Fragrance Oils Vs Essential Oils in Soap

Fragrance Oils Vs Essential Oils in Soap

Fragrance oils Vs Essential Oils...this is a bit of a hot topic in the soaping world. 

Some soap makers prefer to stick with one option and others, like myself will use a combination of the two. 

While I can’t argue that one is superior to the other, I can go through some of the advantages and disadvantages to each.

Let’s start with essential oils. What is an essential oil? Essential oils are natural chemical compounds that are extracted from different parts of plants, usually through distillation or pressing.

A major advantage to using essential oils is that they are derived from a natural source. There is a growing demand for all natural cosmetics and beauty products. 

However, FDA doesn’t have regulations defining “natural” in cosmetics so while you can call your soap “all natural” bear in mind that it doesn’t actually hold any weight.

Second, a pro to using essential oils is the aromatherapy benefits they provide. For instance, the calming effects of lavender oil or the anti fungal properties of tea tree oil. You wouldn’t get those same benefits from the synthetic version of those oils.

***However, you need to be careful in making any health claims or claims about your soap affecting the structure or function of the body, disease prevention (like cures headaches) or therapeutic claims about your soap because once you do, it’s now considered a “drug” by the FDA and must follow FDA regulations and guidelines for drugs.

Now let's take a look at fragrance oils. Fragrance oils, also known as aroma oils, are a synthetic mixture of aroma compounds. Sometimes these are made up of essential oils, natural extracts, and synthesized versions of naturally occurring aroma chemicals.



Fragrance oils often contain aroma chemicals that are also found in essential oils.

A major pro to using fragrance oils in soap is that they are usually significantly cheaper than essential oils. This is because they don’t require a large amount of plant matter to make.

In addition, fragrance oils typically last longer and generally have a stronger scent compared to essential oils. Due to their volatile nature, essential oils do tend to fade much quicker in soap, and they tend to have a more mild scent. Furthermore, fragrance oils produce consistent results from batch to batch as long as the formulation stays the same. However, results can differ with essential oils as they change from crop to crop, time of year, growing conditions and location etc. 


Last, the main reason why I use fragrance oils in my soap is because there are more options. Because you’re not limited to naturally aroma producing sources, the fragrance possibilities are endless. 

For example, there is no such thing as strawberry essential oil, so if you want to make a strawberry scented soap, you have to use a fragrance oil. There are also so many fun fragrances like pina coladas, hot fudge sundae or campfire s’mores that you wouldn't be able to achieve from essential oils.


I do often hear concerns about fragrance oils not being safe because they are not natural. However, it's important to remember that just because something is natural, doesn’t mean its safe and just because something is synthetic, doesn’t mean it’s unsafe.


Essential oils are not chemical free. They are made up of dozens of different chemical compounds that happen to be naturally occurring in plants. Many fragrance oils contain these same chemical compounds so there is actually a lot of overlap. 

I've also seen a lot of concerns about scent sensitivity when it comes to fragrance oils. However, the majority of recognized aroma chemicals most likely to be allergens are naturally occurring in plants. So as far as allergens and sensitivities go, there really isn’t a benefit to using one over the other.



So who regulations fragrance oils and essential oils?

I can only speak for the United States on this, but The FDA regulates essential oils and FOs. Per their website “all cosmetic products and ingredients must meet the same safety requirement, regardless of their source.” But also “the law does not require FDA approval before they go on the market, but they must be safe for consumers when they are used according to the labeled directions or as people customarily use them.”

There is an additional regulating body for fragrance oils, International Fragrance Association (IFRA). They have developed a code of practice that provides recommendations for best practices and guidelines for fragrance ingredient safety assessment and includes fragrance safety standards which may limit or ban the usage of certain fragrance ingredients.

However, this is a self-regulating system for the fragrance industry and also not a requirement, so it’s more like globally recognized guidelines.

Whether you should choose fragrance oils, essentials oils, or a combination of the two in your soap will depend largely on person preference.