The Truth About Synthetic Ingredients in Perfume

There is a common misconception within the beauty and cosmetic world – anything synthetic is bad, and anything natural is good. This simply isn’t true. It is far more complex than this.

When it comes to harmful ingredients in perfumes and colognes, it’s really all about the dosage, your skin, and the type of perfume you use. Some individual ingredients may be harmful to one person, but not another.

“Everything is poison and no thing is without poison. Only the dose defines if the thing is not a poison” 

– Paracelsus.

A typical example is those with extremely sensitive skin. These people should avoid all fragrances, both natural and synthetic. All will likely cause sensitivity issues. Instead, try applying perfume to your clothing, not skin. 

In this article, we aim to clarify some of the misconceptions about synthetic ingredients.  

Are Synthetic Ingredients Bad?

The rise of natural and eco-friendly products has led many to believe that all synthetic ingredients should be avoided. It really depends on the type of synthetic ingredients used. So are synthetic ingredients that bad? Yes and no.

Why are Some Synthetic Ingredients Good?

In many cases, ingredients synthesized in labs are less harmful than natural ones. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for modern perfumes to contain ingredients of which, 50% are synthetic.

Synthetic ingredients were first produced to allow scent creators to expand their palettes. This allowed for more scents than just natural essential oils. Today, regular and vegan perfume companies opt for synthetic ingredients for a few reasons:

  • Overharvesting, which is detrimental to the environment. (eg. sandalwood)
  • Regulations for allergens (e.g. oakmoss).
  • Harm to species (e.g. musk).
  • Lower costs for consumers.

It’s important to acknowledge that the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) regulates synthetic ingredients. Every ingredient is tested for its environmental impact and safety. The recommendations from RIFM are relayed to The International Fragrance Association (IFRA – Europe) and codified.

Every single synthetic ingredient Dolma Vegan Perfumes uses is regulated by IFRA. IFRA upholds strict human and environmental standards.

The composition of these synthetic ingredients is simpler than natural ingredients. A synthetic ingredient has one compound. A natural ingredient may have over 100 individual compounds. While some of those compounds may offer benefits, multiple of the others may cause harm. Any of those 100 compounds could cause irritation or damage.

Some of the most popular natural molecules, such as Linalool (Lavender), are identical to the synthetic version. These molecules are “nature-identical”. This allows perfume companies to create the exact same fragrance without the drain on resources in harvesting, processing or transportation.

Using RIFM and IFRA approved synthetic ingredients is not only better for the environment, but they are safer to your skin too.

100% natural perfumes are also expensive. If all companies were to go 100% natural, it would wreak havoc on the environment, and these perfumes would only be reserved for the elite.

Why are Some Synthetic Ingredients Bad?

There are no specific synthetic ingredients used within the fragrance industry that are bad. Those derived from petroleum are very unsafe, but you will not find them in any product from any company that is a member of IFRA. 

There can be disadvantages to using synthetic ingredients. If you are using a new molecule that has little experience within the market, although deemed safe now it could be considered as unsafe in the future should advanced testing prove it to be so.

Some synthetic ingredients may have biodegradability issues that may not come to light for a few years after their approval. However, this would not be the case for many synthetic ingredients as natural ingredients are often used as a starting point.

The fragrance industry is very concerned with the environmental impact of synthetic ingredients. Consumer demand for eco-friendly products helps keep regulators on their toes in this respect.

Natural vs Synthetic: Which is More Sustainable?

Choosing a natural fragrance over one made with synthetic fragrance does not make it more sustainable. In fact, many synthetic ingredients are far more sustainable than their natural counterparts.

Why? Because when we use natural ingredients, this requires a vast amount of resources to cultivate, harvest, transport, process, and sell. Synthetic materials require a laboratory with a limited amount of resources to create new scents.

In fact, if we were to replace all synthetic ingredients in the perfume industry with their natural alternatives, we simply would not be able to keep up with the demand. 

Going all-natural would also result in far more damage to the environment. For example, it takes 10,000 pounds of rose blooms to create just 1 pound of rose oil. This is far from sustainable and not the direction that eco-conscious perfumes should be heading.

The rising demand for natural ingredients such as rosewood, orchids, and sandalwood were all once heavily destructive to our environment. It’s only thanks to chemists and their synthetic science that we have been able to avoid these ecological nightmares. 

The failure to educate consumers on the sustainability and safety of synthetic ingredients has resulted in the belief that natural is always better. This simply isn’t the case.

IFRA Safe Regulation of Ingredients

Dolma Vegan Perfumes strictly complies with The International Fragrance Association (IFRA). They lay out the European standards for fragrances based on the recommendations of The Research Institute for Fragrance Material (RIFM) Expert Panel.

But what does this actually mean? It means that every single ingredient, both natural and synthetic, that we use in our perfumes is tested for safety and its environmental impact.

There are three types of IFRA standards:

Prohibition: a ban on the use of a material.

Restriction: rules on the maximum quantity and/or the products in which certain materials can be used.

Specification: other conditions on the type of material (such as purity criteria).

Fragrance companies, like Dolma, and formulators become members of IFRA and abide by their strict regulations. This ensures that any natural or synthetic ingredient is approved for safety and environmental impact using the latest research available.

The IFRA Code of Practice is a substantial commitment to promoting the safe use of fragrance for everyone. It is this Code of Practice in which members of IFRA must follow.

The code covers aspects of business, including manufacture, handling, ethical sourcing, continuous updating and other types of applications. The code is updated as and when new research or scientific developments are made.

This ensures that every member of IFRA is providing fragrances in the safest possible way. 

Final Thoughts

The perfume industry is on a mission to become more sustainable and to include only the safest ingredients. 

For the most part, the cultivation of natural ingredients for perfume is very damaging to the environment. And, just because an ingredient is natural does not mean it is safer for personal use. Complex molecular makeup and interactions with other molecules can be harmful.

To protect the environment from overharvesting and poaching of rare trees, we must continue to develop synthetic ingredients using the natural ingredient as a base. This way, we can create safe but great smelling fragrances while reducing the impact on the environment. 

Any reputable company within the fragrance industry is a member of the regulatory body IFRA. This ensures any synthetic ingredient used is safe for consumers, safe for the environment and also protects local producers.

Dolma Vegan Perfumes is a member if IFRA and is committed to the safety and sustainability of both our natural and synthetic ingredients. We are also deeply passionate about reducing our impact on the planet in any way we can.

We only use the natural and synthetic ingredients that the latest evidence deems the safest and on most sustainable. This way, our customers can be sure they are getting the very best product that aligns with their values.