There are many reasons I prefer formulating with mixed media rather than exclusively "natural" raw materials.
For one thing, lab-derived aromatic molecules, aka “synthetics” expand my ability to create more unique and complex blends than by using naturals alone. A common metaphor you’ll hear in the fragrance industry is that if perfumers were like painters, excluding synthetics from your palette would be like eschewing all the colors of the rainbow for primary colors only. That said, I adhere to most perfumers’ common wisdom that synthetics should never dominate a blend – they should be intentionally utilized to either enhance or subtly alter a natural scent.
Another reason for using lab-derived molecules in place of natural ones is because essential oils are notoriously resource-intensive products. We’re talking 150 pounds of lavender, 2,000 pounds of cypress, and 10,000 pounds of rose blossoms to produce a single pound of ultra-concentrated essential oil. The process of extracting essential oils usually involves steaming or cold-pressing the plants, though sometimes distillers also use solvents or carbon dioxide to do so. That’s a lot of land and a lot of water required for producing a tiny bottle of essential oil.
Furthermore, the rising demand for essential oils has resulted in many plants being overharvested to the point of creating global shortages, as is the case with vanilla, mangosteen and frankincense. The natural organic beauty movement has entered the mainstream and is expected to reach USD 25.11 billion by 2025. This trend would not be troubling if it didn’t come with such high environmental costs. It’s just not sustainable.
Does this mean that we should avoid using essential oils at all? Not necessarily. Essential oils should be used judiciously, sparingly, and intentionally, keeping in mind the intense resources that went into growing and harvesting the botanicals they were distilled from.
Lastly, as a scientist, I keep a cool head when it comes to hand wringing and fear-mongering over “chemicals” in the beauty industry. The first thing to realize is that absolutely everything is made of chemicals except anything entirely made of energy, like a beam of light or thoughts. That includes essential oils! In fact, essential oils contain dozens of chemicals – which is why they can function as effective poisons or medicines, depending on the dosage.
I realize the big scare about chemicals in US beauty products is a symptom of our country’s regulation problem, which is self-regulated, meaning that all beauty product companies are entirely responsible for ensuring the safety of their formulations. Given my background in biology, I have clocked many years in a lab at Columbia University learning how to safely work with chemicals. When I hear of folks experimenting with creating their own beauty products, even all-natural ones, I hope they work with chemists to ensure the safety of their products. Essential oils need to be handled with as much care as synthetics. There is no difference between natural products versus mixed media ones in terms of safety when formulated by someone with the right expertise.