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Natural Fragrances v. Synthetics: Scents & Their Sustainability

August 12, 2020 4 min read

Natural Fragrances v. Synthetics: Scents & Their Sustainability

Did you know federal regulations of cosmetics in the US have not been updated since 1938? The United States lags behind over 40 countries in regulating the chemicals in our cosmetics. While other nations have banned as many as 1,400 different chemicals from personal care products, the U.S. FDA have restricted only 11.


Lack of governmental regulation of cosmetics makes it vital to evaluate the many ingredients in our products and their implications for our bodies and planet. Not all “natural” products are created equally; labels and ingredient lists are often deceiving. We want to clarify the constituents of the different types of fragrances and how they are sourced so you can be more educated when making cosmetic purchases in the future.


fragrance free skincare

Essential oils

Essential oils are pure, natural aromatic essences that are derived from a variety of plant material: grasses, leaves, flowers, needles, twigs, fruit peels, bark, and more. Essential oils have highly complex structures; a harmony of various chemical molecules that creates their own unique scent. These oils have highly therapeutic aromas and are known to provide various remedies or healing properties.


These essences will always be listed simply as “essential oil” on an ingredient list, and never “fragrance”. Our soap bars are scented with nothing but pure essential oils!


body wash bar


Natural Fragrance Oils

Natural fragrance oils are made up of natural isolates. A natural isolate is a molecule, derived from a plant, that has an aroma. Isolates are derived through many of the same processes that are used to get essential oils. The difference is in whether you are extracting an entire compound (essential oil) or a single molecule (natural isolate). Pure essential oils have a complex composition of various scent compounds. Thus, natural fragrance oils are made by isolating specific compounds in the essential oils to create various combinations and scents.


Natural fragrance oils are made in a laboratory, however unlike synthetic fragrance oils, they are created by isolating aromatic components of all-natural, plant materials. Isolates are very useful in their customization. Endless components of various essential oils can be recombined in order to create a highly specific scent profile, all from natural ingredients. Another benefit of fragrance oil is its tendency to last longer and have a stronger scent than essential oils.


A limitation of natural fragrance oils is their lack of aromatherapeutic properties. While fragrance compounds can have the exact chemical structure as their essential oil counterpart, they are not created equally. These oils do not retain the entire essence of the original plant material, just an isolated portion of it, therefore reducing the plant oil’s therapeutic powers. Our very own shampoo and conditioner bars come in 100% compostable packaging and are scented with natural fragrance oils!


shampoo and conditioner bars

Synthetic Fragrance Oils

Synthetic fragrance oils come in two types: typical fragrance oils and nature-identical fragrance oils. Typical fragrance oils are made in a laboratory from synthetic compounds composed of petroleum by-products. These synthetic fragrance oils are man-made from chemical compounds that do not exist in nature.


However, do not let “natural identical” fragrance oils deceive you: they are also synthetic. Natural identical fragrances are created to have the same chemical structure as it’s essential oil counterpart. These fragrance oils are man-made with any combination of synthetic aromatic compounds and essential oils. As a company, we like to avoid synthetics derived from ingredients that are not safe for our bodies and have an extraction process that harms our environment.


essential oils

Sustainability in Scent Creation

Leaving this earth better than how we found it continues to be a cornerstone of our company. Therefore, it is important to evaluate the impact of our scent-deriving methods on the planet. We avoid synthetic fragrances, which are made of petroleum byproducts that pollute our air and our bodies. However, deriving essential oils requires a lot of resources. For instance, extracting sandalwood essential oil requires the components of the entire tree which, unfortunately, has to be cut down. Hundreds of pounds of plant material can be required to produce a single pound of essential oil. This process can provide benefits, like helping employ thousands upon thousands of farmers. However, frequent consumption of these essential oils can be destructive to natural habitats. Plus, 2 oz. of Sandalwood Essential Oil costs over $300! Natural fragrance oils utilize natural materials in an efficient and customizable way that can mitigate the over-consumption of pure, essential oils that put a strain on natural resources.


At The Earthling Co., we use either pure essential oils or plant-derived, natural fragrances in our body products. We do our best to stay up to date on endangered or threatened plants so we can make better choices when it comes to the scents we use. We use both types of oils for a few different reasons: we can create better products with long-lasting scents, our products are better for your body and the planet, we reduce our impact on the planet with less intrusive practices, and we keep the price lower for you, our customers!


Sustainability, when it comes to fragrance, is a tough balancing act; it is important to consider not only the toxins and emissions we put out, but also the strain we cause upstream with the materials we take away from our earth. We urge you to take a closer look at the products you love to confirm that their ingredients and extraction processes align with your goals for your body and your planet. If you find you may need to do some more searching, you may check our website for consciously sourced, Earthling-friendly, plastic-free products.