Saturday, October 29, 2011

Essential Oils vs. Synthetic Oils and All Natural vs. Organic

Alyssa, San Francisco, CA
Alyssa and I just returned from ten days in sunny California where we participated in a certification class in All Natural formulating.  The Brown Barn Company tries to be as all natural as possible but this is not always practical depending on what we want the product to accomplish or to meet consumer's desires for certain fragrance blends.

We find many customers do not fully understand the difference between essential oils, synthetic fragrance, all natural and organic formulating.  Here is a "primer" on these items:

Essential Oils - Put simply, Essential Oils are oils drawn from plants. Essential oils are basically the DNA of plants, the oils being their "life blood". Some plant DNA contains qualities that are beneficial to us in our health or provides therapeutic benefits to us. For example Lavender Essential Oil helps calm and relax, promoting quality sleep. Myrtle Essential Oil is antiseptic. High quality therapeutic grade essential oils provide the best therapeutic benefits. Oils of this quality are very expensive. It takes hundreds of roses to make an ounce of Rose Otto Essential Oil! The Brown Barn Bath Company will soon be offering more products using therapeutic grade essential oils. These products will be priced at a higher price point than our fragrance oil products because of the cost of the Essential oils used BUT they will provide aromatherapy and Essential oil benefits not available in any other form. 

Because essential oils are basically "alive" they respond to their environment, smelling different to and on each person. During our class we noticed that essential oil blends smelled differently on each person who tried them. For example Rose Geranium essential oil smells beautiful on Alyssa and horrible on myself.  And I love love love the scent of Cedar essential oil while Alyssa can pass it up. 

We see this concept in action all the time in the store and among the employees. Some employees will smell an item and say "This is great!" while others will turn their noses up at it!  We recently had one employee remove all of a product from the shelf because her and a customer both didn't care for the smell.  When we investigated "the problem" we were stunned to find no problem at all!  The scent of the combination of peppermint and tea tree oil was off-putting to them and fine to the rest of us. (I'm not that crazy for tea tree and peppermint oil scent either but its benefits outweigh that so I continue to use it to heal my skin and put it in our facial bars so you can benefit from it as well.  And this scent combination is also found in one of our best selling bar soaps.) 

Another interesting example of essential oil differences is that essential oils can draw forth "aroma-memories" that can be good or bad. We have a facial creme that uses Lemon Essential Oil and Geranium Essential Oil.  This is the same combination that scents Murphy's Oil Soap. We had an employee who was alarmed and pointed this out to us when she first started working for us.  (Of course we knew it smelled like this, HA HA!) Some people just love that facial cream, I've had customers say it has a calming and soothing effect on them as they associate it with their grandmother. Others don't want to use it on their faces as they associate it with cleaning their house.

Aromatherapy -  Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being.  Alyssa is soon beginning her work on becoming a licensed Aromatherapist.  An Aromatherapist  is someone who uses their knowledge of Essential Oils to make products to help people using aromatherapy techniques.  We are very excited (and lucky) to soon be offering products formulated just for our company by our own "in house" aromatherapist!!

Fragrance Oil - "Fragrance Oil" is the term that describes the synthetic, lab produced scents used in many bath and body products. The decision to use fragrance oils in our products was one that promoted much thought and debate. The reason we struggled with this decision is because we do not know what is in the synthetic oils used by companies that make fragrance oils. These oils are considered "proprietary" blends and their ingredients are highly guarded secrets. The FDA does not consider the use of fragrance oils a health risk due to the small amount of oil that makes it to the customer's skin. It takes only a small amount of this oil to fragrance a huge batch of product.

Fragrance oils are highly desirable in the bath & body industry because they are so stable. The scent can be duplicated over and over without change and it will smell the same on everyone because it is not "alive" like Essential Oils.

The reason we debated so ferociously over the fragrance oil issue is because fragrance oils are known to cause allergic reactions. In the end we decided to let the consumers decide what they wanted.  Fragrance oils are so very popular in our store that they outsell our essential oil scents more than ten to one. Will we continue to use fragrance oils once we introduce more natural scents? Sure. As long as there is consumer demand.  We would rather see our customers buy our fragrance scented items with their healthy natural bases than be forced to buy them from the other companies using these oils combined with horrible, unhealthy bases.

All Natural - This is a term thrown about a lot in our industry. At the Brown Barn this means that the ingredients used in these products are all derived from plant sources.  We NEVER animal test!!  If the product does not say "All Natural" then most likely the preservative or base used is derived from a chemical or it uses fragrance oil.  Our products are all healthy though. We research carefully each ingredient to the best of our ability ensure that you  are receiving a top quality item. It is difficult to make an oil based item without the use of some type of emulsifier to keep the oils from separating. Thru our course we learned new techniques to provide you with some wonderful all natural perfumes, room sprays, body sprays and facial oils. Again though, the use of the all natural ingredients drives the cost up because they are difficult for us to source and cost more than chemicals.  However we feel the extra price is worth the long-term health benefits so will continue in this direction.

Organic - The "golden" word! It is very difficult to make a 100% organic bath/body item. We are allowed to call an item organic if 85% of the ingredients in the product are organic. Organic soap is a good example of this. In the organic bar soap all of the oils used to make the soap are certified organic. The lye in the soap is not organic. However, the lye evaporates from the soap over time so it is just a saponifier (holder togetherer) of the oils. That is why we can have organic bar soap. The Brown Barn Company farm is currently not certified organic but we have been laying the foundation for this certification for years. It is our hope that in 2012 we will be able to start producing our own organic fruit fibers and flower waters from the farm!

I hope you enjoyed this little "vocabulary list" and that you will try some of our soon to come all natural sprays, mists, perfumes, smelling salts and more!

Have a great Pumpkin of a weekend! 

Chris Untiedt
The Brown Barn Company llc


  1. i noted on natural, that its extract from plant sources. but i still does not understand on the term organic in essential oil? what determines organic? was it also extraction from plant sources? organic oil has higher concentration than essential oil?

    1. I'm sorry for the late reply, I only just now saw your questions! I hope you get this response. Organic means that the plants are grown using organic practices - the farmer does not use chemicals for weed control, fertilizer or pest control on the plants. These leaves/plants have only been exposed to all natural safe materials such as manure. Organic is usually determined by the USDA through a certification process. There are many companies that use certified organic ingredients, usually these are posted in the ingredients section of the label. No, Organic essential oil would not, to my knowledge, have a higher extraction that non-organic. It will be much more expensive though as the way the plants are grown costs much more than those using chemicals. Again, I apologize for the late response. Feel free to email us at for more info, we love answering questions!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thanks a lot for sharing. You have done a brilliant job. I am really happy I discovered your website. However, I would like to see more details about this topic. I'm going to keep coming back here.

    Organic Canola Oil

  4. Very detailed instructions Andy, good work. Maybe I should start changing my own oil, you make it look so simple
    Synthetic oil in Pakistan

  5. I can see that you are putting lots of efforts into your blog. Keep posting the good work. Some really helpful information
    in there about Organic Essential Oils. Nice to see your site. Thanks!