A table with amber glass bottles of essential oils with pine needles nearby

Natural vs Synthetic Fragrance

Natural vs Synthetic Fragrance: What's the Difference?

The natural product movement continues to gain steam as more and more people become concerned about the environment and its effects on health and well-being. Synthetic fragrances are one thing that many green-minded and health-conscious individuals seek to avoid. In fact, we founded Fresh Wave to offer odor-eliminating products for those who want to keep their homes smelling fresh and clean while avoiding artificial fragrances. 

From talking to customers, we know that many people have questions like “what does natural fragrance mean?” and “what is the difference between natural and synthetic material?” This post will answer those questions, breaking down the benefits and drawbacks of natural vs. synthetic fragrances. 

What Is Natural Fragrance?

A natural fragrance comes from nature. When formulating products with natural fragrance, brands like Fresh Wave use substances derived from trees, flowers and other plants. Some sources of natural fragrance include: 

  • Essential oils: Concentrated oils that contain the compounds of plants that give them their scent and other properties 
  • Oleoresins: Oils and resins that occur naturally in plants 
  • Distillates: Compounds extracted from plant matter through distillation, heating it to a high temperature and then cooling it 
  • Isolates: One specific type of odor molecule that has been isolated from the other compounds in a plant 

Many plants provide pleasant natural fragrances. Lavender, lime, lemon, orange, clove, cedar wood and anise are some examples of plants that add pleasing natural fragrance to air fresheners, perfumes and other products. 

What Is Synthetic Fragrance?

Synthetic or artificial fragrance is man-made rather than derived from nature. Some synthetic fragrances do contain natural plant-based extracts, but they’re paired with chemicals produced in factories and laboratories. With synthetic fragrance formulation, the goal is often to produce scents that are similar to those of natural plants. 

Why Are Synthetic Fragrances Common?

The main reason why synthetic fragrances are common is price. Processing plant matter into the forms described above is a delicate process. It takes time and money. Companies that make skin care, beauty and home care products can purchase synthetic fragrances for less than essential oils, distillates, oleoresins and isolates, and artificial options are usually less expensive for brands that want to develop their own custom scents. 

Synthetic fragrances are also more stable than plant-based ones. Products that are truly natural may need to be stored and shipped with extra care to prevent spoilage, and this further increases costs for manufacturers. Because synthetic fragrances are generally more economical, they allow companies to make more of a profit without having to raise prices for customers. 

Health and Environmental Impacts of Synthetic Fragrance

Although synthetic fragrance is beneficial from a cost standpoint, there are potential drawbacks to artificial scents for the people who use them. Some synthetic scents found in household products give off volatile organic compounds of VOCs, gases that get released from liquid and solid matter and can cause health problems. Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, nausea, dizziness and headaches in sensitive people. Repeated exposure over a number of years could raise the risk of liver, kidney and nervous system problems as well as some forms of cancer. 

VOCs also have a negative impact on the environment. When they combine with nitrogen oxides in the air, they can produce ground-level ozone, reducing air quality. Ground-level ozone can wreak havoc on ecosystems, preventing some plants from growing and harming wildlife. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t have the authority to pass regulations to promote indoor air quality, as laws only allow the agency to regulate products and processes that contribute to outdoor air pollution. As a result, companies are free to use synthetic fragrances that contain VOCs in household products. 

It’s important to note that not all synthetic fragrances are the same. Some may have little or no effect on health and the environment. However, it can be difficult for consumers to know which ones could cause problems. Making the switch to natural fragrances is one way to avoid exposure to potentially harmful artificial fragrance entirely. 

Is Natural Fragrance Safe?

Natural fragrances typically don’t release harmful VOCs that negatively impact health and the environment. From that perspective, they may be a safer choice than artificial fragrance. 

Some people may be allergic to certain natural ingredients. For these individuals, coming in contact with natural fragrance could cause allergy symptoms like sneezing, nasal congestion and itchy and watery eyes. Individuals with asthma may also be sensitive to some natural fragrances. If you or someone in your household has allergy-induced asthma or allergies, you may need to avoid using some naturally derived fragrances. 

As a consumer, it’s important that you carefully research products before you use them. There are no regulations regarding the use of the word “natural” to describe products at this time. As a result, brands are free to combine one or two natural fragrances with synthetic scents or to add other types of man-made ingredients like preservatives and stabilizers to products and still say that they are natural. The other chemical ingredients in these products may also give off VOCs or pose other risks to health and the environment. 

Look for products that are specifically labeled as containing “no harmful ingredients” and “water-based.” The EPA’s Safer Choice designation can also help you identify products that are safer for humans, pets and the planet. Fresh Wave is proud to have earned the EPA Safer Choice seal for our original and lavender Odor-Removing Gel and Odor-Removing Spray

Freshen Your Home With Natural Fragrances

In the comparison of natural vs. synthetic fragrances in air fresheners, true natural options come out on top in terms of safety. However, it’s important that you read labels to ensure that natural fragrances aren’t combined with other chemicals that are potential irritants. 

Fresh Wave offers truly natural odor-eliminating products that you can trust. Not only do we use natural fragrances, but the active ingredients in our formulas are also plant-based, and every product in our collection is free of toxins and harsh chemicals. Choosing Fresh Wave odor eliminators allows you to avoid synthetic fragrances and other chemicals that can pose risks to people and pets. Check out our product selection to discover all the ways that you can freshen your home without artificial fragrance.