Are Essential Oils Fragrance-Free?

Some people are promoting their essential oils and EO containing products as being #FragranceFree.

A few years ago others were claiming their essential oils were #ScentFree.

It seems we need to have a closer look at this before more people are hurt.

(a compilation of screenshot bits about essential oils, fragrance, aroma, perfume, scent, synonyms)

From the dictionary:

Aromatherapy uses aromatic essential oils medicinally
Aroma – fragrant scent
A quality that can be perceived by the olfactory sense

Some people say their products are fragrance-free because they use essential oils instead of fragrance oils.

Fragrance Oils vs Essential Oils – screenshot from fragrancex

Some have said to look for unscented instead of fragrance-free

SAFER CHOICE Fragrance-Free
Fragrance-Free vs. Unscented

Some products may have the terms fragrance-free or unscented on their packaging.

Understanding the differences between these two terms is important for consumers and purchasers looking for products without fragrances.

Fragrance-free means that fragrance materials or masking scents are not used in the product.

Unscented generally means that the product may contain chemicals that neutralize or mask the odors of other ingredients.

Health Canada
Cosmetic advertising, labelling and ingredients

Marketing terms
Fragrance Free or Unscented

The marketing terms “fragrance free” and “unscented” are generally understood to mean:

fragrances have not been added to the cosmetic product,


scents in the cosmetic product have been hidden by a masking agent.
Masking agents can be listed individually, or under the term “fragrance” or “parfum” on the list of ingredients.
Therefore, if “parfum” or “fragrance” appears in the list of ingredients, the product contains fragrance or a masking agent.

Scented products and fragrance Policy at Mount Sinai Hospital excerpts:


“Mount Sinai Hospital is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all and will strive to eliminate the use of products with scents and fragrances to prevent any adverse reactions in patients, staff and other people working and/or visiting the hospital premises.”

Scented Product and Fragrance:
Refers to any product including, but not limited to:

a) Personal Products such as perfume, cologne, essential oils, scented aftershave lotions, scented deodorant, scented moisturizing hand lotion, body or face washes, lotions or sprays, massage oils, scented sunscreen, and any scented hair shampoo, conditioner, mousse, gel, hairspray, scented powder or talc, solid or

b) Environmental Products such as spray air fresheners, incense and potpourri, scented candles, cleaning products, detergents, laundry products, sterilizing products, adhesives, etc.

MSH Community: Includes all employees, healthcare professionals, physicians, students, volunteers, researchers, contractors, patients, visitors to the hospital and members of the public.

Photo taken through a window with blinds, of an ambulance and two 1st responders taking a stretcher into a school, after someone suffered a serious adverse effect from someone’s essential oil use in the classroom for the 2nd time in a week.

As a result, essential oils were banned from that school district:

Due to the possibility of potentially life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), the use of essential oils, aromatherapies, and diffusers will no longer be allowed in all of the Oakwood School District buildings. Essential oils, aromatherapies, and diffuser scents affect individuals differently, and may be a trigger (allergen) when breathing it in or exposure to the skin for those students and staff with allergies and asthma. Students and staff with asthma and allergies are also at increased risk for life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). Our aim is to provide safe indoor air quality, free of potential allergens for students and staff with allergies and asthma. Please do not send any essential oils or other aromatherapies with your student to school.

Overall, 34.7 % of the population reported health problems when exposed to fragranced products.

72.6 % were not aware that even so-called natural, green, and organic fragranced products typically emit hazardous air pollutants.”

New research…


“Cleaning is performed to increase hygiene, esthetics and material preservation. Despite its benefits, cleaning also poses risks, potentially contributing to nearly 20% of indoor pollution.

As indoor air quality has become a major human health concern, “natural-scented” cleaning products, formulated with essential oils, have become market leaders among household products.

However, these consumer products have benefitted from skillful marketing strategies based on the ambiguity of the words “green” and “natural”.

The characterization of the emission processes studied through 1-m3 chamber experiments under a realistic scenario suggests variable maximum total terpene concentrations from 150 to 300 ppb. The estimated emission rate profiles confirm that the liquid-to-gas transfer of terpenes is driven by (i) the formulation of the product matrix inducing specific chemical affinities, (ii) the liquid content of individual terpenes, and (iii) the intrinsic volatility of terpenes.

A unique formaldehyde emission kinetics profile was observed, suggesting the presence of a unique emission source: formaldehyde-releasers.

Consequently, the use of essential-oil-based cleaning products might generate a long-term increase in the indoor formaldehyde concentration, and the maximum levels might be sustained for several hours after cleaning. Thus, essential-oil-based cleaners should be seriously considered as versatile and significant sources of fragrance molecules and formaldehyde.”

(essential oils with terpenes cause formaldehyde emissions to spike for hours… click on image to view full size)

…”Consequently, the use of essential-oil-based cleaning products might generate a long-term increase in the indoor formaldehyde concentration, and the maximum levels might be sustained for several hours after cleaning. Thus, essential-oil-based cleaners should be seriously considered as versatile and significant sources of fragrance molecules and formaldehyde.” …

Older research, also found significant air quality problems from essential oil use:

“TVOC and terpenes increase significantly during aromatherapy using essential oils.

Formaldehyde is found co-generated during ozone-initiated reactions with terpenes.”

(screenshot of some of the terpenes in donterra’s essential oils)

“Essential oils, widely used in society, emit numerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of these VOCs are considered as potentially hazardous under federal regulations.

This study examined VOCs emitted from a range of commercial essential oils, including tea tree oils, lavender oils, eucalyptus oils, and other individual oils and mixtures of oils.

All natural and regular essential oils emitted one or more potentially hazardous VOCs, such as acetaldehyde, acetone, and ethanol. Toluene was also found in 50% of essential oils.

Moreover, for the prevalent VOCs classified as potentially hazardous, no significant difference was found between regular and natural essential oils.

This study provides insights and information about emissions of commercial essential oils that can be useful for public awareness and risk reduction.”

… “The most prevalent VOCs (in more than 90% of the oils) were acetaldehyde, alpha-phellandrene, alpha-pinene, camphene, limonene, methanol, terpinolene, 3-carene, acetone, beta-phellandrene, ethanol, and gam-ma-terpinene.

Among the 1034 VOCs emitted, 251 VOCs, representing 60 VOC identities, are classified as potentially hazardous.

Each of the essential oils emitted 9 or more potentially hazardous VOCs.

Fewer than 1% of all VOCs identified and fewer than 1% of all potentially hazardous VOCs were listed on any essential oil label, safety data sheet, or website.

Results from this study provide new findings on VOC emissions from essential oils with therapeutic claims, which can help to improve public awareness about potential exposures and risks.”

“Our study provided a strong evidence to suggest that high levels of fine particle and formaldehyde might be produced when coexisting with emission of essential oils emissions and low concentration oxidants in the air, and consequently result in adverse health concerns for those using essential oils in general indoor environments.”

Chemicals in lavender and tea tree oil appear to be hormone disruptors

“From the hundreds of chemicals that comprise lavender and tea tree oil, they selected for analysis eight components that are common and mandated for inclusion in the oils. Four of the tested chemicals appear in both oils: eucalyptol, 4-terpineol, dipentene/limonene and alpha-terpineol.

The others were in either oil: linalyl acetate, linalool, alpha-terpinene and gamma-terpinene. Using in vitro, or test tube, experiments, the researchers applied these chemicals to human cancer cells to measure changes of estrogen receptor- and androgen receptor-target genes and transcriptional activity.

All eight chemicals demonstrated varying estrogenic and/or anti-androgenic properties, with some showing high or little to no activity, the investigators reported. Ramsey said these changes were consistent with endogenous, or bodily, hormonal conditions that stimulate gynecomastia in prepubescent boys.

“Lavender oil and tea tree oil pose potential environmental health concerns and should be investigated further,” he said.

Of further concern, according to Ramsey, is that many of the chemicals they tested appear in at least 65 other essential oils.

Essential oils are available without a prescription and are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Thus, the public should be aware of these findings and consider all evidence before deciding to use essential oils.”

Yes, even the ‘pure’ essential oils are full of chemicals:

“Inside many plants—hidden in roots, seeds, flowers, bark—are concentrated, highly potent chemical compounds.
These natural compounds are essential oils.”

…”The European Union is now considering labeling lavender, “May Be Harmful if Inhaled.”

More specifically, a lavender allergy is caused by a compound within lavender extract called linalool.

Linalool produces lavender’s fragrance and reacts with air to form the skin irritant. The natural extract of a lavender plant contains 20 to 40 percent linalool, depending on the plant variety, and chemists can synthesize linalool at a purity of 97 percent.

The more people use natural products, the more likely they are to develop an allergy to them, since reactions often occur with regular contact. These types of allergens are called sensitizers.

“People often think that when they become allergic to some thing it has to be something new,” says Dr. Michael Stierstoffer, a dermatologist practicing in the Philadelphia area. “But often it’s something that they have been repetitively exposed to and then at some point in time the immune system just decides to become allergic to it.”

Some types of allergies induce hay fever and asthma as the immune system dumps histamine and other inflammatory response chemicals into the blood stream in response to the allergen. A Type 1 allergy, as it is known, can be fatal if the inflammation is so severe that the airway swells to the point of closing (called anaphylaxis). A less extreme allergy (Type 4) occurs when lymph nodes absorb an allergen and tag it as suspicious.

Continued exposure assures the immune system of the allergen’s ill will and, eventually, contact with the allergen results in a scaly rash. Both types of allergies can exhibit this sensitization lag time, though it’s more common with Type 4.”

A lot of people in the long hauler groups are developing MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome) post covid, and along with other fragrances and fragranced products,  essential oils are a big trigger for many of them. And exposures can be life threatening.

How is it that people can actually believe the oils and oily products they sell are fragrance (or scent) free?

cognitive dissonance:
the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

In closing, I hope it’s clear, that essential oils are NOT scent or fragrance-free.

Promoting them as such is an extremely harmful practice towards the growing number of people who have adverse effects from being anywhere near users or diffusers, effects that can be life threatening.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission’s “Environmental sensitivity and scent-free policies” (2019)

People who have allergies or sensitivity to certain products may have a bad reaction to a much lower level of chemicals, perfumes or environmental triggers than the average person.

Their reaction is a medical condition.

It is a recognized disability.

People with allergies or environmental sensitivity are entitled to protection from its cause.


Essential oils are NOT scent or fragrance-free

essential oil – aroma – fragrant scent

NOT fragrance-free
NOT scent-free
NOT benign
NOT appropriate
in scent or fragrance-free spaces

Be #FragranceFree!

Essential oils are NOT scent or fragrance-free

READ labels.  AVOID: fragrance, perfume, parfum, essential oil, aroma.

13 responses to “Are Essential Oils Fragrance-Free?

  1. For my own sensitivity, I found that I am sensitive to artificial ly made fragrances. I do not get sensitivity reactions to natural plant fragrances.

    • As did many others at first, but then one day the adverse effects from natural fragrances (and the pollutants they release) become as bad as the effects from artificial fragrances. Almost everyone who has adverse effects from EOs used to tolerate them.
      That however is not the main point here, which is that essential oils are NOT fragrance-free, and they are NOT appropriate for fragrance-free spaces, which have come about to protect people from harm.

  2. They do it out of ignorance as well as profit. I know of at least one company that decided (without checking EU regulatory definitions) that they could circumvent EU fragrance regulations and use up a large inventory of EO. They were not too happy with them when I showed them the EU definition of fragrance included EO because they had invested heavily in reformulating products that year to switch their “fragrances” to “EO.”

  3. Learning about this topic now, but want to know if the concerns about EOs carry over to their living plant sources.

    For example, Peppermint Oil. Is the growing peppermint plant or its crushed leaves — I presume this is where Peppermint Oil is derived — hazardous in a similar way, just less so? Or is there something fundamental about EO concoctions that sets them apart from their living sources, such as some kind of carrier chemical added/created during processing? Perhaps by stripping out the non-EO chemicals during processing, some necessary chemical balance is lost, hence the later biological over-reactions later, for some.

    Also, I notice it is suggested that small amounts of EOs (like Peppermint Oil) are recommended to be taken orally by their proponents. If the mechanism described (in air, terpenes+oxidation+time lead to formaldehyde and other baddies), might the oral consumption of EOs NOT be as harmful, at least not harmful as an allergenic trigger?

    • Outdoor VOCs (from living plants and trees) can create new pollutants too, just like the indoor ones, a pine grove or forest, or lavender garden, or crushed mint (and lilies and other blooms) can all release significant VOCs at times, and while most people may not notice or be affected as much, some certainly will, and they also contribute to smog when combined with ozone etc, sometimes significantly, if there are a lot of sources in an area, as researchers have discovered. !!!

      There are times of year when certain plants are blooming that I haven’t been able to be outside as the fragrance and pollutant levels cause the same issues as artificially created pollutants. Lilies and other highly scented flowers are banned from many hospitals.

      EOs are highly concentrated, so even if there are no man made chemicals used in processing (rare these days, despite claims), effects are magnified (maybe not the best word, but the right one isn’t coming to me).

      Herbal remedies are much healthier, and have always had cautions added to them. Those cautions don’t magically disappear when the plants are turned into EOs, despite the oilies claiming they are totally safe to use in all kinds of ways they should never be used.

      There are some times it may be adventitious to use an oil instead of an herb, but with cautions that are unfortunately not usually undertaken these days, and they should only be used privately, not in ways that will subject others to them (like applying to body or clothing in any way – even 2nd and 3rd hand, or diffusing – which makes the oils stick to and absorb into everything in the area of diffusion as well as on and in everyone passing through).

      I am not aware of how consumption would be safe if a substance causes adverse effects externally. I suppose it’s possible that someone could benefit from drinking mint tea or have a drop of oil in water, but get a headache from smelling it or the concentrated oil, but it’s not something I recall seeing discussed anywhere. It takes years to learn safe use of simple herbal substances… One does not magically become an expert in the use of highly concentrated EOs (most without true 100% disclosure of life cycle processing methods) by joining an MLM or taking a few weekend or night classes… Those people, and those who encourage them, are causing a lot of harm, unfortunately.

  4. …”Mathew and his co-authors suggested that physicians should inquire about the exposure to these essential oils in patients experiencing their first seizure and in those with breakthrough seizures, and seizure and epilepsy patients should be aware of potential side effects. The team is currently studying the effects of these essential oils on different diseases and disorders, and their early results suggest that many people are addicted to the oils and are using them without valid reasons.”…

    • Results

      “During the four-year period there were 55 patients with essential oil-related seizure (EORS). 22(40 %) had essential oil-induced seizures (EOIS) and 33(60 %) had essential oil-provoked seizures (EOPS). The female: male ratio was 1:1.1, the age of the patients ranged from 8 months to 77 years. In the EOIS group, 95 % had generalized tonic-clonic seizures and 5% had focal impaired awareness seizures. In the EOPS group, 42.4 % had focal impaired awareness seizures, 27.3 % generalized tonic-clonic seizures, 15 % focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizures, and 15 % focal aware motor seizures. EOs implicated were preparations containing eucalyptus and camphor.”

  5. In response to ‘kengartner’, who sounds so confused. It is confusing if we think or believe that all that is ‘natural’ is harmless. This is not true.

    The difference between how the essencial oils encountered in plants, their leaves, flowers or bark, can affect us vs consuming (orally, by absorbtion into skin or directly into our lungs) ‘concentrated’ EO’s, is in the proportion (%).
    For example about 100 roses are used to produce one drop of concentrated (pure) Rose Essential Oil . In nature it is practically imposible to be exposed to this ratio of aroma (or natural chemical coctail) at once. Nature balances the ‘chemical exposures’ so that ‘in normal circumstances’ we are not ‘over-exposed’ and/or do not recieve a dangerous ‘overdose’ of chemicals that could result harmfull ( like in spring-time when overexposure to pollens causes many allergies ). This is the same for ‘pure’ and ‘organic’ EO’s as well as synthetic EO’s (that also have many other added chemicals and contaminants).
    So the difference between EO’s and other herbal remedies is the concentration or the ‘doseage’. It would be much more difficult to ‘overdose’ by drinking herbal infusions than using EO’s (they should never be taken orally as the high concentration harms the delicate stomach lining).
    EO’s are literally ‘concentrated’ drugs and should be treated as such.
    Hope that makes things easier to understand.

  6. Thanks for the ‘awareness update’ on EO’s Linda. I hope you are enduring as best possible. Lots of love and best wishes for you ♡♡♡

    • Nice to ‘see’ you again Therese!
      Enduring is a good word.
      For the first time in many months, I felt some deep joy the other day when a few white throated sparrows were singing and harmonizing. A smile crept up on my face as I experienced the resonance… It was glorious! Gave me a glimmer of long lost hope…
      I hope you are able to enjoy life more than just endure it!
      Much love to you too!

  7. Hi there, I am being pressured to get a covid vaccine to protect myself against the new and very contagious delta covid that is on the uprise here in Spain and the rest of Europe. ¿Can MCS sufferers tolerate these vaccines? My doctor says that there are more ‘risks’ if I get the Covid virus than the adverse effects of the vaccine. They want to give me the Jannssen vaccine, here in Spain you can’t choose they allot the vaccines by age.
    ¿Do you know of any MCS sufferers that have been vaccinated?
    I’m really worried about this and need some advice. Also I can’t return to Canada without ‘complete’ vaccination, not that I’m thinking of returning at the moment but if I wanted to I have to be vaccinated it seems.
    I tried to find an article or post about covid vaccines here but it doesn’t come up in your search box.
    Hope you are managing/enduring as best posible.
    Big virtual hugs ♡♡♡ Therese

    • Hi Therese,

      I haven’t shared anything about them here.

      The discussions I’m aware of have taken place in fb groups, where some people have been fine, some have had the regular “side effects” that other people get, some have had more of the “side effects”, and some have felt like shit for longer, and others have abstained because of their history of adverse effects from meds and other things (the PEG based preservatives in the North American versions are an issue for some people), and others are just too compromised to risk any further exposures.

      So, there is no one answer here…

      My “impression” is that the people who are able to be out and about (with precautions and/or accommodations) have done ok with them. That said, I am not in many groups anymore, and do not follow all the discussions, so this is not a scientific observation, just something from what little I have seen.

      If you are on fb, seek out the groups of people (like those with MCS/ES, ME/CFS, long covid, and others with chronic health conditions) who are more local to you, as I think local options and environmental factors can influence outcomes too, so local info will be more pertinent to your situation.

      Regarding rules about traveling, I think doctors letters and human rights do allow for some exceptions to any “rule” or policy.

      It’s a real dream to be able to travel again, isn’t it? I keep hoping that I can get away from here safely for a while, in this lifetime… Hope you are able to too!

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