More than just buying zero waste products, living a sustainable lifestyle means making choices that promote environmentalism in our individual lives and communities. Sustainability is the concept that life exists outside of ourselves and beyond our lifetime. It also means that we, the individual, are not the center of the universe, and will not damage or cheat future generations out of the opportunity to enjoy the planet’s robust natural environments.
Now more than ever, people are demanding sustainability and transparency from their favourite shoppes and suppliers. We want products that are both natural AND sustainable — of course we do! It’s inevitable to want to use products that are safe, toxin-free and minimize our impact on the environment.
When it comes to the world of aromatherapy, sustainability has become a hot topic of conversation. The choice between nature-extracted essential oils and synthetic fragrance oils can get a bit complex, especially when considering the environmental impact of both options.
What is an essential oil?
Essential oils are highly concentrated, natural and pure aromatic essences that are derived from a variety of parts of plants such as the leaves, roots, flowers, twigs, rhizomes, heartwood, grasses, fruit peels, needles, bark and resin. Aromatic essential oils are highly complex chemical structures that have physical, emotional and spiritual therapeutic benefits. How the oil itself is obtained is dependent upon the parts used: steam distillation, cold-pressing and solvent extraction are the most common.
What is a fragrance oil?
There are a few different kinds of fragrance oils, but it mainly comes down to two categories: synthetic fragrance oils and natural fragrance oils.
Synthetic fragrance oils can be divided into two subcategories: typical fragrance oils and natural-identical fragrance oils. Typical fragrance oils are created entirely in a lab using petroleum-by-product derived synthetic compounds not found in nature. Natural-identical fragrance oils are created to have the same chemical structure as their essential oil counterparts but are again man-made with any combination of synthetic aromatic compounds and essential oils.Natural fragrance oils, not to be confused with natural-identical fragrance oils, are also lab made, but they are made from the isolated aromatic molecules of plant materials. While natural fragrance oils have a more authentic scent and may seem like an equal alternative to essential oils, they don’t contain the same aromatherapeutic properties that essential oils do, so you won't be getting the therapeutic benefits.
So, which option is more ecofriendly?
On the surface, essential oils are an inherently more “natural” product. Essential oils are harvested from the earth — there is no other way to obtain an aromatic, true lavender oil other than by extracting it from lavender buds themselves. Knowing the harvesting practices of the farms where these oils are obtained is a good way to assess the oil’s environmental impact. Every bottle of essential oil should clearly state where the oil was extracted, and how*.*Tip: we always suggest looking for 5 items on a label to ensure a good quality essential oil: Common Name, Latin Name, Country of Origin, Status (organic, wild crafted, conventional) and Extraction Method (cold-pressed, steam distilled, etc.)
Sometimes further research is needed to properly assess the true impact of an essential oil. For example, our shoppe no longer carries rosewood essential oil because the tree from which it is extracted is now on the endangered species list. Aromatherapists and natural perfumers must do without if that tree is to be protected and have a chance at thriving once again.
Where do fragrance oils come in?
Sadly, the origin and makeup of ingredients in many fragrance oils can be a big mystery. These oils can contain hundreds of chemicals, many of which aren’t even listed on the label. These chemical cocktails can be harmful to our health and the earth. Even worse, some chemicals found in fragrance oils are derived from petroleum, which is certainly not a sustainable source.
When it comes to fragrance oils, having more information can help guide the decision-making process. Some companies focus on creating synthetic scents that contain more transparent ingredients and fewer toxic materials. These oils would be a wonderful alternative to essential oils, especially when used in large amounts or as a replacement for rare or expensive natural oils. Affordable, man-made oils that don’t deplete our natural resources can be a promising alternative to natural scents. Plus, the ability to create fun, unique smells that don’t exist in the natural world offers many exciting aromatic possibilities.
Here at The Apothecary, we use 100% pure essential oils to scent our products and do our very best to stay up to date on any plants that are struggling, endangered, or simply need some space to recover. We also believe in using essential oils to help those further avoid experiencing any allergies or sensitivities, which is also why we offer many scent-free products as well.
Scents and sustainability will always be a fine line; we want natural and healthy things entering our bodies, and we want the practice of obtaining these oils to not take an exhaustive toll on the planet. When it comes to sustainability, the best policy is to ask how the product was obtained. This way, you can better determine if the product is in alignment with the kind of world you want to see.