Diffusers are all the rage right now, and with good reason. What person doesn’t want their home to smell like flowers or baked goods at a fraction of the cost and effort? More importantly, using a diffuser with essential oils is a great way to help relax, increase your focus, or even breathe more comfortably indoors. What about fragrance oils? Are they the same thing, and will they work the same way? The difference between fragrance oils and essential oils is roughly the same as the difference between those orange cheese-food-product slices and a well-aged cheddar. I used to use fragrance oils, but I don’t anymore, and I’ll explain why. The reason will shock you. Ultimately it’s up to you to make your own choice. However, sometimes when you can do something, that doesn’t mean you should. Such is the case with fragrance oils in your diffuser. Just don’t do it.
Can you use fragrance oils in a diffuser? You can use fragrance oils in a diffuser, but you shouldn’t. I strongly recommend dropping fragrance oils in the trash instead. These pretty smelling synthetic lab creations are often risky and filled with unhealthy ingredients. Moreover, they can be actively harmful, which is why you should never diffuse them into your air.
Are Fragrance Oils & Essential Oils the Same?
Plenty of people use fragrance oils in their diffusers, but is that the same as an essential oil? In a word, no. The simplest explanation is that fragrance oils are synthetic and essential oils are natural.
Not all synthetics are a terrible thing. Most modern medicines are synthetic compounds, after all, and they can save your life. However, not all lab creations are equal. Such is the case with fragrance oils.
Essential oils are removed from plants. The root, bark, seeds, leaves, or flowers of an actual plant go through a process to remove the oil. Some use steam, and others are cold-pressed. While each of these methods has its benefits and downsides, the important takeaway is that the essential oil came from a real, once-living plant.
Why is it vital that you use essential oil instead of fragrance oils? Well, when your ingredients come from plants, you know exactly what’s inside them. The components inside a fragrance oil may not be safe to inhale, consume, or put on your skin.
Though in the case of diffusers you’re only breathing it in, it’s still important not to put fragrance oils on your body. Most of all, you should never eat them.
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Fragrance Oils Are Often Heavy
Although not all diffusers work the same way, it’s best to avoid putting fragrance oils in an essential oil diffuser. More than just the cloying smell, fragrance oils often have a different viscosity than essential oils. A diffuser designed for lighter essential oils should never hold fragrance oils.
If your diffuser specifically says it can handle fragrance oils, then it’s okay to put them inside. However, another downside to fragrance oils is that they do not disburse odors. Instead, they attempt to cover the offending smell. Sadly the result can be worse than the original issue.
Furthermore, the health benefits of essential oil do not translate to synthetic fragrance oils. For example, rosemary essential oil can help you with memory. However, ‘rosemary scent’ that comes from a chemical lab has none of the same benefits.
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Can You Mix Fragrance Oils and Essential Oils
You can mix fragrance oil with essential oil. By adding a carrier oil like jojoba, it’s easy enough to get both to blend together. However, this doesn’t change the fact that you should not be using fragrance oils.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that by blending them together, you lessen the potentially harmful effects of fragrance oil. While it’s true that diluting something unpleasant makes it weaker, that does not make it suitable for you.
Sometimes you’re seeking to create a particular scent. While it’s olfactory truth might be extremely pleasing on the surface, a good smell does not make it a good plan. Blending synthetic oils with plant oils simply means you’re still using a fragrance oil.
Finally, you may want to blend these two oils, so you won’t feel that you wasted good money on a bad oil. Unfortunately, buying these oils in the first place is not a good idea. Using them at all is inviting potential problems into your life. I’ll explain all the reasons to toss those fragrance oils in the next section.
Don’t Put Fragrance Oils in a Diffuser
Before you put that fragrance oil in a diffuser, flip it over and take a look at the ingredient list. If it doesn’t have one, or you don’t know what most of the words mean, please consider putting it into the trash instead. I abhor waste, but health is more important than any sweet-smelling oil.
Parfum is one of the big culprits in the fragrance oil industry. This ‘proprietary’ blend can have quite literally hundreds of ingredients. What are they? Well, that’s a great question, and you’ll never get a straight answer. The secret of a proprietary blend is that they won’t tell you what or how much is inside a product. That should make you suspicious.
If parfum were the only questionable ingredient, I might recommend parfum free fragrance oils. However, the trouble goes deeper. According to the Children’s Environmental Health Network, everything on the following list is a potential ingredient in those fragrance oils. Sadly, they aren’t just bad for kids. Both adults and pets are also at risk from these additives.
Nasty Surprises Found in Fragrance Oils
Sadly, chemicals go by numerous names. You should look up every ingredient on a fragrance oil bottle. Likewise, nonspecific names, like ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’ in other products, should make you suspicious. There’s no such thing as a ‘fragrance tree’ or a ‘parfum flower,’ and that means you aren’t getting all the info about your products.
- Aldehydes- This carcinogenic family is often toxic to humans. Though your body possesses several aldehyde metabolizing enzyme systems, that doesn’t mean you should challenge it to see how much you can handle. Moreover, carcinogens can contribute to cancer.
- Benzene Derivatives- The amounts of benzene derivatives in plastics and food have been deemed safe for humans. Nevertheless, these are often poisonous and corrosive. Breathing in a benzine derivative is clearly a bad idea. Moreover, concentrated BD’s can cause death.
- (Some) Fragrance Compounds- Although this is an umbrella category like ‘scent and parfum.’ Hence not all fragrance compounds are the same. However, some fragrance compounds are linked to congenital disabilities, while others are neurotoxicants. Especially around children and pregnant women, you should avoid these at all costs. It’s not worth ‘rolling the dice.’
- Petrochemicals- Petrochemicals are petroleum products. While some petroleum products, like vaseline, are safe for humans, others are toxic like gasoline. Additionally, these products are ecologically unsustainable and create vast amounts of pollution.
- Phthalates- Unfortunately, phthalates are capable of disrupting your endocrine system. Like fragrance compounds, you should keep these far from children and pregnant women. However, that doesn’t mean they’re ‘good’ for anyone else.
- Toluene- According to OSHA ( the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), “Toluene exposure may cause liver and kidney damage. Toluene affects the central nervous system, eyes, skin, respiratory system, liver, kidneys. Breathing high levels of toluene during pregnancy has been shown to result in children with congenital disabilities and to retard mental abilities and growth.” There’s nothing I can say about this that they haven’t already covered except to note that they also warn against using it in enclosed and unventilated spaces.
Are Fragrance Oils Stronger Than Essential Oils
Putting a fragrance oil in a diffuser may create a longer-lasting aroma. Because these oils come from a lab, it’s possible to enhance the scent. Resultantly fragrance oils often create a lingering effect that you cannot get from natural essential oils.
Sadly, that remaining scent means the fragrance oil is still present and potent in your environment. Since these synthetic oils have none of the benefits of essential oil, at best, it’s not helping you in any way. Just smelling nice isn’t a good reason to buy a product.
Essential oils are often powerful as well. Some can cause chemical burns, while others can help you fight anxiety and depression. It’s hard to say one type of oil is more potent than the other because they work differently.
You should always respect your oils. Anything that goes on, or inside your body, can benefit you or poison you. Depending on the ingredients and amount, toxicity is a real problem. Notably, many fragrance oils can also be harmless. However, there’s not enough testing in the industry to be sure.
Natural Fragrance Oils
There is a sub-category of fragrance oils that are made from plants. While these are rarer, you can find them if you seek them out. Typically these are made from the remains of an essential oil-making process.
Unfortunately, these scents are not therapeutic grade. If you absolutely must have fragrance oils, then please use all-natural. The lack of ingredients like BPA will undoubtedly benefit you. I don’t want to demonize decent products. It’s crucial always to check out what’s inside a product before it goes inside your body.
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Fragrance oil is not the right choice for diffusers. The best possible outcome is a heavy scent that lingers. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting your home to smell sweet, there are better, healthier ways to achieve that effect.
As a general rule, you should avoid ‘scents,’ ‘fragrance compounds,’ and ‘parfume’ along with any ingredient you can’t pronounce. The standards for testing bath and body products, of which scenting agents like fragrance oil are certainly part, are far less than you might expect. Stick to a trusted, high-quality essential oil producer with rigorous purity testing.
As a woman, you likely have dozens of products in your home that contain fragrance oils inside. Is that the best choice? I think not, but what you put in your body is your decision and responsibility.