When I started making handmade soap, skincare, and candles, the debate on essential oil vs fragrance oil is one of the biggest debates that I came across when trying out to recipes. I did a lot of research on this topic so I could know exactly what was going into my products. It is important for all consumers to know the difference of each so they know what they are buying.

Essential oils are natural occurring substances found in various parts of the plants including the leaf, stem, bark, wood, blossom, fruit, or resin. They are extracted using various methods, primarily through distillation, typically using the stem of the plant. Citrus oils are typically cold pressed through the peels.

Fragrance oils are a combination of aroma compounds that are created in labs using synthetic ingredients and sometimes using diluted natural essential oils.

Essential oils are typically much more expensive than fragrance oils. They are a natural product and can’t be mass produced like a fragrance oil. The costs of essential oils are impacted by mother nature and the crop production yields. There are also the costs associated with maintaining the plants, extracting them, and then the distilling process. Don’t forget that not all countries are the same, so in some cases there could be extra costs getting the oil or raw materials from one country to another depending on trade agreements.

Essential oils are known to have aromatic and therapeutic benefits; these benefits can’t be recreated in a fragrance oil, although the fragrance oil may smell very similar or exactly the same. Let’s take a look at lavender which is the most popular essential oil and probably most versatile. Lavender is known to have many therapeutic benefits. It is a natural antiseptic, anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory, nervine, bactericide, sedative, just to name a few. It can be used for minor cuts and burns, acne, insect bites, psoriasis, to relieve muscle aches, and many more. Fragrance oils do not provide these therapeutic benefits.

The nervine property in lavender essential oil helps to stimulate and calm at the same time, so lavender essential oil is often used to help people go to sleep. Spraying a little lavender essential oil on your bed linen or putting it on your wrists can help for a very calming sleep. Even though a fragrance oil could smell exactly like an essential oil, it still wouldn’t give you the aromatic benefits. However, although fragrance oils may not technically have the aromatic benefits, it doesn’t mean that a nice fragrance candle won’t make you feel cozy or a coconut soap won’t remind you of that amazing beach vacation. Fragrance oils can allow you to remember certain moments and they still have a way of cheering you up or relaxing you.

Although there are many different essential oils, there are WAY more fragrance oils on the market. This is one of the downfalls of using essential oils. One of my favorite candles to burn in the summer is coconut and unfortunately, you will never get a coconut essential oil. Various scents like vanilla, lilac, apple, cucumber, melon, pomegranate are all fragrance oils and essential oils for these scents simply don’t exist.

Fragrance oils can cause irritations or allergies to some individuals, i.e. sneezing, headache, skin rash. The irritations are due to the synthetic nature of the fragrance oils due to the chemical compounds contained in the oil, sometimes there can be over 100 chemicals in a fragrance oil. There are some companies that are coming out with allergen free fragrances, so which could potential elevate some of the irritations.
Essential oils are from nature and if you are like me and have seasonal allergies you know that not everything in nature is allergen free. So, there are some essential oils that contain natural occurring allergens and could be irritating for some people, just like some people are allergic to dogs and others are not, the same goes for the allergens in the essential oils. The allergens can be reduced by dilution and ensuring that appropriate quantities are used.

As you can see there is good and bad to both essential oils and fragrance oils. When I founded Vilia Soap Company, my mission was to provide customers with an all-natural soap for their skin, currently we use only essential oils in our soap products. This doesn’t mean that in the future we wouldn’t incorporate clean phthalate-free fragrances into our products for our customers who want scents that can’t be created from pure essential oils.  It really comes down to the individual preference and how green you want to go. Let me know what your take on the debate is, I would love to hear your thoughts!