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  1. #1

    Default Synthetic v. natural

    I prefer to use natural essences over synthetic, but as a newbie I'm finding it hard to control my budget using only natural for testing purposes and have sprung for a few synthetics. Personally, while they are cheap, I don't think they portray a true fragrance as a natural essence. Who here uses the synthetics successfully and why do you like them? Are there exceptions for certain scents that you will use a natural over a synthetic or is it the source that counts?

    BTW, thanks to all who have tolerated my noob questions here. I am humbled by the expertise of everyone and thank you for your sage advice always.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Synthetic v. natural

    Here's the way I understand it...

    You can take something like sandalwood and put it in a gas chromatograph. This will give you a list of the main esters present. It might include:

    cis-alpha-Santalol
    cis-beta-Santalol
    Monocyclic sesquiterpene alcohols
    alpha-Teresantalic acid
    alpha-Norekasantalic acid
    alpha-Ekasantalic acid
    beta-Santalic acid

    In a lab, they make these chemicals using a number of different methods, including transesterification, condensation with acidic protons, rearrangement of haloketones in presence of base, nucleophilic displacement of alkyl halides with carboxylic acid salts, nucleophilic displacement of acyl halides with alcohols, oxidation of ketones with peroxides, and reaction of nitriles with an alcohol. Some of these processes even occur in plants... think of them like natural little mini-laboratories.

    So, yes, you can chemically reproduce the results of the gas chromatograph, and get something that smells very close.

    But why not exact?

    Because there are TRACE esters present. Sometimes thousands of them. Individually they don't contribute anything noticeable, but combined together, they produce the subtle nuances that can only come from dozens to hundreds of trace esters present in the natural substance.

    It WOULD be possible to reproduce all the trace esters detected in a gas chromatograph, but it would be so costly, it wouldn't make any sense to do over using traditional extraction methods with the natural substance.

    The quality of synthetics can be measured on how many trace esters and other aromachemicals they include. Higher quality synthetics utilize more trace esters to produce a more natural smelling synthetic while still keeping the price cheaper than the real thing.

    Synthetics are not bad. They are used in virtually every perfume available today. For example, Chanel No. 5 includes civet musk as an ingredient. This is an animal product that comes from scraping the musk glands from a live civet, something that harms the animal. In 1998, Chanel stopped using real civet musk due to ethical concerns and switched to a synthetic. Most people didn't even notice.

    So synthetics are not bad. They are used all the time and are blended with natural ingredients to create scents that were never possible before.

    Take a look at the synthetic base page on Perfumer's Apprentice. I would avoid using very cheap "fragrance oils" from places like saveonscnets to make high quality perfume and cologne.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Synthetic v. natural

    Though my experience is somewhat limited, I like to use synthetics to uphold natural( especially expensive) essences. So, for example, if I use sandalwood essential oil as a base and decided it needed more of a presence it may become prohibitively expensive.....enter synthetics. Even small amounts of some of them will go a long long way. Just my 2 cents.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Synthetic v. natural

    I think the power of synthetics is not just economical. The synthetics largely broaden the palette of a perfumer. For instance, how do we produce lily of the valley, fruit accords, marine accords, have non-sensitizing long lasting citrus fragrances, headspace analysis of something you can't distill like the smell of linden trees blooming...whatever...without synthetics. Sometimes a "fantasy accord" cannot be made from naturals alone. Additionally, I feel it's quite appropriate to use synthetics to replace endangered species, including mysore sandalwood, brazilian rosewood (linalool, the chief constituent is dirt cheap and doesn't cut down old-growth rainforest to be produced), etc. You can also isolate part of an essential oil, like fractional distillations of patchouli or vetiver that are very complex as whole oils, so you have more control over your final fragrance. I hope this helps as you embark on your perfumery journey.

  5. #5

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    Default Re: Synthetic v. natural

    Quote Originally Posted by aromagal View Post
    I prefer to use natural essences over synthetic, but as a newbie I'm finding it hard to control my budget using only natural for testing purposes and have sprung for a few synthetics. Personally, while they are cheap, I don't think they portray a true fragrance as a natural essence. Who here uses the synthetics successfully and why do you like them? Are there exceptions for certain scents that you will use a natural over a synthetic or is it the source that counts?

    BTW, thanks to all who have tolerated my noob questions here. I am humbled by the expertise of everyone and thank you for your sage advice always.
    I am just starting out making my own perfumes, but I would say that in some instances, using synthetics is better than using natural. For instance, Oud. Finding "good" quality agarwood is very expensive, and the fragrance can vary tremendously from supplier to supplier. In this case, you may get superior results buying the synthetic. Good bergamot (terpene free) is very expensive. The synthetic counterpart is still extemely nice, and much less expensive. The way I think about it is that most perfumes marketed today have got to be mostly synthetic, and many of them smell very nice. It obviously is possible to make absolutely top-rate frags with synthetics. Since many synthetics are single molecules, there is less opportunity for allergies as well. To me it makes sense to consider naturals and synthetics.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Synthetic v. natural

    Maybe the question you should ask is: if you didn't know if a certain oil contains natural or synthetic scent molecules, but just sniff it: would you use it in your perfume if you thought it would add what you were looking for?

    Synthetic scent molecules DO NOT necessarily mean that they smell less natural (!!) than their naturally extracted counterparts. They are not inferior. They broaden your palette.
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  7. #7

    Default Re: Synthetic v. natural

    Thank you ALL for your input re: natural v. synthetic. You have brought up good points for consideration and freed me from my preconceptions about working with synthetics.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Synthetic v. natural

    I have no bias RE: the use of synthetics VS. naturals. I use both and find them both indispensable. One important aspect of synths. is that they are extremely consistent. "Naturals" vary to an extremely large degree... not only in terms of supplier to supplier, but also simply in term of "what this year's crop" of whatever was like.
    With that being said, I find that much of the time, I tend to think that there is a more complex or complete aroma in a natural substance as there are many trace compounds involved besides the main note.
    Just my two cents.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Synthetic v. natural

    Great point Ecoture. I hadn't thought of that. Thanks for your 2CW

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