Fragrance Oils vs. Essential Oils: What’s the Difference?

The primary differences between essential and fragrance oils are their components, uses, method of preparation, and sources. Also, fragrance oils are synthetic products, whereas essential oils are natural products.

Essential oils are liquids naturally derived from various parts of plants. They’re typically extracted from flowers, leaves, roots, and other tissues of plants. 

However, these liquids aren’t really emollients—they’re just natural aromatic components gathered from the botanicals. They have to go through the tedious steam distilling process to be considered “essential oils.”

Fragrance oils, on the other hand, are synthesized products that can be derived from essential oils. They’re designed to imitate the scent of natural products. 

Fragrance oils are also known as perfume oil or synthetic scents. 

Essential Oils vs. Fragrance Oils: What’s the Difference?

Figuring out exactly what an essential oil and fragrance oil is can be tricky, especially when most skincare products and soaps come labeled as “natural” when they actually contain synthetics.

You see, while the two oils smell great and, at times, provide you with the same benefits, they have many differences.

What is a Fragrance Oil?

As mentioned, fragrance oils are mainly manufactured to mimic natural scents. They’re created in a lab. 

There are also two categories of fragrance oil—synthetic fragrance oils and natural fragrance oils.

Synthetic Fragrance Oil

Synthetic oils are manufactured from artificial chemical components like solvents, UV-absorbers, preservatives, and dyes. Various commercial products prefer using synthetic oil since it holds the scent longer than a naturally occurring scent.

Some synthetic fragrance oils can feature as many as 80 chemical compounds, so you need to be careful if you have any skin sensitivities. Many cosmetic products label synthetics as perfume, parfum, or fragrance. 

Natural Fragrance Oil

Contrary to their name, natural fragrance oils are actually created in the lab. They get their name because they’re manufactured by isolating natural ingredients from a complex scent, like vanillin from vanilla beans and limonene from lemons. 

Natural fragrances are ideal for those with sensitive skin or sensitivities to certain fragrances. 

What is an Essential Oil?

The most common form of scented oil is essential oils. These are derived from plant extracts and herbs, most often through steam distillation (citrus oils are cold-pressed).

Some popular essential oils include citrus essential oils from the rinds of citrus fruits like grapefruits and rose oil from rose petals. 

You can blend these emollients with a carrier oil for aromatherapy or leave them as pure essential oils for your diffuser. They’re also diluted down into various forms to be used as room sprays, soaps, bug deterrents, and even skincare products. 

How to Tell the Difference Between Fragrance Oil and Essential Oil?

The best way to tell the difference between an essential oil and a synthetic oil is by examining their properties, uses, longevity, and prices. 

Properties

Essential oils are complex and challenging to reproduce synthetically—that’s why many scientists refer to them as volatile fragrances. They help give spices and herbs their specific scent and flavor. 

Natural fragrances are the result of chemical processes. While they may contain some natural materials, these are considered complex compositions of various natural aromatic raw materials, isolates, volatile concentrates, and exudates like extracts and resins. 

Longevity

Most essential oils have an average shelf life of about two to five years. However, those derived from specific forms of organic matter have shelf lives of about 10 to 15 years or more.

Natural fragrances, on the other hand, have average shelf lives of about 6 to 12 months, depending on the ingredients used. They can, however, last longer when they’re kept in a cool, dark, and dry place. 

Uses

Natural essential oils have various uses in aromatherapy. Their therapeutic effects are critical to easing muscle pain, treating skin issues, and other bodily functions. 

A certified aromatherapist can even recommend applying them through an olfactory system to help alleviate stress and treat migraines. You can also use them to add an aromatic touch to your daily routine.

Synthetic fragrances, on the other hand, are mainly used to improve the aroma of candles, colognes, cosmetics, and perfume products (they tend to hold a better scent in hot temperatures). 

Prices

Essential oils are more expensive than their synthetic counterparts because they’re pricey to plant, cultivate, harvest, and extract. It takes a significant amount of plant material to manufacture even the smallest quantity of essential oil. 

For instance, it takes about 200 pounds of lavender to produce a pound of lavender essential oil and about 2000 roses to manufacture rose essential oil.  

Synthetic oil is unsurprisingly more budget-friendly since it doesn’t need to be extracted. 

Are Essential Oils Better than Fragrance Oils?

Answering this requires you to determine the intended use for the product beforehand. In some circumstances, essential oils are better, though fragrance oils can be amazing in their own right. 

For instance, synthetics tend to last longer with stronger fragrances than natural oils when placed in a candle or soap.

If you’re looking for a natural perfume, an aromatherapy product, or need to take advantage of health benefits, essential oils are the better option. 

On the other hand, if you’re looking to access a wider range of fragrances, synthetics are the perfect option. 

Can Essential Oils Be Bad for You?

Yes, they can but only when used when undiluted.

Since essential oils are plant extracts in high concentrations, they can be powerful. So, before you apply them to your skin, you need to dilute them with water. 

You can even blend them with a base oil. 

Is it OK to Use Synthetic Fragrance Oils?

Yes.

However, due to some bad publicity in recent years, you have to ensure the synthetic fragrance you’re using is phthalate-free. According to studies, phthalates can trigger various health problems.

The International Fragrance Association also prohibits the use of these harmful chemicals. So ensure that you always check the ingredients on whatever product you’re using.

The Bottom Line

From their composition, uses, and how they smell, a fragrance oil and an essential oil couldn’t be more different, despite sounding similar.

Now that you know the difference between essential oils and fragrance oils, which product will you be using in your next DIY project?