Can I use a fragrance or flavour oil in place of the essential oil(s) called for in a recipe?

Generally speaking, yes, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Are the essential oils part of the function?

In something like tiger balm or a tingly mint cooling concoction the essential oils are part of the core function of the product—don’t change them.

If it’s a lip product

Make sure you are using a lip-safe flavour oil, not a fragrance oil.

What is the maximum usage level for the fragrance oil you want to use?

Find out and make sure you stay within those maximum levels—you should be able to find this information from your supplier or the manufacturer of the fragrance oil. If your supplier doesn’t list it, simply google the name of the fragrance oil and “maximum usage rate”. They typically vary depending on purpose (skin/face/soap/etc.) Wholesale Supplies Plus does an excellent job of displaying this information for the products they sell.

Learn more: How to naturally scent lotions (and other formulations) with essential oils and natural fragrance oils

If it’s solubilized

If the the fragrance/essential oil in the original recipe was solubilized into a mostly watery concoction using a solubilizer, using a new fragrance or essential oil may necessitate a different amount of solubilizer to ensure everything stays properly solubilized (yes, even if the weight stays the same). This is something you will need to determine yourself through experimentation.

Want to leave out the essential oils entirely?

As long as they’re not part of the integral function of the recipe (see above), go for it—just be sure to replace the lost amount with a liquid oil or water, depending on the recipe. Oil is the preferred replacement medium, but if it’s a recipe that is almost entirely water (say, a toner with a small amount of essential oils solubilized into an otherwise water-based product) you can eliminate both the essential oils and the solubilizer and replace them with more water.

Want to use a different amount?

Adjust the formulation accordingly. Fragrance oils are typically a lot stronger than essential oils; I rarely use them above 0.3%, tending towards 0.1% as a default starting point. If a formulation called for 0.5% essential oil and you want to use a fragrance oil instead I’d use 0.1% fragrance oil and replace the missing 0.4% with more water (if it’s a formulation that contains water) or more liquid carrier oil (for anhydrous products).

Posted in: Substitutions