NATURAL VS SYNTHETIC INGREDIENTS: An approach that is too binary?

Should we oppose science & nature, and does synthetic mean danger? Can we fully rely on naturals?

natural vs synthetic


A little bit of history…

Since the end of the nineteenth century and the development of organic chemistry, fragrances can be composed of natural materials but also through synthesis.

The synthetic molecule is a particle from the petrochemical origin that has been artificially manufactured through chemical processes, and whose purpose is to replicate the smell of a natural molecule or to create new odors. The arrival of these synthetic materials has allowed for an incredibly expansive and diverse development in perfumery and its creative capabilities.


So, does synthetic mean toxic?

The toxicity of a substance is dependent on its chemical structure, not its origin. There is often a perception of hazard and risk when you hear the name “chemical”…The consideration occurs – «surely anything that is not natural is likely to be more harmful?» However, this can be a distorted point of view. A synthetic ingredient allows you to completely control its origin, stability, and safe use on the skin, with reduced impact on the environment.

Many synthetic ingredients are chemically identical to the structures and compositions that can be found in nature, meaning they have the same properties as naturally occurring molecules. A good example is vanillin, a synthetic material that is naturally occurring in vanilla, whether the material is of synthetic or natural origin, the molecule will remain the same.

In terms of toxicity, we must refer to the structure of a molecule and its concentration, not its origin.


Essential oils – Are they totally safe?

Due to their natural and vegetal origin, essential oils are often considered to be very safe. However, essential oils are hydrophobic substances with complex compositions. Derived from plants, they contain volatile organic compounds such as alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, phenols, esters, ethers and terpenes, all of which can be present in various arrangements and proportions. Among these substances, some contain allergens, CMRs, or photosensitizers, and in certain cases a combination of all.

Essential oils are complex substances and their potential toxicity to human health and the environment is not to be taken lightly. As such, they are also subject to the REACH regulation and some are restricted by IFRA, for example – the essential oil of Ylang, Verbena, Tagete…


Synthetic ingredients have significant advantages over naturals! 

  • They provide olfactive notes that cannot be extracted naturally

Some flowers, such as lily-of-the-valley, lily, carnation, or lilac for example, are too fragile and do not support extraction. We can also mention the case of cyclamen aldehyde, obtained by synthesis for the first time in 1919 to reproduce the cyclamen odor, that cannot be extracted naturally.

Therefore, the use of synthetic raw materials allows for the recreation of scents that we could not produce using natural raw materials.

  • They make it possible to replace animal notes

Many olfactive notes come from animals. These notes which are generally quite strong, often give character to fragrances. Some ingredients that were widely used in the past, such as Ambergris, are now prohibited by law. Nevertheless, these notes are appreciated and are essential in the perfumer’s creative palette.

The synthesis of such ingredients make it possible to reproduce these aminalic notes, while avoiding the use of animals or animal derived ingredients to allow perfumers to express their creativity and maximize their capabilities.

Moreover, companies offering vegan products often turn to synthetics as a workable alternative to animal ingredients/derivatives, using only synthetic musk instead of natural musk from animal origin.

  • The synthesis of chemical ingredients allows for the creation of evermore efficient and innovative molecules

New synthetic molecules are created regularly allowing perfumers to renew themselves with new scents. These include calone, a molecule with a marine smell. It was created in the 1990s and initiated the new trend in oceanic perfumes, including Escape by Calvin Klein (1991), and L’Eau D’Issey by Issey Miyake (1992).

  • They help to preserve our natural resources

Certain materials such as Immortelle and Sandalwood have a low extraction yield, and this can lead to their disappearance. Others are energy intensive and/or release a significant amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud, perfumer for Louis Vuitton, recalls that “an overconsumption of natural products would go against the principles of respect and protection of the environment, resources being fragile and limited“.


Nature and synthesis – soulmates?

Some ingredients offer the greatest benefit in their natural form, others in their synthetic form. Perhaps we need to let go of binary paradigms and defend the benefits that each approach has to offer, as well as the magic that the two can create together.

The complexity of the notes expressed by natural raw materials does not always have a direct equivalent in synthesis. As Rosine Courage, perfumer for Sozio, said: «Coumarin would never completely replace those warm, caramelized, chocolaty notes of the tonka bean». However, the use of synthetic ingredients remains essential to the richness of the perfumer’s palette and their creativity.

«Perfumery is a language, a means of expression. Formulating without certain ingredients, natural or synthetic, is to deprive oneself of a vocabulary and impoverish it» explains the perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, of the house of the same name.

It seems that today, beyond naturalness, consumers are looking for meaning and transparency… That is why we can see some initiatives like the Clean trend, or the expansion of the Fragrance Conservatory, the comprehensive digital resource for high-quality information about fragrance created by Fragrance creators :


Follow up

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this subject with us, do not hesitate to reach out to us via email:, or through your designated Sales Representative.




Senate Bill 312 (SB 312), known as the Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2020 (CFFIRKA), goes into effect on January 1, 2022.


What are the requirements ?

SB 312 requires companies selling beauty or personal care products to report the presence of hazardous ingredients.
Companies are required to report products to California Safe Cosmetics Reporting Portal (CSCP) if they sell cosmetic and personal care products in California that contain fragrance and/or flavor ingredients included on one or more of the 22 designated lists in Health and Safety Code Section 111792.6.

Some of these lists are maintained by foreign jurisdictions (e.g., Canada and the European Union).

Within the 22 designated lists, there are for example:

  • Chemicals classified by the European Union as carcinogens, mutagens, or reproductive toxicants pursuant to Category 1A or 1B in Annex VI to Regulation (EC) 1272/2008.
  • Group 1, 2A, or 2B carcinogens identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  • Persistent bioaccumulative and toxic priority chemicals that are identified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency National Waste Minimization Program.
  • The Washington Department of Ecology’s Persistent, Bioaccumulative, Toxic (PBT) Chemicals identified in Chapter 173-333 of Title 173 of the Washington Administrative Code.

In addition to report the ingredients from the 22 designated lists, companies also have to report fragrance allergens. The subset of CFFIRKA reportable ingredients called “fragrance allergens” have a distinct reporting requirement. Fragrance allergens only need to be reported if they are present in a rinse-off cosmetic product at a concentration at or above 0.01 percent (100 parts per million) or in a leave-on cosmetic product at a concentration at or above 0.001 percent (10 parts per million). Fragrance allergen ingredients will be clearly distinguished in the CSCP Reportable Ingredients List. All other ingredients appearing on the Reportable Ingredients List must be reported regardless of concentration in the product.

This is important to note that the law does not require companies to report any of the following: ingredients not included in the designated lists, the weight or amount of an ingredient, or how a product is formulated (i.e. the recipe).


What about Sozio ?

Our regulatory team has updated the Sozio database accordingly in order to identify all the ingredients from the 22 designated lists. On request, we provide our valuable customers with a report identifying these ingredients, each one along with its name, CAS number, percentage, and the list where it comes from.


What about the current federal law on cosmetics in USA ?

The recent activity in California may preview future federal developments. In the absence of federal regulation, it is not uncommon for states to begin applying individualized requirements. Currently, the FDA applies relatively limited standards to cosmetics. The FDA may soon face increased pressure to regulate cosmetics due to growing public concern, whether scientifically justified or arising from uncontrolled social media pressure, regarding ingredients in personal care products.


Follow up:

If you need any further information about the Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act of 2020, please reach out to us via email: or through your designated Sales Representative.


Botanicals by sozio presents “A day in the heart of lavender“.

Through this video, discover our perfumers’ immersion in the lavender fields of our Botanicals producer; a small French cooperative that ensures excellent quality and traceability.

With Botanicals, Sozio is committed to work with exceptional producers to optimize the quality of our sourcing and ensure our customers the naturality, quality and traceability of our natural raw materials.