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SALON FINDER | MY ACCOUNT | MY REWARDS
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Fragrance Oils Versus Essential Oils

If you have very sensitive skin or are allergic to air-borne chemicals, you are probably concerned about the use of fragrances in your products. Basically, there are three alternatives for cosmetic products-

  • unscented products
  • products scented with fragrance oils
  • products scented with essential oils

You should understand the differences between fragrance oils and labeling requirements so that you can be a better-informed consumer of these products.

Labeling requirements

Unfortunately, you are not going to be able to rely solely on labels to avoid artificially scented products. You can buy hypoallergenic alternatives to products, which usually leave out the colorants and fragrances. These often come in smaller containers and cost more. With these, at least you have some hope that you are not being exposed to unnecessary chemicals. In general, all ingredients in a product are required to be listed on the label. But, there are two very large loopholes when it comes to fragrances.

  1. Fragrance formulations are considered “trade secrets”. So, companies are not required to list their composition.
  2. When a scent is added to a product to “mask” (cover up) the odor of other ingredients, it does not have to be listed.  So, if a product would offensive smelling without the additional chemical, the chemical used to cover the offensive smell does not have to be listed on the label.

What we find then is “fragrance free” and “unscented” are very loose definitions. Even when a scent or mixture of fragrance chemicals is added to a product, this can be listed as simply “fragrance” in the United States or “parfum” in the European Union. By law, even if the label says “essential oils”, this does not guarantee that the product does not contain fragrance oils. This is perfectly legal.  In our opinion it's unscrupulous.  But, that's just our opinion. So, you must buy from manufacturers you trust and make sure you ask the right questions. Treasured Locks and HumiNature products disclose, as fully as possible, exactly what we put into our products. If we list something as “fragrance oils” or “fragrance”, we are using a synthetic compound. If we list “essential oils”, we are using only a few pure, unadulterated essential oils. Generally, when we use essential oils, we will list the individual oils.

What are Fragrance Oils?

Fragrance oils can and usually do contain many different components ranging from natural essential oils to purely synthetic compounds. Many perfumes contain more than 100 components. The problem, for those who are sensitive, is there is no requirement to list the compounds contained in a fragrance oil. Many of the compounds are known skin irritants. Most quality synthetic fragrances do include small amounts of organic material to give them the more natural bouquet of natural scents. However, real organic materials, such as essential oils, are usually used in very small quantities because of their expense. Today, there are over 5,00 aroma chemicals available to create synthetic fragrances.

What are Essential Oils?

An essential oil is a highly concentrated and potent extract from plants, leaves, flowers, roots, buds, twigs, rhizomes, heartwood, bark, resin, seeds and/or fruits. Essential oils should be extracted by distillation using either steam or water or by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or dry distillation of natural materials. These methods yield the most pure essential oils.  Use of solvents extracts the harder to get essential oil but also leads to the possibility of contamination.  Treasured Locks uses steam or water extracted essential oils. Steam or water extraction produces a two-phase liquid. The essential oil floats on top and the water used in the distillation process falls to the bottom. The essential oils are physically removed from the top and the water phase, which is a by-product, is often sold as a hydrosol or distillate water. The use of the word “oil” is a little bit of a misnomer. Essential oils are not oils in the way most people think of an oil. Essential oils come in a variety of colors and consistencies from clear and watery to dark, thick and syrupy. Essential oils contain the true essence of the plant. Essential oils are very concentrated and therefore should be used sparingly. Essential oils are difficult to obtain though and can be very expensive. So, while they can be a good value, the initial purchase might be a little expensive. Also, essential oils can be dangerous if applied directly to the skin. For this reason, Treasured Locks does not sell pure essential oils. If you are going to do aromatherapy though, you want to find a source of pure essential oils and avoid companies that sell fragrance oils. Since fragrance oils do not contain the true essence of the plants, they are usually worthless for aromatherapy purposes. Essential oils are often blended (diluted) with carrier oils for safe use. Common carrier oils include sweet almond oil, apricot kernel oil and grapeseed oil. Essential oils can very greatly in quality and price.  For example a quality essential oil might cost four or five times what a  cheaper essential oil of the same plant costs. Treasured Locks resists the temptation to buy cheaper runs of essential oils and insists on oils produced using no solvents (other than water) and oils produced from the best sources. For example, we use Rosemary from Spain and Lavender from Bulgaria. Various factors affect the quality and price of essential oils. These include the rarity of the plant, the conditions that the plant was grown under, quality standards of the distiller, and how much oil is produced by the plant.

Summary

Now that  you know the difference between essential oils and fragrance oils and the labelling requirements, you can make a more informed decision about the products you buy.  But, as you can see, it's extremely important to buy from companies you can trust because even companies who are complying with the law can put fragrance oils in products without fully disclosing what they are putting in.  If  you are sensitive to fragrance and/or essential oils don't hesitate to ask questions of the manufacturer.

We hope you find this article useful.

© 2007 Treasured Locks, LLC for use with Written Permission Only