Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saponification Sunday...How Essential is that oil ?


 Folks get confused.

I am one of those folks.

When I would see the term "essential oil" on a soap label I thought it was an oil like Canola or Sunflower oil. With research I learned that an essential oil is  a volatile oil, usually having the characteristic odor or flavor of the plant from which it is obtained, used to make perfumes and flavorings.

Some essential oils are thick, some are very thin in consistency. Some are removed from its home plant by steam distillation, some by crushing, some by extraction via esthers or an aldehyde. Various plant parts are used. It might be the leaf, the stem, the flower, oo the bark.

All essential are very concentrated and must be handled with caution. Very few are safe to put directly on your skin as they can irritate or burn. Most are flammable at certain temps and the majority of them are expensive. One source lists Chamomile essential oil for $26 for just 1/8 oz. Other EO's are more reasonable. Peppermint EO is only $7.50 for 1/2 oz . A real over the top example is Bulgarian Rose Essential oil which will set you back $132 for that 1/8 oz.

I have no idea what is so special about Bulgaria's roses.

I use about 1 oz of EO for every pound of soap. Less if the EO is very strong like Peppermint can be. Way less if the EO can be irritating to the skin like Cinnamon is known to do. This means that in my average 2 pound soap batch which produces eight bars of soap I might invest anywhere from $15- $25 in EO's only.

Essential oils are wonderful for use in body products of all kinds but take education in order to know how much to use for what purpose. I chose to use the essential oils over fragrance oils which are lab created, synthetic and much less expensive... purely because my nose told me too.

EO's have amazing qualities in addition to just the pleasure factor. Lavender, Clary Sage and Geranium Rose are known for assisting for sleep and relaxation. Tee tree and Rosemary EO have been shown to be naturally antifungal and antibacterial. Sadly due to the FDA and their soap labeling requirements I am not allowed to make medicinal claims on my soap labels but customers often figure out what soap works best for them, on their own.

It's been great fun really experimenting on myself and family with the effects of different EO's. Over time they have replaced most all the other aromatics in my home I used to use like air fresheners, clothes softeners, hair rinses, skin ailments to name a few.

In fact since I started using EO's in my soaps, I have stopped using all commercial brands of Perfume. Instead I mix my own concoctions, add a little carrier oil like sweet almond oil and I'm good to go.

There is something about the scent of a good quality EO that makes my heart sing and for that reason alone it is the only substance I use to scent my soaps. Funny trait of mine really since I'm not a purist in other aspects of my life. I relish an ice cold, chemical laden Diet Coke now and then and I think coloring with fume laden magic markers is a blast but my of a purer nature. Many soapers prefer the use of fragrance oil over essential oils, because it comes in fun scents like watermelon and something called "Monkey Farts" and I can't blame them really because the cost of fragrance oils are generally much more manageable. (And seriously what child could resist a soap scented with Monkey Farts?)

Over the last couple of years I have become braver with my essential oil blending. I've purchased a couple of books to assist me and I've learned the difference between high, low and middle notes.

My very favorite EO blend, the one I use in my Billy Bob Soap is...

1 part Lavender EO
1 part Geranium Rose EO
2 parts Grapefruit EO
1 part Amyris EO
1 part Lemongrass EO

 Because I love the way my soaps smell after a good day of blending I will not always calculate how much I've spent scenting a particular bar. Maybe not such good business practice since I charge the same for a bar of soap regardless of the cost of ingredients but I doubt that Monet figured in the costs of his higher end blues and purples when he was creating his masterpieces.

Did I just compare my soap creations to Monet's landscapes? Why yes I did. I told you working with volatile essential oils can be dangerous didn't I?

Someone, open a window.


  1. Great post on essential oils, I really love your thoughts on it! =)

  2. Back in the day when I actually made soap on a regular basis, I went through the Fragrance vs. Essential Oil and realized that the EO's, although much more expensive, just "felt" better. Like sniffing. Yes, it's neat to smell cucumber watermelon, but the aftersmell (is there such a word??) is just weird.

    I'm totally in love with Ylang-Ylang and sometimes go downstairs (where all the soap stuff is) just to open the bottle & pour a dab on a cotton ball & put it in the bedroom or bathroom right before a shower.

  3. I made the decision to use only essential oil before my first batch of soap was made. I do struggle with the cost and amounts. My soap scent is more subtle. Seems people flock to the in your face watermelon scented soap. I guess I'm not business savvy enough to change to fragrance oil. I just don't want to.