Fragrances Oils vs. Essential Oils in Candles: What’s the Difference and What's Safe?
Updated: Jun 28
With today’s emphasis on natural, non-toxic products, you may find yourself searching for scented candles that are safe for you and your family to enjoy. That’s great! Not all candles are created equal, so it’s good of you to be doing your research.
Unfortunately, there can be a lot confusion around the topic of scented oils for candles, including questions like, Are essential oils and fragrance oils the same? Are fragrance oils natural? and, ultimately, Are fragrance oils safe? The short answer is that essential oils and fragrance oils are not the same thing, though many of the best fragrance oils are infused with essential oils. Further, although fragrance oils tend to get a bad rap because they’re not “natural,” the good ones are thoroughly tested and scientifically approved to be safe for use not just in candles, but also in topical bath & body products like soaps and lotions. In fact, in some instances, fragrance oils are even safer for use in candles than essential oils!
This blog post will walk you through what fragrance oils are, a discussion of why fragrance oils are not toxic, and how they compare to essential oils when it comes to candles and the environment.
What are Fragrance Oils?
Fragrance oils are synthetic oils developed for their scent, for use in candles and body products. Their safety is governed by two scientific bodies – the RIFM (Research Institute for Fragrance Materials) and the IFRA (International Fragrance Association). The process for determining if a fragrance oil is safe involves each individual ingredient being tested by the RIFM, with their findings being published in a peer-reviewed journal. From there, the IFRA takes this data and publishes their recommendations and usage guidelines. These guidelines will include whether or not the oil is safe to use in bath and body products as well as in candles or diffusers.
What about Essential Oils?
Maybe you’ve heard about the power of essential oils, and it’s true that they’ve been used for thousands of years to improve physical, mental, and even spiritual well-being. Uses for essential oils include in diffusers, as topical applications, and in candles. However, if you’re trying to find a candle made exclusively with essential oils, your options are going to be severely limited.
Essential oils all by themselves are not the answer to the kind of candle consumers want (or can afford) to have. Although these oils are all-natural because they are extracted directly from the plant, they are not automatically good for you, or sustainable for the earth—it’s important to remember that they, too, are chemical compounds and should be treated with care. Tea-tree oil, for example, is treated as hazardous waste if a spill of it happens.
According to aromatherapist Mindy Green, founder of Green Scentsations and author of books like Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art, "It often takes hundreds of pounds of plant material to make 1 pound of essential oil.” For instance, it takes around 50 pounds of eucalyptus to create 1 pound of eucalyptus oil, around 250 pounds of lavender for 1 pound of lavender oil, and a whopping 10,000 pounds of roses for 1 pound or rose oil. Whoa. That is a lot of roses. And if you want a good rose-scented candle that smells like the real deal, you probably don't want to pay the price tag that would be on a candle made just from those roses.
Essential Oils vs. Fragrance Oils in Candles
There are obviously a couple of problems with the scenario, then, of scenting candles purely with essential oils:
#1. No one could afford them.
A tiny 5ml jar of Rose essential oil costs around $200-$250 dollars (thanks to the 22 pounds of rose petals that went into that jar!). The amount of oil you would need to put into the candle to achieve any kind of fragrance when it burns puts this candle out of most of our price ranges.
#2. Essential oils don’t always react well to heat.
Even if you did have the money to make a rose essential oil candle, not all essential oils can survive the heat of a candle burning. While the candle may have an okay cold throw (how it smells when it’s not lit), the oil can burn right up and you won’t even smell all that expensive essential oil. On the flip side, essential oils also have a really low flashpoint, meaning if there’s a high concentration of essentials oil in a candle, this oil can combust!
#3. They’re not sustainable.
In a world full of hunger, with clean water at a premium in many areas, taking up so much land and water to grow and harvest 10,000 pounds of roses for a mere one pound of rose oil is not exactly eco-friendly. At that point, a fragrance oil infused with smaller amounts of essential oils is much more sustainable than purely using essential oils.
So, what’s the bottom line when it comes to scented candles?
The bottom line is that essential oils are great, but not cost-effective nor sustainable in large quantities. Fragrance oils that have been approved by the scientific community (specifically, the RIFM and IFRA) are a more budget-friendly, eco-friendly alternative. To be extra safe, Scented Designs uses only phthalate-free fragrance oils infused with essential oils in our candles. We believe they offer the best, safest candle-burning experience for you and your family.