Where Do Synthetic Fragrances Come From?

May. 11, 2022

Fragrance formulation was revolutionized with the advent of synthetic fragrances. Based on analytical studies of the composition and structure of essential oils and the serendipitous results of organic chemistry research, the 1860s brought the ability to artificially replicate molecules. Initially, fragrances such as musk or vanilla were several times more valuable than the synthetic fragrances of today. Often, this would lead to adulteration of these natural ingredients, with suppliers diluting their oils and cutting them with various substances, thus creating instability and inconsistency in the perfume. Thus, the advent of synthetics has provided a reliable and easily accessible way to capture these coveted aromas. 


What are synthetic flavors?

Synthetic fragrances contain chemicals of artificial rather than natural origin. In contrast, natural flavors are natural fragrances that contain only botanical ingredients. Synthetic fragrances are chemically produced, usually from petroleum, or were originally natural and evolved through chemical modification. Many fragrances contain a mixture of synthetic fragrances and essential oils. When you think of fragrances, terms such as phthalates and parabens may come to mind. While these can be found in non-natural fragrances, synthetic fragrances can be manufactured without such toxins. 

There are many benefits to using synthetic fragrances, including scent performance, range of olfactory expression, flexibility, novelty, affordability, complexity, accessibility, longevity, environmental sustainability, and even safety. 


Democratization of scent

This synthesis reduces the cost of production, thus democratizing the availability and accessibility of flavored products. Especially after the expiration of the patents associated with these scents, it makes the reproduction and duplication of once exclusive scents readily accessible to the public. The result? These aromatic compounds, once available only to the wealthy, began to become commonplace and associated with lower quality. 

The Birth of the Perfume House

The advent of synthetic fragrances eventually led to the era of perfumers and creation companies as we know them today. Due to the complexity required to pair natural and synthetic fragrances, and the element of secrecy required for their formulation and composition so did the integration of raw material suppliers with perfumers-artists and designers.

The world of perfume today

Today, the perfume industry competes based on novelty and the ability to innovate and create new synthetic molecules. This development process is costly and time-consuming, typically taking five years and costing around $2 million. In addition, these molecules need to be tested to assess their toxicity, biodegradability, stability, and skin sensitization, as well as their impact on allergies, with different standards for each country. The reward for all this research and development lies in the patents available to these creators. An unidentified molecule is likely to be patented for its method of production and its application in perfumery. If it has been identified in another field or application, it may still be protected through its use in perfume. 

What are modern perfumes made of?

The typical perfumer's palette today consists of 70% molecules from fossil sources, 5% natural ingredients including essential oils and pure oils, and 25% molecules from renewable sources (i.e. synthetic molecules from organic waste). 

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