Should I use Fragrance or Essential Oils in my Soap?

This is a great question that is discussed extensively within the soap-making world. There is no black-and-white answer, and both have pros and cons, so here we will look at these so you can make an informed choice or decide if you are happy to use both.

What are fragrance oils?

In a nutshell, fragrance oils are synthetically produced in a laboratory and can have numerous different component ingredients. This does not mean they are a bad thing. Far from it - providing you ensure your fragrance oils are high quality and suitable for cold process soap making, they will be very safe to use and, in some ways, are more sustainable than essential oils (more about that in a moment.


Pro’s of fragrance oils in soap making.

  • Available in a wide range of pre-mixed fragrances, so there is no need to know note blending.
  • Available in impossible scents if you go down the essential oil route. For example, if you wanted to make cappuccino or strawberry-scented soaps, you would need to use fragrance oil. 
  • They are more sustainable and do not require vast quantities of plant materials to produce.
  • Cost-effective.


Cons of fragrance oils in soap making.

  • It may cause discolouration of your soap. Vanilla, for example, will generally go brown.
  • Can change colour or morph between colours during saponification and curing.
  • Some fragrance oils accelerate trace or cause your soap batter to seize.
  • Not natural which may limit market appeal.


What are essential oils?

All essential oils are naturally derived, highly concentrated liquids obtained from plants. Various extraction methods depend upon the source, but each essential oil will only come from one type of plant. In their raw state, they are considered volatile and should be handled with care. Not all essential oils are considered safe for cosmetic use, but most common ones are good.

Pro’s of essential oils in soap making.

  • Naturally derived, plant-based, vegan.
  • Allow you to experiment with different blends and create your scent.
  • Less likely to cause acceleration of trace.
  • Unlikely to seize batter.


Cons of essential oils in soap making.

  • Not as sustainable as you may think. Large quantities of plant matter are required to create each drop, and those sourced from trees, in particular, are often not regenerating fast enough to meet demand. 
  • Limitations in the variety of scents that can be created.
  • Not all essential oil fragrances ‘stick’ well in handmade soap.
  • The scent is unlikely to last as long or be as intense as a fragrance oil.
  • More expensive to use than fragrance oils.

As you can see, there is much to consider when choosing the kind of scent you will use for your handmade soap, above and beyond whether you would like to use a naturally derived or synthetic product.

If you are making soap just as a hobby, then the decision is easy, and you are free to choose your own preferences. Suppose you have a business or are considering starting a handmade soap business. In that case, you will have much more to think about, particularly the expectations of your target market, costs and stance from an eco perspective.

Whichever route you choose will still result in a beautiful bar of handmade soap.

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Essential Oils
Fragrance Oils
Silicone Moulds

Written for Mystic Moments by Keri Squibb - The Soap Coach