Next Dispatch: Wednesday, 29/05/2024

What’s the Difference? Fragrances vs. Essential Oils

Fragrances and essential oils have been used for centuries to scent our homes, our bodies, and even for therapeutic purposes. But what’s the difference between these two? In this article, I will discuss the pros and cons of each type of product, how to choose one over the other, the various types of fragrances and essential oils available out there today, their uses in aromatherapy and more! So read on to learn all about fragrances vs essential oils.

Fragrances and essential oils have been used for centuries to add scent to our environment. Fragrances are synthetic, manufactured scents that are designed to mimic the smells of natural essential oils. On the other hand, essential oils are natural extracts taken from plants and herbs. They can be used as a form of aromatherapy and have many therapeutic benefits.

Fragrance oils

Fragrance oils are synthetic compounds crafted from a variety of ingredients, most commonly derived from petroleum. Crafted in labs, these synthetic fragrances are designed to replicate aromas that cannot be naturally derived or simply do not exist in nature, for example ocean breeze, blush suede, tobacco or leather. These fragrances often contain 10 or even hundreds of individual compounds, the majority of which are not problematic and may seemingly be safe. However, many other components still remain to be assessed for their potential risk to humans and our environment. Furthermore, fragrances often contain pthalates, compounds that can cause skin irritation and hormone disruption. Some fragrances are also known to contain toxic ingredients, so it’s essential to read the ingredients list before using them.

Essential oils

Essential oils are pure essential liquids derived from plants. Common essential oils come from citrus fruits, herbs, flowers, bark, stems and roots of plants. It’s no secret that essential oils have been used for centuries to help treat a wide variety of ailments, whether through topical application or aromatherapy. However, due to their highly concentrated nature, it is important to use these natural remedies with care and caution as they can pose some health risks when not handled properly. Despite this warning, the benefits are undeniable – from reducing stress and anxiety levels to improving circulation and promoting an overall sense of well-being – which makes them a worthwhile addition in any self-care routine! Moreover, essential oils are renowned for their peaceful, soothing smell which can evoke positive feelings as research has shown that certain components in the oil stimulate our brains’ limbic system [1].

‘Natural’ fragrance oils

‘Natural’ fragrance oils are typically composed of both essential and synthetic fragrances, as well as other additives. Some natural ingredients could be isolated compounds taken from genuine essential oils; though they still lack the full spectrum of benefits that pure oil extracts provide. Beware of false labeling: even if something contains natural elements, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is 100% natural or beneficial to your well-being.

Fragrance vs Essential oils comparison

How to tell the difference?

The difference between essential oils and fragrances is easy to identify. With more than 90 distinct essential oils varying in aroma, the most well-known ones tend to be lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, tea tree and lemon. On the other hand fragrances frequently come with scents that are not found naturally like Birthday Cake, Mulled Wine or Champagne. But don’t let yourself get fooled as fragrance oils can also have ‘natural’ names such as Peony, Cherry Blossom or Coconut which still are synthetic aromas.


If you’re uncertain whether a product has been developed with natural or synthetic aromas, trust your nose! Most essential oils are unmistakable; take orange peel for instance – that’s how the real thing smells. Eucalyptus is another one: pungent, green and earthy. While if something feels “off” to you, it may well be an inexpensive artificial alternative such as bathroom freshener or bargain-basement strawberry body mist. Aside from lavender essential oil, which can be overly perfumery to some people despite being natural.

Another way to distinguish between fragrance and essential oils is that typically, fragrance oils have an unnaturally sweet scent. For some people, it may even be nauseatingly saccharine. Take grapefruit as a comparison: while the natural oil has citrusy, zesty notes with a hint of sweetness – synthetic grapefruit emits more of an artificial candy-like aroma than its fruity or acidic counterpart.

If you’re transitioning from fragrance oil to essential oils, it’s likely that the natural aromas may seem unfamiliar or strange. That’s because your smell receptors are accustomed to synthetic scents as opposed to real ones. Nevertheless, don’t be discouraged; you’ll soon love the new smells!


Generally, essential oils are pricier than fragrances because of their high concentration of natural ingredients. By comparison, products that contain fragrance oils are much more budget-friendly, making them an ideal choice for those who wish to economize and simply enjoy the scent without any additional health benefits.

Although some well-known companies may use synthetic fragrances, their products still tend to be more expensive than those containing natural ingredients. Please keep in mind that this is largely due to the brand name and heavy marketing investments behind them and not the product quality.


Ingredient list is undoubtedly one of the most reliable indications for determining what is natural and not natural. Here essential oils are usually identified with their Latin name in brackets and their common name (trade name). Synthetic fragrances, on the other hand, may be labeled as “parfum” or “fragrance”, which don’t specify what natural compounds were used to create these scents.

The list of sensitisers can be a helpful guide in determining the source of aromatic compounds. Although both essential and fragrance oils can contain similar natural irritants, such as limonene, linalool, citral and geranium oil just to name a few; fragrance oils generally include more uncommon chemical names like alpha-Hexylcinnamaldehyde, 2-Methyl-3-(p-isopropylphenyl) propionaldehyde or alpha-iso -Methylionone.

If you want to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the ingredients in your products, visit ECHA’s website for detailed information on each ingredient and their potential risks.

Environmental impact

Fragrance oils

Despite the fact that synthesizing fragrance oils from petrochemicals and other chemicals is deemed more economical regarding energy, machinery and cost, it still causes a negative environmental impact. Starting from coal mining and oil drilling, ending with the emission of volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. Lastly, due to their synthetic and non-natural nature, fragrance oils usually entail the use of toxic substances during production and disposal. This is an area that demands serious consideration when it comes to sustainability.

Essential oils

Despite being from nature, essential oils can only be derived from only certain plants – and sometimes the amount of oil in those plants is so little that there’s barely anything to extract. Additionally, more raw material might be required to acquire worthwhile amounts of essential oil, thus driving up costs significantly, like rose essential oil. Over time, certain plants have become endangered due to overconsumption by humans, some of which are Rosewood, Sandalwood, Cedarwood Atlas and few others. Fortunately, most of the endangered species are now under protection. If you happen to find any items on your product with one of the previously mentioned names, it’s likely that they either come from synthetic versions or renewable plantations. Many plants, including lavender, patchouli, clary sage and juniper berry are derived from renewable resources.

Eco-friendly and sustainable

Controversy continues to swirl around which oils are more eco-friendly and sustainable. There is no definite answer as it depends on various factors, including the source of oils, processing methods and production practices. Generally, essential oils are more natural and have therapeutic benefits. On the other hand, synthetic fragrances are usually cheaper, last longer and have a variety of scents that essential oils can’t provide. In terms of environmental impact, essential oils generally require more raw material for extraction than fragrance oils do, on the other hand, fragrance oils are associated with the release of volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere during manufacturing and end product use.

The pros and cons of each oil

So what to choose?

Choosing between essential oils and fragrances is a personal choice, depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re after something to provide a pleasant scent without any therapeutic benefit then a synthetic fragrance may be ideal. On the other hand, essential oils can offer more than just a pleasing aroma – with their numerous therapeutic properties, essential oils make a great choice for those seeking the holistic effects of natural remedies. Before you decide, it’s important to do your research and familiarise yourself with the various types of fragrances and essential oils available out there today.

If you’ll decide to chose essential oils to scent your surroundings, we are here to help with our large variety of natural home scents infused with essential oils.

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