Fragrance Oil vs Essential Oil – What’s the Difference?


When it comes to aromatherapy and massages, I always recommend essential oils. If you are new to herbalism, then you may use the terms fragrance oil and essential oil interchangeably. Some even think that it’s basically the same thing. It’s all about the smell, right? Wrong. While there have been a lot of debates and studies to understand fragrance and essential oils, it’s been observed that there is a significant difference between the two and they are in fact, not the same. In a nutshell, the primary difference between the two lies in the source from where the oil is obtained. Mainly, fragrance oils are synthetic in nature while essential oils are natural (source). While the products may differ in their composition, some oils of both kinds can be used for achieving the same effects. That’s why when it comes to comparing fragrance oil vs essential oil, it can be confusing to some people as to how they’re different.

Both the oils have their own advantages and disadvantages. But let’s first understand individually what essential oils are.

Essential Oils

essential oil benefits

Essential oils are pure extracts from plants. In fact, they don’t contain fatty acids normally found in traditional oils. Basically, essential oils are highly concentrated distillation obtained from plants. However, you should know that not all plants can produce these types of oils. The plants that do produce essential oils may do so in various parts: whether flowers, stem, root, resins, bark, wood, blossom, or herb. The oils are largely extracted from the plants that have aromatic qualities and can be used as remedies to treat certain health issues. Essential oils can take on a range of problems, from skin care to managing emotions to easing muscular pain and other aches to even regulating menses (source). Pure essential oils are distillations of the organic portion. Normally, when in topical use, they are mixed with a carrier oil.

Read More: 10 Valor Essential Oil Uses

Plant-based essential oils contain 50 to 500 naturally occurring chemicals, which have the capacity to affect organisms. Depending on the plant used, this effect could be both good or bad. Hence, it’s important to figure out what each essential oil could be used for before actually doing it. Take time to familiarise yourself with the oils available in the market and understand what chemical compounds they consist of. Some may work better when ingested, others when applied topically. Feel free to consult your doctor before using any herbal product. Caution can never hurt.

Essential Oil Benefits

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    Essential oils are known to boost immunity and aid in recovery from illnesses (source).
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    They can be used to restore hormonal balance, especially oestrogen (source).
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    They make for good cleaning agents and can be used to make your own cleaning products.
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    Get rid of bad odour.
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    When used topically with a carrier oil, they can release muscular stress and tension.
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    Act as natural pesticides and bug repellents.
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    Concentrated. Even a small amount lasts a long while.
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    They’re often multipurpose, therefore can be used for various causes.

Essential Oil Drawbacks

  • Essential oils are potent and it’s not always advisable to use them excessively. There is a thin line between them being useful and harmful. The key to them is the dosage.
  • Might not be a sustainable option since many plants need to be used to create a small amount of essential oil. Thus, over-consumption may lead to a negative impact on the environment.
  • Essential oils are rather expensive. The affordable ones are often diluted or produced with high heat.
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    Studies point out that some essential oils may have a drug-like effect (source). Therefore, they could be dangerous if used inadequately.
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    Strong allergic reactions to essential oils are possible. Thus, it’s important to test them in small amounts before using regularly.
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    Applying bergamot, lemon, lime, orange and angelica essential oils can cause Phototoxicity (source) if you’ve been exposed to sun light right after application. Therefore, you might experience severe burns.
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    Just like regaining hormonal balance, certain essential oils might cause hormonal imbalance. According to a study in University of Maryland Medical Center, some oils such as aniseed, sage, fennel, and even lavender have oestrogen-like qualities, which can cause those imbalances.

Fragrance Oils

Often, just because a natural product smells good, it’s not always necessarily suitable for human use. Thus, fragrance oils offer a good way to imitate the scents of the naturally occurring herbs, which may potentially be dangerous, and protect us from the harm. Fragrance oils are also known as perfume oils or aromatic oils. They’re mainly and mostly synthetic but that too is not universally true. Sometimes they’re a blend of synthetic smells and natural essential oils. Yet, one thing is common for all fragrance oils - they’re mostly used for scent. A few complex fragrance oils are synthesised to evoke a feeling. Despite the hostility towards fragrance oils, they can be used in soaps, cosmetics, and lotions, if they’re safe for skin.

Fragrance Oil Benefits

6 fragrance oil benefits
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    If you’re looking for the calming effect that a scent offers, then these oils can be a cheaper option.
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    Products made of fragrance oils are usually more affordable.
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    Since they’re synthetically produced, fragrance oils can mimic any scent possible, including the ones that evoke an emotion.
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    Fragrance oil scents stay on for a while and don’t evaporate so quickly.
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    They have a longer shelf life.

Fragrance Oil Drawbacks

  • Pure and direct fragrance oils can be dangerous if not handled correctly.
  • While they smell enticing, certain scented oils can be dangerous if they come in contact with the skin or are ingested. Such oils normally contain caustic compounds which cause corrosion.
  • Companies are not bound by regulations to declare a full disclosure on the components of the fragrance oils. Thus, be careful, you never know what a bottle of such an oil might contain.
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    Fragrance oils are a strict no to those suffering from respiratory illnesses. Inhaling the scent may cause wheezing, coughing, difficulty in breathing, nausea, and even dizziness.
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    Fragrance oils are not well researched, so the effects on human’s health aren’t that well known (source).
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    When fragrance oils come in contact with the skin directly, they may cause rashes, burns, and itching. Ingestion of such oils may lead to vomiting, nausea, and abdominal cramps.

Fragrance Oil vs Essential Oil

Fragrance Oils vs Essential Oils

You may now be clearer on what the basic composition is like. However, there are various factors that also act as markers for understanding what each oil is like.


Synthetic products are always cheaper. Therefore, you can get fragrance oils for less. In fact, large scale manufacturers prefer manufacturing fragrance oils to cut corners in production costs. Even then, the quality of the fragrance oil can be a cost determining factor.

Read More: How to Diffuse Essential Oils Without a Diffuser

Purpose and Uses

Essential oils affect can affect your body emotionally and physically. They are used to aid mental health by helping to relax. Many know essential oils for their anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that can come to use when you’re ill. On the other hand, fragrance oils are normally used in the manufacturing of other end products: perfume, candles, cosmetics, and flavouring.

Mode of Usage

Essential oils can be applied to your skin, used to give a massage, diffused, and even ingested. On the other hand, fragrance oil can never be taken internally. Obviously, something that is chemically created can be dangerous to your health.

Read More: Best Essential Oils for Panic Attacks


The outcome and the effect of essential oils depend on a number of factors: the type of crop produced, the harvesting season, and the weather conditions while extracting. Thus, the quality of the oil and the fragrance varies. On the other hand, since fragrance oils are synthetically produced, there is no external factor beyond the control of the manufacturer that may hamper the way the final product smells.


Most essential oils are volatile (source) in nature– they dissipate into the air at a very rapid pace when exposed to the environment. Since fragrance oils are synthetically prepared, they are non-volatile.

Storage and Shelf Life

Of course, shelf life depends on how you store and care for your oils but since essential oils are volatile in nature, it’s important to store them in dark, tinted bottles. Additionally, fragrance oils have a longer shelf life than essential oils. That’s something that might be important to know.

Read More: Best Smelling Essential Oils You Can Use at Home


While essential oils naturally occur in nature, fragrance oils are synthesised in laboratories. Like I said before, only a few plants can produce essential oils. Hence, the range of smells is quite limited when it comes to them. On the other hand, fragrance oils are like a blank canvas, offering you the opportunity to experiment and derive various smells. I think that’s the reason why they’re so popular in the first place.

Health Benefits

Whether it’s the antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic properties, or positive healing, mental, hormonal, and psychological effects; essential oils have a lot to offer. Fragrance oils can only provide peace and calm through the stimulation of your olfactory senses.

Personal Verdict

I’ve always been a fan of essential oils. I do agree that they can cost a bomb depending on the quality, brand, and scent but they are indeed magically helpful. You can use them to apply to your skin and get rid of acne, ingest them and make that cold go away, or even clean your room. A tiny bottle lasts long enough to justify the sum we have to pay for it. Therefore, it does seem like a fair deal. Plus, I am a big fan of natural smells. On the other hand, I love to get perfume and use these fragrance oils just for the smell. I mean, why not? I just don’t think that skin products should contain them.


Now that you’ve read this whole piece on fragrance oil vs essential oil, what are your thoughts on each of them? Which ones do you prefer using? What do you use them primarily for? Do let me know, because I’m interested to find out how my fellow readers feel about these products. Might actually learn something new! Other than that, have a good day and take care!

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