The decision over whether to use essential oils over fragrance oils is a highly debated topic in the soapmaking community. And this is because of many different reasons. But, here, I would like to start with the basics.
Essential oils are natural scents that are extracted from the leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, bark, and/or roots of plants, of which should be extracted through steam distillation or compression—not solvent extraction. Fragrance oils, on the other hand, are blended synthetic aroma compounds or natural essential oils that are diluted with a carrier, such as propylene glycol, vegetable oil, or mineral oil. Whereas, essential oils have many natural health and healing benefits (for example, tea tree essential oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties, rosemary essential oil contains antioxidants and is thought to reduce inflammation, peppermint essential oil is known to relieve headaches and stimulate circulation, etc.), fragrance oils have none.
When it comes down to it, though, the main reason I choose essential oils over fragrance oils is because of their difference in scents. When I open a bottle of grapefruit essential oil and take a whiff, I know exactly what to expect—it's going to smell like real, true grapefruit, as the oil was extracted from a grapefruit. But when I open a bottle of fragrance oil that is labeled "Animalistic Instinct," I have absolutely no idea what to expect. I've smelled a fragrance oil called "Fresh Snow" that smelled exactly of laundry detergent—and not the type of natural laundry detergent that I typically choose to use. I have a sensitive nose, I will admit, and react fairly strongly to what I consider "fake" scents. I cannot stand walking by the perfume counters in department stores. But pure, clean, natural scents taken directly from nature are always welcome. And because I want the soaps at Farm&Field to smell as natural as possible, I choose to use only essential oils during the soapmaking process.
Now, there are downsides to either type of oil. Essential oils are very potent because of how concentrated they are and, thus, need to be handled with care. They are also typically almost double the cost of your average fragrance oil, and you have to use quite a lot of it for its scent to survive the saponification process. Fragrance oils often have upward of 14 "secret" chemicals. I say "secret" because, according to United States Food and Drug Administration standards, fragrance oil makers are allowed to keep their ingredients list under wraps so that their formulations remain private. Because of this, we do not have a clue what goes into them. And I don't know about you, but I prefer to know what, exactly, I am putting on the largest organ in my body.
Rest assured—if you are using our soap, all of the ingredients are laid out right there in front of you. We are not hiding a thing.