Is fragrance biodegradable? (9 advantages and 3 disadvantages of fragrances)

This article shall answer the question of the biodegradability of fragrances.

It shall also cover other areas such as:

  • Definition of a fragrance.
  • Types of fragrances.
  • Importance of fragrances.
  • Impact of fragrances on the environment.

Is fragrance biodegradable?

The answer to this question depends on the active materials used to make the fragrance. Fragrances obtained from natural, organic sources such as plants and animals are biodegradable while those obtained from synthetic chemicals are non-biodegradable.


Biodegradation is the process by which naturally occurring organic materials are broken down by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi into small particles which are not harmful to the environment.

Biodegradation is carried out by different agents such as UV radiation, light, wind, and water but the most effective agents of biodegradation are bacteria and fungi.

Biodegradation occurs in three distinct stages: biodeterioration, bio-fragmentation, and assimilation.

The biodeterioration process loosens up the structure of the organic substance. For instance, the cell wall of plants is weakened by light, wind, water, and UV radiation.

Bio-fragmentation involves the breakdown of organic matter into smaller, nontoxic particles by bacteria and fungi, releasing water and carbon dioxide in the process.

Assimilation is the last stage of biodegradation and it involves the microorganisms taking up the products of bio-fragmentation into their biological machinery to be used to make energy.

Biodegradation can either involve the microorganisms using oxygen, aerobic biodegradation or it can involve the microorganisms which do not use oxygen, anaerobic biodegradation.

Aerobic biodegradation breaks down organic matter into small biomass, producing carbon dioxide and water.

Anaerobic biodegradation breaks down organic matter into small biomass and in the process carbon dioxide and methane gases are produced.

Aerobic biodegradation occurs at a faster rate than anaerobic biodegradation whereas anaerobic respiration is more efficient and produces more gases and other products.

What is a fragrance?

A fragrance is a mixture of fragrant essential oils, fixatives, and solvents that are used to give humans, animals, food, and other objects a certain scent.

The sources of fragrances can be categorized into two:

  • Natural fragrances.
  • Synthetic fragrances.

Natural fragrances.

These are essential oils that are derived from plants and animals. They are usually secondary metabolites that are produced against predators or pathogens.

Fragrances are also produced to attract pollinators in plants and to attract mates in animals; fragrances produced by animals to attract the opposite gender to mate are called pheromones.

Plants are the most effective sources of fragrances. One plant can produce different fragrances depending on the plant parts and hormones.

The different parts that produce fragrances include the following:

  • Flowers: These are the most common source of fragrances. The plants that produce fragrances in flowers include Roses, osmanthus, plumeria, mimosa, tuberose, narcissus, casie, and ambrette.
  • Fruits. Fragrances are not very common in fruits. They are produced by oranges, lemons, and limes.
  • Leaves: The most commonly used leaves are those from lavender, patchouli, sage, violets, rosemary, and citrus leaves.
  • Resins: resins are used in incense and perfumery. Resin fragrances are popularly used as medicine and perfume all over the world.  

They include the following; labdanum, frankincense, olibanum, myrrh, balsam of Peru, benzoin, pine, and fir.

  • Roots, Rhizomes, and bulbs: They commonly used are those from rhizomes, vetiver roots, and ginger rhizomes.
  • Seeds: Seeds are also a good source of fragrances. The most common ones include tonka bean, carrot seeds, coriander, cocoa, caraway, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, and anise.
  • Woods: woods also produce essential oils which are used in perfumery. They include woods from sandalwood, rosewood, agarwood, birch, cedar, juniper, and pine.

Animals are also good producers of fragrances. They include the following.

  • Ambergris: This is obtained from oxidized fatty compounds that were formed from sperm whales. 
  • Castoreum: This is obtained from the sacs of North American Beaver.
  • Civet: This is obtained from the odor-producing sacs of the civets; animals related to the mongoose.
  • Hyraceum: this is commonly referred to as African stone. It is excreted by rock hyrax.
  • Honeycomb: this is obtained from the honeycomb of honey bees. The wax and the honey can be processed to produce fragrances.
  • Musk: This is derived from the gland of Himalayan male musk deer that is located between the genitals and the umbilicus.

Natural fragrances can also be produced by lichens such as oakmoss and tree moss thallium.

Seaweeds such as fucus vesiculosus (bladderwrack) are also used to produce fragrances.

Types of aromatic compounds that are produced from plants and animals and the fragrance they produce.

  • Geranyl acetate gives a fruity floral fragrance. It’s found in roses.
  • Methyl formate gives an ethereal fragrance, it is produced by roses.
  • Methyl propanoate and methyl propanoate release sweet, fruity fragrances.
  • Methyl butyrate produces a fruity smell.  
  • Isoamyl acetate produces a fruity, banana pearl essence.
  • Hexyl acetate produces a fruity essence.
  • Methyl anthranilate from grapes produces a fruity smell.
  • Octyl acetate from oranges produces a fruity essence.
  • Pentyl butyrate and pentyl butanoate release a fruity smell.
  • Myrcene from verbena produces a woody complex smell.
  • Nerol from lemon grass produces a sweet rose and flowery smell.

Synthetic fragrances.

These are chemical compounds that have been chemically synthesized to imitate the natural essence of natural plant or animal fragrance.

Some of the examples of these synthetic aromatic compounds include:

  • Myristic acid is synthetic.
  • Savory complex synthetic.
  • Maltol synthetic.
  • Furfural synthetic.
  • Delta decalactone synthetic.
  • Delta dodecalactone synthetic.
  • Ethyl vanillin synthetic.
  • Acetyl propionyl is synthetic.
  • Anisyl acetone is synthetic.
  • Capric acid is synthetic.
  • Caprylic acid is synthetic.
  • Ethyl maltol is synthetic.
  • Lactic acid is synthetic.
  • Lauric acid is synthetic.
  • Palmitic acid is synthetic.

What are the comparisons between natural and synthetic fragrances?

Natural and synthetic fragrances may be similar, in their scents, but they have some differences. 

The following are the comparisons between natural and synthetic fragrances.

  • Natural fragrances will have variations because of how they are harvested, processed, and stored. Also, the variations occur due to the different habitats of the plant that produced the fragrance. 

Synthetic fragrances are more consistent compared to natural ones because the same chemicals are used to produce them. Slight variations may arise due to the levels of impurities during processing.

  • Natural fragrances contain different components that add different properties to come up with a fragrance.

Synthetic fragrances mostly contain one chemical ingredient to maintain high purity levels.

This is one of the reasons why synthetic fragrances are stronger than natural ones.

  • Natural fragrances will always emit scents reminiscent of their natural sources.

Synthetic fragrances try to mimic the natural scents but they vary depending on the processing method and the level of concentration and purification.

  • The cost of natural fragrances depends on the processing method and availability of the plants, but they are generally more expensive than synthetic fragrances. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using fragrances?

The following are the advantages of using fragrances.

  • It makes a person smell good and fresh, keeping away body odors.
  • Research has shown that some scents enhance a person’s moods. Perfumes usually reflect the mood of the wearer.
  • Fragrances boost one’s confidence.
  • They allure attractiveness.
  • Fragrances are aphrodisiacs.
  • They boost one’s health by reducing stress.
  • They trigger memories. People are associated with certain scents.
  • They are used in aromatherapy. They have therapeutic effects.
  • They trigger a person’s memory, therefore they reduce insomnia.
  • They contain essential oils that can help cure headaches.

Disadvantages of using fragrances include the following:

  • Exposure to fragrances can trigger headaches.
  • Some people get skin, nose, and eye irritations.
  • Some fragrances can cause nausea in some people.
  • Some fragrances can trigger loss of memory and coordination.
  • Fragrances can cause respiratory infections
  • Synthetic fragrances contain chemicals such as parabens and Phthalates that are carcinogenic.

What is the effect of fragrances on the environment?

Fragrances, mostly synthetic ones, can cause air pollution.

Synthetic musks, due to their overexploitation have been found in human fat and milk, as well as in the water bodies.

Demand for natural fragrances has endangered plant species such as sandalwood, agarwood, and musk.

According to a study, synthetic fragrances contain volatile organic compounds that react with sunlight to form compounds that affect the ozone.


This article has answered the question of the biodegradability of fragrances. 

It has also covered other areas such as:

  • Categories of fragrances.
  • Types of natural and synthetic aromatic compounds.
  • Advantages and disadvantages of fragrances.
  • Effects of fragrances on the environment.

For any questions or comments please use the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): is fragrance biodegradable?

Does perfume affect the environment?

Yes, perfumes contain volatile chemicals that react with sunlight and other compounds in the atmosphere to form substances that affect the ozone layer.

What is eco-fragrance?

These are fragrances that do not have chemicals that are irritating to the skin, eyes, and nose. They also lack chemicals such as sulfates, parabens, and Phthalates, chemicals associated with cancer and neurotoxicity.

Do perfumes degrade?

Yes, perfumes are easily degraded by sunlight. Organic fragrances are also degraded by bacteria and fungi.


Macaela Mackenzie. ( February 23, 2018). Spraying Your Perfume Apparently Produces as Much Air Pollution as Car Emissions. An article on Allure.

Retrieved from:

Jaclyn Smock. (  January 05, 2021). Everything You Need to Know About Eco-Friendly Perfumes. 

Retrieved from:

Balasubramanian, Narayanaganesh (20 November 2015). “Scented Oils and Perfumes”. American Chemical Society. ACS Symposium Series. 1211: 219–244. doi:10.1021/bk-2015-1211.ch008. 

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