Using Fragrance Oils vs. Essential Oils in Your Homemade Body Care Products (Personal or Business)
One of my readers wrote in with a dilemma and a question she has about a decision she needs to make regarding ingredients to use in her soap making business. I thought I’d answer her question here, in an article, because this is the SAME dilemma I faced years ago when I had my little soap and herb shop on Etsy. The question and problem is: Should you use fragrance oils in your homemade soaps?
This is a really great question.
The fact that my wonderful reader is even asking it lets me know she has her customers’ health first and foremost on her mind. Can you call a handmade product “natural” if you are using a fragrance oil? That’s what we’ll address here.
Here are some points and considerations to take into account when you make your own decision about whether or not to use fragrance oils and/or essential oils in your handmade soaps and body products.
You’ll find out the positives and negatives of using both essential oils and fragrance oils, including “natural” fragrance oils in your handmade body care items.
You may also enjoy: The 20 BEST Essential Oils to Scent Your Handmade Soaps Naturally.
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links scattered here and there in this article. If you click through and make any kind of purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
About Using Fragrance Oils (the Pros & Cons) in Your Handmade Body Products
Here are the pros and cons of using fragrance oils in your homemade creations. Ultimately, you need to make the decision, but here are some facts to help you with this dilemma. And remember: Some of these points will have a greater weight than others.
The Positives of Using Fragrance Oils:
1) Fragrance Oils are Generally Cheaper Than Essential Oils
Because fragrance oils are chemical creations, they just don’t cost as much as the essential oils that come from plants. In fact, the beauty industry spends boat loads of money each year creating chemical scents that are at price points that are ridiculously cheap.
2) Fragrance Oils Have a Broad Range of Scents
Humans have been obsessed with scents for thousands of years! In fact, the perfume industry is set to become a multi-billion dollar industry in the next couple of years.
During ancient times, plant oils were used for scent. But as our world became industrialized, chemicals are now commonly manipulated to create delicious smells.
Since fragrance oils are created chemically in a lab, scientists are able to “copy” natural scents such as rose, jasmine, carnation, different fruits, etc. that are prohibitively expensive (or don’t exist) in the (real) essential oil counterpart using synthetic chemicals.
In fact, sometimes these fragrance oils may even smell better to some people who are used to smelling chemicals. Sad but true.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to make an “apple” scented soap, for example. Some plants do not have essential oils to extract, and apples (and all fruits except for citrus peels) are included.
Therefore, if you are using a soap or body product that smells of “apple spice” be assured that if there is an “apple” scent in that product, it was created in a lab and is filled with hormone disrupting chemicals.
3) Fragrance Oils are Easy to Find
You can find fragrance oils in every craft store, online, soap making source, etc. They are common, and it’s easy to find a scent you want.
Downsides of Using Fragrance Oils:
1) Fragrance Oils are Often Made from Toxic Chemicals
Fragrance oils are chemical lab creations that can mimic scents people enjoy. They are made in a laboratory and often contain dangerous and toxic compounds including petroleum by-products. Here are some examples: benzenes, aldehydes, toluene, phthalates, and other chemicals that are known to be toxic.
But won’t the FDA protect the consumer from toxic chemicals?
In my opinion, the answer is NO. It’s buyer beware (or just be ignorant). There are all kinds of legal loop holes fragrance companies use to get around federal requirements for safety.
You can visit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for lots more information on what chemicals are allowed in our body products that shouldn’t be. I’ve listed some resources below.
In fact, you can learn more about the killer toxins lurking in your commercial soaps in this article.
You know what? I think this one negative reason for using fragrance oils is the only one needed to help you make up your mind.
But What About “Natural” Fragrance Oils? Are They Really Natural?
This is arguable. You see, what chemists have been able to do is figure out what makes a plant smell like it does, then use certain molecules to create scent.
Essential oils (the natural volatile oils from certain plants and plant parts) are complex combinations of natural chemicals. Chemists can extract “isolates,” which are single scent molecules from complex essential oils. And, often, they can recreate them in a lab.
They then combine these with other isolates to create a brand new scent. Therefore, these “natural” fragrance oils can be called natural. However, they are still man-made in a lab.
For the record, I personally won’t use these either—-BUT they are a much better choice than fragrance oils made from synthetic chemicals.
Another point to make: Often “natural” fragrance oils will be combined with synthetics. Labeling laws make it very difficult to know if what you are using is natural or not.
In fact, the FDA doesn’t require labels to detail what chemicals are in the fragrance oils, natural or not. This is because they can’t force manufacturers to divulge their “trade secrets,” which fragrance falls under.
About Using Essential Oils (Pros & Cons) in Your Handmade Body Products
I love essential oils. With that said, there are still some downsides to using them in your body care products, like handmade soaps, lotions, etc. Here are both the positives and negatives of using essential oils in your handmade goods.
The Positives (Upsides) of Using Essential Oils in Your Handmade Products
1) Essential Oils are Truly Natural
Essential oils are the volatile compounds from the plant parts that contain them. These are powerful, concentrated compounds that contain the scent from the plant. Besides just scent, these essential oils often have health benefits.
Essential oils smell wonderful, too. Once you are used to working with essential oils, the differences between essential oils and fragrance oils become very evident.
NOTE: Be sure you are purchasing your essential oils from a reputable company. I prefer Starwest Botanicals for my soap making essential oils because they sell in quantity at decent prices, and I believe their essential oils are very good quality for the price.
2) You can Tout Your Product in Good Conscience as Being “Natural”
You really can. This is because you know, in your heart of hearts, that everything you put into your creation is natural, and you’ve done your best to ensure this.
It’s worth mentioning here that the FDA has not ever really defined what “natural” is, and according to the Environmental Working Group, the FDA has no real regulations on its use.
Scary, isn’t it?
So, if you want to be able to say to your customers that you are creating a natural product, you are best to stick with using essential oils from a good company so you can list these on the label.
3) Essential Oils Have Aromatherapy Health Benefits
This is my favorite reason for using essential oils in my own handmade products: the health benefits.
Need to wake up and regain some energy? Try some peppermint essential oil! Or need to relax? How about some soothing lavender essential oil?
Essential oils do so many things for our spirit and health. You can find out more about using essential oils to benefit your moods in this article.
A fragrance oil is NOT going to provide these health benefits in your product.
NOTE: If you are selling handmade products, you are not allowed to mention structure or function claims that the essential oil may have on a person’s body. Also sad, but true.
An example would be: If you are using a Ginger essential oil massage product, you can mention that it is warming. But you are not allowed to say that it will relieve pain from sore muscles, even if it may.
The Downsides of Using Essential Oils in Your Homemade Items:
1) Essential Oils are EXPENSIVE.
It takes a LOT of plant matter to create even a few drops of essential oils. For example, according to DoTerra, a large essential oil company, it takes 242,000 rose petals to distill just 5 mL of essential oil. That’s a TINY amount!
You can see that with the amount of plant matter required to create just a few drops, essential oils are going to be expensive to make and therefore expensive to buy.
My favorite company to purchase essential oils from for soap making is Starwest Botanicals. They do sell in quantity, have organic options, and their prices are more decent than other wholesalers. Also, after using essential oils for years in my products, I think they have a better quality than some others.
2) By Purchasing Essential Oils, You May be Inadvertently Supporting Poor Farming and Agricultural Practices That Negatively Affect People and the Environment
That’s a long reason, and it’s something to think about.
This is something I’ve personally wrestled with myself, especially because I tend to be rather heavy-handed with my essential oils in soaps.
Because you need so much plant material, essential oils in these modern times are often coming from plants grown on large farms that may have unsustainable practices.
You should try to be aware of where the company sources their essential oils, how the people are treated who farm the land, and whether the farming practice is helping or hurting the earth.
And often that’s really hard to do.
I suspect most essential oil companies are more worried about their bottom line (dollars) than they are about the health of the world, no matter what they say. I’m sorry to be a skeptic, but I can’t help it.
Final Thoughts About Using Fragrance Oils or Essential Oils in Your Handmade Soaps, Salves, Balms, Lotions, and More
Do you know, really, what I think this question boils down to? There is a morality about what you are going to tell people about your products.
If you are going to say your homemade products are all natural, then you really need to do your due diligence so you can say this in all truth. This also goes for colorants, too, which I won’t go into here.
I think most people have good intentions, but ignorance is bliss, as they say. Be sure you do your own research and then make a decision that’s good for you.
I will say this: If you are making a handmade soap that contains fragrance oils, you are kind of defeating the purpose of making a “natural” handmade soap. Be careful what you tell people.
And, if you are getting a “bad” feeling about using one over the other, I’d go with your gut.
OK—-I hope this didn’t offend anyone out there in the handcrafted soap making world, but it is what it is. There’s really no way around it.
What are your feelings on this topic? I’d love to know, so please leave a comment in the comments section!
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. No statement here or anywhere else I write or speak is meant to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent any illness. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
Also, this article consists of my own opinions based on experience, study, and research. It’s a good idea to do your own due diligence and make the best decisions for you.