We are often asked - what is the difference between fragrance oils and essential oils? Aren't they the same?
No, there is a big difference between fragrance oils and essential oils.
Essential oils are derived, usually by distillation, from plants. They are then mixed with a carrier oil or base. A pure, distilled oil, not added to a carrier is referred to as 'absolut'. It can take hundreds of pounds of a flower or plant to derive a single ounce of oil. As a result, essential oils can be very expensive. Essential oils, even those added to a carrier base, are highly concentrated. For most applications, a few drops are all that are needed. Using too much, or putting directly on the skin, can result in burns or severe irritation.
Fragrance oils are man-made. They may contain some essential oils, but for most, they are synthetic chemicals combined to approximate fragrances we love. With advancements in gas chromatography (GC), chemists can define what components a fragrance contains and then combine compounds to duplicate it. Fragrance oils vary in price and in quality.
Are their uses different?
Yes and no. Essential oils can be used in soap and candles. But because their price is quite high, it is usually not economical to use them, except for specialty applications. Also, not all essential oils should be used in skin applications. Cinnamon oil is an example of an oil not suitable for skin products.
There are also some, like juniper oil, which should not be used by pregnant women. Fragrance oils are more economical for use in most products. However, many based on their formulations, are not safe for skin applications. You should always check with the manufacturer before using a fragrance oil in a skin application. Also, fragrance oils should not be used in any application that might be ingested (like lip balms).
And, even though essential oils can be used in candles, they may not always work. Essential oils are always in a carrier oil. Depending on what carrier oil, they may not be appropriate for burning. They may not even be suitable for warmers. The carrier oil needs to be an oil that can handle a lot of heat. If the oils you are buying are strictly for skin applications, chances are the carrier oil is something that is also good for the skin. It is important to purchase oils that are compatible with your application. Always check with the manufacturer to be sure they are appropriate for what you are trying to do.
It is also your responsibility to test, test test! No one can tell you for 100% sure your method, or application will work with the oils you are using. So, testing is extremely important.