What Is Natural Fragrance and How Is It Made?

By Erica Loop in Natural Products

What is natural fragrance? After nixing cosmetics with harsh fragrances from your routine, you turned to products with naturally derived ingredients. Even though you feel better about this choice, you still want to know more about natural soap scents and how they're made. From the sources behind the scents to the production process that manufacturers use to craft the sweet smells you enjoy, check out everything you need to know about fragrances.

soap washing

Do All Soaps Have a Fragrance?

Fragrances are ever present in the personal care industry. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), products that are labeled "unscented" may actually have a low level of fragrance. This is used to mask other not-so-pleasant product smells, but it doesn't create an overwhelming odor.

The FDA requires retail cosmetic products to include a list of ingredients. Even though this rule might make it seem like you should expect to see a full breakdown of every scent in your soap—it doesn't. Manufacturers may use the broad term "fragrance" instead of naming the individual ingredients.

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) defines fragrance as a "chemical mixture" with either a smell or odor. The IFRA explains that fragrance goes beyond what your nose detects and bridges cultural, emotional, historical, and even economical contexts.

When it comes to soaps specifically, many products do contain a variety of synthetic and naturally derived scents. If the idea of fragrance as a general identifier on an ingredient list gives you pause, you can explore products that only use naturally derived scents to avoid harsher alternatives.

What Is Natural Fragrance?

These fragrances may include any one of several different types of essential oils. Citrus, limonene, lavender, tea tree, and eucalyptus are a few oils commonly used in personal care and beauty products.

Essential oils come from almost sixty botanical families of plants, according to a 2021 article published in the scientific journal Molecules. Some essential oils include between twenty and sixty natural components, varying in concentration.

Even though extraction processes can take place in a lab, naturally derived fragrances aren't synthetic compounds. The IFRA distinguishes natural from synthetic fragrances, noting that "natural ingredients" may include spices, flowers, grasses, fruit, resins, leaves, roots, or anything that is collected straight from nature. In comparison, synthetic fragrances are chemicals that manufacturers use to recreate natural types of smells.

Just because a soap smells like lavender doesn't necessarily mean it includes a plant-based essential oil. The flowery scent you smell could come from a synthetic copycat.

natural plants

How Are Natural Fragrances Made?

After harvesting, the plant ingredients need to go through a distillation, or extraction, process before landing in your favorite hand soap. This could include one of several techniques. Here are two of the most common:

  • Steam distillation: ScienceDirect explains the extraction technique of steam distillation, which is pretty much what it sounds like. This method uses steam to extract the oil from the plant. The condensation from the hot vapors contains a layer of essential oil and a water-soluble layer, making it possible to extract the oil fragrance.
  • Cold pressing: Cold pressing is a popular type of extraction method that uses food-grade solvents and provides an alternative to steaming. This process involves pressing the plants and their parts with either with sponges or machines to remove and separate the oil. While it's less efficient, the resulting product is more potent.

From relaxing aromas to invigorating scents, fragrances can enhance your personal care routine. Whether you prefer a bold floral, sweet fruit, or a musky mix, some studies indicate that essential oils can help to soothe conditions such as anxiety, nausea, and depression, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Wondering about the fragrance in other products, such as your favorite cologne? Find out more about choosing a personal scent you can feel good about.

If you want to learn more about natural products, check out the DIY Naturally board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest.

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The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Naturally derived soap scents are more than just invigorating aromas! These fragrances come from beloved botanicals and other plant-based sources, making them gentle, eco-friendly options.