Fragrance Oil Versus Essential Oils? - The Soap Coach
Fragrance Oil or Essential Oil in soapmaking

What should you use to fragrance your soaps?

Is fragrance necessary in soap at all?

Do essential oils last longer than fragrance oils in handmade soap or vice versa?

What even are essential oils and fragrance oils.

Why do we even fragrance our soap?

This is a very good question but ultimately it is a matter of personal choice and often our culture. We enjoy pleasant scents hence why flowers attract us and not just bees. We also associate scent with cleanliness much of the time or as a luxury product in other circumstances. Think about the experience showers in a luxury spa, as well as the warm water and soft music they will often feature a fragrance that enhances the overall effect whether that be a tropical rainforest or a highland mist (think pine or eucalyptus for that one).

Of course soap does not have to be scented at all but generally we like to use something to add to the overall effect or 'kerb appeal' and in some cases scent may even add therapeutic benefits. It is worth mentioning that unscented varieties really do hold their own very special appeal, simple,  effective and they still leave a lovely clean 'soapy' smell. I do recommend you give them a try, especially when you first start out making soap as it simplifies the process for you as well as keeping the costs down.

Assuming you would like to fragrance your soap you really do only have 2 options to choose from.

Lets begin with essential oils

Naturally derived and plant based, essential oils, at first glance, would appear to be the ideal route to take if you are looking to keeping your handmade soap as natural as possible.

Essential oils are extracted from plants and trees mainly, but not exclusively, through steam distillation. It takes a vast quantity of plant material to produce relatively small quantities of essential oils and therefore the process is extremely demanding of the raw materials needed. This is why they tend to be very expensive. Some are extracted from plants and trees that are on the vulnerable or threatened species list, sandalwood being one of these, so it is not automatically a case of natural being the best option.

What about fragrance oils?

These are synthetic fragrances, created in a laboratory and may contain up to 200 different, undisclosed ingredients. However they are subject to stringent testing for use in cosmetics and are therefore considered safe to use. 

They may contain a combination of natural and artificial ingredients.

If you decide to use fragrance oils you do need to check they are suitable for soap making particularly when  making cold process soap so where you source them from is important.Fragrance Oils or Essential Oils in Soap Making

Pros and Cons of Essential Oils in Hand Made Soap


  • Naturally derived,
  • You can buy the same scent from multiple sources,
  • Possible health or therapeutic benefits,
  • You know what you are getting generally.
  • If you are in the EU/UK and sell your soaps you are not at the mercy of a supplier discontinuing a line that you have paid to obtain an assessment for.


  • Limited fragrance options
  • Expensive
  • Some are unsuitable for soap/skincare products
  • Some contain allergens
  • Scent may not be as long lasting 

Pros and Cons of Fragrance Oils in Hand Made Soap


  • Wide range of scents available
  • Can be more reliable in soap making/longer lasting scent
  • Cheaper
  • May be less impactive on the environment in some cases


  • Can cause issues such as discolouration or seizing in soap making
  • Artificial aspect does not appeal to everyone
  • If you sell your products you are tied to the one supplier that you buy your chosen fragrance from.
Is one option better than the other?

No is my honest answer. Both clearly have good and bad points and so when making your choice you will need to look at what you are trying to achieve, any particular ethos that may be important to you. Cost will also be a factor.

I chose to use essential oils in my soap making when I first set out and still do. Originally, using natural ingredients was incredibly important to me and still is. Another big factor was that being quite stubborn, I didn't like the idea of being beholden to just one manufacturer for a particular scent, however I know more now about the potential impact of essential oils on the plants they are extracted from and how some may become threatened or at risk as the Western world especially increases it's demand for 'natural' or 'therapeutic'. Natural resources cannot always keep up with demand, particularly those such as sandalwood, which require mature trees and for that reason I may well look at other options in the future. 

Ultimately however the choice is a personal one and there is no right or wrong.

Need some inspiration? Download my free guide '5 Essential Oil Blends in Soap that Last'  


Comments (4 Responses)

29 December, 2023


The mention of potential therapeutic benefits associated with essential oils adds an intriguing dimension to the discussion, making the choice between fragrance options even more thought-provoking.

18 February, 2021

The Soap Coach

Hi Laura, ahh that is great I am so pleased it has been helpful for you. And yes , you can mix fragrance and essential oils in one soap. Fragrance oils will always win over essential oils for longevity :)

14 February, 2021

The Soap Coach

Hi Laura, ahh that is great I am so pleased it has been helpful for you. And yes , you can mix fragrance and essential oils in one soap. Fragrance oils will always win over essential oils for longevity :)

14 February, 2021

Laura Arnold

Hello I am just starting out making soap and I am trying to choose between essential oils and Fragrance oils, is it possible to use both? as I would like the natural benefits of the essential oils but also want to make sure my soaps are nice and fragrant. At the moment I am veering towards using mostly essential oil with a touch of fragrance but I am interested to see if anyone has tried this before?

Many thanks your website has helped me tonnes already! :-)

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