Are essential oils beneficial or is it a new marketing fad?

We receive this question a lot, both from customers and from other soap-makers/artisans. The answer is both Yes and No and the answer isn’t entirely simple or conclusive.  First, many people will use essential oils in soap for a natural scent that comes directly from plants and is not synthetic in its origin. Second, makers are hopeful that some of the therapeutic benefits of the oils actually transfer to the soap and hopefully to the user.

I have not found any definitive research or peer-reviewed studies on how much therapeutic benefit can be quantified, however we do know that certain EO’s become part of the final product and how much is dependent upon their individual components.

Any given essential oil may contain some compounds that will react with lye (alkali) used in the soap-making process.  Typically, the ones that react are those that contain phenols, acids or esters.  Sometimes the reaction in the soap will actually increase the amount of the desired therapeutic constituent.  Let’s take Lavender Essential Oil as an example.

A good Lavender essential oil will contain approximately 42% Linalool and 20% Linalyl Acetate. Linalool does not react with alkali (lye) but Linalyl Acetate will react in the soap pot! One of the products of this reaction is additional Linalool!  Linalool is believed to aid in calming skin inflammation and enhancing relaxation and sleep.  So Lavender is a wonderful EO for use in soap.  However, this does not occur in all essential oils.

We are also asked if the soap reaction (which creates heat) could damage the essential oil used in the soap. The heat can cause some loss of lighter EO molecules through evaporation but there typically isn’t any alteration of the chemical structure.  In most instances, it is believed that the soap does retain therapeutic benefit.

While there isn’t definitive research to PROVE that essential oils are beneficial in soap, the good news is that there is a ton of anecdotal evidence to suggest that essential oils in soap do convey helpful, if not healing effects. Our soap recipe plays a huge roll with being rich in 4 organic oils and 2 organic butters, however, many customers have reported tremendous changes in the condition, elasticity, pliability and moisture content of their skin in using essential oil soaps.