Tony O’Lenick asks: What is the difference between a “natural" and a so-called “nature-identical" fragrance? Fragrance expert Steve Herman provides the answers.
Some chemicals exist in nature and some do not. If a chemical does not exist in nature, it clearly should not be called natural. However, not all fragrances that occur in nature are of natural origin. Some materials that occur in nature are the product of living systems (natural) and others come from the laboratory (natural-identical).
Many times, however, natural-identical fragrances may have the same active but are not truly identical. One major difference between products made in nature and those made in the laboratory is that most synthetic products have by-products, which do not occur in nature.
By-products can make up a significant concentration; for example, consider lavender. The natural product has 30-60% natural linalyl acetate. Synthetic linalyl acetate is made from hydrogenated dehydrolinalool and consequently has a small amount of dihydrolinalool, a material that does not exist in nature. The presence of dihydrolinalyl acetate in the lavender oil exposes the synthetic source and can be considered an adulterant.
Even radioactivity can expose the source as synthetic or natural. Synthetic vanillin is prepared from coal tar, which has no radioactivity. Natural vanilla, coming from living systems, which absorb some radioactivity from C14 in the atmosphere, has a minute level of radioactivity, the same type that is used for carbon dating.
Radioactive materials can be added to the synthetic material to "trick" manufacturers but NMR can separate the isotopes. It is only the living cycle that uptakes natural atmospheric radiation. Synthetic copies can be identified. The way to guarantee that a natural product is not from the lab is by obtaining a certification of its source from a trustworthy supplier.