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The Important Distinctions Between Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils

Essential Oils

Essential oils are distilled typically by steam or water from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots, and other parts of a given plant botanical. For citrus fruits, the essential oil is usually pressed from the peels (rinds) of the fruit. Essential oils are not usually oily-feeling. They are different from vegetable or nut oils because essential oils are not fatty and are highly aromatic. Most essential oils are clear, but some oils such as patchouli, orange and lemongrass are amber or yellow in color. German Chamomile and Yarrow are ink blue.

Essential oils contain the true aromatic essence of the plants that they are derived from. Essential oils are highly concentrated and a little goes a long way.

Essential oils are generally not referred to as "scents" or "fragrances" because essential oils offer many other therapeutic benefits that span beyond their pleasant aromas.

Essential oils not only are highly aromatic, but the natural chemical composition of many essential oils offers other therapeutic benefit not found in synthetic aromatics. Lavender essential oil, for instance, is not only beautifully fragrant, but it also is an effective anti-bacterial ingredient, helps to heal minor cuts, is useful in helping to heal burns, and is also wonderful in skin care formulations.

Other natural, aromatic botanical oils exist that include absolutes and CO2s. Although essential oils, CO2 extracts and absolutes are obtained using different methods, the term essential oil is often used as a blanket term to include all natural, concentrated, liquid aromatics.

For more precious botanicals, such as jasmine, solvent extraction can be required to obtain the limited and precious oil. Solvent extracted oils are generally referred to as absolutes.

CO2 Extracts:
CO2 extracted oils are oils extracted using carbon dioxide as the solvent. When carbon dioxide is converted to liquid by using low temperatures and high pressure, it becomes a very safe and effective solvent that allows all the desirable active constituents of a plant to be collected without the risk of heat degradation. Once the extraction is complete, the carbon dioxide is allowed to go back to its natural gaseous state, leaving behind only the extracted essence of the plant. CO2 extracted oils are the closest representation of the natural plant ever achieved.

The cost of essential oils varies depending on the botanical used, how much of the botanical is needed to produce essential oil, the quality of the botanical, and the resulting quality of the essential oil. Some of the most affordable essential oils tend to be the citrus oils like orange, lemon, lime and grapefruit. Other more reasonably priced essential oils include cedarwood, peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass, patchouli citronella, and clary sage. The most costly essential oils and absolutes tend to be sandalwood, rose and jasmine.

Fragrance Oils

Fragrance Oils, often listed as "fragrance" within ingredient labeling, generally are synthetic, but some may include natural compounds. Most all fragrance oils, however, do contain synthetics.

Fragrance oils are generally much less expensive for artisans to work with than essential oils. Fragrance oils are available in hundreds of different scents allowing artisans to create products that feature fragrances that cannot be achieved strictly by using essential oils or other natural aromatics. Fragrance oils that mimic the aroma of natural essential oils are also available and are sometimes used by artisans instead of essential oils to keep their production costs low.

A disadvantage to using products scented with fragrance oils is that fragrance oils can cause sensitization, irritation or allergies in some individuals. When used in excess, essential oils can also cause sensitization, but essential oils are generally considered more gentle when used at correct proportions within personal care products.

What to Look for When Shopping for Personal and Home Care Products

An artisan that uses fragrance oils instead of essential oils doesn't necessarily sell inferior quality products. Often, artisans are faced with the challenge of making products that are reasonably priced, and essential oils can be especially costly to work with. It takes a lot of essential oil to fragrance candles and soaps, and consumers aren't always willing to pay the added cost. Some artisans, therefore, use all natural ingredients with the exception of using fragrance oils and/or preservatives. Some consumers also want more complex fragrance options that can only be achieved by using fragrance oils.

When shopping for your favorite natural and nearly all-natural products, look at the ingredient listing and product description. Products fragranced with fragrance oils cannot be listed as being 100% natural because fragrances contain synthetic compounds. A product containing fragrance oil or other fragrance compound will generally be listed as "fragrance" in the ingredient list. A product that includes essential oils will generally list the ingredient in a format that resembles the following:

Lavandula officinalis (Lavender) Oil
Citrus aurantium (Neroli) Oil

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