How do essential oil and fragrance oil differ and why does it matter?

How do essential oil and fragrance oil differ and why does it matter?

Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils are often confused as the same thing, but they couldn't be far from different! In this post, we explore their differences.

How it’s made:

Essential oils are made of 100% all natural substances. Essential oils are extracted from different parts of a plant, such as flowers, herbs, or roots. These oils are pure extractions that are obtained through the process of steam distillation or solve extractions and are not cut with a type of carrier oil. Sometimes, depending on the type of plant, the extraction may prove to be very complex. These 100% pure oils are "neat", meaning they have not been processed, diluted or manipulated in any way with solvents or other additives. Essential oils are difficult to reproduce synthetically since they can be made up of 50-500 different naturally occurring chemicals found in the plant and not all of them have been identified.

Also, depending on the season, climate, or growing conditions of a plant, the chemical components of a particular essential oil may vary. Therefore, it is difficult for craft makers to keep their finished products consistent.

    Fragrance oils are created in a laboratory.  One of the main benefits is that they are non-volatile and generally last longer than essential oils. There are two broad types of fragrance oils:

    • Synthetic Fragrance Oils
    • Natural Fragrance Oils

    There is actually a huge difference between these two types of fragrance oils. Synthetic fragrance oils are artificially created from chemical compounds that do not exist in nature. These are the types of fragrances to avoid when reading a label, especially if you have skin sensitivities. Many times, they are composed of petroleum by-products, making them much cheaper but versatile. Many of the cheaper commercial scented products are created with synthetic fragrances because they are able to retain their aroma for longer periods of time. 

    Natural Fragrance oils are also made in a lab but are created by isolating natural aromatic components from a complex scent. There is still debate as to whether natural fragrance oils can be considered truly natural. While they are derived from a natural source, they are still created by human science. Our view is where possible, we will stick to essential oils but there are cases where an argument could be made for natural fragrance oils.

    When is there a case where Natural Fragrances could be used? 

    Not all plants produce essential oils that can be used for scents. Top of mind examples include apples and blueberries. This is because most essential oils are produced via steam or water distillation (though citrus oils are often cold pressed), and neither processes effectively extract oils from apples or blueberries. Note that there is alot of marketing out there for blueberry seed oil, created by cold pressing blueberry seeds, but that is not blueberry essential oil!

    There can be an argument to using natural fragrance oils in cases where it's impossible to create a specific scent that is not available in nature through essential oils. A specific case is our Jubilee Jam. Over the years, we've had numerous requests to create soaps scented like apple, bubble gum, cotton candy, blueberry, and more. We've turned down most of these requests but looked into creating an "as natural as possible" berry scent using high quality natural fragrances. This was our foray into testing how customers define "natural". To date, it is our only soap not scented completely with essential oils. 

    Which have more health benefits?

    Essential oils have many uses in aromatherapy to help ease muscle pain, skin problems, and other bodily afflictions. The reason essential oils are so valued is its use in skin and hair softening, skin moisturizing, rash, and eczema relief, and it's helpfulness on stress and migraine relief. Essential oils can also be taken internally while fragrance oils cannot. Many people apply essential oils directly to skin or use it during their baths. Others may apply it through an olfactory system, such as a humidifier.

    Most fragrance oils don’t provide the same health benefits as essential oils, as they’re designed purely for the purpose of mimicking a scent. Nature is complex and essential oils are made of more than just scent components, which is why they are so difficult to recreate. When we isolate only the natural aromatic components from a plant, we miss out on the potential benefits the plant could offer. However, fragrance oils do enhance the aroma of many cosmetics and perfume products, as well as candles (they hold a better scent in hot temperatures). 

    It is important to note that every individual is different and there are cases where individuals may be still allergic to components from an essential oil. Just because it is all natural does not mean it works for everyone. 

    What impacts the quality of essential oils?

    Essential oils have recently become more popular due to the "all natural" trend. this has led to the rise of various essential oil producers. It's important to know that the quality of essential oils can vary widely. The quality of a batch of essential oils can be impacted by:

    • How the plants are grown: The use of pesticides and other chemicals, the variability in altitude, soil conditions and rainfall, and the difficulty of differentiating plant species and varieties can all have a negative impact on the ultimate quality of the oil
    • Processing: Not all oils on the market are suitable for clinical use. Today, you can buy essential oils everywhere- from Amazon, to discount stores, to grocery stores, and more. If the price of a bottle of essential oil is "too good to be true", it could be a sign of the oils being diluted or adulterated. 
    • Packaging and handling:  Chemical degradation can occur with exposure to heat, light, or oxygen. Take for example, essential oils from citrus fruits, which are especially prone to oxidation. Oxygen exposure can quickly alter the chemistry of those essential oils.
    • Storage: Essential oils should be stored in tightly closed, darkened glass containers in a cool place to ensure lasting quality (Buckle, 2003; Tisserand & Balacs, 1995). The usual shelf life is 1-2 years after opening.
    Price difference:

    Essential oils are typically pricey and vary depending on the type of oil, the season of the year, and the availability of the product. We typically expecte essential oils to be more expensive than their fragrance oil counterparts. This is because it is costly to plant, grow, harvest, and distill the plant for essential oils. 

    We want to emphasize that it takes an enormous amount of plant material to produce even a small quantity of essential oil. Take rose essential oils for example, which is priced quite high because it requires a precise and timely extraction process, where around 1000 rose petals are required to make just one drop. Citrus essential oils, on the other hand, are normally cheaper because they are a lot easier to extract.

    Fragrance oil, unsurprisingly, its much cheaper due to the ability to manufacturer it and no need for extraction (often a very expensive process).

    Does b.a.r.e. soaps use essential or fragrance oils in their soaps?

    All of our bars but one (Jubilee Jam) are made with 100% essential oils. When we started in 2013, we committed to using only essential oils. We only began looking into natural fragrances after receiving high volume customer requests to create a unique, delicious berry scent that could not be found through essential oils. Jubilee Jam is one of our most popular bars, but we are still very careful and slow in how we choose to expand our new scents through natural fragrances.

    However, one important aspect to consider is the impact on the Earth. As essential oils are agriculturally intensive to produce, we need to examine whether natural fragrances can provide the same benefits but with a more eco-friendly impact. This is something that we are continuously re-evaluating as we need to balance the benefits and disadvantages of each approach. 

    What about the types of oils used in candles? 

    Candles typically use fragrance oils for good reason. Fragrance oils are able to hold a much stronger and longer scent. As essential oils are also very costly, it would take a significant amount of essential oils to scent a candle. 

    In our candles, we use a blend of essential and fragrance oils. Our primary requirement is that the fragrance is phthalate free. Phthalates are used to dissolve raw materials when making fragrance oils. While it's not clear at what levels phthalates cause adverse health issues, it's clear that they could still pose a risk.