Essential Oils vs. Fragrance Oils

Essential oils, absolute oils and resin oils are very concentrated, more expensive and somewhat stronger than fragrance oils. Essential oils are extracted from plants and fragrance oils are synthetically produced, hence the cost difference. While many fragrance oils are very good for scenting soaps, some are found to cause problems making soaps "seize", turning it rock hard. While essential oils are more stable, they are generally made as single essences. For folks who desire blends, especially the tempting Christmas scents, fragrance oils need to be considered. If you prefer the Essential Oils, you can make your own blends. Both are very strong and need to be handled carefully.

Essential Oils - Pure plant extract
Fragrance Oils - Synthetic scents
Pros Stronger aroma, lasts longer in soap More scent varieties
May contain beneficial plant properties More widely available
More stable/reliable reactions during saponification More economical
Get more scent per ounce than with fragrance oils Blended scents available in larger variety
Cons More expensive May contain extenders and alcohol
Evaporates with exposure to air More scents likely to cause soap to "seize" (set up too soon)
Must make your own blended scents No therapeutic plant benefits
Limited selection of blends available Scent doesn't last as long in finished product

Especially in the case of Essential Oils, you get what you pay for. There are rarely any bargains. Cheaper versions are created with extenders that tend to produce less-than-desirable results. Choices containing alcohol should be avoided. They are known to cause soap seizing and curdling and these fragrances will dissipate more quickly.

Safety Precautions for Using Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils

If you follow a few safety tips for Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils, you should encounter no problems.

  • Keep away from children
  • Always read and follow all label warnings. They will be different for different oils.
  • Keep oils tightly closed, stored in a dark, cool area to preserve fragrance.
  • Never consume these oils unless specifically approved as a food.
  • Don't use undiluted oils on your skin; they may be diluted with vegetable oils (known as carrier oils); don't use water.
  • Skin test oils before using. Dilute a small amount with vegetable oil and apply to the skin on your inner, upper arm. Your skin will tell you within 8 hours if you have an allergy to certain oils appearing red or irritated.
  • When using these oils on your skin, avoid exposure to the sun or tanning beds.
  • Keep oils away from eyes and mucous membranes, use externally only. If eye or membrane contact is made, flush with water.
  • Do not use during pregnancy except with physician's approval.
  • Oils known to be irritating to some skin are: allspice, basil, bitter
    almond, cinnamon, clove, fir needle, lemon, lemongrass, melissa, peppermint, sweet fennel, tea tree, wintergreen.
  • Epileptics should avoid these products.
  • People with high blood pressure should avoid hyssop, rosemary, sage,
    and thyme.

    Withstanding The Test of Heat and Time!


The following list of scents are stronger and generally better withstand saponification:
  • Almond
  • Cinnamon
  • Citronella
  • Cloves
  • Eucalyptus
  • French Lavender
  • Jasmine
  • Lemon
  • Musk
  • Orange
  • Patchoili
  • Peach
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Rose
  • Sage
  • Vanilla

Other Traditional Soap Fragrances

  • Apple
  • Lilac
  • Pine
  • Rose Geranium
  • Sandalwood
  • Strawberry
  • Ylang Ylang

Fixatives, When to use Them

If you anticipate making soap and not using it for a while, consider using a "fixative". These products will stabilize the scents in your hand-milled soap. However, using high grade Essential Oils generally make their use unnecessary.

  • Balsam of Peru
  • Benzoin, powdered
  • Cedarwood
  • Cloves
  • Lemon Peel
  • Myrrh
  • Orange Peel
  • Orris Root
  • Patchouli
  • Sandalwood
  • Storax Oil
  • Tangerine Peel
  • Vetivert

They are a little harder to find than the fragrances themselves but can be located through soapmaking suppliers and hobby or craft stores.

As you become more adept at soapmaking, you'll want to add your own creative touches. A great way to do this is through scents and colorants. Due to the cost of scenting, it might be best to save their addition till you've perfected the procedure.

When are Essential Oils added?

Because heat can alter fragrances, save their addition until soap begins to trace. At this stage, soap drizzled from a spoon will leave a faint pattern on the surface of the rest of the soap before sinking back into the mass. This is the time to add your fragrances.* If you wait till the soap leaves a hard trace on the surface, the soap will likely harden too quickly making pouring into molds nearly impossible. Stir in the fragrances for only 20 - 30 seconds, but until completely mixed. More stirring encourages soap to streak and seize.

*NOTE: Just prior to the full trace stage is when all additives, colorants and scents are to be added unless otherwise directed by a specific recipe.

How Much Scent is Needed?

Scenting is very much governed by personal taste. It is difficult to have a hard and fast rule as Essential Oils and Fragrance Oils differ in strength as do individual oils. A good rule of thumb is for every 3/4 pound (340 grams) of soap, use 1/2 - 1 ounce (14.2 - 28.4 grams) of scent. You want to enough aroma to delight the senses, but using too much can cause skin irritations

Nothing quite delights the senses as much as lovely fragrances and pleasing colors. This is an ideal time to be creative. Explore blending scents and varying the amounts used. Your nose is your own best guide!


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