Natural Alternatives to Fragrance Oils in Skincare

Natural Alternatives to Fragrance Oils in Skincare Formulations

As a natural skincare formulator, you want your products to be not only effective but also safe for your customers. One area where many formulators struggle is in creating an appealing scent for their products without resorting to synthetic fragrance oils. Fragrance oils are blends of chemicals, many of which are synthetic, and some of which have been linked to allergies and other health concerns. This is why it’s crucial for skincare professionals to look for natural alternatives to fragrance oils such as essential oils, hydrosols, CO2 extracts, enfleurage, and other botanical extracts.

Today’s blog post will provide an overview of natural alternatives to fragrance oils in skincare formulations. Then the next several posts will be a series that breaks down the details, benefits, and any safety or formulation guidelines of each alternative.

The importance of quality and therapeutic benefits

When choosing natural alternatives to fragrance oils, it’s vital to focus on the quality, purity, and therapeutic benefits of your selected ingredients. High-quality steam-distilled essential oils, CO2 extracts, and other traditionally prepared aromatic botanical extracts can offer numerous benefits to the skin, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties.

gas chromatography

Make sure you source your botanical extracts carefully to ensure quality and purity. Many suppliers will provide GC/MS reports for essential oils, hydrosols, and CO2 extracts so you can feel confident that the right constituents are in the extract, and that there are no synthetics or adulterants.

Natural alternatives to fragrance oils

These natural alternatives also provide a delightful aroma that can enhance the overall experience of using your skincare products. While it’s true that natural aromatic extracts do not last as long as synthetic fragrances, some of them have a stronger, more concentrated aroma while others are more subtle. The more subtly-scented extracts may impart enough scent to neutralize or mask any unpleasant scents from other raw materials in the skincare formulation, even if the scent itself doesn’t last very long.

Essential oils

Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that are known for their therapeutic benefits. They are obtained through processes such as steam distillation, cold pressing, or solvent extraction. Essential oils can add natural scents to your skincare formulations while providing various skin benefits. For example, lavender essential oil can help soothe irritated skin, while tea tree oil has potent antimicrobial properties.

woman with long brown hair smelling essential oil

The main limitations are that essential oils have become so commercialized that it can be difficult to find high-quality, unadulterated oils. Essential oils also must be properly diluted to avoid irritant or allergic reactions and sensitization when applied topically–please do not use or direct your clients to use undiluted essential oils unless you are trained in clinical herbalism or aromatherapy from a reputable school (not an MLM essential oil brand). You also have to be really careful to keep essential oils out of the reach of children and away from pets. While some essential oils are safe around dogs, none are safe for cats.

CO2 extracts

CO2 extracts are produced using carbon dioxide under high pressure, resulting in an often more concentrated and purer extract than traditional essential oils. With CO2 extraction, the type of extraction (subcritical liquid, supercritical select, total, or oleoresin) will determine its concentration and usage. CO2 extraction is also beneficial because it can be used for fruits and other plants that can’t be steam distilled.

CO2 scrabble tiles

Some CO2 extracts contain both the volatile aromatic compounds and the non-volatile constituents of the plant offering a more complex and potent therapeutic effect. Others contain just the volatiles, which behave more like steam-distilled essential oils, while others only contain the larger molecule non-volatiles. These are more like carrier oils.

CO2 extracts can provide a natural aroma and added therapeutic benefits to your skincare products. For instance, rosehip CO2 extract is known for its skin-regenerating properties, while chamomile CO2 extract can help calm and soothe sensitive skin.

Enfleurage and infused oils

Enfleurage is an ancient method of extracting the delicate scent from flowers by placing them on a layer of odorless fat. The fat absorbs the fragrance, which can then be used in skincare formulations. Some flowers, such as lilac and gardenia, are too delicate to withstand steam distillation, so in that case, enfleurage is necessary to obtain these aromas naturally.

Infused oils are created by steeping plant material in a carrier oil using heat from the sun, a slow-cooker, or a double-boiler to extract the beneficial oil-soluble compounds.

Both enfleurage and infused oils can add a subtle, natural aroma to your products while also providing therapeutic skin benefits.


Hydrosols, also known as hydrolats or distillate waters, are a byproduct of essential oil production via steam distillation. These are not the same as flower waters, which are made by steeping flowers into boiling or hot water the same way you’d make tea. Hydrosols contain water-soluble plant compounds and a small, diluted amount of the volatile compounds you’d find in that plant’s essential oil, that offer unique therapeutic properties.

copper still with lavender flowers making essential oil and hydrosol

Hydrosols are safer, less expensive, and more user-friendly than essential oils. They do not usually need to be diluted, and can be used safely around children and pets.

Hydrosols can be used as a gentle, natural alternative to synthetic fragrances in your skincare formulations. For example, rose hydrosol can provide hydration, help soothe the skin and counteract the appearance of redness, and bring gentle astringent and firming properties to the skin.

Embracing natural aromas for healthier skincare

While natural alternatives to fragrance oils might not provide as long-lasting a scent, your customers will benefit from the therapeutic properties of the plants and the transparency of knowing what’s in the product. This allows them to make informed choices and avoid potential allergens.

By focusing on high-quality ingredients and their therapeutic benefits, you can create effective, safe, and appealing skincare products that your customers will love.

Do you need help naturally scenting your skincare products?

I can help with that! I can help you formulate or reformulate professional-quality natural skincare products, perfumes, and bodycare products. You can book a consulting session with me HERE.


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