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Fragrance Oils vs Essential Oils

2 Essential Oils used in Aromatherapy : bergamot and tea treeEvery so often clients ask me about fragrance oils vs essential oils. A lot of clients don’t know much about aromatherapy or the oils used, so I guess it’s natural, but for me the difference is quite clear. Essential oils are naturally extracted and ‘whole’. They are are naturally occurring substances found in different parts of plants – the blossom, fruit, leaf, stem, bark, wood or resin. They’re what I use for holistic healing. Fragrance oils are manufactured scents. They are artificial, and they contain artificial substances. Some are designed to smell like a natural product – others might smell like bubble gum or ‘summer breeze’ or so on.Fragrance oils are mostly used in perfumes, cosmetics and flavorings. They are also used by soap and candle makers. But I would never use them for aromatherapy. It’s like the difference between natural fibres like silk, linen and wool, versus polyester and nylon. I know what I prefer next to my skin!

How are essential oils made?

Most essential oils are pure distillations of flowers, herbs, roots, or resins. A small number are made using solvent extraction methods. They can contain anything from 50 to 500 different naturally occurring chemicals. Many components in essential oils are complex and difficult to make synthetically. Some of them have not even been properly identified yet. Because they are made from completely natural ingredients, it’s important to pay careful attention to quality. Even if you use the same part of the same plant, you may get a slightly different oil composition depending on the location it grows in, the season or the weather. I only use essential oils from companies with high quality standards, like Black Sheep Farm Oils. Some plants produce a  lot of oil naturally, so extraction is relatively easy. Citrus is an obvious example. It’s easy to grow and has a lot of oil. Other oils are much harder to produce. Rose, for example. They say it takes a thousand petals to create one drop of oil. For this reason, rose is pretty much the most expensive essential oil there is.

Why use essential oils?

The huge range of naturally produced ingredients in essential oils affect the body in all sorts of ways. In my holistic healing and aromatherapy practice, I use a wide variety of oils (there’s a list of my favourite aromatherapy oils here) to get benefits including:
  • stress relief
  • relaxation and reduced anxiety
  • pain relief
  • improve emotional balance
  • re-energising
  • relief from rashes, psoriasis and eczema
  • lessening of menstrual and menopausal symptoms
  • overall well-being
Many essential oils also help soften and moisturise skin, and feed the hair. So they may make you look younger as well as feel younger! Some essential oils are very strong – sometimes too strong for direct contact. So you have to be careful in using them. For example, cinnamon can irritate the skin, but it’s also a great antiseptic. You need to get the balance right and that’s why training and experience are important.

fragrance oil in a diffuser, used for scent purposes onlyWhy use fragrance oils?

Fragrance oils generally smell the same as the equivalent essential oil – unless you have the nose of a master perfumier! – but they don’t have so many ingredients. They’re fine if you want a scent or a flavour, since that’s what they’re made for, but the manufacturers don’t put all those trace components in. It’s how they keep the cost down. So if you buy lavender fragrance oil, for example, it will smell like lavender. And that may help you relax because you like the smell and you already associate it with relaxation. But you’ll never get the other benefits you could with lavender essential oil. Benefits for treating coughs, insomnia, arthritis, muscle aches, wounds, insect bites, burns and so on. It’s simple really – only use fragrance oils for fragrance! For real healing, get help from an experienced, expert practitioner who not only knows about the oils, but develops a plan tailored to you as well!