Essential Oils vs. Fragrance
"Fragrance" usually gets a bad rap. Especially in the clean-living world. Many healthy living influencers are pushing essential oils instead. But are they really a healthier and more sustainable alternative? There's no one size fits all, and here at FD Market, we use both essential oils and fragrance in our products.
Let’s start with the basics, what are essential oils anyway?
Essential oils are a concentrated plant extract. They retain the natural smell, essence and flavor of their plant source. These oils are obtained through either mechanical pressing or distillation. Each essential oil has a unique composition of chemicals which affects the smell, absorption, and effect on the body. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years, and research shows they can have therapeutic properties.
Now, what are fragrance oils?
There are two types of fragrance oils: natural & synthetic. Natural fragrance oils are created in a laboratory, however natural oils use raw products from nature to create a complex scent. This is what gives it the natural component, even though it is not directly taken from nature.
Synthetic fragrance oils are composed in a laboratory and use a combination of chemicals and natural ingredients to achieve their scent.
Fragrance oils have been getting a lot of criticism lately, and for good reason. A lot of synthetic fragrances contain phthalates, which are known endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors can affect the hormonal balance of an organism. Other harmful endocrine disruptors include BPA, commonly found in a wide variety of plastic products. Steering clear of phthalates (and plastic of course) is very important to us here at FD Market.
That doesn’t mean we avoid fragrance entirely. Synthetic fragrances can be made without harmful chemicals. There are two types of synthetic oils: typical fragrance oils and natural identical fragrance oils. Typical fragrance oils are made in a lab from synthetic compounds composed of petroleum by-products. These synthetic oils are man-made from chemical compounds that do not exist in nature. Natural identical fragrance oils are also synthetic but are created to have the same chemical structure as its essential oil counterpart.
There are also natural fragrance oils, which we have grown very fond of. Natural fragrance oils are made of natural isolates. A natural isolate is a molecule derived from a plant that has an aroma. They are derived through some of the same processes that are used to create essential oils. The main difference is that essential oils are made from extracting an entire compound, while natural isolates are a single molecule. Although natural fragrance oils do not have the therapeutic properties that essential oils do, they are a safe fragrance option.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why we would use fragrance at all, even if it’s natural, over essential oils.
Now sustainability enters the chat.
Essential oils have a plethora of benefits when used in certain ways for our body & mind. Since EO’s contain the entire essence of a plant, they need a lot of plant material. Aromatic plants contain an average of 1-2% of essential oil. Six hundred pounds of rose petals are needed to make just a single ounce of rose otto essential oil. It takes almost eight million jasmine blossoms to produce about two pounds of jasmine essential oil. Lemon balm essential oil requires upward of three tons of plant material to make a singular pound of oil. With the amount of work and material that goes into producing these oils, they are some of the most expensive essential oils on the market, and the most adulterated.
Citrus fruits are a particularly easy & sustainable source for essential oils because they contain a high amount of essential oil before distillation. This requires fewer resources, and makes them a more sustainable choice.
With the large growth and popularity of essential oils in the past few years, there has been an increasing need for these plant materials. Another thing that’s overlooked, yet important to be aware of is the status of some of these plants. Some plants are endangered, and unsustainably sourced. It’s important to avoid purchasing essential oils that are endangered; some examples include Indian sandalwood, agarwood and rosewood. Frankincense and myrrh are two other plants that are highly sought after oils, but come from limited resources.
The most sustainable essential oils are ones that are farmed and made in your country, from plants that don’t require as much material.
From a sustainability aspect, natural fragrances can be a wonderful and safe alternative especially when used in large quantities or as a replacement for rare or endangered essential oils. We carefully select essential oils when creating products such as shower steamers that require the aromatherapy properties of the oils or in our muscle balm and salve to provide benefits to the skin.
In certain detergents and soaps, we confidently use premium, phthalate free fragrance oils to scent them more sustainably. We know individuals have personal preferences, so we are sure to offer essential oil only, phthalate free fragrance, and unscented options in all of our products.