Essential oils have always been a soap-making staple amongst hobbyists.
They're the one and only key to unlocking all-natural soap scents, and can offer a whole host of impactful benefits you may have not otherwise considered - from calming properties to skin-loving antioxidants.
That being said, using essential oils for soap making can prove tricky at best, especially if you're a beginner to crafting aromatherapy products.
Even seasoned hobbyists occasionally ask themselves how to make their scents stronger or which essential oils to choose, and that's okay!
The great thing about soap making is that it's a constant adventure of experimentation, and we're here to help with some of the more complicated questions that may be halting you from getting started.
What are the best essential oils for soap making?
The pleasantness of an essential oil largely draws down to personal opinion, which can make the process of choosing the right one even harder as a new soap maker.
On top of that, not every essential oil scent will stick to your soap as well as others, so it's good to conduct a little research before deciding on your final aromas.
If you're looking for a sure-fire guide on scents that will work (and that are generally well-loved too), we've listed five of our favourites below.
1. Lavender Essential Oil
The classic scents of lavender are sure to be well-recognised by soap makers - and for good reason.
Lavender is a strong middle note that blends incredibly well with most other essential oils, combining floral and herbaceous aromas to compliment a calming and grounding atmosphere.
It is also packed full of antimicrobial and antioxidant properties that make it an effective cleaning agent as well as a protector against environmental factors.
2. Rosemary Essential Oil
If you're not a fan of floral aromas, but love a traditional garden herb, then rosemary oil could be just the key for your next soap making project.
It is also considered a unisex scent - making it ideal for even the most masculine members of the family.
3. Lemon Essential Oil
The zesty aromas of lemon oil allow for a fabulous summer scent that's both refreshing and uplifting.
Unlike other picks on this list, lemon is traditionally a top note fragrance. This means that it is likely to have a weaker scent profile on its own than some other essential oils with heavier notes - but not to worry!
A good way to resolve this is to up your oil percentage slightly (more on this later), and to include middle and base note oils that can add more stick to your final product.
4. Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint oil is another staple that's loved all season long for its versatility - with cooling vibes in the summer and candy cane-like aromas in the winter.
While it's also traditionally a top note fragrance, it has fantastic staying power as well as a crisp scent that can be easily identified.
5. May Chang (Litsea Cubea) Essential Oil
Unless you're a passionate aromatherapist, there's a good chance you may not have heard of sweet and citrusy may chang oil before.
While it may not be the best known essential oil, it works brilliantly in soaps as an effective top/middle note, and can blend well with other citrusy aromas to create a powerful yet refreshing scent profile.
May chang is also known for soothing stress and promoting sleep, so could be a worthy ingredient if you suffer from heightened emotions around bedtime.
Why are essential oil 'notes' so important?
Essential oils, like perfumes, are split into three general note categories: base, middle, and top.
Top note essential oils tend to be light and fade fast, but they'll also be the first thing you smell when opening your new homemade soap.
Middle notes are slightly heavier and can hang around in your soap for a while longer than top notes. These will usually be floral, woody, or spicy scents.
Base notes are naturally much heavier, with long-lasting aromas that will stick around on the skin long after your soap is used.
So, you might be asking yourself, why not use base note essential oils for everything? While you can certainly do this if you choose, most base notes tend to be very robust and may not necessarily give off the right vibes for your soap.
To counter this, many soap makers enjoy blending top, middle, and base notes together, so all three scent components can be enjoyed throughout your creation.
How do you know how much essential oil to add to soap?
Figuring out the optimal fragrance level to add to your soaps can be extremely tricky and may involve a little bit of trial and error before you can get it exactly right.
In general, though, a good starting point would be to refer to the IFRA Certificates of your chosen essential oils.
Those who are looking to sell soap in the UK or EU must review this document alongside legislation, although the percentages in the IFRA are not the same as the law itself.
For hobbyists, the IFRA simply provides a recommended percentage to add to your soap creations. Though they vary from oil to oil, they help give you a rough idea of the potency of a particular scent.
Oils like cinnamon, for example, will have a lower recommended percentage as they are more likely to irritate the skin.
Can I anchor my soap scents to stop them from fading?
The main thing to remember when you experience an issue with a soap batch is this: always go back to basics.
Spending time with complicated formulas and adjustments will only lengthen the process further, so try and focus on your base components before moving forward. These include your lye solution strength, base carrier oils, and added fragrances.
Occasionally, the amount of shea butter or cocoa butter used in cold-processed soap can negatively impact the final fragrance, so try to work with adjusting these or using a different, less heavily scented base.
It is also a good idea to anchor your scents with middle and base notes that will prevent weaker aromas from fading. May chang and lemongrass are particularly solid choices if you're working with an all-citrus soap blend.
Some other good choices for anchoring your soap scents include:
- Patchouli essential oil
- Cedarwood essential oil
- Cinnamon essential oil
- Vetiver essential oil
- Basil essential oil
You can also choose to use fixatives like arrowroot powder or cornstarch (both of which are commonly used in body butters) to help anchor your scents better.
Will using essential oils discolour my soap?
Essential oils generally don't discolour soap in the same way other fragrances might.
Unless you're working with a very brightly-coloured oil like turmeric, the chances of staining in your final product are rare. Most essential oils tend to be a nice pale yellow to transparent colour that you would normally expect with most soaps.
If you're still worried about the effects of discolouration, however, it might be a good idea to add a coloured pigment to your soap while mixing your base oils together.
Do I have to use essential oils for my soap?
Essential oils are a great choice if you're wanting an all-natural soap scent, however they're certainly not the only option available to you.
Fragrance oils offer up a similar scent experience, and are generally considered a little easier to work with due to their pre-blended aromas. That being said, choosing to make soap with a fragrance oil won't necessarily cut out all the trial and error in between.
If you're interested in experimenting with fragrances, check out our best fragrance oils for soap making for more information.
Essential oil soaps can be tough to perfect no matter how long you've been making them.
From scent anchoring to blending, bases to pigments, there can be a lot of different elements to remember, and it's not uncommon for first-time soap makers to feel a little overwhelmed about it all.
To help find your feet, try following our beginner's guide to soap making for a better idea on the step-by-step process, as well as how to deal with common issues like overheating, ricing, and separation.