Essential Oils & Fragrance

Essential Oils vs Fragrance Oils in Scented Handmade Soap


What is “Essential Oil”?

Essential Oil is a naturally derived plant fluid (usually by distillation of the plant) extracted from seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants. If you have enjoyed the lovely aroma of a rosebud, a walk by a field of lavender, or the smell of freshly cut mint, you can appreciate the aromatic qualities of essential oils. In addition to giving plants their distinctive smells, essential oils provide plants with protection against predators and disease, and play a role in pollination.

scented-handmade-soapEssential oil is usually a “pure”, single plant oil; for example, “Eucalyptus essential oil” will be from the Eucalyptus leaf. The FDA requires that these must be listed separately on scented handmade soap labels or they should be called “fragrance”. In other words, even if you make an all-natural blend of essential oils, unless you list each oil separately on the label, it has to be called “fragrance”.


What is “Fragrance”?

This is a confusing category used for the aromatic chemicals (natural and/or synthetic) used to create an aroma for a product. When ingredients are not listed individually, a manufacturer must indicate “fragrance” or “fragrance oil”. If you don’t see “certified natural” in the scented handmade soap, the fragrance may contain some synthetics.

fragrance_oilsSome fragrances are made from essential oils, resins, extracts, and all-natural isolates obtained via steam distillation. These are natural and contain no synthetics. But the “natural” name should not mislead you because natural doesn’t necessarily mean safe. Remember arsenic? It’s natural. And, if you happen to be allergic to spearmint, you won’t really care that it’s “natural”; you won’t want the oil anywhere near you! If you are allergic to a particular plant or nut, do not use a scented handmade soap that contains an essential oil of that plant or nut or of a close relative. Because of their concentrated nature, essential oils generally should not be applied directly to the skin in their undiluted form.

Both essential and fragrance oils are extremely strong chemicals and can cause skin irritation without proper use.


Which one is better?

First and foremost, whether it is an essential oil or a fragrance oil, we use only cosmetic “skin safe” oils in our Croatian Soapworks scented handmade soap. 99% of the oils we use to scent our soaps are essential oils. Each of them is of the highest quality & is produced in an ecologically responsible manner. If not certified organic, they are wild-harvested, cultivated without chemicals, and free of additives.

One is not really inherently better than the other. There are benefits to using fragrance oils – they are cheaper, they come in a wider variety of scents (fig, watermelon, mango), and fragrance oils will often last longer and have a stronger scent than an essential oil.

There are also benefits to using essential oils – they are all natural, they have been used throughout history in many cultures for their medicinal and therapeutic benefits, and they do not contain nearly as many toxins as fragrance oils sometimes do. Essential oils will often have a greater depth and character, but they don’t last as long and are not as strong.

eco-friendyFrankly, using a fragrance oil in scented handmade soap may be more environmentally responsible than using essential oils. Hundreds of pounds of plant matter can be required to produce a single ounce of essential oil, so certain plants like cedarwood and rosewood have been over-harvested to near extinction. Sandalwood essential oil, for example, is harvested by killing the entire tree. Synthetic fragrances help balance out this problem.

Another reason why we sometimes use fragrance oils in our scented handmade soap is that it’s not possible to extract an essential oil from all plants (e.g., watermelon, mango, etc). Some plants have little to no scent, so fragrance oils are the only solution. Some essential oils are limited because there is a shortage of raw materials, they’re too expensive to extract, or their scent doesn’t “stick” when used in soap.

All of our scented handmade soaps have beautiful natural aromas, but occasionally we have to use a fragrance oil. When we must use a synthetic oil, we use phthalate-free oils, and we’ll specify “fragrance” clearly on the label.


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