Many people confuse the terms "essential oil" and "fragrance oil" because of the frequent incorrect practice of using these terms interchangeably. However, essential oils and fragrance oils are different in a number of ways. Although both types of oil can sometimes be used for the same purposes, they are chemically different, priced differently and possess different properties.
Essential oils are natural products extracted in a number of ways from plants; however, all plants do not contain essential oils. Essential oils extracted from plants contain aromatic properties used as remedies for a number of problems. Essential oils are used in aromatherapy practice to help ease muscle pain, emotional problems, menstrual issues, skin problems, arthritis and more, according to author Julia Lawless in her book "Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils."
Fragrance oils are synthetic products and therefore do not possess the natural healing properties of essential oils. Fragrance oils are essentially a "pleasant" aroma, and many modern perfumes are created using fragrance oils. It is possible to create almost any aroma in a fragrance oil, unlike an essential oil, which is extracted from a plant.
Chemical Components of Essential Oils
The chemical components of many essential oils are complex and difficult to reproduce synthetically; not all chemical components in essential oils have been precisely identified by scientists. Essential oils are volatile and, depending on the essential oil, can be identified as a top, middle or base note oil. The chemical components of essential oils vary in the same species of plant because of season, climate and growing conditions, which means the essential oil aroma varies slightly between different batches, according to author and aromatherapist Shirley Price in her book "Aromatherapy Workbook."
Chemical Components of Fragrance Oils
Fragrance oils are not volatile because they are synthetically made; therefore, fragrance oils usually last longer than essential oils. The range of fragrance oils is a lot wider than essential oils because almost any fragrance can be made in a laboratory. Fragrance oils may contain a certain percentage of essential oils, but they are not completely natural, like essential oils.
Price of Essential Oils
Essential oils vary considerably in price, depending on the type, season and availability. Some essential oils, such as rose and sandalwood, are always expensive because of the complex and timely extraction processes involved. If rose essential oil is cheaply priced, it is most likely adulterated, a common practice used by some suppliers to create a higher profit margin while supplying a "fake" product. Citrus essential oils are usually inexpensive because of the ease of extraction.
Price of Fragrance Oils
Fragrance oils are much cheaper than essential oils because of the ease at which they are synthetically made; almost any aroma is available as a fragrance oil. Examples of fragrance oils that cannot be extracted in essential oil format include banana, strawberry, melon, apple, blueberry pie and hot fudge cake.
Uses of Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils
Essential oils are often used in aromatherapy practice for their therapeutic properties. In addition, essential oils are used in perfumes, body products, soaps, detergents and as flavorings in food and alcohol. Fragrance oils are commonly used in soaps, perfumes and body lotions, and are favorites of craft makers thanks to the variety of fragrances available. They are cheaper than essential oils and they last longer.
- Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils; Julia Lawless; 1995
- Aromatherapy Workbook; Shirley Price; 2000
Sharon Falsetto is a certified aromatherapist who founded her own aromatherapy practice in Arizona in 2007. She has been writing professionally since 2008 and has been published in a variety of professional journals and e-zines. Falsetto is the Arizona regional director for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy and she has a degree in business from the U.K.