How Can I Tell If My Favorite Smell is Natural?

Woman looking blissed out smelled perfume paper strips

The most common question asked of me as a natural perfumer and botanical artisan is: Can you tell what is in this scent, and is it natural? 

More than 90% of the time, the answers are No and No

There are many companies and artisans who genuinely think they are using natural ingredients because the sourcing of their ingredients said that it was natural. Like any product that asserts claims, such as ‘organic’ or ‘natural,’ a consumer must do their diligence to follow who owns the company, their approach, etc.  Unless you are watching the harvesting of the plants and the distillation process yourself, it has all sorts of places where it might have been degraded. The essential oil world is one of the planet's most ancient and adulterated industries.   

I may not be able to tell a real diamond from a fake one, but I have spent the last 30 years training my nose to tell if something is natural. And so can you!

Comparing the scent to similar smelling substances can help give you an idea of whether a scent is synthetic or natural. Natural scents have a more complex and nuanced aroma, whereas artificial scents may have a more one-dimensional or uniform smell. You have to train your senses to open up to those subtle differences. 

I have found that reading the label or ingredient list does not help to determine if the scent is composed of natural or synthetic substances. If the product claims to be "all-natural" or uses specific natural ingredients in the scent, it will not necessarily be natural. 

It is likely synthetic if the product contains synthetic compounds such as fragrance oils. Technically, a company cannot claim to be all-natural if they use fragrances because fragrances are typically made of synthetic compounds.

The use of fragrances will disqualify a product from being considered all-natural.

You should know that “synthetic fragrances” is a broad term. 

There are three types:

Full synthetics: Nearly the entire fragrance is derived from petroleum by-products.

Semi-synthetics: As the name suggests, the fragrance is only semi-synthetic. It can be created from synthetic, natural, or artificially modified notes. Sometimes, it’s derived from all three.

Natural isolates/ Natural Fragrance Oils:  A fragrance from synthetic and natural byproducts. Don’t be fooled by the name — these fragrance oils are still manufactured in a lab. Natural fragrance oils get their name because they are made by isolating naturally derived fragrance components from a complex scent. This includes limonene derived from lemons, vanillin derived from vanilla beans, and geraniol from roses. 

When looking to buy essential oils some things to consider:

Pure Essential Oils Are Stored In Dark Amber Glass Bottles

When looking for a reliable essential oil supplier, note where and how the essential oils are stored.  Essential oils are always sold in dark-colored glass containers. 

The best type of containers to store essential oils are usually amber or dark blue because they can protect the essential oils from ultraviolet rays that might degrade them in the long run. 

Anything stored in plastic containers is not pure essential oils because once pure essential oils come into contact with plastics, it won’t take long before the plastic starts to break down.

Pure Essential Oils Do Not Leave Residue On Paper and Do Not Feel Greasy Or Oily

The easiest way to spot if an essential oil is pure or diluted would be to conduct a ring test on a white strip of paper. Dropping one drop of essential oil onto the surface of a piece of paper and leaving it to dry. If a visible ring of residue appears after the essential oil has dried, then you know the oil has been diluted with a carrier oil. 

Given its volatile nature, pure essential oils do not leave any residue when it dries. They can, however, stain the paper. Another experiment you can try would be to test the greasiness of the essential oils by rubbing them between your fingers. If you feel that 

the essential oil is greasy, it is very likely that a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil, has been added to the essential oil. Carrier oils tend to give essential oils a silky, oily texture. Pure essential oils quickly absorb into the skin and do not leave a greasy feeling.

Pure Essential Oils Contain Zero Artificial Substances and do not last.

Many places market fragrances or perfumed oil as pure essential oils to customers. The main difference between such oils is the presence of artificial substances. These are added to create stability, stretch them, and make them last. They are relatively cheaper in price compared to essential oils, and they do not bring out any therapeutic benefits compared to pure essential oils. If you can smell an oil many hours later, it most likely contains some synthetic substance.

Determining whether a scent is natural or synthetic can be challenging but possible. 

By comparing the scent to other similar-smelling substances, reading the label to see if it says ‘fragrance’ in any way, and conducting simple tests such as storing the oil in dark amber bottles, performing a ring test, testing the greasiness, and looking for any artificial substances, you can be confident that your favorite smell is natural. 

It is crucial to buy from reputable sources and to educate yourself on the different types of fragrances out there to ensure that you are getting what you are paying for. Knowing that you are using natural scents will benefit you and the environment.


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