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What is the Difference between Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils

Essential oils vs Fragrance oils

Both have their proper uses, cautions, advantages and disadvantages. Our point in this blog is to say that the concerned consumer should become familiar with the benefits and differences of each. We are not purporting the use of one over the other. We love both!

The “green” movement in this country comes from the desire for less chemicals in our environment.  We are more aware of health concerns and have a desire to return to a simpler lifestyle. These products have been growing at over 20% a year and with that, prices have escalated and many eager, new entrepreneurs jumped on the band wagon of “natural”, “essential” and “organic”. The word organic is regulated.

Essential Oils

Soap scents can come from three sources:

  • with either an essential oil
  • a fragrance oil
  • hydrosol.

Essential oils are concentrated hydrophobic liquids containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. In their purest form, essential oils can cause severe irritation and/or permanent skin sensitization. Essential oils are powerful organic chemicals which come in many grades. Aromatherapy or pharmaceutical grades are examples. (We use pharmaceutical grade). Allelochemicals in plants affect the human body in both good and bad ways. The quality of an essential oil is also dependent upon the extraction process used to acquire the oil. Steam distillation or expression are best. Many essential extracted by using solvents such as hexane.

Another drawback of essential oil is that the quality of the scent depends on each individual crop. Crops vary by region, growing conditions and climate. This can result in inconsistency between scents.

Fragrance Oils

Some fragrance oils originate from plants but are modified chemically in a laboratory to further enhance the scent. In many cases, they can be made virtually identical to the plant organically. Other fragrance oils are strictly a synthetic imitation of popular scents, (ie: cucumber melon).

Premium quality fragrance oils do not contain alcohol or dibutyl phthalates. Twenty years ago many were made from petroleum based products, however modern technology has come full circle and manufacturing processes have changed. They are 100% oil and are evaluated for skin sensitivities before entering the market. Each individual ingredient must go through testing by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials. They check for irritation, solvency, absorption, flash point (flammability), and more serious concerns like carcinogenic indicators. Once an ingredient is fully tested, the results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.


Hydrosols are the products from steam distilling plant materials. The hydrosol is the floral water left over after the distillation of an essential oil. Hydrosols contain all the essence of the plant, but in a milder form than an essential oil. This makes them ideal to help retain scents in cold-process soap. Goat milk is our primary liquid component, however we do use hydrosols with specific scents to boost the fragrance outcome.

When it comes to Essential oils vs Fragrance oils, the word “Natural” does not have a legal definition. Whether created by nature or in a laboratory, a chemical is a chemical. A “natural” label doesn’t mean it is perfect for your body (ie: poison ivy?) So, both essential and fragrance oils have their benefits and their drawbacks. For those with sensitivities, unscented or fragrance free are always the best choice. It is up to the artisan and the consumer to learn the facts so they can make educated choices on both creating and buying the best possible products!


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