What is the difference between products scented with essential oils versus fragrances?This is a common misunderstanding...but the answer is too important not to know! In the United States and around the world, most products that contain a scent get that scent from a fragrance. I'm talking about all kinds of fragrance products, from the obvious ones like perfume, to candles, lotions, bath products, toys, scratch 'n sniff stickers, and almost anything else you can think of.
In the United States, fragrances are protected by law as "trade secrets." That means manufacturers don't have to tell you or anyone what their fragrances contain. This is concerning for a number of reasons, not the least of which -- for many folks -- is the potential for allergic reactions or skin irritations. Some fragrances may be relatively harmless while others may contain a toxic soup of chemicals that you wouldn't dream of using...if you in fact knew that you were using them.
Just to name a few, some commercial fragrances (particularly those used in perfume and cologne) include ambergris (from the stomachs of sperm whales), musk (from the groin of male musk deers), civet "paste" (from cat-like civets), castoreum (from beavers), and hyrax (literal poop from guinea pig-like animals). Grossed out yet? It doesn't end there. Research studies have uncovered thousands of toxic chemicals that are used to create that "perfect scent" and confirm that packaging almost never discloses these ingredients.
While in the United States we recognize the rights of people and companies to protect their intellectual property -- should we allow such protections in light of such serious health and animal welfare concerns? I'll let you mull that over -- in the meantime, let's talk about essential oils!
Essential oils from reputable companies are derived 100% from plants (they can be made without animal products of any kind)! When you buy essential oils from respectable companies, you always know exactly what you're getting. Oils are extracted from plants through a number of methods, usually including cold pressing, distilling, expressing, CO2 extraction, or solvent extraction (least preferable -- as leftover chemical constituents may remain behind in the final product). Hardcore aromatherapists sometimes extract their own oils. When completed correctly, the result of this process is a very pure essential oil with many wonderful properties often including fabulous natural scents.
How can you tell if a company is reputable? There is a lot of incorrect information out there, so here are the guidelines I use when choosing companies that I want to work with.
Pure essential oils should not contain any fillers, carrier oils, or synthetic chemicals. This can be verified with independent lab testing (generally with a GC-MS) and should be completed for each batch of essential oils. Testing the first batch and then never testing again is not helpful, as variations may (and probably will) occur from batch to batch. By having their oils tested by independent laboratories (and sharing the results with you -- the consumer), essential oil companies provide a meaningful and evidence-backed guarantee that their product is exactly what they claim. Be wary of large companies that claim to test but do not share their laboratory results. What are they hiding?
Some companies (do your own research here) claim that they do not use synthetic chemicals, yet independent reports suggest otherwise. You can put the puzzle pieces together when you check the company's claims against the evidence that they provide. I have yet to see an essential oil company that does not claim their oils to be "pure" or "therapeutic." These words are not regulated -- anyone can use them and no one is checking in on them. Do your homework to make sure that you are indeed buying pure lavender oil, for example, and not artificially fragranced lavender oil.
Part of being an ethical human being is being conscientious of your carbon footprint. Essential oils require a lot of plant matter to create one tiny bottle, so at the very least don't use more than you need (don't waste them). Also pay attention to how companies source their plants. Where do the plants come from? How are they cultivated? How are their workers treated?
Finally, while using products made with pure essential oils can be safer than using "fragranced" products, you are still at the mercy of any given company's honesty and competence. Using the same legal loophole that applies to fragrances, companies producing products that are made with essential oils don't have to tell you where the oils came from or how much the oils are diluted. (Some companies may not even be aware if they are using "pure" essential oils -- or not.)
Caution: A common misconception is that since essential oils are natural, they must be safe to use "as is." Remember that essential oils are very highly concentrated forms of the natural oils that occur in plants. As such you should never use undiluted essential oils on the skin (and for heaven's sakes, don't eat them unless you are working with a certified aromatherapist who specifically tells you to do so). Essential oils are powerful, so you want to use them the right way to get the most benefit without any harm. It is best to work with trusted companies and certified aromatherapists to get it right.
*The content in this article is presented for informational and educational use only and should not be considered medical advice. Our blends should not be considered medications and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Our products and their accompanying statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information on this website does not replace the advice of a qualified physician or other health care professional.*
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