create a fresh-lush fragrance that’s not the least bit earthy.

Natural:
A charming, innocent fragrance, Bonpoint’s ($70) fresh quality evokes a sparkling, sunny scent with notes of orange blossom and neroli.

Organic:
Mix and match Melange Green Notes Palette No. 2, pure solids ($28) (four in the set) to create a signature scent. Each is reminiscent of a “high-end floral shop.”

7/11

Oriental

Synthetic:
With an exotic blend of paprika, saffron, honey and pepper, Spadaro Noche Del Fuego Eau de Parfum ($155), starts off sweet but dries to reveal a seductive, warmer scent.

Natural:
A unisex fragrance with an almost “smoky incense” quality, Diptyque Volutes ($88) is all about tobacco and musk. 

Organic:
An organic base in Lord’s Jester perfume ($60) lends to its subtle, yet intoxicating scent that features a striking blend of earthy accords.

8/11

Tropical

Synthetic:
With notes of pink passion flower and apricot blossom, Vera Wang Lovestruck Floral Rush ($68) is romantic and feminine.

Natural:
Leilani Bishop Pikake ($62) is an intoxicating island scent, evoking the spirit of Hawaii with sweet and musky notes.

Organic:
Infused with Australian flower essences, the coconut floral fragrance of Lucy B. Tiare Coconut Eau de Parfum ($48) evokes a summer day at the beach.

9/11

Fruity-Floral

Synthetic:
Top notes of plum and apple combined with base notes of sandalwood and grapefruit, meld with other fruit and floral notes in Creed Acqua Fiorentina, The Encore, ($260) a fresh and harmonious scent.

Natural:
Essences of gardenia, rose, wild ylang ylang and neroli come together in Trance Essence Pink Kat ($82) to create a sensual, girly scent.

Organic:
Tsi-La Fiori D’Arancio ($44) is a delicate and playful scent with sparking citrus notes and caramelized vanilla.

10/11

Gourmond

Synthetic:
A warm and spicy scent inspired by New York City, Bond No. 9 Manhattan ($190) abounds in spices like nutmeg, saffron and coriander. 

Natural:

Arquiste Anima Dulcis ($165) is a rich fragrance with refreshing notes of chili and cocoa that is not overwhelming. 

Organic:
With its secret caramel accord and hints of of cognac and frangipani, Velvet & Sweet Pea’s Purrfumery Fleur de Caramel ($295) smells good enough to eat.

11/11

Woody

Synthetic:
Celebrating the many facets of women, Donna Karan Woman ($85) is feminine and sensual with creamy orange flower notes and a sandalwood core.

Natural:
Bold and vibrant, Aroma M Geisha Amber Rouge ($55) is a nice break from florals with spicy notes of clove, sandalwood and cinnamon and free of flowers.

Organic:
The cedarwood notes against alluring North African rose petals makes Rich Hippie Marrakech ($265) a hypnotic, Bohemian scent.

8 Comments
  • Adam Gottschalk
    Posted on

    Natural perfumes do not go bad, assuming they're packed right (airtight). I've heard of (natural) perfumes being discovered from ancient times that were still aromatic.

  • JoAnne Bassett
    Posted on

    I am a Natural Perfumer from the San Diego, CA area. I have been creating and selling natural fragrances for 20 years. I have had eau de toilettes in bottles for 13 years that are the same as they were the day they were made. So 6 month shelf life is not accurate. Two years is more like it if they have been stored away from sunlight and heat. I create 100% natural perfumes and love the alive energy of them. The commerical perfume industry has had a number of synthetic oils removed from use by the perfumers as they were unsafe. Thank you. JoAnne Bassett, perfumer and owner of www.JoAnneBassett.com

  • Laurie
    Posted on

    I have been making natural perfumes for 12 years and have an extensive collection of 100 year old perfume materials from Turkish rose to Mysore sandalwood and the antique oils are the most beautiful things I have ever smelled. Of course some will oxidize in time if exposed to sunlight or poor storage but I have found if stored properly they are stable and amazing! I also have a collection of vintage perfumes (Joy is my favorite!) and I have found that the older ones with a high percentage of naturals have aged well, and the synthetics have aged poorly. This has been my experience, thank you! I am so happy to have been included in this article with my new Fleur de Caramel! ~Laurie Stern, Velvet & Sweet Pea's Purrfumery

  • Gina Gotsill
    Posted on

    Thanks for this! Very interesting. But I must disagree and speak from experience. I love my naturals and have several bottles and solids that have lasted for years. All of them are still gorgeous! I have never had a bottle or solid "go bad."

  • jessie l
    Posted on

    I agree--I prefer synthetics. The term is not "bad." it's the classic take. interesting.

  • HGB
    Posted on

    Very interesting!

  • tt
    Posted on

    I choose Synthetic!

  • deb
    Posted on

    synthetic all the way! I dont want my perfume going bad over the months..