How do Essential Oils Differ from Fragrances and Why Does it Matters?

There was a time when perfumes were made from plant and animal ingredients and they were very expensive. Now almost every product we buy, whether it is for personal use or for cleaning the house or for the laundry, has a fragrance. Even candles have a fragrance. As a result, we have all been conditioned to use products with fragrances. Since real perfumes are very expensive, how do product manufacturers manage to put fragrance in even the cheapest of products?

Synthetic fragrances. The answer is synthetic fragrances; they are abundant and affordable. These days any natural fragrance, like lemon, lavender, orange and eucalyptus, can be copied and synthesized in the factory, and the chemical industry can make tons of fragrance for very little money. Manufacturers of your store-bought skincare and haircare products purchase drums of the cheap and abundant fragrances and add them to your products soap, lotions, shampoos, conditioners and hundreds of other products.

Generally, we are spoilt for choice, with many fragrances available to choose from. Even scents that do not exist naturally such as cotton candy and bubble gum can be produced synthetically, and that is a huge advantage that the fragrance manufacturers have. Another advantage that they have is that their fragrances last a very long time and they are not sensitive to heat.

Health effects of synthetic fragrances. Unfortunately, synthetic fragrances are made from over 3,000 chemicals, some of which are associated with dermatitis, allergies, respiratory distress, problems of the reproductive system (EWG1), development of asthma in children and worsening of asthma in adults. One survey found that 75% of the people surveyed had an asthma attack due to exposure to perfume or cologne. (St-Onge, 2012). Even mass-produced “fragrance-free” or “unscented” products contain fragrance and a masking agent that prevents you from sensing the scent. (St-Onge, 2012). It is therefore wise to avoid all these scented mass-produced products.

Essential oils. There are products on the market that use only natural ingredients and you might be confused as to what that means. Those products use essential oils for scent. Essential oils are distilled from plants, for example lemon and orange oils are distilled from the skins of the fruits while lavender is distilled from the lavender flowers. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of flowers or roots or bark or leaves or fruits to get a few ounces of essential oil. Also, essential oils can only be made at certain times of the year when the chemical composition of the plants is right. That makes them very expensive, which is why manufacturers avoid them.

Health effects of essential oils. Essential oils have positive health effects on humans, for example, lavender oil is known to relax the mind and to have anti-aging effects on the skin. Other essential oils have skin and hair softening, and skin moisturizing properties. Others relieve rash, migraines, stress, colds, flu, joint pain, symptoms of PMS, acne, symptoms of menopause and eczema while others will correct pigmentation problems. Basically, you can decide what effect you want from a product and buy one that contains the right essential oil.

As you can tell, there are huge differences between synthetic fragrances and essential oils. Fragrances are added specifically for the scent and they happen to cause health problems. Essential oils are added for the scent and the positive health effects that they have on the body.


EWG1, Skin Deep – Cosmetic Database. Fragrance.

St-Onge Elina. (2012, April 10). Collective Evolution. You Have the Right to Know: 17 Chemicals to Avoid in Cosmetic and Personal Care Products.


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