Soapmaking: Essential Oils or Fragrance Oils?

One of the main components of a great bar of soap is its fragrance. As soapmakers, an important choice we have to make when formulating a new soap recipe is what fragrance we want the soap to have. After we have answered that question, we can decide what sort of product we want to use to achieve that aroma. There are two categories of ingredients that are commonly used to scent soap: essential oils and fragrance oils. Each has its benefits and disadvantages.

Essential Oils

When we are aiming to make soap with all-natural ingredients, essential oils are the best choice to use for fragrance. Essential oils are natural extracts of herbs, flowers, plants, and trees. They are highly concentrated oils and often require very large amounts of plant material to produce. The benefit of using essential oils in our soap is that we know exactly what ingredients are in the final product. It is also easy to recreate or intensify the aroma of many fresh ingredients by using the essential oil derived from that specific plant. Nothing will make a more accurate lemon-scented soap than using lemon essential oil. Essential oils are created with physical extraction processes rather than any sort of chemical solvents. The only things used to extract essential oils are water, heat, and pressure, ensuring that the resulting oil is the pure essence of the plant from which it is derived. Essential oils are also tested extensively as purity is very important to the quality of the oil. Essential oils can be used individually for single note soaps or blended to form more complex aromas. As some essential oils can experience scent fading in soap, we have to be sure to anchor our essential oil blends with a good base note. See our blog on Essential Oil Blends for Soap Making to learn more about blending essential oils for soap. Unfortunately, some essential oils may be too costly to use at the volume we need for soap making and there is not an essential oil available for every scent that we may want to create.

Here are a few of our favorite essential oils and blends for soapmaking:

Lavender Essential Oil is among the most popular essential oils in soapmaking and general use. It possesses calming and relaxing properties and has a unique and gentle floral aroma. It works great in soap because it can help to soothe irritated and dry skin as well as combat skin issues such as acne and eczema. Lavender works well as a stand-alone scent or can be blended with many other essential oils for a variety of soap creations.

Patchouli Essential Oil has a deep, earthy scent that may be a bit much for some people when used on its own but it works great to anchor lighter scents when creating blends for soap. It has great staying power in soap and blends well with many other essential oils. Patchouli also helps to balance oil production in our skin and boost the production of new skin cells.

Litsea Cubeba Essential Oil is another great way to anchor blends in soapmaking. It has a bright, fresh scent that works especially well to give staying power to citrus essential oils and blends. Litsea has the added benefit of being very cleansing and toning to the skin.

Orange 5X Essential Oil is a stronger, more concentrated version of sweet orange essential oil that is great for soapmaking. Citrus oils are delicate and their aroma can often be light or fade quickly in soap. Orange 5x allows a more pronounced and longer-lasting orange scent and can help to boost a citrus blend or stand out more in other essential oil blends for soap.

Pirates Essential Oil Blend is a great, ready-to-go essential oil blend that works well in soapmaking. It has a complex and unique scent that is a great starting point for those that may not feel comfortable creating an essential oil blend or just love the convenience of a pre-made blend. The essential oils in this blend are packed with immune-supporting properties that can help to keep us healthy and clean.

Fragrance Oils

Fragrance oils on the other hand are a mix of components used to create a particular scent. They can be created using natural ingredients as well as artificial aroma chemicals and other materials. Fragrance oils can contain dozens of different ingredients to create complex and layered scents. Fragrance ingredients may contain petroleum as well as different natural raw materials. Fragrances also contain some chemical components such as solvents, stabilizers, preservatives, and colorants. Some fragrance oils can also contain some amount of essential oil but the oils are often altered or diluted in some way. Fragrances have the benefit of being able to be carefully formulated to either smell as close to something already occurring in nature as possible or they can be made to have an aroma that conveys a more abstract concept or feeling. Because of the use of synthetic ingredients, there are nearly endless possibilities for aromas that can be created using fragrance oils. The variety of fragrance oils available is useful for soapmakers who want to channel a very specific scent in their product. Since some essential oils are processed differently and can take an unusually large amount of material to make, among other factors, they can have higher price points. This is where many soapmakers may use a fragrance oil alternative to essential oil. The formulation of many fragrance oils also makes them strong and long-lasting in soap.


Here are a few types of fragrance oils that work well in soapmaking:

Rose is an extremely popular scent that can work well alone as well as in many different blends in soap. However, Rose Essential Oil can be quite pricey at the volume needed in most soap recipes and has a very delicate aroma that can fade easily in the high heat process of soapmaking. Rose Fragrance Oil allows us to create a soap with a scent that will be potent during use and linger on the skin.

Vanilla is another popular scent that can be blended in countless ways and adds depth and nuance to almost any aroma combination. Vanilla beans require a solvent to release their aromatic compounds so there is no essential oil option, making Vanilla Fragrance Oil the go-to for vanilla scents in soap.

Apple Cider Perfume, Raspberry Perfume, Chocolate Perfume, and other food-related aromas are great fragrance oil options to use in soap making. These types of aromas often cannot be replicated with essential oils alone and are very complex. Food-related scents are popular for soapmaking and are often a great starting point for soapmakers to explore and experiment with fragrance.

Xmas Memory Fragrance Oil and other more abstract aroma blends often have such layered and unique scents that it would be very costly and nearly impossible to achieve them with essential oils alone. They combine an array of notes to channel a very specific feeling or emotion, making them perfect for holidays or other themed soaps.

Leather Perfume, Nag Champa Perfume, and other scents that mimic the smell of certain items are another popular category of fragrance oils used in soapmaking. The types of items are not made from plants and therefore cannot have essential oils made from them. Using these fragrance oils can be great when making an abstract aroma blend. They have great staying power in soap and can help add that little something extra to a soap's aroma.


Both essential oils and fragrance oils are used by many soapmakers and have their advantages and drawbacks. Making the right choice depends on the outcome we’re looking for and our personal preferences. Choose the right ingredient for your needs and have fun. The possibilities are endless!

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