The Difference between Fragrance Oils and Essential Oils

Have you ever wondered the difference between essential oils and fragrance oils?  The main difference is that essential oils are made of natural plant materials, while fragrance oils are synthetically manufactured in the lab.  Fragrance oils are able to hold their scent for much longer and be much stronger than essential oils; however, they can also cause adverse reactions due to their synthetic nature.  Actually for thousands of years, essential oils have been an integral part of the daily lives of people. .

Aromatherapy essential oils are found in different parts of plants – the leaf, stem, blossom, fruit, bark, wood or resin. Through steam distillation or solvent extraction, essential oils are produced.  These naturally occurring substances are used to enhance mood, to relieve symptoms such as pain, fatigue or inflammation.  They enter the body through the skin (via bath, massage, etc.) or the olfactory system (via a humidifier, diffuser, etc.).  

On the other hand, fragrance oils or perfume oils are artificially created fragrances or scents.  They are made to mimic the scent of a natural product, but contain artificial substances.  Primarily, fragrance oils are used in the manufacturing of fragrances, cosmetics, and flavorings. Many soap and candle makers use them to enhance the smell of their product. 

Although fragrance oils are manufactured to mimic the scent of the essential oils or other natural materials, they cannot mimic them in other ways.  For instance, lavender fragrance oil can duplicate the smell of essential oils and be used for soaps, perfumes, cosmetics and candles.  However, they do not have essential oils’ healing properties that may help with insomnia, cough, hyperactivity, and muscle aches, just to name a few. Essential oils can be for their healing and therapeutic benefits as well as for natural perfume purposes.    

The FDA’s definition of fragrances is a combination of chemicals that give a product its distinct scent.  Fragrance oils typically contain chemical components like petrochemicals, solvents, stabilizers, preservatives, and dyes.  A package with a  label of ‘fragrance’ may look like one ingredient, but actually may indicate a list of undisclosed and potentially harmful ingredients. More than 95% of the chemicals in synthetic fragrances are derived from petrochemicals. These chemicals include: benzene derivatives, aldehydes, phthalates, and many more. 

Fragrances have been linked to health risks such as hormone disruptors, respiratory issues and allergens:

On the other hand, 100% pure essential oils require rigorous testing to ensure quality and purity.  Essential oils are highly concentrated liquid plant extracts.  They are called ‘essential’ because they contain the essence of a plant.  The most common methods of essential oil extraction is by cold pressing and steam distillation.   When I began to research the differences between essential and fragrance oils, I knew immediately that I did not want to use the synthetic fragrance oils in my products.  In the past, I had dealt with many adverse skin reactions to these substances, and knowing that I wasn’t alone, I wanted my products to contain the purest natural essential oils.  Essential Oils not only have wonderful aromatherapy properties, but also other therapeutic healing properties, which I am really excited about.

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The decision to use fragrance oils or essential oils depends on what is most important for the product. If you want the product to have therapeutic benefits, essential oils are necessary. However, if the focus is solely on the scent, then fragrance oils should be used. It is also possible to use a combination of both oils, but it cannot be labeled as pure. Ultimately, there are no strict rules on which to use, so it’s up to personal preference and the desired outcome.
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Elizabeth Peek April 15, 2023

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