Some people buy candles for their aesthetic appeal. Others buy them to set the mood for a bubble bath or romantic dinner.
But the most common reason why people buy candles is for their smell.
Filling your home, bedroom, or bathroom with sweet vanilla or spicy cedarwood sparks a unique feeling. It’s one of the biggest reasons why candle-buying is such a personal experience!
Those wonderful smells we get from candles come from one of two places: fragrance oils or essential oils. Even though it’s widely believed they are the same thing, there are key differences between the two.
Depending on the production, ingredients, and manufacturing process, each oil has a different impact on our home, health, and environment.
To help you make a more informed buying decision when choosing your next candle, keep reading to learn everything there is to know about fragrance oils v essential oils.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are considered “natural” fragrances. They are made from various aromatic plants or tree roots and undergo an intensive manufacturing process to extract the oil.
Because they are made entirely of natural substances, candles infused with essential oils can have aromatherapeutic benefits (source).
For example, Lavender candles can relieve stress and tension in the body.
However, the scent released from a candle with essential oils generally isn’t very powerful, usually because natural scents aren’t particularly strong.
What is Fragrance Oil?
Unlike essential oils (that come from plants), fragrance oils are not considered “real” fragrances. They are synthetic scents that are made in a lab.
Just because they aren’t “real”, it doesn’t mean they’re “bad” – but we’ll talk more about that later.
Usually, you’ll come across two different types of fragrance oils: “natural” and “regular”.
“Regular” fragrance oils are normally made from synthetic compounds or by-products of petroleum.
“Natural” fragrance oils are either made from a mix of synthetic compounds and plant extracts, or they are constructed to “copy” the same molecular structure of plant oil, without needing to use actual plants (source).
Because these oils are completely manufactured, they tend to have a stronger smell than essential oils.
The curation process is often cheaper and less resource-intensive, too, since you don’t have to physically extract oils from a plant to make the fragrances.
Fragrance Oils v Essential Oils: Pros & Cons
It’s a common misconception that fragrance oils v essential oils are the same thing, but they are two completely different substances.
The differences mostly relate to how they are made, the strength of smell they produce, and how long they last.
On the plus side, fragrance oils generally:
- Last longer
- Can be made without the use of plants
- Can be considered more environmentally friendly (depending on how they are made)
- Have a stronger, more intense aroma
- Can have more exotic smells
- Are cheaper to manufacture
Compared with essential oils which:
- May not last as long
- Can be unreliable (in terms of scent intensity)
- Are more expensive to create (due to the need to carefully extract the compounds directly from the plants)
- Lack variation (as you can only purchase essential oils made from natural scents)
- Can be unsustainable (particularly if they are made from endangered plants or established tree roots)
However, the downside to fragrance oils is that they aren’t aromatherapeutic. They can replicate the scent of aromatic plants (like Lavender or Jasmine), but they’re unlikely to have the same “healing” properties as an essential oil made from an actual plant.
How Long Do Essential Oils & Fragrance Oils Last in Candles?
Paraffin wax candles can last for years when stored properly. If you’re more eco-conscious and prefer to use soy wax candles, the wax will only last 1-2 years before it starts to “melt”.
Regardless of the wax, you should still try to use any candle you buy within the first 12 months of purchase. This is because the scent can dissipate over time – no matter which oil is used.
However, fragrance oil is known for lasting slightly longer than essential oils in candle form. Because it’s completely manufactured, the scent is designed to be powerful and long-lasting. It usually lasts between 1-2 years – sometimes longer, depending on its quality.
On the other hand, essential oils typically last up to 12 months’ in candle form. If you don’t store your candle properly (like without a lid or in a warm environment) the scent can dissipate even faster.
Which is More Sustainable: Fragrance Oils v Essential Oils?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a straight answer to this question.
Both oils can be considered environmentally friendly, but they can both be considered not environmentally friendly, too, depending on the products used and the manufacturing process followed.
With fragrance oils, there’s little public information about the manufacturing process, likely because it varies so significantly per product.
However, fragrance oil manufacturing can be less resource-intensive than the curation of essential oil (source).
Plus, the oil can mimic the scent of natural substances, without having to physically chop down trees or harvest plants to do so, which can be considered more sustainable.
But it’s always important to check what’s replacing the natural elements.
Some fragrance oils contain petroleum as one of the “synthetic substances”. These particular oils aren’t environmentally friendly, since the ingredients are sourced through unsustainable methods (by drilling for oil).
Compared with essential oils, these are made from natural plant extracts, which can be considered a sustainable resource.
However, the extraction process is usually resource intensive (source). It also requires the destruction of plants to curate. If the plant or tree used for the essential oil is endangered or slow-growing (which can be the case with some essential oils), this puts them at further risk of extinction.
For example, sandalwood essential oil is created by chopping down an entire tree and harvesting the roots or inner trunk (source). But a fragrance oil can synthetically mimic the smell of sandalwood, without needing to destroy wildlife.
Overall, both oils can be considered sustainable, but you’ll need to dig deeper into the exact manufacturing methods and products used in a specific oil to determine its true environmental impact.
Fragrance Oils v Essential Oils: Which is Better?
Ultimately, it depends on your priorities as to whether fragrance oils or essential oils are right for you.
Lighting a candle can provide an opportunity to unwind, relax, and enjoy a pleasant scent filling up your home.
If you want a strong scent that lasts hours, even after it’s been put out, a fragrance oil candle is the perfect choice.
Plus, if you choose a soy wax candle made from high-quality fragrance oil, it’ll be a more sustainable option.
However, while fragrance oils mimic the scent of certain plants, they won’t have the same medicinal effects as essential oils. If aromatherapy is your priority, diffusing essential oils is better than buying a fragrance oil candle.
Just ensure that if you want to shop sustainably, you choose an essential oil scent made from a fast-growing aromatic plant, rather than an endangered species or established tree roots, to minimise the negative environmental impact.
Shop Sustainably at House of Two Trees
Our soy wax candles are hand-poured with love from our UK base. To promote the longevity of aromatic plants in wildlife, we only use high-quality synthetic fragrance oils to mimic natural scents.
Explore our soy wax candle collection now and invite the essence of cedarwood, jasmine, vanilla bean, or tobacco spice into your home today.
P.S: When you shop with us, you can return your empty jar for re-use and we’ll give you a 10% discount off your next purchase!