Essential Oils vs. Fragrance Oils: Which is best?

A question we get asked often is: Are essential oils better than fragrance oils? This is a great question and seems simple on the front end, however the answer is quite complex and will surprise you. Let’s first talk about what is an essential oil. Essential oils are pure extracts from plant parts. Essential oils are extracted from different parts of a plant, such as flowers, herbs, or roots. They retain the natural smell, flavor, and benefit of their plant source.

They are extremely complex substances, with each oil typically containing several hundred individual chemicals. An oil’s chemical constituents dictate its fragrance, taste, and therapeutic properties, and a single oil can have many different uses, thanks to its complex chemical profile. These chemicals work together as a complete synergistic unit to maximize the effectiveness of the oil.

Many people think that essential oils are harmless because they come from nature. In some cases, that is simply not true. Essential oils contain many chemical compounds and some will cause irritation to the skin and even poisoning.

Now let's talk about fragrance oils.

Fragrance oils are lab created There are two broad types of fragrance oils: Synthetic and Natural. Synthetic fragrance oils are artificially created from chemical compounds and are usually derived from petroleum (crude oil) and can include benzene derivatives, plastics, toluene and many other known toxic chemicals.

Natural Fragrance oils are also made in a lab but are created by isolating natural aromatic components from a complex scent to create a scent that is not readily found in nature.

Natural fragrance oils and essential oils share many of the same chemical compounds. The question then remains: which is better for you? Natural is not always the best choice. For example arsenic and botulism are natural, but I would not slather either on my skin. The better question to ask: what is safest to use on your body?

There are over 3500 materials (aroma chemicals, essential oils and essential oil components) that are approved for use in fragrance oils. Each individual ingredient is tested for things such as irritation, solvency, absorption, physical characteristics and carcinogenic indicators. Once an ingredient is fully tested, the results are published in a peer-reviewed journal. A group called ‘RIFM’ performs all the tests (RIFM stands for Research Institute for Fragrance Materials).

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) is an international organization that represents fragrance manufacturers. IFRA takes the data and reports from RIFM, evaluates it and publishes guidelines for usage. IFRA will make recommendations for which raw materials are safe to use in fragrance oils and how an oil should be used.

Responsible formulators take this information and use it to make decisions about which fragrances to use in finished products as well as when it is appropriate to use an essential oil versus a fragrance oil.

Why Use A Fragrance Oil?

There are many reasons why we would choose a fragrance oil in formulating a finished product. One of the main reasons is the scent choice. There are many scents that are not available in an essential oil, for example – black raspberry , vanilla or sugar cookie. These are all scents that our customers love, but are not found in nature.

Another reason to use a fragrance oil is volatility. Fragrance oils tend to last longer than essential oils and can be more stable in finished products. For example some in soap making, some essential oils will disappear during the saponification process (when lye and oil converts to soap) while fragrance oils tend to hold onto their scent value.

There are many popular scents that can only come from a fragrance oil. When looking at products you can easily identify what was used as a scent base. For example, fresh linen would not be an essential oil as there is no plant that smells of this.

So, how do we make our decisions?

At Country Goods USA e use both: essential oils and natural fragrance oils in our products. We have done the research into the oils we use to ensure that all ingredients are safe, in the application and usage rate that we have included our formulations. The decisions as to which one we use in each product solely comes down to one question: what are we trying to achieve in our end result?

If our goal is to capture a specific scent in our product then we may use either option, however we opt for essential oils over fragrance oils when there is an essential oil as an option. For example Lavender is available as an essential oil and also available a fragrance oil, however the fragrance oil version tends to not smell like real Lavender. In this case we would create our blend with an essential oil.

Another time that we will make the decision to only use an essential oil is when we are trying to use the benefits of the plant in our product such as with our shower sprays or magnesium butter.

There are “bad” compounds in almost everything surrounding us. The best and most responsible decisions we can make is to do our own research to ensure that we are using the best ingredients and products that we can, which are better for our bodies.



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