Essential oil versus Fragrant Oil

eobottlesOne of the core principles of our business plan is to provide education of our products, because an educated consumer knows why they value the products they use.  With that said, we wanted to answer one question that comes up every time we set up.  Our customers have asked us to explain essential oil and fragrant oil, and provide some clarity on what the difference is, and why one is preferred over the other.

As a disclaimer, we use both essential oil(EO) and fragrant oil(FO), and in some cases our soap contains a blend of both.  In fact, one of our most popular soaps is a blend of EO and FO.

Essential oil is the essence of a plant, or fruit, or spice and it is extracted by various means.  Some essential oil is gathered by gently steaming the plant matter, others require the creation of a still and the gentle leaching through steam and heat, and others are extracted through pressing.  The best way to describe essential oil is to say it is the scent and nutrient of the plant.  Every time we eat an orange we encouter the oil of the rind… essential oil of orange.  Or walking through the garden when you gather a pinch of rosemary and gently roll it in your fingers… essential oil.  Essential oil is purely that, often distilled in a carrier oil that is flavor neutral.

The Important Distinctions Between Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils – Beauty By The Batch// //

Essential oils contain the true aromatic essence of the plants that they are derived from. Essential oils are highly concentrated and a little goes a long way.

Essential oils are generally not referred to as “scents” or “fragrances” because essential oils offer many other therapeutic benefits that span beyond their pleasant aromas.

Essential oils not only are highly aromatic, but the natural chemical composition of many essential oils offers other therapeutic benefit not found in synthetic aromatics. Lavender essential oil, for instance, is not only beautifully fragrant, but it also is an effective anti-bacterial ingredient, helps to heal minor cuts, is useful in helping to heal burns, and is also wonderful in skin care formulations.

Other natural, aromatic botanical oils exist that include absolutes and CO2s. Although essential oils, CO2 extracts and absolutes are obtained using different methods, the term essential oil is often used as a blanket term to include all natural, concentrated, liquid aromatics.

For more precious botanicals, such as jasmine, solvent extraction can be required to obtain the limited and precious oil. Solvent extracted oils are generally referred to as absolutes.

CO2 Extracts:
CO2 extracted oils are oils extracted using carbon dioxide as the solvent. When carbon dioxide is converted to liquid by using low temperatures and high pressure, it becomes a very safe and effective solvent that allows all the desirable active constituents of a plant to be collected without the risk of heat degradation. Once the extraction is complete, the carbon dioxide is allowed to go back to its natural gaseous state, leaving behind only the extracted essence of the plant. CO2 extracted oils are the closest representation of the natural plant ever achieved.

The cost of essential oils varies depending on the botanical used, how much of the botanical is needed to produce essential oil, the quality of the botanical, and the resulting quality of the essential oil. Some of the most affordable essential oils tend to be the citrus oils like orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit. Other more reasonably priced essential oils include cedarwood, peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass, patchouli citronella, and clary sage. The most costly essential oils and absolutes tend to be sandalwood, rose and jasmine.  (Quote from

Fragrant oil is a chemical blend of ingredients to simulate a smell.  Fragrant oils can contain some essential oil, but the EO is chemically enhanced, modified, or altered to create a different scent.  It is the chemicals that are often the culpret of allergic reactions.

The Important Distinctions Between Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils – Beauty By The Batch// //

Fragrance Oils, often listed as “fragrance” within ingredient labeling, generally are synthetic, but some may include natural compounds. Most all fragrance oils, however, do contain synthetics.

Fragrance oils are generally much less expensive for artisans to work with than essential oils. Fragrance oils are available in hundreds of different scents allowing artisans to create products that feature fragrances that cannot be achieved strictly by using essential oils or other natural aromatics. Fragrance oils that mimic the aroma of natural essential oils are also available and are sometimes used by artisans instead of essential oils to keep their production costs low.

A disadvantage to using products scented with fragrance oils is that fragrance oils can cause sensitization, irritation or allergies in some individuals. When used in excess, essential oils can also cause sensitization, but essential oils are generally considered more gentle when used at correct proportions within personal care products.  (Quote from


So what should you look for?

How doe this all work out for Images In Bloom soaps?
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When handcrafted soapmakers use fragrance oils instead of essential oil it does not make the product of lower quality.  As soapmakers there is a challenge to make products that carry a reasonable price.  Often essential oil can raise the cost of the soap because it requires a significant amount of essential oil to frangrance the batch of soap.  For example, our Sandalwood soap is fragrance oil because the cost of essential oil of Sandalwood is $212 for a 8 oz bottle.

We are very careful to list all of our ingredients on our labels… you will clearly know if it is essential oil, fragrant oil, or a blend of essential and fragrant oils.  We are working on developing a marking system on our labels that will help people quickly see color coded dots on the front of the label to differentiate the “EO only”, “FO only” or EO/FO blend”  and plan to implement this in the new year.