Natural vs. Synthetic Scents- Some Facts for Heath and Skin Care

Natural vs Synthetic Scents- The Stinky Facts that Affect Your Health and Skin Care

Do you know the difference between natural and synthetic scents?

Is one better for you then the other?

The debate between natural and synthetic scents is never going to be over and way too big for this one little blog post, but I can help you decide which one you prefer to use.

Natural and synthetic scents are like comparing apples to an apple-scented car deodorizer. While apples are good for your body, the synthetic scent has no therapeutic value.

Let’s discuss….

Some definitions:
“Natural” means it came from nature, made of natural chemicals and we call these “Essential oils.”
“Synthetic” means it’s composed of synthetic man-made chemicals.

Essential oil facts:

  • “The chemistry of essential oils is very complex: each one may consist of hundreds of different and unique chemical compounds.” [1] They are highly concentrated substances. Some of the naturally occurring chemicals in essential oils are so minute that man cannot copy them.
  • Essential oils contain therapeutic value.
  • Essential oils are very powerful, natural ingredients but just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Think poisoned berries. They’re natural but they’ll kill ya.
  • That said if a skin care company is using essential oils properly the therapeutic use of essential oils on the skin can be profound.
  • Essential oils can have adverse affects on a small percentage of people, manifesting as headaches, dizziness, nausea and migraine headaches.

Synthetic Fragrance facts:

  • Synthetic fragrances are, contrary to popular belief, regulated by the FDA.
  • Synthetic fragrances have zero therapeutic value.
  • No matter how many aroma chemicals or preservatives are included in a recipe, they only need to be listed as “Fragrance” on the label. These fragrance chemicals do not need to be revealed on the label due to proprietary laws that allow companies to keep their formulas hidden from competitors.
  • Synthetic fragrances can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea and migraines.
  • If you are not privy to the chemicals you are applying to your skin, then you can’t know if they’re dangerous or make an educated decision as to their safety.

How to educate yourself
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has demonized synthetic fragrances along with a number of other skin care ingredients for years, claiming dubious sources, hype, assumptions and misinformation. Their findings are not based on science.

When researching ingredients I never use EWG but turn to websites like Personal Care Truth which rely on science based information. Their mission is to educate rather than scare and they don’t generally hold to the credo that natural = good and synthetic = bad, unless scientific findings warrant it.

About allergens and endocrine disruptors in natural and synthetic scents:
Both natural and synthetic scents contain allergens and hormone disruptors but I can’t find any articles from reputable sources (the kind based on science, not hype) that discuss the relative safety of natural vs. synthetic with regard to allergies and endocrine disruptors. The general takeaway form my research is that reactions from synthetic fragrance chemicals seem to be more severe then with natural ingredients but I encourage everyone to do their own research.

What is in your product?
The easiest way to see what’s in your product is looking at the ingredients label.

  • Essential oils will usually be listed as “Essential Oils” or a list of each type of oil separately like “Orange essential oil, rosemary essential oil.” The list of individually marked essential oils is the best resource for identifying which ingredient may be causing a bad reaction. Birdy Botanicals is working to have all labels list essential oils individually instead of using “essential oil blend.”
  • A synthetic fragrance is usually listed as perfume, Parfum or “fragrance.” Whether is had 10 synthetic chemicals or 100, a fragrance recipe is not required to give you more information then this.

So which do you choose?
Birdy Botanicals prefers using natural essential oils because:
Synthetic fragrance oils are, in general, stronger and longer lasting than their natural essential oil counterparts. I don’t often see this as a good thing.
Synthetic scents can desensitize our sense of smell so we tend to use more and more until we are overwhelming the people and environments we come in contact with.
Natural scents neutralize odors rather then mask them. So while they may not stick around long they fix the problem rather then cover it up.
Natural scents are a more intimate experience for those that are close to us or come in close contact with us. It’s a more sensual, personal experience.
After using essential oils for years, when I come in contact with synthetic fragrances I feel my throat, nose and head react instantly in a negative way. Not only do I not feel good but the smell I am reacting to can become repulsive.

Regarding sensitivity:

Sensitive skin is an enormous umbrella under which all reactive skin issues live. There are no black and white rules about what an individual will react to.

There is no such thing as a truly hypo-allergenic ingredient. Someone out there will react to it.

Some of you with sensitive skin may be able to handle some synthetic fragrance and essential oils. It all depends on what specifically you react to.

But, if you do have sensitive skin, the wiser choice is to go with essential oils unless you’ve shown prior issues with them. This may take some trial and error.

Always use a patch test before ever using a new skin care ingredient. If you react cease using immediately.

If you are still reacting try using unscented products. (Beware, a lot of unscented products out there are really scented. For example I bought an unscented Mitchum deodorant and was blown over by it’s “unscent.” Blech!)

Birdy luuurves essential oils but understands they too have limitations. Essential oils can be so healing and solve a huge number of skin care issues but we realize they are not for everyone.

1- Essential Science Publishing- (2009) “Essential Oils Desk Reference”- Fourth Edition. Pg.1

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