The debate over whether to use fragrance oils or essential oils has been going on since the invention of the first synthetic fragrance, Coumarin, created in 1868. From there the trend towards synthetic fragrances took hold making synthetic scenting economical and aromas consistent. Still today the positive side of fragrance oils is the consistency, cost and variety of non-plant based aromas.
As a Certified and Registered Aromatherapist I am admittedly biased towards essential oils over fragrance oils. I am also allergic to fragrance oils. Having admitted that up front let me share the debate from the view of an aromatherapist.
The unfortunate side of a synthetic fragrance is that the manufactured scent does not contain the therapeutic properties of their counterpart whole-plant based essential oils thus the true power and purpose of aromatherapy is lost. For example, one drop of peppermint fragrance oil does not contain the same natural pharmacy as one drop of the essential oil. The synthetic version only attempts to duplicate the aroma and not the properties transferred from the plant material itself.
Synthetic fragrances have had several other negative issues come to light over the past few years including a high rate of allergic reactions, as well as the controversy surrounding the undisclosed aroma chemicals and preservatives in every fragrance oil.
In addition many people have chosen to work with fragrance oils because they are intimated by the powerful properties of essential oils; only to find that even fragrance oils often contain minute amounts of essential oils as well. I’m often asked as an aromatherapist if fragrance oils are safer to use than essential oils because of the potential property effects of essential oils. And the answer is always a resounding no. Fragrance oils are made up of a long list of various chemicals often including essential oils with little regard for the natural qualities that make these oils so precious.
In addition, current laws do not require the full disclosure of the synthetic chemicals that make up the fragrance oil. I recently read the formula for a fragrance oil that contained the synthetic version of the chemical compounds in citrus essential oils that causes photosensitization in addition to including nutmeg and cinnamon essential oils as well. Cinnamon essential oil renders the skin hypersensitive to the sun and is a photo-sensitizing oil. The combination of these two items can be harmful but since fragrance oil ingredients are not fully disclosed the consumer may be unaware of any potential issues.
The crafter using this fragrance oil would not be aware of the presence of cinnamon in the blend when creating their products and may even think that this synthetic version is safer than its natural counterpart.
It is important to know that synthetic fragrances work completely different on the human body than natural essential oils. A great example of the differences between essential and fragrance oils can best be described by a comparison of a real slice of an orange to a piece of orange candy. The real orange has health benefits for the body and comes directly from nature. The color, shape, flavor, scent, taste, vitamins as well as the psychological and physiological benefits come directly from nature. It was designed to nourish our body as well as provide vitamin C for health benefits.
On the other hand, a piece of orange candy gets it’s sweetness from refined sugar, shape from gums, it is artificially flavored and colored, has no health benefits whatsoever and actually can be bad for our bodies.
An essential oil is an orange and a fragrance oil is a piece of orange candy. The body gains nothing of value from fragrance oil because this man-made substance was only created to duplicate a natural aroma not the properties. Whereas the essential oil is a function and byproduct of a plant created to protect, heal and pollinate life is far more beneficial. The hormonal, antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral properties of a plant are captured in the essential oil and the human body is able to use the plants vital energy to benefit itself.
There isn’t really an end in sight for the debate over the use of fragrance oils and essential oils. What is most important is that you as a manufacturer or seller of personal care products educate yourself on the issue. You should make an informed decision that works with the direction and philosophy of your company.
If your marketing campaign is that you only make the freshest, most natural products in the world or you buy a pre-made natural base from a company like Essential Wholesale then using synthetic fragrance chemicals to scent the end product is contrary to your mission statement.
If your market is strawberry bubble gum, tooty-fruity or sugar plum among other fun fragrances then just know that they can only be created synthetically and the natural market is not where you should be aiming. Thus the fragrance oil market is the right choice for you.
Just keep in mind that consumers are insulted by companies claiming to be one thing while using ingredients that are contrary to their marketing and mission statement. Make it easy for your customers and align your products with the message of your company.
If you label your product as natural when using a synthetic fragrance oil to scent it is counterproductive. So whether you are a fragrance or essential oil user, the goal is to be true to yourself and your customers.