Essential oils versus fragrance oils - what's the difference?
Essential oils versus fragrance oils, real versus fake, healing versus placebo – these are common queries I get asked and there's a lot of confusion about aromatherapy and what oils can or cannot offer real health benefits. The terms essential oils and fragrance oils are often wrongly used interchangeably to describe different things and can lead to people being unfairly mis-sold products.
Let's delve deeper into the differences and why I insist on only using 100% essential oils in my exclusive blends. This blog post will explain the differences in manufacture, pros and cons of both and the healing properties of essential oils, allowing you to make a more informed decision when purchasing home fragrances.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are concentrated aromatic extracts that are distilled from nature. They can be distilled from flowers, stems, leaves, bark, peel, roots, resins or other parts of a plant.
What are fragrance oils?
Fragrance oils are synthetically made compounds which are manufactured to replicate the scent of an essential oil. You can get synthetic fragrance oils and natural fragrance oils – though both are still synthetically made, and the latter is very misleading as there is no such thing as a purely natural fragrance oil. There is also little information about what fragrance oils are made from however it is often undisclosed synthetic chemicals.
Do both essential oils and fragrance oils offer wellbeing benefits?
No, only essential oils carry any wellbeing benefits, known as aromatherapy. Essential oils carry a 'life force' and contain the healing properties of the plant. For example, in the case of lavender, the associated relaxing and soothing properties of the plant are only present in a pure lavender essential oil, whereas a lavender fragrance oil holds no relaxing benefit whatsoever. Of course, there is a slight placebo effect associated with the scent of lavender, but only essential oils carry any healing properties. As there is very little regulation on marketing standards, many fragrance oil-based products will claim that there are healing benefits associated, but sadly this is not true. The same goes for any product that are labelled 'natural' which contain fragrance oils. It's a very common misrepresentation and is very deceiving as fragrance oils are unnatural.
Aromatherapy by definition is the healing practice of using natural pure essential oils to enhance mental and physical wellbeing. Synthetic fragrance is not aromatherapy.
How are essential oils and fragrance oils manufactured?
As essential oils come from nature, they have to be steam distilled or cold pressed (in the case of citrus fruits) to release the aroma and essence of the oil. This can be quite labour intensive depending on the oil and some essential oils could be considered unsustainable, for example jasmine which requires high levels of extraction to yield the oil. Most essential oils are to be considered sustainable however as they come from natural plants.
For fragrance oils, there is little information in the industry about the production method, possibly because there is a lot of variances in practice but in general, they are thought to be less labour intensive than the production of essential oils. It must be considered though what the fragrance oils are made from. They often contain a type of chemical called Diethyl Phthalate (DEP), which is used as a solvent and many also contain petroleum, which is not only unsustainable it is incredibly bad for our health and should be avoided at all costs.
What are the pro's of essential oils?
- essential oils are 100% natural, as opposed to fragrance oils which are synthetically made in a lab.
- essential oils have healing properties which can help a variety of ailments, including stress, anxiety, energy, immunity, skin irritations and more.
- essential oils have a purer scent, more true to the real thing.
- essential oils are less likely to cause irritations to the body.
- They are useful for when a particular scent is desired, which is not possible from an essential oil, such as amber, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cherry blossom, freesia, and fruit scents like peach, watermelon or banana.
- They are also much cheaper to manufacture and as a result most products end price is cheaper, though in some cases fragrance oil-based products can be priced similarly to essential oils despite the reduced manufacturing cost, which means you're paying way over the odds!