Apr 23, 2020 | 5 min Read

Fragrance Oils vs. Essential Oils

When it comes to deciding how to scent a DIY project, whether it’s homemade soap, bath bombs, candles or perfume, there are two primary options you can choose from: fragrance oils and essential oils.

While it may seem like the only difference between fragrance and essential oils is one word, there’s actually quite a few things that differentiate these two oils.

Fragrance Oil vs. Essential Oils: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between fragrance oils and essential oils is that fragrance oils are manufactured in a lab and essential oils are made of natural materials. This difference comes from the ingredients that each oil is composed of, and where those ingredients are sourced from.

What is Fragrance Oil?

Fragrance oils are man-made oils, manufactured to imitate a naturally occurring scent. They are created in a lab, meaning all fragrance oils do not come fully from nature. There are two broad categories of fragrance oil: synthetic and natural.

1. Synthetic Fragrance Oils

Synthetic oils are created from artificial chemical components that are not found in nature. Many commercial products opt for synthetic oils because they hold their fragrance for much longer than naturally occurring fragrances.

Some synthetic fragrance oils can be composed of as many as 80 chemical ingredients, so these are the fragrance oils to be wary of if you have any skin or fragrance sensitivities. On a cosmetics label, synthetic fragrance oils could be labeled as perfume, fragrance, fragrance oil or parfum.

2. Natural Fragrance Oils

Don’t be fooled by the name — these fragrance oils are still man-made in a lab. Natural fragrance oils get their name because they are made by isolating naturally derived fragrance components from a complex scent.

This includes limonene derived from lemons, vanillin derived from vanilla beans and geraniol from roses. These are the oils to opt for if you have sensitive skin, sensitivities to certain fragrances or are planning to use these in a gift to someone with allergies.

Fragrance Oil Uses

There are many uses for fragrance oils, many of which you may use in everyday life without knowing. Fragrance oils are best used in crafts or at-home scents. Here are ten popular places you can find fragrance oils, many of which you can make yourself:

  • Scented candles
  • Scented soaps and creams
  • Scented massage oils
  • Deodorizing room spray
  • Scented lotion
  • Rollerball fragrances
  • Car air fresheners
  • Scented laundry detergent
  • Scented bubble baths
  • Perfume and colognes

Note: if you plan on making or using any of these that touch your skin or clothes, be sure to plan on using natural fragrance oils instead of synthetic.

How Long Are Fragrance Oils Good For?

The average shelf life of a fragrance oil is anywhere from six to 12 months, depending on what the fragrance oil is composed of.  They can last longer if stored under the proper conditions, which is in a cool, dark place.

You’ll be able to tell if a fragrance oil has gone bad if it smells off, different or bad, or if the scent fades faster than normal.

Common Fragrance Oil Scents

Fragrance oils are a common ingredient in many of your favorite, everyday items. For those wondering just how many fragrance oils are out there, here are ten examples of fragrance oils that you likely come across often:

  • Apple cinnamon
  • Birthday cake
  • Sweet rose
  • Candy cane
  • French vanilla
  • New car smell
  • Peppermint patty
  • Pine forest
  • Sea breeze
  • Spiced orange
  • Strawberries and cream

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are potent oils extracted from aromatic plant parts, including root, herb or flower to capture their beneficial properties, scents and flavors. Essential oils are 100% oil and are “neat,” meaning they have not been diluted, mixed or processed, and do not have any additives.

Essential oils have been around for centuries, with use cited back to Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. These oils are well-known for their aromatic properties, and have become popular for their usage in aromatherapy and meditation.

Essential Oil Uses

Considering how long they have been used by humans, there are a number of uses for essential oils. Today, they are mostly used for aromatherapy and meditation, including in diffusers, massages and therapeutic baths.

In addition, they have been identified for use in three primary ways: odorants, flavors and medicines.


Essential oils have powerful aromatic properties, and are ideal for scenting a room. Below are five examples of how essential oils can be used as odorants:

  • Scented candles
  • Perfumes and colognes
  • Detergents
  • Room and clothing sprays
  • Scented soaps


Essential oils are derived from naturally occurring plant parts, and when used in minute amounts can be safe to ingest, mainly used in medicinal properties. Be sure to check the label before ingesting, and always check with your doctor if you have any questions.


Essential oils have been identified to have medicinal properties, including having the same effects as antidepressants, helping provide natural assistance during pregnancy and assisting with headaches and other smaller issues. If you have any questions about the ability of essential oils to help you, check with your doctor.

How Long Do Essential Oils Last?

Due to essential oils being naturally derived from plants, they tend to last longer than their synthetic counterparts. Each oil’s shelf life differs based on what plant they are derived from, as some oils expire after two years and some last as long as 15. Proper storage, treatment and dosage amounts all affect the longevity of your oil’s shelf life.

Essential oils do eventually expire due to the process of oxidation, which causes them to lose their potency as well as their nourishing, beneficial effects. You will be able to tell expired essential oils from the rest of your collection if the oil has lost its smell, changes color, thickens or appears murky or foggy. If you’re uncertain, err on the side of caution and safely dispose of your oil.

Popular Essential Oils and Benefits

There are estimated to be more than 90 types of essential oils, with each having a unique scent, different benefits and health claims. The following is a list of ten popular essential oils, as well as the benefits associated with them.

From the ingredients they’re made of, their scents and the ways they’re used, fragrance oils and essential oils really couldn’t be more different, despite sounding similar. Now that you’re well-versed in the differences of fragrance oil vs. essential oils, which oil will you be reaching for during your next DIY project?

Sources: Brambleberry | Bare Soaps | From Nature With Love | New Directions Aromatics (1, 2) | The Flaming Candle | Difference Between | Essential Oil Haven | Candles and Supplies | Healthline (1, 2) | Encyclopedia Britannica | MedShadow

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