History of Fragrance Oils

Fragrance Oils are widely used in soapmaking and for many other products, including candles, lotions and bath bombs to name a few. They are a cost effective, reliable method to use when scenting your product. However, not all fragrance oils are created equal…

Test your Oils!
Not all fragrance oils are created equal. What may work well from one supplier might dramatically differ from another supplier’s oil. This is why it is vital that you test your new fragrances before using them in a large batch of soap. For cold-process soapers, this is especially important.

Fragrance oils are a mix of synthetics that mimic a scent in nature or often, come up with an entirely new scent. Fragrance oils may contain up to 80% essential oils but usually are predominantly artificial. There are over 5,000 raw ingredients to choose from when making up a fragrance oil. The perfumer has his or her hands full! Sometimes, one of the many ingredients in a fragrance oil may cause a batch of soap to accelerate trace, separate, heat up in the molds or totally seize. This is why it is very important to test all oils before using them on a large scale. Also, if you have any problems with your oil, often it can be reformulated to work better in your soap. All you have to do is ask!

Fragrance Ingredients – The Big Secret
Originally, perfumes and fragrance materials came from plants or animal sources. Finding a musk ox these days might prove difficult though. Also, there is growing concern about harvesting some raw materials, such as Sandalwood. However, in the late 1800’s the first synthetic fragrance material was produced. From here, an explosion of fragrance houses came about. Now, perfumes were no longer reserved for the rich!

With this new popularity came secrecy. Often, only the master perfumer would know exactly what was in his scent. Developing perfumes and new fragrances is a very time consuming process that is done only by skilled perfumers. Formulas for fragrance oils cannot be patented. The only way to prevent them from being copied is to not release the ingredients. Fragrance oils fall under “trade secret” laws, which mean that the formula and therefore, ingredients, do not have to be listed. However, your supplier of fragrance oils will have on hand an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) which details the basic safety suggestions for the fragrance oil. Normally, the MSDS sheet will list the physical properties of the oil, such as the specific gravity and flash point, physical or health hazards and first aid procedures in case of a spill. It will also give hazardous ingredients information, as well as detail the personal protection suggested, such as goggles, gloves and other protective devices.

If you are ever concerned about a particular fragrance oil you are using, simply call your supplier and ask about it. It never hurts to ask and most suppliers will be glad to answer any questions you have about the proper usage and safety of an oil.

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A Self-Regulated Industry
The fragrance oil industry is a self-regulated one. Perfumes, cosmetics and other personal care products fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA. However, due to “trade secret” status of fragrance formulas, the authority over fragrances is limited. There are, however, various chemicals that are banned from use. There are several organizations within the fragrance oil industry that address safety issues of raw materials to go into fragrances. One such body, The Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) collects data and evaluates fragrance materials. This data, once reviewed by an independent board, is published in a scientific journal The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) is an international organization that represents fragrance manufacturers. IFRA takes the data and reports from RIFM, evaluates it and publishes guidelines for usage. IFRA will make recommendations for which raw materials are safe to use in fragrance oils; often, what is safe for potpourri will not be safe for the skin. Your supplier should follow IFRA’s guidelines and use only RIFM approved materials in their fragrance oils.

The fragrance oil business is a complex, multi-faceted business. Many people are involved in the making of one good oil. You, the consumer, benefit from the hundreds of pages of research and countless hours of testing. Fragrance oils open up a whole new world for soap and toiletry makers; scents that you have never dreamed of are out there for you to use and enjoy. You’ll be delighted with the world of smell out there when you start to explore. So, try some new fragrances today and get inspired!