Is there such a thing as "natural" synthetic fragrance?

Lately we’ve noticed more and more that “clean” beauty and fragrance companies are touting their “natural” synthetic fragrance as a “safe” option…and have even see people go as far as saying that synthetic fragrance is a safer option than essential oils! This is complete and utter nonsense… it’s simply not true. We know that it can be confusing and overwhelming, so we thought this topic was a perfect one to address.

What are essential oils?

Genuine Essential Oils are pure steam distillations of aromatic non-fatty parts of a plant or tree such as blossoms, leaves, roots, bark, or resins. Essential oils are typically the most expensive of the aroma options, as they take a lot of the natural source ingredients to create. Many essential oils are known for their spectacular fragrances as well as their healing benefits.

What are the issues with essential oils?

Most of the issues people encounter with essential oils is a lack of education and understanding on proper use. Pure essential oils are extremely potent and should only be handled by someone trained in aromatherapy or in a lab setting. Nearly all essential oils MUST be significantly diluted with a carrier oil before use and should never be consumed. Unfortunately, there have been companies in recent years that have promoted the consumption of essential oils, which can lead to a myriad of health problems. For the most part, essential oils can not only be safe, but extremely beneficial to your health and wellness, when used properly.

However, there are also some essential oils that simply shouldn’t be used in beauty products. Just like in nature, there are plants that are safe and others that are poisonous. We can’t make a blanket statement that ALL essential oils are safe, but we can say with confidence that the essential oils we use are all extensively researched and tested to ensure purity and safety and they also improve the efficacy of our formulas.

Essential oils should never comprise more than 5% of a skincare formula.

Additionally, like any plant or food found in nature, you may be allergic to some essential oils. We always list every ingredient we use (like we believe everyone should do regardless of if they formulate with natural or synthetic raw materials).

What is “natural” synthetic fragrance?

There is no such thing. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO-Norm 9235) defines natural raw material as something of vegetal, animal or microbiological origin that is obtained by physical or traditional aromatic oil preparation processes like extraction and distillation. Alternatively, synthetic fragrance is derived from material that is man-made, like petroleum (the industry’s typical go-to product).

What is the issue(s) with synthetic fragrance?

Synthetic fragrance consistents of chemicals… organic compounds that volatilize, or vaporize into the air, which is why we can smell them. They are added to products to give them a scent or to mask the odor of other ingredients. The volatile organic chemicals emitted by fragrance products can contribute to poor indoor air quality and are associated with a variety of adverse health effects.

Exposure to synthetic fragrance can cause: headaches, eye, nose, and throat irritation, nausea, forgetfulness, loss of coordination, and other respiratory and/or neurotoxic symptoms. Many fragrance ingredients are respiratory irritants and sensitizers, which can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate sinus conditions. 

Synthetic fragrances are the number one cause of allergic reactions to cosmetics — not only to the primary users, but also to those who breathe in the chemicals as secondhand users. Phthalates in fragrances are known to disrupt hormones and are linked in animal studies to malformations of the reproductive organs.

We’d be remiss to not mention that while we are not fans of synthetic fragrance, there are a few ethical companies out there that are completely transparent with their ingredient lists. Those companies seem to use far safer synthetic options.

So why would any company make the statement that synthetic fragrance is a better option than essential oils in skincare formulations?

Essential oils are far more expensive than synthetic fragrance. In general, essential oils cost a minimum of 10X more than synthetic fragrance…and in some cases, up to 100X more. Given everything we know, we assume many companies are trying to trick consumers into believing their messaging, so the company can be more profitable.

We also understand consumers like consistency….and when you use only natural materials it is nearly impossible to 100% replicate a batch, as essential oil aromas vary slightly depending on the time of year harvested, farming conditions, etc.

It is a far more costly and challenging to manufacture when you only use natural raw materials… but it is also a far healthier product.

What about for a woman pregnant or nursing? Aren’t essential oils an issue?

We would never recommend using products with synthetic fragrance anytime while pregnant or nursing. Far too many synthetic fragrances are made with phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors- this means that they wreak havoc on your hormones. Phthalates are linked to decreased fertility in men and womenmiscarriage, and pregnancy complications

There are many essential oils that are generally considered safe in pregnancy, according to the IFPA. That said, you should ask your doctor before using them, and you may want to avoid them until the second trimester, as some essential oils can cause uterine contractions.

Regarding breastfeeding, there are simply too many unanswered questions and varying opinions and research for us to recommend anything other than sticking with fragrance free and essential oil free skincare. If you are a C+J user, we recommend using Naked Soap, Naked Body and the original The Everything Oil™ during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

We hope we’ve helped to shed a little light on this complicated topic. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions at


Carter + Jane