As a professional chandler, and producer of bath and body products, I am uniquely in between the great debate of Fragrance Oils versus Essential Oils. While I personally believe in the use of essential oils in anything that will stay on my skin (such as body butter), I also feel that fragrance oils are perfectly excellent for anything temporary (such as burning in candles).
What’s the difference between Fragrance Oils and Essential Oils?
Fragrance Oils are synthetic oils manufactured to duplicate smells in nature or otherwise. Fragrance oils may not be considered “natural,” though some are synthetically mixed with true, essential oils. Fragrance oils cannot claim the medicinal benefit of essential oils; however, inhaling scents from fragrance oils can have the same affect on your brain’s perception of scent for a significantly lower cost. For example, the scent of lavender is known to be relaxing; smelling a lavender fragrance oil-scented candle will have the same affect (regarding smell) as smelling lavender essential oil.
On the other hand, Essential Oils are derived directly from distillation of plants, making them completely natural. “Essential oils have an edge in that they have benefits beyond just scent. Tea tree is a great example because its natural antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties are well researched and documented. Eucalyptus essential oil’s value in relieving symptoms of respiratory infections can make it a beneficial additive in skin and bath products. Many beneficial claims are made for other essential oils, although most are poorly researched and largely unproven.” (Edgewater Soaps, 2011)
According to the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, in an article published online on September 21, 2006, “Fragrance compounds and essential oils with sedative effects influence the motility of mice in inhalation studies under standardized conditions. A significant drop in the motility of mice was registered following exposure to these fragrances.” This study proves that the inhalation of either fragrance or essential oils both create an aromatherapy effect.
There is a great debate about allergies of fragrance oils versus essential oils. The reality is that a person could have allergies to either, so it is really individual. In an article by Contact Dermatitis, it explains that it is more about the actual chemical compound of the individual oil as opposed to one being a “fragrance oil” and one being an “essential oil.”
Combustibility is one of the main reasons why chandlers may opt for fragrance oils compared to essential oils. Because each essential oil scent has a different combustibility level, it is extremely complicated to calculate how long and how much heat an essential oil can take before it 1) breaks down chemical compounds, and 2) explodes. Essential oils, because of their usual characteristic low flash-point, will often not be able to maintain their benefits to extended exposure to heat (such as in a candle). This means that a candle designed with essential oils will often lose its scent. Fragrance oils, on the other hand, are designed to have high-level flash-points, meaning they uphold to high temperatures, and will continue to maintain their fragrant integrity to extended heat exposure.
The choice between essential oils and fragrance oils essentially is a personal one. No essential oil or fragrance oil should be applied directly to the skin, as they both require carrier oils (i.e. coconut oil, sweet almond oil, etc.). As long as the fragrance oil is designed without phthalates and for skin use, they are perfectly safe for candles and soap. Essential oils are also generally safe for soap and candles, as long as the consideration of photosensitivity and physical sensitivity are recognized (for example, citrus essential oils will create photosensitivity, and essential oils such as peppermint may be irritating to skin, even when being combined with a carrier oil).
In any choice, it is the ethical duty and responsibility of the chandler or cosmetic designer to appropriately label products for consumer consumption. Always ask questions if you’re unsure about the integrity of labeling!