That Smells Nice – Where does it come from?

Fragrance Oil or Essential oil

by Penny Keay © 2012

Oh that smells lovely. But what is it that we are smelling?

We are often sent inquiries to see if we can locate or find any variety of ‘scents’. We do our best to see if we can locate the scent they would like to obtain, provided of course that it comes from the “Plant Kingdom”. Many folks do not realize that all those ‘scents’ they see on packages in the stores are not pure plant scents but are man-made scents also known as ‘Fragrance Oils’.

Fragrance oils are created in a laboratory using any variety of chemicals to replicate a natural scent from nature (or the kitchen – Fresh baked Chocolate Chip cookies Yum!).

And yes these man-made fragrances might contain actual essential oils and absolutes. They may even have other aromatic plants resins etc. And some companies will name them plant scents like ‘Lavender scent”. They may smell similar to the true plant essences but fragrance oils will not have the health benefits that true essences do.

Fragrance oils are very, very inexpensive because they utilize petroleum oil based by products from the refinement of crude oil. Yes the same stuff we get gasoline, diesel and jet fuels from which are, as you know, all pretty stinky and unhealthy items.

The chemists add a little bit of this chemical and a little bit of that to make all those – non-essential oil based scents that folks like to smell – such as Strawberries and Cream, Peaches and Cream, Pumpkin Pie, Brown sugar cookies.

Well, there are no plants named Pumpkin pie. And to be honest it is really hard to replicate the smell of a pumpkin pie using only pure essential oils. We can get close but not the same as the “Real Pie” smell or the smell that those Fragrance Oils replicate. You see many items made out of fragrance oils in the stores (candles, air fresheners, body care, etc).

So what are really, truly Natural scents made from and where do they come from: Living Plants

The main sources of Natural plant scents are extracted, usually by steam distillation, from various plant parts. Leaves, berries, twigs, flowers, roots. The peels of citrus fruits are most often cold pressed but can be obtained by steam distillation. These are called Essential oils. They are the true plant essence.

Essential oils come strictly from plants. They will have a ‘Common name’ and a ‘Botanical name’. Such as Lavender (common name) – Lavendula angustifolia (botanical name), some plants will have a subspecies name added Helichrysum Italicum (Helichrysum Italicum ssp Serotinum) or a chemo type (Rosemary ct Cineol) included to help differentiate the unique chemical makeup those particular plants may offer.

Note: Botanical names are usually listed in italics behind the common names.

Essential oil is actually produced in specialized cells in the plant. The essential oil is extracted from the plant using a few different methods. The method used may be determined by the amount of essential oil available in the plant.

Some plants and flowers, although they smell fragrant, do not produce quantities of essential oils that can be obtained for use. And those that do produce minute amounts the availability to the general public is pretty much non-existent or so expensive to not be affordable.

As stated above the most common method to get essential oil is steam distillation. Steam is forced though the botanical parts and the essential oil is distilled off.

Hydro distillation is similar, only water is used to give the plants a so called ‘hot water bath’ – the essential oils still are distilled via steam, but only after the fact that the plant material was actually submerged in hot water.

Cold pressing the plant such as is the case in several citrus oils will produce an essential oil too.

If the essential oil is extracted by a solvent – most commonly CO2 (carbon dioxide) the essential oils is really called a “concrete”. This then needs further distilling and will result in an absolute.

An absolute because of the way it is processed will have obtained/retained more of the chemical constituents than a steam or hydro distilled essential oil. Hence the reason absolutes are so much more expensive.

Essential oils and absolutes consist of several chemicals constituents. Some can number into a couple hundred!

The process to extract the essential oils using CO2 is more time consuming and costly to extract the oil BUT for several plants this is the ONLY way to obtain the essential oil.

As you know some plant produce very little essential oil and the method used to make concretes and absolutes is the only way to capture and secure the little bits of essential oils that are produced. Some plants make such small amounts they can never be extracted.

For more information about methods of extractions for essential oils see

So to Recap:

Fragrance oils are not made by nature. They are made by man in a laboratory. They will have names like Pumpkin Pie, Vanilla Cookies, Strawberries and cream, Fresh car, Baby powder and on and on.

Fragrance oils contain petroleum by products and scents made in the laboratory using various chemicals that when combined can produce – similar smells to common scents.

Fragrance oils can be made using essential oils as PART of the ingredients but usually won’t contain more than a minute amount of pure essential oils in the mix.

Fragrance oils are cheap to make.

Fragrance oils can be detrimental to your health and your pets’ health. Breathing fumes from some of the chemicals used from the petroleum by products and chemicals used to produce the fragrance oils scents can be just as toxic as the fumes that are emitted from your automobiles gas tank. And everyone knows how dangerous the fumes from gasoline can be.

Essential oils can be very costly to distill as there are so many variables when it comes to the amount of finished oil available in each plant, harvest, etc.

Essential oils can provide health benefits too numerous to mention here.

Perfumes by the way, can be made using just essential oils but they won’t linger on the skin for long. All commercially prepared perfumes may have both fragrance chemicals and essential oils blended, along with a fixative to help it to last and linger longer.

All Natural Perfumes made using ONLY pure essential oils or absolutes will only last about 2-3 hours. As your body heat will quickly evaporate the essential oils into the air.

Why would you want to smell Fragrance oils that can hurt your health, when nature made essential oils that have tons of benefits to your health?

You make the choice – I choose essential oils!!

And if you really like the smell of Pumpkin or Apple pie – get in the kitchen and bake a ‘real’ one!! Everyone can enjoy the smell of the natural spices you used and of course get to eat the pies and not just smell them!!

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We do not endorse, nor do we encourage anyone to implement Aromatherapy or any suggestions contained within this site without the consent of his/her medical doctor. We also do not take any liability for your implementation of any oils, recipes, or anything else available through this site, from any book or company recommendation, or available on any site linked from Birch Hill Happenings Aromatherapy, LLC

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Birch Hill Happenings Aromatherapy, LLC
2898 County Road 103
Barnum, MN 55707-8808

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since 1999

Copyright © 2011 Penny Keay
Please do not use my information without my written permission.


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