Natural vs synthetic

As explained by LE PARFUM magazine.

Up to the nineteenth century, only natural ingredients were used in the perfume industry. Since the dawn of the twentieth century, however, the appearance of synthetic ingredients has opened a lot of new doors. But what exactly is the difference between these ‘chemical’ ingredients and their natural counterparts? We have asked the experts at CPL Aromas.

Synthetic ingredients have slowly but surely revolutionized the world of perfumery. With these synthetic materials, we can create fragrance sensations that would have been impossible using only natural ingredients. The globally renowned fragrance house CPL Aromas knows all about this. Senior perfumer Tim Gage of CPL Aromas explains: “Synthetic ingredients allow the perfumer to be more creative and use notes that he could not use otherwise. They are often the key ingredients to a new, more refined fragrance that could not be achieved by using only natural ingredients.”

Synthetic ingredients improve shelf life, refine natural scents, and cause a sensation of modernity. Nevertheless, synthetic scents smell different from their natural variants. Gage says: “Synthetic ingredients rarely smell identical to natural ingredients. Some fragrance notes can’t be replaced at all because we haven’t been able to synthesize their components cost-effectively.”


A natural ingredient is directly extracted from nature. Synthetic ingredients, on the other hand, have been manufactured through chemical processes, to imitate a natural ingredient so to speak. As a result, people often assume automatically that natural substances are better and safer than synthetic ones. But that is not always the case. “Natural materials often contain traces of unwanted components that can trigger an allergic reaction,” says Gage. “From a regulation point of view, the synthesis of the main ingredients allows us to minimize the unwanted components or even eliminate them entirely.” This is because synthetic substances are created under strictly controlled conditions. However, both types of ingredients have harmful as well as harmless variants – depending on the type of ingredient.


Natural ingredients can be very expensive. This is because of the extraction process of essential oils; it is very time-consuming in combination with a relatively low yield. Gage explains that they often have to deal with a changing supply chain as well. “The relevant plants may be affected by adverse weather conditions or diseases. As a result, the quantities of materials that are available for use in our industry can often be periodically limited.”

As with any other product, natural and synthetic ingredients have cheap and expensive variants. For example, the natural ingredients vanilla absolue and oud are quite expensive but white musk and orange oil are cheap. The same is true for chemical aromas. Benzyl acetate, for example, is quite cheap and refined amber notes, on the other hand, are more expensive. Again, it depends on the type of ingredient!


Natural ingredients are not always ‘green’ ingredients. There are many factors at play here, such as climate and harvesting ingredients ethically. In addition, natural ingredients do not come from an inexhaustible source. If each perfume only consisted of natural ingredients, the demand for those ingredients would be impossible to keep up with. But according to Gage, this is not the only problem: “Even if sufficient plant materials were available, political problems or natural disasters, such as earthquakes or severe storms, could cause difficulties with the transport of materials. Because of this, perfumers have to turn to other alternatives.

Synthetic ingredients have been obtained by green chemistry and biotechnology, making them largely independent of nature. Also, they are not harmful to nature. For this reason, synthetic ingredients are often the more sustainable, reproducible, and environmentally friendly choice.


World-renowned CPL Aromas, employing no less than six hundred perfumers, has created fragrances for hundreds of niche perfume brands. It is one of today’s largest pioneers in sustainable perfume creation. CPL Aromas develops and integrates sustainable, fair, ethical, and responsible working procedures.

One of their groundbreaking technologies in sustainability is AromaSpace. It is a technology that, in an impressive way, detects the scent of plants or other sources and analyses them, without damaging the source. “The analyses do not harm the plants. We also take their biorhythm into account while examining and only take samples when a plant releases its optimal scent,” says GC-MS Analyst Debora Bortolotti. This enables the team of CPL to recreate authentic scents of nature and create unique creations like never before. “It allows us to use science to unravel the secrets of natural scents.”


The AromaSpace technology is still evolving to analyse and recreate the most prominent scents of nature. Searching for the most perfect summer scents spans the globe – from the mountainsides in Saudi Arabia to the royal gardens in England.

The team of CPL has, for example, recreated the ‘Weeping Silver Lime’ blossom in synthetic form for the Highgrove Bouquet perfume of the British perfume house Penhaligon’s. On a warm and late afternoon in July, the scent was detected in the magical gardens of Highgrove. This will sound familiar to fans of the British Royal Family: it is the private residence of the then Prince of Wales!

AromaSpace made it possible to capture and reproduce this scent. Thanks to this revolutionary technology, we can now all enjoy the bright and refreshing scent of this exceptional flower. The fragrance note makes you feel like you are sitting under the shade of a tree in a warm, green garden…

* Did you know that AromaSpace succeeded in capturing the scent of a thunderstorm? This scent is called petrichor and consists of ozone-like and earthy scents characteristic of late-summer rain.

* Source:
LE PARFUM Magazine,


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