Natural versus Synthetic Fragrance – which is #1

Natural and clean burning candles by wood wick Natural versus Synthetic Fragrance

Natural versus Synthetic Fragrance is pretty simple.  Natural is elements produced by the earth.  Plants, bark, roots, grass, non-man made.  Synthetic is man-made.  A reproduction of what is natural.

Natural fragrance is an aroma created using only plant-based elements. Synthetic fragrance is an aroma that is man-made to simulate a natural aroma.

The natural versus synthetic concepts are simple enough to understand but when it comes to packaging labels it gets convoluted.  We are going to help unravel the difference between natural and synthetic fragrances on product labeling in this blog.


The word fragrance seems to have morphed into a “dirty” term in the last few years and maybe for good reason. It’s become really confusing to understand what the meaning of fragrance is when shopping for products that add fragrance as an ingredient.

Because I use it on my packaging, I wanted to clarify what the term fragrance means on my packaging.

What is a fragrance?

Per the International Fragrance Association, the definition of what is a fragrance is explained as a chemical mixture that has a smell or odor encompassing cultural, historical, social, economic, and emotional value.

Simple right?

I’m not getting into the fun part of the definition which is the cultural and emotional value of fragrance, but the chemical mix part of the definition.  Read our blog on ‘Summertime family memories inspired candle aromas‘ for a glimpse into the importance of the emotional value of fragrance.

The Chemistry of the Fragrance

So why has the term fragrance changed into a term that represents confusion and misgivings today?

It’s the chemical of the fragrance part. Ahhh, chemistry .. who likes chemistry anyway, and who understands it? Apparently, not many of us understand chemistry and very few understand the chemistry of fragrance which is why companies have been able to take advantage of us (consumers) for decades.

Companies began to realize the importance of scents in relation to increasing product sales.  Once companies understood a customer would purchase based on an appealing scent the fragrance industry changed. If their product smelled good, customers would buy it or more of it. Some products naturally have a bad odor during manufacturing (oven cleaners/wood polish/paint, etc) so to mask the bad odors companies began to add fragrances.

To keep costs low, companies used cheaply manufactured synthetics that are made using harmful petrochemicals. As we have learned, these petrochemicals have been linked to all kinds of diseases, cancers, chronic headaches, etc.

Over the last few years, consumers began to pay more attention to labels and ingredients. And because thousands of companies used hazardously created fragrances, the term was associated to mean a negative ingredient. So when a label shows the word “fragrance” the consumer automatically assumes it is a harmful ingredient.

Again for good reason.  Most of the commercial big business consumable products use cheaply made petrochemical-based fragrances such as phthalates.  Consumer confusion regarding fragrance on product packaging is enhanced due to company greenwashing.


Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound.

It doesn’t help that companies are not required to include how they produced the fragrance. An example of greenwashing is companies claiming to make products with essential oils. A company can use .001% of essential oils while also using harmful chemicals that poison our bodies and get away with marketing it as natural. And some companies outright lie about adding essential oils. Note the ingredients fail to include which essential oil is used.

Manufacturers can get away with greenwashing and false terms because we have lenient customer protection laws in this country. Fragrance took on an identity created by the lack of understanding of the chemistry of a fragrance.

What is the definition of a natural fragrance?

What is the definition of a natural fragrance? According to IFRA: the definition of a natural fragrance is a complex compound derived from natural aromatics that are extracted from the plant without altering the chemical structure.   (Like this Caffe Latte Wood Wick Lotion Candle, this Carolina Jasmine Wood Wick Lotion Candle, or our Driftwood Wood Wick Lotion Candle)

coffee wood wick lotion candle

Floral wood wick lotion candle

driftwood natural aroma wood wick lotion candle








Still, it can be difficult to discern if a company used a natural fragrance vs. a synthetic fragrance.

And just because the fragrance is comprised of synthetic chemicals does not mean it is always bad. In fact, to add more confusion to the mix, a synthetic fragrance offers advantages that natural aromas may lack.

For example, many synthetic aromas;

  • blend better
  • last longer
  • cost lower to manufacture
  • usually offer a stronger aroma
  • and for many people prevent allergic reactions

Clean synthetic fragrances

Clean synthetic fragrances (man-made) are called natural isolates. Clean synthetic fragrances is a fragrance developed from synthetic and natural by-products.  A semi-synthetic, a blend of both synthetic, which is not made using petrochemicals but rather by-products and artificially modified.

These by-products include plants. Synthesized chemicals are structurally identical to the ones found in nature.

And just because something is made with just natural ingredients does not mean it’s not toxic for you. Think cashews and wild almonds which contain cyanide.

What is best for you; the natural or synthetic fragrance

What is best for you; the natural or synthetic fragrance is a personal choice and preference.

The impact on the environment that uses only 100% natural raw materials is becoming a large drain on resources.  Just note the depletion of sandalwood. As we use more of our natural resources the demand for synthetic options increases. Understanding there can be a safe, integration of the two is key for the future of fragrance ingredients.

We recommend becoming more aware of the products you are purchasing.  Get to know the company you are purchasing from and its beliefs and values.  Look at the company culture of sustainability, clean product philosophy, and customer-centricity.

Don’t be afraid to ask if the company is using high-quality fragrances and if they use natural or synthetic fragrance.  At Pure Soaps And Candles and Pure Wellness Body & Health we use only natural or semi-synthetic fragrances.

Good reference article on the difference between synthetic and natural fragrance