Synthetic Materials: Good, Bad, or Both?

From the food we eat to the clothes we wear, most people are more environmentally conscious than ever. And just as clean beauty is having a major moment (from packaging to ingredients), going green applies equally to fragrance as well.

Yet when it comes to fragrance, are all natural ingredients automatically good and all synthetic ingredients bad? The short answer: It’s complicated.

The eco-friendly fragrance trend (i.e., formulas made with organic ingredients but without irritants) often leads consumers to avoid synthetic ingredients entirely. Yet safe synthetics created in labs are often less harmful than natural ones, and many modern fragrances include up to 70% synthetic ingredients.

Since the 19th century, perfumers have designed fragrances with both synthetic and natural ingredients. Without synthetics, popular fragrances such as musk and fruit wouldn’t exist⁠—they’re impossible to make with 100% natural fragrances. Synthetics mimic the scents of natural ingredients whenever raw materials are either unavailable or resist extraction into an essential oil (as is the case with freesia and lilac).

Beyond natural essential oils, synthetic ingredients became available to let scent creators expand their fragrance offerings. At the same time, the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) tests synthetic ingredients for environmental impact and overall safety; it then makes recommendations to The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The IFRA implements three categories of standards:

  • Prohibition: a ban on the use of a material.
  • Restriction: regarding the maximum quantity and/or products in which certain materials can be used.
  • Specification: other conditions on the types of materials, including purity criteria.

Today, both traditional and vegan fragrance brands incorporate synthetic ingredients for several reasons:

  • To prevent harm to deer and other animals (i.e., musk)
  • Allergen regulations (i.e., oakmoss)
  • To reduce costs for consumers

The composition of synthetic ingredients is also more straightforward than that of their natural counterparts: A synthetic ingredient consists of one compound, whereas a natural ingredient may contain more than 100 varieties.

Some of the most well-known natural molecules such as linalool⁠—a compound frequently present in natural remedies, including some essential oils⁠—duplicate their synthetic equivalents; as molecules, they’re considered “nature identical.” Lavender stands out as one of the most popular plant sources of linalool; in addition, linalool accounts for lavender’s signature scent and soothing effects. As such, perfume companies can re-create their scents without depleting resources in harvesting, processing or transportation.

Several Dossier fragrances incorporate lavender in particular:

  • Floral Lavender (inspired by YSL’s Libre) blends mandarin, neroli and orange blossom accords, along with notes of jasmine and vanilla paired with lavender for a “floriental” composition.
  • Fougere Lavender (inspired by Prada’s Luna Rossa Carbon) features metallic notes of lavender.
  • Ambery Lavender (inspired by Giorgio Armani’s Armani Code). Its tonka bean notes complement lavender perfectly; after evaporating, the lavender evokes a similar warm vanilla scent.

While some synthetic ingredients are considered safe, Dossier prefers to steer clear of them. Overall, Dossier is committed to creating meaningful change, and sustainability takes precedence as one of our key concerns. Its formulas are clean, non-toxic, vegan and cruelty-free minus any harmful ingredients.

In addition, the company has taken several conscious steps to help the environment:

  • Boxes are made of 100% recycled and recyclable corrugated cardboard.
  • To reduce plastic use, it has ceased production of a 2 ml sample. The only exception is the pump; otherwise, Dossier is plastic-free.
  • Instead of throwing away our returned products, Dossier donates them to the charity Give Back Box. This non-profit organization shares the perfumes with more than 60 charities all over the United States.

What do you think?