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Fragrance Oils and Essential Oils – what’s the difference and are they safe?

Aromatic Fragrance Oils are typically ‘synthetic’ (man-made and derived from mainly petroleum sources) whereas aromatic Essential Oils are nature derived.  Essential oils are obtained from flora and fauna using relatively intensive methods such as distillation, expression and extraction. Some Fragrance Oils contain a combination of both synthetic and natural oils.

All aroma molecules used for scent - whether natural, or synthetic are made up of 'chemicals'.  I often hear people refer to Chemicals as 'nasties' but this is simply misinformation, since chemicals are the building blocks of pretty much everything in life! 

Some synthetic aromatic chemicals are made to be ‘nature-identical’ to mimic the aroma, behaviour and properties of its natural counterpart, This is often the case when the natural version of the chemical is itself, too precious. The rarer the plant, or the lower the yield, the less sustainable it can be considered to be and the more expensive it will be for wide-scale commercial use.  In many cases a synthetic version will be designed to bring performance 'stability' and 'longevity' to a fragrance formulation. 

That aside, it is well documented that many Essential Oils have specific therapeutical benefits (as well as medicinal) and the aromas of which, can assist with mental and physical conditions. Essential oils and blends for therapeutic purposes need to be used with great care, and diluted to safe usage levels.

Whilst 'Synthetic' fragrance types are not known for aroma therapeutical benefits, they do bring sensory enjoyment which in itself can be of benefit to your mental wellbeing (and make your home smell amazing).

Apart from consistency of price and performance, Synthetic fragrance oils also provide the perfumer or fragrance designer with a much 'broader' palette to work with, and with it, the ability to create more interesting, weird and wonderful scents.

Safety first

When considering safety, it's important to know that there are hazards associated with (not all) aroma molecules from BOTH natural and synthetic oils. Many synthetic oils. Yet, when sold as a product, both types of oils will have been diluted to well within safe limits for consumer use.

There are regulations in place governing the levels of fragrance and essential oils used in the the creation of home fragrance products, and in more recent years these regulations have become tighter, owing to the rapid rise in demand for home fragrance and wellbeing products.  You can read more about this by visiting the CTPA website (Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association) as well as the IFRA Website (International Fragrance Association).

There will always need to be a level of caution exercised by individuals who are more sensitive to certain allergens than others and whom may still present some symptoms during exposure.  If in doubt always check the allergen statement of a fragranced product, and consult a medical practitioner if you are unsure.

As a producer of home fragrance products, it is important that we educate our consumers of any potential hazards relating to allergens, as well as information relating to the quality and provenance of our products. We do this by presenting such information on product labelling and packaging, and other channels such as our website. This information will state any specific allergens to note, as well as what to do in the event of any symptoms of allergic reaction presenting. It will also provide instructions on how to use the product 'safely'. 

Are Fragrance Oils a cheaper substitute for Essential Oils?

Yes and no. And not all oils are equal.

Where high quality is involved, many synthetic oils have a similar cost profile to non-organic Essential Oils, but they are generally much cheaper than organic essential oils which have typically smaller yields.  There will always be lower quality, cheaper fragrance oils available, in much the same way there are cheaper, less pure essential oils available. The rule of thumb is that 'you get what you pay for'. 

Both types of oils have their advantages and disadvantages, but never assume that a synthetic chemical is by default, a bad thing (though some are), nor should something that is derived of nature, considered to be a more ethical choice (though many are). 

Do your research, check ingredients and provenance, and satisfy yourself in making more informed purchasing decisions.