If a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, what about a rose made entirely of synthetic molecules?
The classic scent that most everyone loves, rose has been recreated chemically in a thousand different ways. But what is the real scent of rose? And how does nature construct that enchanting fragrance?
There are thousands of rose species, but the variety we mostly associate with the smell of roses is the Damask rose.
Chromatography has allowed us to analyse the volatile compounds present in rose petals. We have so far discovered that there are over 300 chemicals nature uses to create the scent of rose. The major components are citronellal (softly citrusy) and geraniol (a delicate geranium-like odour), followed by a small dose of nerol (a very pale orange blossom scent), beta ionone (the scent of violets and blackberries) and rose oxide.
Interestingly, synthetic rose is generally constructed using mostly rose oxide and rose ketones, with a little of the other components thrown in – almost a complete reverse of how a rose constructs its own scent.
Want an inside look into a typical construction of synthetic rose? Here is one of many formulas used in the industry:
Phenyl ethyl alcohol + geraniol + damascenone + geraniol + rose oxide + citronellal + ambrettolide.
Rarely are any natural ingredients used, although some formulas may include small amounts of ylang ylang, clove or geranium.
Incredibly, it’s not just the combination of chemicals that creates a scent, but even how the atoms are arranged that can alter the smell of rose.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO RECONSTRUCT A ROSE?
When we examine nature and try to reconstruct it, we realise what nature creates is so much more than just the sum of its parts. There is a living, breathing vitality, an x-factor that cannot be recreated, even if technically we have all of the components at hand. There is no way to re-create all of the influences of seasons, weather patterns, nutrients in the soil, affects of ozone and of other plants and wildlife that impact the growth, enzymes and proteins, and the final products we see and smell. And some might also add the breath of the Creator cannot be replicated – the spiritual aspect of nature that cannot be reduced to a simple scientific formula.
We use natural rose extracts (Turkish, Bulgarian or Moroccan rose) in many of our scents, both for it's intoxicating true rose aroma, but also for the way it smooths out other notes. The addition of real rose extract in almost any scent makes it better. However, the extraction process often alters the natural chemical components of rose petals (nothing compares to nature in its pure form),so even natural rose essence needs a little boost at times with the addition of pale citrus notes, geranium or clove, or a natural isolate such as phenyl ethyl alcohol or beta ionone.
THE COST OF ROSE
So why is synthetic rose used in preference to real rose extract? It comes down to cost. Because it takes around a tonne of rose petals to make 1kg of rose oil, real rose is expensive – around $4000-$12,000 per kg, depending on the variety. In contrast, the components of synthetic rose cost around $200-$500 per kg.
But there downsides to the use of synthetic rose: one can never truly recreate the scent of rose petals without using the natural essence, with its 300+ natural chemical components and the affects of nature on its development. And, perhaps more importantly, the potential health effects of using synthetic ingredients are many. For the commonly used synthetic rose ingredients, these include reproductive system dysfunction, allergic effects, environmental toxicity and accumulative effects in the body and environment,
In addition, the affect of the combination of ingredients is never tested, and research demonstrates that the potential health impacts of multiple chemicals used together are likely to be even greater than the sum of the individual ingredients.
ROSE AND AROMATHERAPY
Traditionally rose oil has been used for its healing and soothing properties, as well as its associated with beauty. Aromatherapeutically, pure rose oil can help create a sense of balance and calm, nurturing and healing and even balancing hormones. While the power of association can influence how we feel in the presence of rose, it is actually the natural chemical components within real rose petals that can create these amazing changes within our body and mind.