Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil – The Dilemma

Every person who makes soaps, bath and body products or candles is faced with the dilemma of using fragrance oil or essential oil.  I’ve faced these questions and here are my thoughts.

Essential Oil

As we have discussed, essential oils are powerful compounds that can affect the body in many ways.  They can be used to support mood as well as facilitate healing.  And of course they smell great!  But they do have a limited range, and they can have some harmful effects if not used correctly.

The biggest issue I face in making soaps using essential oils as a fragrance agent is the limited scents available, as well as the ability to anchor some of the fleeting aromas in the bars.  Citrus is one that comes to mind.  You must use a large amount of citrus essential oils to get a strong, lasting scent.  Additionally, because some of the most common fragrances we experience are NOT plant based, those smells are not available as essential oils.  It is very difficult to get a musk scent or an ozone note using only essential oils.

Fragrance Oil

The label ‘fragrance oil’ covers a vast array of different types of scents.  Some of the animal musk scents are purely natural, but because they are not plant based they are not considered essential oil.  Other scents are purely manufactured, counting on chemistry to produce aroma compounds that mimic smells.

Because compounds are created in a laboratory setting there is better control over the strength and individual notes contained in a fragrance oil.  This allows for a more consistent scent across your products, and between each individual batch.

Fragrance oils also make it possible to get some of the more fleeting scents to last longer.  A citrus fragrance oil will last much longer that an essential oil in your final product.  They can also make an otherwise expensive scent affordable.  For instance, rose essential oil (not diluted for aromatherapy) is cost prohibitive for use in soap making.  However, a rose fragrance oil makes it possible to provide a rose scent soap affordable to produce (and purchase!).

One large draw back of fragrance oils it the lack of bioactivity.  Grapefruit essential oil has many uses as a topical treatment.  Using a grapefruit fragrance oil, you get the aroma of the fruit but you don’t get the medicinal benefits.

Fragrance oils can also be more difficult for those who are sensitive to scents.  While both essential oils and fragrance oils can trigger migraine and allergies in those sensitive to odors, fragrance oils tend to have a higher chance to trigger those reactions.

The Middle Ground

So what does a person make of this dilemma?  Do you use only essential oils?  Do you forego essential oils and use only fragrance oils?  I think it depends on the result you are looking for.  In my skin care products I exclusively use essential oils.  These compounds make the soap smell wonderful while providing the topical benefits these oils deliver.  For other products, like bath bombs and bath dough, I like the flexibility to use different scents.  For instance, I was looking for a kid-friendly scent for a product I am developing and found a bubble gum scent.  There is no way I would be able to produce a scent like bubble gum using essential oils.

What ever road you choose to go, make sure you know the WHY behind the WHAT you do!


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