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  1. #1
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    Default What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    I have read reviews and posts that mention perfumers as using "synthetics" or "natural" ingredients. What exactly do these terms mean in regards to fragrances? When I think natural(pardon my ignorance) I think crushed "rose", ground "vetiver". Please explain. Thanks!
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Naturals are ingredients sourced from nature - essential oils, absolutes, etc., prepared from the actual plant.
    Some animal ingredients are also used.
    Synthetics are manmade chemical alternatives or enhancers and have many purposes.
    Synthetics are also standardised as naturals vary from harvest to harvest, place to place., etc.

  3. #3

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Is just a chemical representation of a note -- a molecule. Almost all modern perfumery is structured around synthetic chemicals to cut corners on cost, but also to control and stabilize production. But take for example a rose: that note is usually created by damascones because if the average perfume shopper were to sniff an actual extraction of rose (a rose otto), they'd wrinkle their nose as they're quite bitter. Synths have been used in perfumery since the 19th century, too, so it's really nothing new.

    Synthetics are awesome -- and they can be deployed creatively and expressively. Some are dirt cheap and some are profoundly expensive. Naturals tend not to hold up as well and often require synthetics to support them in a composition. But with naturals you get a depth and complexity that you really can't find in synthetics alone. Aside from that, the distinction doesn't mean much unless, say, you buy a fragrance that promises a certain note but actually smells more like candy -- that's where synths can go bad.

  4. #4

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    When i think of it in perfume, i think of it the same way i do with foods. You will immediately be able to taste the difference with a cheap artificial "grape drink" or one that is 100% organic concorde grape, etc.

    Its an imitation of the real thing.

  5. #5

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Also, there are a number of items that don't actually produce scent that somehow end up in perfumes. That's another place synths are useful (ever tried smelling a banana, for example?). Also, there are certain items that are just too expensive / difficult / ethically problematic to harvest, so synths are used as "replacers." You see this in sandalwood, oud, and various animalics. Some are totally convincing whereas others aren't.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Plus, longevity is inclined to be an issue with solely natural compositions.

  7. #7

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Aside from the literal meaning as it pertains to ingredients, when perfumes are described as "synthetic" the connotation seems to denote a certain degree of harsh, abrasive aromachemicals employed in the perfume's composition, or an obviously fake, fantastical, or crude attempt at recreating a particular note. For example, the strawberry note in Paco Rabanne's Black XS is not harsh or abrasive to my nose, though I would describe it as synthetic, as its "strawberriness" is so over-the-top and completely non-existent in nature (therefore it's sort of crude, fantastical, and fake…or "synthetic").

    For the record, I like the synthetic strawberry note in Black XS.
    "Mama used to bathe me in Youth Dew bath oil."

  8. #8

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    I agree.
    Quote Originally Posted by aphexacid View Post
    When i think of it in perfume, i think of it the same way i do with foods. You will immediately be able to taste the difference with a cheap artificial "grape drink" or one that is 100% organic concorde grape, etc.

    Its an imitation of the real thing.

  9. #9

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    When people say 'it smells synthetic', then I agree it probably goes along what aphexacid and Buysblind wrote.

    As for synthetic materials, I think this is a really complicated issue, and often, perfume lovers and people writing reviews may not know the facts very well.

    For example, the smell of rosewood comes from Brazilian rosewood oil, but the extraction process is destructive, and unchecked, the species itself (Aniba rosaeodora) has become endangered. Unlike sandalwood, linalool is easily produced from other biological sources through some chemical processes, and rosewood oil is apparently 90% linalool.

    Is linalool natural or synthetic? Well, it seems like it's both that. Currently, the note of rosewood does not come from the use of rosewood oil (economic and ethical issues are at play here), but since linalool is responsible for the smell of rosewood, then the chemical itself is used solely (perhaps boosted with other chemicals to recreate the rosewood accord). Linalool itself can come from natural sources or is produced entirely via chemical processes (and may have a non-biological precursor). But we will not know the exact source.

    Is natural preferable to synthetic in this case then? (By the way, chemical ≠ synthetic.)

  10. #10

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    As stated above.

    However, when reviewing or trying to describe a fragrance, I amongst others use the word synthetic to describe "artificial".
    My Current Top 10:

    Rive Gauche Light (2004)
    Fahrenheit (1988)
    Paul Smith Man (2009)
    Burberry London (2006)
    Prada Amber pour Homme (2006)
    Live Jazz (1998)
    Eau des Baux (2006)
    Midnight in Paris EDP (2010)
    Arpege pour Homme (2005)
    Eau Duelle (2010)

  11. #11

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Are all perfumes completely synthetic?

    I guess we don't know the answer to that?

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  12. #12

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Quote Originally Posted by hedonist222 View Post
    Are all perfumes completely synthetic?

    I guess we don't know the answer to that?
    If a perfume has vetiver in it, then no, from some of the previous discussion on this topic, it seems there is no synthetic replacement to vetiver that smells as good and is as cheap to produce as the real thing.

    I think there is a good way of summing up the idea of a whole frag smelling synthetic as opposed to smelling natural (even when it's highly unlikely that is really is all natural). This is a quote from Jean-Claude Ellena:

    “For chocolate, nature uses eight hundred molecules. I use two.”

    My point being, the individual aromachemical molecules, that are then remade with an industrial process, are sometimes found by analysis and isolation from the real thing. A perfumer is then recombining just the most prominent molecules into their own blend to reproduce a note. Sometimes, as JCE says in that quote, the perfumer can get away with just combining 2 molecules to get something that is close enough to the real thing to smell "natural". Sometimes I am sure it takes a blend of many more than 2. Say you took the largest 10 molecules found naturally in chocolate and blended them together. Would that smell more like chocolate than JCE's 2 molecule blend? Yes, probably, our sense of smell is doing a pattern match with what we already understand as chocolate, so the extra subtleties of the additional molecule components may produce a closer pattern match and therefore smell more "natural", although if JCE is correct and his 2 molecule blend is "good enough", you'd probably only be able to tell the difference between a 2 and 10 molecule blend in a side by side comparative test.

    The issue would seem to be that the more individual molecules that go into a fragrance, the higher the production costs. I can see that the actual process of measuring and blending more components would put the costs up, and then there is the issue that the frag has been designed by a perfumer at Givaudan, but they've included a molecule made and "owned" by IFF, for example.

    So frags that are "made down to a price, not up to a quality" may reduce the number of individual molecules that are blended together to get a note to save money, resulting in something that doesn't quite smell like the real thing, and then we say it smells "synthetic".

  13. #13

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Actually, I've just thought of an even better analogy. MP3 files.

    An MP3 file is not the same as the original audio data it is created from, it is what is known as a "lossy" form of compression.

    The original audio is split into its constituent parts (frequencies) and then analysed by a computer model of human auditory perception. Only the most perceptually prominent frequencies are then stored as data in the MP3 file, the others are not included and are "lost" (hence lossy compression).

    When you play the MP3 file, the player recombines the frequencies into a single waveform that you then listen to.

    In all this, there is a concept of cost, which is bitrate. Higher bitrate files take up more space on disk, so you need a bigger more costly disk to store them, or they need a faster broadband connection to stream which again costs more. The greater the compression, the lower the bitrate, and therefore more of the original constituent parts need to be lost to achieve that bitrate. But there is a limit to how much you can loose and still have an MP3 file that people perceive as sounding the same as the original, sounding "natural", and that limit is different for different people, because it is dependent on how they individually perceive sound. Once you compress the audio too much, to below a persons perceptual threshold, they will say it sounds artificial and metallic.

  14. #14

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    The problem with the chocolate note example is that there is no natural source that gives a more natural chocolate anyway, i.e., no one can put real chocolate into perfume per se, as there will be technical difficulties. Any attempt to make chocolate is based on an olfactory illusion. The same goes for many other smells.

    Of course, in a perfume, it may just be one of many notes. The perfumer still has to consider balancing notes, as well as consider the progression of notes. Using naturals or synthetics have all their relative advantages and disadvantages when factoring all these other considerations.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Wouldn't disc space more closely correlate to the overall size of the file as bitrate refers to the amount of bits(information) being processed per second? Also, I think you are confusing the loss of redundant or unnecessary bits with frequency loss. In any case, I honestly don't see how this example relates to natural vs synthetic. Please elaborate.
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  16. #16
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    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Thank you to all who replied. I have a much better understanding of synthetic vs natural!
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  17. #17

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Quote Originally Posted by FISS80 View Post
    Wouldn't disc space more closely correlate to the overall size of the file as bitrate refers to the amount of bits(information) being processed per second? Also, I think you are confusing the loss of redundant or unnecessary bits with frequency loss. In any case, I honestly don't see how this example relates to natural vs synthetic. Please elaborate.
    I get andym72's point. He's saying this: naturals are like good audio files, they are deeper, more 'natural'-smelling.

    MP3s are lossy versions, so in perfume terms, notes composed of few synthetics tend toward smelling less natural, thinner and more artificial.

    This can be linked to another issue: cost. Why do folks want MP3s instead of less-lossy versions? The original idea was about space utilisation, where a MP3 player can store thousands of MP3s, but only dozens of the original (non-lossy) audio files. A similar idea for perfumes: for a lower cost, synthetics can substitute naturals, so the same amount of money (like a hard disk of a particular size) can be used for more perfume projects.

  18. #18

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Steam distilled oil is used for vetiver but it's dirt cheap and you wouldn't be able to identify it against the other synthetics used. They will overpower it or at least change the smell. I'm not sure if there is a fragrance that actually smells of the natural vetiver root. There will probably be a synthetic wood used in conjunction at least.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maque View Post
    I get andym72's point. He's saying this: naturals are like good audio files, they are deeper, more 'natural'-smelling.

    MP3s are lossy versions, so in perfume terms, notes composed of few synthetics tend toward smelling less natural, thinner and more artificial.

    This can be linked to another issue: cost. Why do folks want MP3s instead of less-lossy versions? The original idea was about space utilisation, where a MP3 player can store thousands of MP3s, but only dozens of the original (non-lossy) audio files. A similar idea for perfumes: for a lower cost, synthetics can substitute naturals, so the same amount of money (like a hard disk of a particular size) can be used for more perfume projects.
    Thank you for that explanation. I see the correlation now. They are quite different processes though as it seems that compression deals with the deletion of entire unnecessary data bits from the original file (up to an acceptable amount) for disc space/cost and synthetic use in perfume seems to be for replacement of natural smells with synthetics to produce the same smell in the interest of cost, etc. I hope you can see my inability to see the correlation
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    Tom Ford Plum Japonais
    Aqua di Parma Colonia Leather

  20. #20

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Quote Originally Posted by FISS80 View Post
    Thank you for that explanation. I see the correlation now. They are quite different processes though as it seems that compression deals with the deletion of entire unnecessary data bits from the original file (up to an acceptable amount) for disc space/cost and synthetic use in perfume seems to be for replacement of natural smells with synthetics to produce the same smell in the interest of cost, etc. I hope you can see my inability to see the correlation
    Actually, I feel the processes are quite similar. Let's take rose for example. The important odorants for rose number just about five or six, but natural rose may contain up to 4000 chemicals. To approximate rose, we can use just the six important odorants (damascones, damascenones, rose oxides, beta-ionones etc.), and which can be synthetic (or may be highly purified from natural sources). Such an accord will still smell like rose, but perhaps like a two-dimensional one. Missing the thousands of other chemicals, this rose accord would not smell so 'natural'. It is lossy. This is what JC Ellena is saying regarding chocolate. He can reduce the number of aromachemicals just to 2 out of 800, but which will still produce the effect.

    I think why you do not see the correlation may be that you have the idea that synthetics are different from naturals and replace them. That is not necessarily true. A lot of synthetics are found in naturals: chemically, they are identical, but just come from different sources. Of course, not every scent can be synthesised: this is why sandalwood is difficult to replicate because the fragrance scientists have yet to find/develop good synthetic sandalwood aromachemicals. (They may have found good approximants, but it may be too costly to produce.)

  21. #21
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    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Aaah, the light bulb has just turned on! I had no idea that perfumery was such a complicated endeavor!! This makes me seriously reconsider my disdain for even the most linear of fragrances!
    Current Faves:
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    Tom Ford Plum Japonais
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  22. #22

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Quote Originally Posted by FISS80 View Post
    Wouldn't disc space more closely correlate to the overall size of the file as bitrate refers to the amount of bits(information) being processed per second? Also, I think you are confusing the loss of redundant or unnecessary bits with frequency loss. In any case, I honestly don't see how this example relates to natural vs synthetic. Please elaborate.
    This is going a bit off topic, but there is no redundant information in digital audio. Redundancy means there is more than one copy of something, therefore if one copy is damaged, the other can be used and you've not completely lost part of the data. Lossy audio is relying on some of the audio being perceptually unnecessary, and it is done by frequency as I said. A loud sound in one frequency will mask your ability to perceive quieter sounds in adjacent frequencies, so the theory is that the quieter adjacent frequencies can be left out of the MP3 file completely without you perceiving any difference, and yes, the audio data is stored in the MP3 file in the frequency domain. When you decompress an MP3 file, it is not bit for bit identical to the original, which is how most compression, like a ZIP file, works. Some of the data has been left out for good and you can't recreate it, hence it is called "lossy". Look up Auditory masking if you want to know more.

    The analogy as Maque said is that you could leave out the quieter components of the smell of a Rose and still perceive it as a Rose, but the less and less of the components you use, the less and less it smells natural.
    Last edited by andym72; 20th February 2014 at 09:36 PM.

  23. #23

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Quote Originally Posted by aphexacid View Post
    When i think of it in perfume, i think of it the same way i do with foods. You will immediately be able to taste the difference with a cheap artificial "grape drink" or one that is 100% organic concorde grape, etc.

    Its an imitation of the real thing.
    This.
    "As perfume doth remain In the folds where it hath lain, So the thought of you, remaining Deeply folded in my brain, Will not leave me: all things leave me: You remain."

    -Arthur Symons

  24. #24

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    I think the term "synthetic" is often used as a catch-all for disagreeable perfume traits, and it's sometimes used as a lofty way of putting a fragrance down. Rather than say a perfume seems bitter or harsh, one can describe it as synthetic, as if to imply that it's not a matter of personal distaste but objective fact. If you happen to like a perfume that someone else calls synthetic, well..."to each his or her own," but your nose just isn't as sophisticated.

  25. #25

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    Bravo, smelliott.

    The term Synthetic is often mis-used here and even more on youtube fragrance reviews.
    "Follow your nose. It always knows." -- Toucan Sam

  26. #26

    Default Re: What does the term "synthetic" constitute?

    In MY own opinion, a fragrance that smells synthetic is a fragrance that doesn't smell like it was made with natural ingredients, found in nature. On the other hand, a natural smelling fragrance smells like something that has only natural notes, those ones found in nature. A natural smelling perfume may have synthetic ingredients, BUT it must smell natural all the way. If you can detect a weird note in it, a note that cannot be 100% attributed to a natural ingredient, then it smells synthetic.

    That is my opinion.

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