Are Fragrance Oils Natural?


November 8, 2012 by thesoapalchemist

I have read so much misinformation on the internet concerning the nature of scent, that I just need to vent.

Everyone selling anything knows it’s important to find ways to distinguish their product from others. Find that unique feature, and you’ve got something to market! It’s all about discovering how to stand out from your competitors.

A company may try to distinguish their product by marketing what they believe are superior ingredients. They may even go so far as to erroneously call out other companies for using unsafe ingredients, or not being honest in their labeling. And, unfortunately, however untrue their marketing campaign may be, it is a particularly effective strategy in the cosmetic industry given the growing interest in the health and safety of ingredients.

Some examples of this:

“Fragrance oils are definitely not natural at all. Many contain pthalates, which are known carcinogens linked to cancer and birth defects. ”

“Mother nature has not given all things an essential oil, for whatever reason. Fruit has juice. But juice isn’t essential oil. ”

“Fruit smells come from uncapturable gaseous molecules. There is no aromatic substance that can be collected.”

“If you see a product that is cantaloupe scented, rest assured that what you’re getting is fake and not natural. Real cantaloupes do not have essential oil, so if it smells like cantaloupe, it is not natural.”

“She says she has “natural soap,” but you can read RIGHT ON THE LABEL, “FRAGRANCE.”

The problem with all of these statements, is simply that they are untrue.

So, here I am again, standing on my soapbox. If you’ve met me at a soap show, you’ve heard this before: “Fragrance” does not equal “unnatural” and “Essential Oils” are not the only natural scents available to handmade soap and cosmetic makers.

Have you smelled the fresh tang of an apple? How about the warm, smokey scent of a fire? Apples obviously have scent, though you probably won’t find apple essential oil for sale. And the smell of burning wood is quite recognizable, yet it is not created with an essential oil.

Things “smell” because they contain aroma compounds. Esters, alcohols, amines, aldehydes, terpenes- all are naturally occurring aroma compounds found in essential oils, extracts, resins, and waxes. They are what give essential oils scent! Used in endless combinations, they can be used to create recognizable scents such as apple and kiwi, exotic perfumes, and even flavors. Chemists known as “Perfumiers” are scientists with expertise in isolating these all-natural raw materials and combining them. Any “fragrance” listed on my label is of this sort. Each oil comes with documentation including a MSDS and a Statement of Content, certifying not only their “naturalness” but also that they are free of pthalates, nut/soy/wheat/shellfish allergens, GMO materials, and a host of other specifics.

I should mention that although aroma compounds occur naturally, many can be created artificially and used to create synthetic fragrance oils. This is particularly advantageous when you consider that some essential oils are incredibly expensive. Synthetic fragrance allows the average person to enjoy Jasmine ($1923.25/pound currently), without spending $50 on a bar of soap. Also, the overuse of some essential oils has become an environmental issue. Sandalwood ($768/pound) is endangered due to over-harvesting, but close copies of its scent can be enjoyed by using synthetic versions. Finally, while I’m on the topic of synthetic fragrances, they don’t all contain pthalates! But, I’ll leave that topic for someone else’s blog post.

How a soap maker chooses to scent their product is a matter of personal preference. I limit myself to natural based ingredients for The Natural Bar Soap Company‘s signature line because I like the challenge of “this is what you have to work with… now go create something awesome!” I’m a chemist by education, and crave the experimentation of it all.

I also crave information… Developing a good relationship with my scent supplier has been one of the best things I’ve done to date. I call them regularly~ probably too regularly!! But, thanks to them and their willingness to share, I have a huge arsenal of ingredients that don’t compromise my mission of making the most adventurously natural soap in the universe.

Note: Synthetic fragrances do not need to be avoided out of a fear of safety! Essential oils are no more “safe” than fragrance oils. It all depends on the person, and the amount. Some of my private label soaps made for people I wholesale to, as well as some of my custom made soaps (for special events and contracted jobs) contain synthetic scent. The ingredients will always be labeled accordingly.


3 thoughts on “Are Fragrance Oils Natural?

  1. says:

    Wow! Thanks again so much Erin!!I appreciate all the love and concern you put in your soaps!!

  2. Spammer says:

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.

    • I can’t change the world or eliminate spam, but I can report it. If you’d like to help lower the amount of spam in the world, copy and paste the IP address (the string of numbers appearing under the comment) into your search bar with the word “whois” in front of it. The search results will tell you who the hosting company is. Contact the hosting company, using their “report abuse” email (generally, or While the content may not be terribly offensive, it certainly isn’t constructive, and has nothing to do with what I wrote. The person sending it is simply hoping for one of two things: that I won’t have a spam filter, or that I didn’t set my comments settings to require approval. How do spammers benefit? If either of those things is true, their website’s link will appear on my blog in their comment, giving them a “backlink.” Google ranks all websites due to how important the website seems. Websites can be made to appear more important when they have more backlinks.

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