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Root vs Rootless

When it comes to comparing essential oils and natural fragrance oils, a major misconception exists among consumers. It is sad to say, but with our bustling society, it is not common that people have ever actually tried a bar of soap with 100% natural ingredients. When we started making soap, we realized that many companies have a very loose definition of “natural”- especially when it came to fragrance.

So what is natural fragrance? There are three common terms that appear on labels: essential oils, natural fragrance oils (natural fragrance), and fragrance oils/perfume.

What is the difference between all these fragrances? It may not seem like a big deal at first. But to us, asking this question is a lot like asking, “What is the difference between natural and synthetic?” The fundamental difference resides in the source(s) from where the oils are obtained.

Essential oils are 100% straight from Mother Nature herself and represent nature in her most powerful form. Essential oils are pure extractions of the volatile oil within a plant. This process involves a very intricate and affluent stem distillation. Sometimes it is cold pressed from various parts of the plant – roots, stems, bark, leaves, branches, flowers, wood or resin.


Unfortunately, not everything in nature produces an essential oil. Just because it has an earthy sounding name, and claims to be natural on the package doesn’t mean it’s as natural as you think.

It is important to analyze the ingredients so you know what you’re buying. A great example is vanilla; 100% pure vanilla essential oils do not exist. The nature of the vanilla bean does not allow for the distillation process. If something has a vanilla scent, it is likely scented with a fragrance oil, not an essential oil. Sometimes you will find products with crushed vanilla bean which can give it a subtle vanilla smell, but it is often faint when compared to a vanilla fragrance oil.

Essential oils are ideal for their healing and therapeutic benefits. They often have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that may help some people with acne, psoriasis, sunburn, insect bites, burns, coughs, insomnia, arthritis, and even muscle aches. Essential oils have very complex, deep scent compositions and notes. The chemical profile of an essential oil may contain hundreds of individual components. It is partly why they are the preferred standard in the aromatherapy industry.

We still need to be mindful. When it comes to protecting the environment, sustainability is another factor that we should consider before buying essential oils. Make sure to read up on each companies sustainable policies and sourcing methods so you are not enabling illegal trafficking of oils, endangered or over-harvested plants, or harvested plants that threaten natural resources.

Natural Fragrance oils (or natural fragrance) are made in a laboratory by isolating one of the natural aromatic components from a source such as an orange or a tomato. An isolate is a single chemical compound from a plant that has a scent. It is from a naturally occurring substance, rather than a man-made substance. These oils often blend with other isolates that are extracted the same way we get essential oils.

The difference is that when you extract an essential oil, you are extracting the entire scent compound. This is why an essential oil has a deeper, more complex scent when compared to a natural fragrance oil. Natural fragrance oils extract a single scent molecule- so the scent is often more flat. It is also often cheaper to use a natural fragrance oil than an essential oil because you can take parts of different plants and combine them to make a scent.

For example, pure rose essential oil can cost over $200 for a ½ ounce. But you can make an ounce of natural rose fragrance oil by extracting the isolates needed from less expensive plants and then putting them together–voila–a cheaper “natural” rose oil.

Chargin Valley Soap and Salve

A good way to test this for yourself is to smell some coffee fragrance oil then compare it to the smell of coffee essential oil. Both smell like coffee, but the essential oil has more notes and the scent profile will change over time. Just because it’s coffee fragrance oil, doesn’t mean it is made from coffee at all. Coffee essential oil is made from pure coffee (and is much more expensive than the fragrance oil). In terms of scent and essential oils vs. natural fragrance oils, we think it’s kind of like drinking a fine wine with complex notes versus drinking a wine cooler. The wine cooler isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s certainly not our preferred choice.

 Fragrance oils are often imitation scents (synthetic) and non-natural. They do not replicate the benefits of essential oils other than their long lasting fragrance. These oils are mostly man-made in a lab from artificial ingredients.

Since fragrance oils are synthetically prepared, they are non-volatile when exposed to the environment. Many of these contain unknown or potentially toxic ingredients that may or may not pollute our environment. Often, they are a causes of irritation and skin sensitivities. Many businesses choose this type of oil since they are more affordable than essential oil. Think about it. It takes time, energy, love and passion to grow sustainable herbs, plants, etc.


If you want the most natural ingredients (especially if you have sensitivities), use caution and avoid labels that list fragrance oils, natural fragrance, and perfume oils, as they can all contain synthetic fragrance. They are not always kind to your body’s largest organ, or the environment. Read labels and shop sustainable trustworthy companies.


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