Hello, Lathermore Lovers!
Let's start the New Year off with a full disclosure moment: In December of 2018 I made a list of 12 monthly blog posts I wanted to write in 2019. By the end of 2019, I hadn't written a single one of them. In my defense, I was a bit busy getting our new Historic Valley Junction storefront approved, remodeled, and eventually - open!
But, I decided 2020 will be the year I end my excuses and actually sit down to scrawl out a series of monthly blog posts covering answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we receive from our customers.
As you probably know, essential oils have made a resurgence over the past few years (although some of us never really let go of them in the first place). Since they are very on-trend with the ever-growing holistic movement sweeping the globe, I figured I would take the opportunity to quickly, and simply, explain the difference between an Essential Oil and a Fragrance Oil. I'll also cover some simple tips to consider when choosing which products to use, when to use them, and where they are appropriate. So, here goes!
What is the difference between Essential Oils & Fragrance Oils?
The simple answer is Essential Oils are naturally derived and Fragrance Oils are synthetic.
A Bit About Essential Oils:
Essential Oils are extracted from plants through cold pressing, chemical processing, or steam distillation methods. Sometimes the extraction process can also determine how the Essential Oil should be used. For example, some citrus oils like Lemon and Grapefruit can cause photosensitivities when cold pressed. However, when steam distilled, this side-effect is lowered and the oils are generally considered better for topical use when exposure to the sunlight or tanning beds is likely.
Because Essential Oils are highly concentrated forms of the plant matter they are made from, a little goes a long way. In fact, Essential Oils can be concentrated at rates of anywhere from 50 to 100 times the baseline of the plant they are derived from. Think of Essential Oils like medicine. Too little may not have much of an effect, while too much could cause a serious adverse reaction.
Essential Oils should never be used without a carrier oil. A carrier oil is a light weight oil, such as Sweet Almond or Coconut, that dilutes the Essential Oil to a safe level for topical usage.
A good rule of thumb is a .5% - 2% dilution rate. A 1% dilution rate equates to 1 drop per 1 Tablespoon of carrier oil. Again, a little goes a long way! Don't overdo it. In this case, less is more. Here's a great guide from Rocky Mountain Oils.
At this point, I think it is very important to mention that I, personally, never recommend any Essential Oils for use on babies, children under age 12, nursing or pregnant mothers, or those with epilepsy, asthma, or an allergy to the plant the Essential Oil is derived from. Furthermore, I understand trends have emerged that suggest ingesting Essential Oils is the way to go. I whole-heartedly disagree. Unless you are under the care and guidance of a certified practitioner or doctor, please, stick strictly to topical use and diffusing. I don't care how safe a company's representative, or their flashy marketing materials, make it sound. It simply is not safe or wise to do.
A Bit About Fragrance Oils:
Fragrance Oils are what most people are familiar with, and how they have come to know, for example, "I don't like Lavender," or Rose, or Patchouli. I hear these sentiments all the time from people who have fallen in love with a Lavender & Patchouli Essential Oil Body Cream in my store. So, perhaps a better deduction would be, most people don't like artificial floral, wood, or citrus scents. Don't count out the real McCoy!
But, I digress. Fragrance Oils are lab created blends of synthetic scents which can create a whole new plethora of tantalizing smells like Coconut Macaron, Lemon Cake, Cotton Candy, Cinnamon Rolls, and exotic perfume or cologne inspired blends. (And, now I'm hungry.) In short, Fragrance Oils are able to capture an extensive variety of yummy aromas that simply cannot be produced using only Essential Oils.
A Word To The Wise: Sometimes, a manufacturer wants to be able to produce a product which contains a natural smell, such as Lavender & Lemon. However, the Essential Oils themselves could make the production cost prohibitive. So, instead they may opt for a synthetic "fragrance" version of the Essential Oils. An artificial blend of a Lavender & Lemon is created and then used in the place of Essential Oils. This helps the cost of the end product to remain lower, while the manufacturer is still able to advertise "Lavender & Lemon" on the package. Yes, it is deceiving - and, yes, it was designed that way.
This is why I always encourage people to READ THE LABEL. If a product claims to be "natural" but "Fragrance" is listed as one of the ingredients instead of the name of the Essential Oil, it is likely a synthetic copycat of the Essential Oil scent and is not considered "natural." This is possible because laws governing the use of words such as "natural" or "all-natural" is very loosely regulated and makes it easy for products to become misleading if the consumer isn't conscious of these loopholes.
Furthermore, Fragrance Oils have finally reached the spotlight in the media, which has prompted the way these synthetic oils are being produced. The word that has caused so much turmoil? Phthalates (Pronouced: Fay-Lates). Phthalates have been heavily used in the production of Fragrance Oils for some time.
Household cleaning products, room fresheners, laundry detergents, dish soap, pet shampoo, personal care products, medical devices, children's toys, clothing, candles, and even trash bags have all been manufactured with ingredients that included phthalate-producing chemicals. The bad part is, consumers didn't know it, and manufacturers may, or may not, have been aware of the potential side effects associated with Phthalates.
So, what are Phthalates, and why are they harmful?
According to Health Care Without Harm, Phthalates are "a family of industrial chemicals used to soften PVC plastic and as solvents in cosmetics and other consumer products (1)."
Essentially, Phthalates have been used to help scents last longer, allow glues to stick better, and keep nail polishes from chipping. The downside is, Phthalates are proven to disrupt hormones (2) and cause a variety of other health issues regarding damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive organs (1).
To get an even more in-depth look at Phthalates, how they are used, and what products they can be found in, visit the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics website.
When considering what health and beauty products to purchase, be an aware consumer. If the package doesn't specify the fragrances used are "phthalate-free" or you cannot speak directly to the maker of the product to inquire as to whether their fragrances are void of phthalates - keep looking elsewhere! If the maker doesn't know what phthalates are, and isn't willing to openly discuss it with you, again - keep looking elsewhere. This advice literally applies to any product that is scented. Be smart and be safe.
Good To Know: All Lathermore products featuring "fragrances" are made with phthalate-free Fragrance Oils.
Are drug store/big box store Essential Oils the real deal?
Maybe. It is very important to read the labels and familiarize yourself with the natural scent of plants. Super heavy, dusty, or unnaturally sweet scents are likely a blend of Essential Oils along with Fragrance Oils or, simply, Fragrance Oils disguised as Essential Oils. Be sure to watch out for the word "fragrance" on the ingredients label. If that word is included, it is not a pure Essential Oil.
It is also important to understand that when buying Essential Oils in a store, they may be diluted. If the ingredients label includes a carrier oil, like Sweet Almond or Fractioned Coconut Oil, the blend has already been diluted and should include the dilution ratio somewhere on the label.
If you are looking for pure Essential Oil blends, I highly recommend Rocky Mountain Oils. If you are a bit more familiar with individual Essential Oils, online sources such a Bulk Apothecary offer a great variety of Essential Oils in both standard and therapeutic grades.
Again, consider Essential Oils for their medicinal value. If you are going to use them, use good ones.