Welcome to Part two of the semi-official dictionary of soap talk.
If a soapmaker you know starts turning purple, clenching their teeth and making guttural sounds from the back of their throat, forget the Heimlich maneuver. Of course it’s possible they’re just choking on a piece of candy corn, but more likely their agitation is caused by reading a listing on etsy like this one:
“All Natural Root Beer Float soap, with real root beer EO - no fake chemicals!”
Grrrrrrrr. You see, it is vital that a soaper knows the difference between an EO and an FO. There is all the difference in the world.
An EO is an essential oil. According to Wikipedia, an essential oil is a “concentrated, hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants.” In English, that means they are the oils derived from plants. Usually, they are created by distillation, and less frequently by expression, or solvent extraction. They are considerably more expensive than fragrance oils, for one thing because the process to create them can be very detailed and time consuming, and for another thing because the plants they are derived from can be rare and hard to come by.
Essential oils bring with them many properties besides scent. Many have medicinal properties. Tea tree oil, for example, has antibacterial properties. Peppermint EO can help with nausea. Many are used in aromatherapy. However, many EOs also have adverse effects both on people and animals, and must be used with caution. For example, many citrus EOs – especially bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, lemon, lemon verbena, lime, and orange – can cause photosensitivity, increased sensitivity of the skin to light. Use of these EOs can cause people to become sunburned more easily or break out in a rash. Some EOs are abortifacients - pennyroyal and sage, for example, should be avoided by pregnant women because it is possible that they could cause a spontaneous abortion. Even well-known EOs like peppermint and clove must be used with caution – a tad too much in a soap and … let’s just say the skin will tingle. A lot.
An FO, on the other hand, is a fragrance oil. These are synthetic compounds generally diluted with a carrier like propylene glycol, vegetable oil, or mineral oil. Suppliers rarely disclose the ingredients of their FOs. In general, they are closely guarded secrets. Flavor oils are a variation of these. Often the flavor oil used in a lip balm is no different than a fragrance oil used in a bar of soap.
Some believe that fragrance oils are inferior to essential oils. That is a matter of personal preference for the most part, however some fragrance oils do contain phthalates, a chemical used among things to make plastics flexible. There has been a good deal of controversy surrounding phthalates recently - high doses have of certain phthalates have been shown to change hormone levels and cause birth defects in rodents. Many products will state if the FOs in them are “phthalate-free.”
A seasoned soaper with reasonable experience in the use of EOs and FOs will know at a glance whether or not a scent is likely to be given by a FO or EO. Since EOs are plant-based, there is no way there could ever be a “rootbeer EO.” The listing above was imaginary … just an example. And yet, these kinds of listing pop up fairly frequently on etsy and other handmade sites.
Soapers tend to be somewhat obsessive about their fragrances. Some have even been known to sell their car to be able to buy more FOs and other supplies. And that brings us to our final dictionary term of the day … the FO-ho.
You’ll have to figure that one out. ;D