Is there such a thing like ‘Natural’ fragrance oil?
More and more consumers are demanding natural skincare. As we are a creator of skincare products combined with actively supporting and defending the environment by avoiding the use of chemicals, other harmful ingredients and using packaging that preferably is biodegradable, this is of great importance. In that we do a pretty good job!
At the same time this way of creating products is a bit like dancing on a wire. In many cases it is cost price increasing but we need to keep things affordable for you as our customer. That’s where it comes to (wise?) choices.
One of the things is the never-ending story about essential oils and fragrance oils. Our love for fragrance is deeply rooted in many cultures and it started somewhere with the ancient Egyptians who were extracting natural plant essences to use on their bodies. Since then it has been developing to a huge global market.
Now what about ‘essential oils’ and ‘fragrance oils’? And why is it that apparently you can buy ‘essential oils’ with price differences of up to 300%? Or ‘fragrance oils’ that are about the same price as some ‘essential oils’? And why is it that many well known brands use ‘natural fragrance oils’ in their expensive perfumes? We will try to give you the right answers.
Different types of fragrance
Let’s start to briefly describe the types of aromatic scents for comparison. These are:
- essential oils
- synthetic fragrance oils / nature identical fragrance oils
- natural fragrance oils
The essential oils within a plant are mother nature’s creations. Powerful and concentrated, essential oils are the pure natural aromatic essences from a variety of aromatic plant material including grasses, leaves, flowers, needles, twigs, peels of fruit, seeds, bark, and roots. The chemical profile of an essential oil determines its scent and overall quality. Essential oils are not only highly therapeutic aromas, but they often provide healing properties or other therapeutic benefits not found in synthetic aromatics.
The word "fragrance" will never be used in an ingredient list to mean essential oils. You will always see the word "essential oil." Nevertheless as always quality can vary since the quality of the natural material also varies.
Synthetic fragrance oils
There are two types of synthetic fragrance oils:
- Typical fragrance oils
- Nature identical fragrance oils
Typical fragrance oils are made in a laboratory from synthetic compounds and composed almost entirely of petroleum by-products such as benzene derivatives, aldehydes, toluene, and other known toxic chemicals. They are much cheaper, offer greater variety, and utilize scent binders like phthalates to help retain their aroma for a longer period of time. Chemists can create lovely scents produced through chemical reactions that have no corresponding scent in nature. Synthetic fragrance oils are completely human-made from chemical compounds that do not exist in nature.
Nature identical fragrance oils are also completely synthetic and built from materials that are not natural. The difference between creating a "Nature identical" fragrance oil and a synthetic fragrance oil is that in the end the nature identical oil is chemically identical to that naturally occurring in nature. It has a chemical structure that is exactly the same as its essential oil counterpart and is basically a man-made copy of a molecule found in nature. These scents are often listed as "fragrance," "parfum," or "nature-identical" oils on the ingredients list. There are some fragrance oils that may contain a small percentage of essential oils. However, the addition of a little bit of essential oil does not mean they are natural.
Natural fragrance oils
Natural fragrance oils are also made in a laboratory but rather than being made from synthetic materials they are created by isolating one of the natural aromatic components from a complex scent. These single scents are called isolates.
A natural isolate is a single chemical, isolated from a plant, that has a smell. It is a part of something real rather than man-made from another material.
Natural fragrance oils are blends of isolates that are extracted through the same processes that are used to get essential oils. The difference is that ...
- when you extract an ‘essential oil’ you are extracting the entire scent complex compound
- when you extract an ‘isolate’ you are extracting a single scent molecule
For a very simple example, a water molecule is H2O, meaning it is 2 parts hydrogen and 1 part oxygen. So if we could pull out the hydrogen it would be an isolate of water. We could then use that hydrogen to make or build some other compound.
The science behind natural fragrance oils is quite fascinating but would lead us to far away from the questions here.
Pro’s of natural fragrance oils
They are made from natural ingredients
It is interesting to note that the food industry pushed for "natural flavors" way before the perfume industry. As more and more consumers were demanding more "natural" food products large companies had to look for ways to create their beloved synthetic flavors using natural ingredients. Since natural fragrance and flavor oils are made from isolates obtained from natural essential oils rather than being made from synthetic compounds, companies can state "made with only natural flavors" and consumers feel better using them. Consumers who are looking for healthy skin care for themselves and their families perceive natural fragrances to be safer and more healthy
For example, the quality and aroma of natural essential oils are affected by yearly weather conditions and can vary from crop to crop and region to region.
This makes it difficult for companies to produce natural products in which the scents are always the same, have the same quality. Consumers expect that type of consistency in fragrances created by the cosmetic industry but if all natural then nature decides.
In a market once dominated by essential oils, cost has become a major factor in order to keep products at the right price. Natural fragrance oils can still be expensive because they are comprised of isolates of pure essential oils and the methods used to extract pure essential oils are time-consuming, expensive, and require a high degree of expertise.
However, because the scent profiles can be built from isolates that come from a variety of essential oils, some of the more expensive natural scents are available at a much lower cost.
Longevity and intensity
Essential oils, just like any natural plant material, degrade over time, lose potency and eventually their smell. When building a scent profile with isolates you can use scent anchoring isolates that will help holding the scent longer
More environmentally friendly?
Sometimes we hear that many essential oils are not environmentally friendly. However, this is only true if essential oils come from endangered plants. For example, an essential oil like sandalwood is harvested by killing the entire tree. As we are committed to making natural products, we are also committed to our planet and its people. So we do our research and buy sustainable ingredients from companies that share our commitment.
We choose to use essential oils that come from plants that are not endangered and are sustainable. And in all fairness, if we must make products with scents from endangered species such as sandalwood, rosewood, frankincense and more then we are probably better off with natural fragrance oils.
Cons of natural fragrance oils
Lack of aromatherapeutic properties
Essential oils are not only highly aromatic, but the natural chemical composition of many essential oils offers therapeutic benefits.
For example, lavender essential oil has a relaxing aroma that helps relieve tension with its soothing, calming and harmonizing effect on the nerves. Lavender also has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties promote healing and ease inflammation. Lavender tones the skin and is useful for acne, oily skin, burns, sunburn, wounds, eczema, and psoriasis.
Natural fragrance oils may be able to duplicate a scent from nature, but they are not used in aromatherapy. While a single isolate may be pure and natural, it is incomplete because it does not have the entire essence of the original plant material.
- A manufactured scent may emit a lovely aroma but how does it work with the neuroreceptors in our brain?
- Does a manufactured scent made from natural isolates contain any of the therapeutic properties of its whole-plant based essential oils counterpart?
Plants have a life force of their own which is something science cannot measure.
If you are confused by the labeling of scents and fragrances in skincare products you are not alone. Some of the names other than essential oils include: aroma oil, perfume, parfum, fragrance, nature identical fragrance, natural fragrance, plus lists of isolates and for sure there are others. The law does not require approval before synthetic or human-made fragrances go on the market, although they are supposed to be safe for consumers.
If you love scents that are not available using affordable essential oils or you are looking for a naturally scented skincare product and the therapeutic value of essential oils is not a priority, then natural fragrance oils may be a better alternative.
As mentioned earlier creating the right products with respect to nature and to your wallet is like dancing on a wire. Doing this to our high standards means that we will always go for the oils that support getting the best result. So if we mention ‘essential oil’ then it will be made with pure essential oil from a high quality. If it mentions ‘fragrance oil’ then in most cases it will be an isolate (natural fragrance oil).
In some cases however and in order to make an affordable day-by-day product we can use a nature identical fragrance oil in combination with botanicals from the connected natural resource.
The aim is always the same: giving you the right product in a consistent quality!