Best Essential Oils for Soap Making

I am making your life easier by listing below the best essential oils for soap making. You can check how much of each can be used in a batch of soap. The list includes maximum percentage for each essential oil, the blends I’ve used on soap making recipes, and how expensive they are.

Table of Contents

Essential oils are highly scented flower and plant essences. They are a very natural way to scent soap. However, they are highly concentrated products and you need to be careful with them. If you add too much of it in your soap, not only you waste money – essential oils are expensive! – but they can cause skin irritation.

Many essential oils don’t work well in soap. They get partially destroyed with saponification, and since they are volatile, they fade with time, while the soap cures. You will also need some trial-and-error to get the best of essential oils in soap making, since scent is a very personal choice.

If you want the short version of the story, check out the table below, these are the essential oils that work best in my experience as a soap maker, alone or mixed:

Essential OilScent in SoapPrice
LemongrassLemony (try with cedarwood)$
Litsea Cubeba/May ChangLemony$$
Cedarwood AtlasWoodsy$
PatchouliMusk, earthy$$
Rose GeraniumFloral, rosy (try with patchouli)$$
LavenderFloral, lavender (try with benzoin)$-$$
Ylang-YlangFloral tropical$$
Tea TreeHerbal, fresh, camphorous$$
PeppermintMinty, fresh, camphorous$
RosemaryHerbal, camphorous$
EucalyptusHerbal, camphorous$
BenzoinResinous$

As for essential oil brands, Now Foods and Aura Cacia are the brands I recommend for soap making.

What Are Essential Oils?

Ok, but let’s start by knowing what exactly are essential oils.

Essential oils are basically plant extracts, most commonly obtained by distillation of raw material plant – leaves, flowers, wood, bark, roots, seeds. A distillation apparatus (alembic) is used to separate the plant essence from the water content, thus creating the “essence” oil. The resulting essence oil is a concentrated hydrophobic and lipophilic liquid with volatile chemical plant compounds. Other processes can be used to manufacture essential oils such as cold pressing or CO2 extraction. 

The recondensing water is reffered to as an hydrosol, hydrolat, herbal distillate, or plant water essence, which may be sold as another fragrant product. Hydrosols include rose water, lavender water, lemon balm, clary sage, and orange blossom water, and its use in cosmetics is increasing.

If produced with high quality and not adulterated, essential oils are natural. They are a natural way to scent your homemade products, with no synthetic ingredients.

How To Use Essential Oils In Soap Making

There are 3 important aspects to consider when using essential oils in soap making specifically:

  • Essential oils are expensive
  • Essential oils contain allergens
  • Essential oils strenght suffer from saponification

Essential oils are expensive

Although botanicals including rosemary, spearmint, tea tree, citronella, sandalwood and roman chamomile are quite aromatic, it takes a significant amount of plant material to produce even a small quantity of essential oil: for example, it takes all of the petals from 30-50 roses to produce a single drop of Rose Otto Essential Oil. A lot of raw material and intensive labour costs makes essential oils a quite expensive product.

Always use the important less is more approach when it comes to essential oils. Not only they are safer and more effective when used in little quantities, you will also spend less money. And waste less, as it takes a significant amount of botanical material to produce essential oils. And be sure that adding more essential oil to your soap won’t make the scent stronger.

Essential oils contain allergens

You have probably read about essential oils being “dangerous”. The truth is just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Plants and herbal products contain many bioactive compounds that may harm your health, and essential oils are no different, as they are highly concentrated in these compounds. Therefore, it’s usage should be taken carefully. But you don’t need to skip them altogether.

The harmful substances in essential oils are allergens; geraniol, limonene, citral are just a few examples. The problem is that no essential oil is free of any of these substances. They are also the ones responsible to give the wonderful scent they have.

These allergens are the main reason why you use a maximum amount per essential oil and a maximum amount per soap batch. Respect them and you can use essential oils safely, probably without having ever a bad side effect. Read more in Are Essential Oils Safe For Soap?

It’s important also to avoid or be especially careful with essential oils that are prone to cause dermal sensitization or phototoxicity. You can’t be too careful if you’re making natural soaps to give to loved ones or the public. 

Essential oils suffer from saponification

Essential oils strenght do suffer from saponification, the chemical process responsible for creating soap. Some more delicate plant compounds are destroyed in the process. In addition, because essential oils are volatile, they also lose strenght in time.

Therefore, not every essential oil or essential oil blend is good for soap making. They will not behave the same way as if you add them to a carrier oil and spread it on your skin. Unfortunately, they might fade or disappear entirely after a couple of months – usually the curing time. Citrus essential oils are the best examples of all.

Check the tables presented in this post, the listed essential oils usually work well in soap.

Essential oils are the most expensive ingredient in soap making. And not all of them work well in soap. Respect the maximum usages, and know which ones to use in soap making, not only for economical reasons but for safety ones as well.

How Can I Make My Soap Smell Last Longer?

The scent of essential oils can fade over time but there are ways to ‘fix’ the scent so that it lasts longer. Sometimes another essential oil can help the others to stick, usually base note essential oils, and at other times it’s best to use another additive that works to absorb the essential oils into it.

Fixers are a bit more advanced in soap making, but here is the information so that those experimenting with making nice smelling soap aren’t frustrated by their soap’s scent evaporating during the curing process. Here are some of the ‘fix’ choices:

  • Benzoin – available as both a powder and as an essential oil
  • Cornstarch – use as little as a teaspoon in 800g batches.
  • Oatmeal – using fine blended oatmeal in your soap will add light exfoliation and will absorb and hang onto your essential oils.
  • Essential oils – May Chang (Litsea Cubeba) Oil, and base note essential oils like Cedarwood OilPatchouli Oil, or Balsam Fir Needle Oil are all great at grounding the other essential oils in the blend.

How Not to Get Lost When Purchasing Essential Oils

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It’s easy to get lost when purchasing essential oils, with so many brands, so many aromatherapy articles and advices right and left.

You’ve got to be cautious when purchasing essential oils. It’s easy to spend one to two hundred dollars at the beggining. It’s also easy to be fooled by propaganda, especially at Amazon or Ebay, and buy cheap essential oils that are nothing but fragrances (or worse, see this article about an ArtNaturals cheap essential oil you might find in Amazon), or get caught in the MLM schemes (DoTerra, Young Living).

Aromaweb, an American association focused on aromatherapy and essential oils, has an article about how to save money when purchasing essential oils. They are very reasonable rules to help you control your essential oil purchases. Especially for soap making, you don’t really need high-quality essential oils, just don’t use the worst ones ever.

Dangers and Pitfalls of Purchasing Essential Oils

Cheap Essential Oils, Expensive Essential Oils… What to Trust? This post is probably one of the most honest answers to that.

It’s fine to buy a more artificial fragrance that smells like lavender (they also use plant extracts, just in smaller percentages). What is not fine is to purchase a an adulterated product thinking it’s an essential oil. The problem is the fact that these companies are flat out inducing their customers in error.

On the other hand, some brands that are good and reputable are very expensive, probably overpriced, like DoTerra and Young Living. I mean, take DoTerra for example, a 15ml lavender essential oil that costs 30$? Lavender essential oil is not the cheapest ever, but there are many brands where the same product is below 20$. Want to know what I’m talking about? Check out this comparative chart from Barefut Essential Oils.

My main issue with them, though, is that they follow MLM (multi-level marketing) schemes, which are never very transparent. You end up spending money even when you really, actually don’t want to. They sell essential oils for aromatherapy, claiming that they can cure many diseases. Those claims are really not backed-up by science, even if they might have some benefitial effects in one’s health. Besides, aromatherapy is a whole another subject on its own.

So, what to trust, whom to trust? Well, essential oils are not a regulated product… So, there are no real protection for the consumer.

From my experience, I would advise to never go for the extremes: the cheapest or the most expensive. Apart from that, only practice will tell you how natural, pure (or not) an essential oil is, and if the price is worth it.

Essential Oils Are NOT Magical Medicins

In late years, it seems to me that things are being taken to extremes regarding the usage of essential oils. This industry has exploded in late years, and essential oils are starting to be perceived as natural, magical remedies for several conditions and serious illnesses. Inhaling essential oils is becoming to be seen as effective as going to a doctor and taking a prescribed drug.

Be informed and make informed purchases when buying and using essential oils. They are really not an enemy, they are what they are: I like essential oils because of their scent and because they are plant based. Because of that, I tend to use a “middle term” of quality and price to purchase them.

Just don’t believe they will turn your soap into a magical medicin.

Essential Oils Starter Kits

If you are just beggining with soap making, you should purchase a starter kit, they usually include the most commonly used essential oils (see table above), and are less pricey than if you purchase essential oils one by one:

What Essential Oils Brand Do I Personally Use?

A portuguese brand called Plena Natura. They have a very good quality/price relation, and I am very satisfied with their products in general. I’ve tried other essential oil brands are they are more expensive and seem adulterated. Plena Natura essential oils seem similar to Now Foods, to be honest.

Now Foods and Aura Cacia are the brands I recommend for soap making, as they have the best quality/price relation.

How Much Essential Oil Can Be Used?

I’ve covered this subject in more detail in Are Essential Oils Safe For Soap? but the short version is that I use a maximum of 3% of oils weight in essential oils or fragrances. These values are used in many soap calculators, and by many soap makers.

Making it clear: in total only 3% should be used. Each essential oil can go up to these 3% or less, with some exceptions. Cinnamon leaf or bark can only be 1% meaning you need to use other essential oils for the remaining 2%.

Example: if you are making a soap batch of 450g, 3% of essential oils is 13,5g. Let’s simplify and use 13,5ml since this will be less grams (around 12g). If you’re using a blend of cinnamon bark, lavender and cedarwood, for example, you will use:

  • 4,5ml of cinnamon, and no more,
  • 4ml of cedarwood (30% of base note)
  • 5ml of lavender.

No essential oil is more than 1% of the soap batch and in total they make the 3%.

A final note: we are very used to commercial fragrances containing chemical synthetic substances, manufactured to be stronger and more lasting. Smelling essential oils may feel a bit dissapointing at first, as its scent might feel “faint”. But give some time and get used to the more natural scents of essential oils, before giving up on them. They won’t dissapoint.

Creating Essential Oil Blends

Essential oils can be used stand alone. However, they work better in blends. Especially as you can use base notes as “scent fixers”, they will help extend soap scent. Aromatic blending for the sheer pleasure of the aroma is a combination of creativity and science – although a bit complex, it’s fun!

There are many articles on the web talking about aroma groups, and base, middle and top notes. But I want to make this simpler for you. Because we are not expert perfumers and each one of us have different tastes and like different scents.

So, I just use these two rules to create essential oil blends:

  • Use a base note at 20% or 30% of your blend
  • Choose one or more of the other essential oils at mix them as you wish!

That’s it! That’s how I make my blends. For soap making, I make sure to have in mind that some of the scents might dissapear, so I usually use at least one of the essential oils in this table.

Base Notes

Base note essential oils, most of them also ‘scent fixers’ are the following:

  • Amyris
  • Cedarwood
  • Cinnamon bark (high skin irritant… but I love it)
  • Frankincense
  • Neroli
  • Patchouli
  • Rose Absolute
  • Sandalwood
  • Vetiver
  • Ylang-Ylang

Beware that neroli, rose absolut, pure sandalwood are really expensive essential oils (100$/10 ml or more). Vetiver is also pricey.

Tips to Create New Blends

When creating a new blend, start out small with a total number of drops of 5, 10 drops. Use 10ml amber bottles with a label to store your blends. Want to go zero-waste? Recycle your old essential oil amber bottles, and use them for your blends!

Keep a notebook that lists each oil that you use with the number of drops used for each oil. Be sure to label your blends clearly. Only way to reproduce your wonderful blends!

After creating your blend, allow it to sit for a few days (in a dark place) before deciding if you love or hate it. Fresh blends are somehow dissapointing, but get stronger after a few days of rest.

Essential Oils for Soap Making Chart

The table below shows a list of the essential oils I use in my recipes. It’s true I don’t use many of them and usually stick to some that work. You will notice that these are very common in soap making and will show up in many other soap recipes on the net.

Maximum usage is expressed in % and in weight per 450g of oils. In information it is states of the essential oil is phototoxic or dermal sensitizer. The last column of the table gives essential oil blend recommendations.

Essential Oil Maximum
%
(Amount
per 450g)
InformationBlend Suggestions
Essential oil amyris
Amyris
Amyris balsamifera
3%
(13 ml)

Base Note. West Indian Sandalwood has a soft resinous aroma similar to Benzoin. It’s used as an alternative to Sandalwood and is useful in helping to ‘fix’ soap scents
Used in Rosemary And Eucalyptus Soap Recipe
Blended with Eucalyptus, Scots Pine, Rosemary and Tea Tree.
One of my most sucessful blends with camphorous scents.
Essential oil bergamotBergamot
Citrus bergamia
3%
(13 ml)
Clean and refreshing citrus scent that’s used in soap making. One of the few top note essential oils that can be used on its own in soap making.
Phototoxic if cold pressed.
(To be tested stand-alone in soap)

Cedarwood Atlas
Cedrus atlantica
3%
(13 ml)
Base note.
Warm and woodsy aroma that blends well with floral, spice, and wood oils.
Used in Cedarwood Soap Recipe With Drop Swirl
Blended with Eucalyptus, Rosemary and Peppermint.
I’ve broke the rule of 30% of base note and used 50%.
It does smell of cedarwood 🙂
Essential oil cinnamon leafCinnamon Leaf
Cinnamomum zeylanicum
0,5%
(2,25 ml)
Base note.
To be honest, to me this oil smells like burned leaves. It is a base note, and works well in blends, something I still need to try.
It accelerates trace significantly!!
(To be tested as a blend in soap)
Essential oil cinnamon
Cinnamon Bark
Cinnamomum zeylanicum
cinnamon
0,5%
(2,25 ml)
Although not a base note, is strong enough to be overpowering over other essential oils. It’s a skin irritant… but the scent is so good I couldn’t prevent myself of making soap with it.
It was only a skin irritant with a liquid soap, in cold process, it was ok.
High skin irritant.
Used in Turmeric And Cinnamon Soap Recipe
Blended with Amyris, Ylang-Ylang and Clary Sage.
Great cinnamon scent.
Essential oil clary sageClary Sage
Salvia sclarea
2%
(9 ml)
Deeply earthy and slightly floral scent that does better in blends than on its own.Used in Rebatching Cold Process Soap
Blended with Patchouli, Lavender and Ylang-Ylang.
A very good blend with floral scent.
Essential oil eucalyptusEucalyptus
Eucalyptus globulus
3%
(13 ml)
Sharp and powerful resinous scent associated with medicinal products. Does well in blends. Love to blend it with rosemary, peppermint and tea tree.Used in Rosemary And Eucalyptus Soap Recipe
Blended with Eucalyptus, Scots Pine, Rosemary and Tea Tree.
One of my most sucessful blends with camphorous scents.
Essential oil geraniumGeranium (Rose)
Pelargonium graveolens
3%
(13 ml)
Floral, earthy, strong and deep, Rose Geranium is one of the most beloved essential oils. It’s often used to replace Rose Absolute as it’s less expensive. Works very well with Patchouli.Used in Face Soap Recipe With Shea Butter And Oat and rose soap recipes.
Blends absolutely perfectly with Patchouli.
Essential oil lavenderLavender
Lavandula augustifolia
3%
(13 ml)
Long used in the perfume industry, lavender oil is sweet and floral and blends very well with many other essential oils. It’s a true classic!! I usually blend it with benzoin.Check out Best Lavender Soap Recipe and How To Make Pure Coconut Oil Soap.
Although not strong, it works well stand-alone in soap.
Blends very well with Benjoin and other flowery scents.
Essential oil lemongrassLemongrass
Cymbopogon schoenanthus
3%
(13 ml)
Lush and green citrus scent that does well on its own in soap and when blended. Strong “lemony” scent.
Can be a dermal sensitizer, but I never had issues.
Used in Olive Oil Soap Recipe as stand-alone or in Calendula Soap Recipe in a blend.
Blends well with Cedarwood.
Blends great with May Chang
Essential oil lemonLemon
Citrus limonum
3%
(13 ml)
Lemon essential oil unfortunately does not last well in soap. If you’re trying to use it, try ‘fixing’ it with the stronger scented May Chang essential oil. Phototoxic if cold pressed.Never really used it, always prefer
May Chang or Lemongrass.
In soap it doesn’t work well, and in other cosmetics might be photosensitive.
Essential oil litsea cubebaMay Chang
Litsea Cubeba

Litsea cubeba
3%
(13 ml)
May Chang, known officially as Litsea Cubeba is another top note oil that can be used on its own.
It’s sweetly citrusy and it’s a good scent ‘fixer’ for citrus essential oils that tend to dissapear in soap.
It is definitely my favorite essential oil for citrus scents in soap.
Can be a dermal sensitizer, but I never had issues.
Used in Palm Oil Soap Recipe and Paprika Cold Process Soap Recipe among others.
Very good on its own, blends well with other citrus essential oils, Lemongrass and Cedarwood.
Essential oil neroliNeroli
Citrus aurantium
3%
(13 ml)
Base note.
Neroli is the floral-honey scent produced by the bitter orange tree. Depending on what it’s blended with, it can make up any of the notes in a fragrance.
I love the scent but unfortunately, it doesn’t stick very well in cold process soap.
Used in Cold Process Soap Recipe With Layers.
Blends well with Ylang-Ylang, Lavender and Benzoin.
Essential oil patchouliPatchouli
Pogostemon cablin
3%
(13 ml)

Base note.
Though it can be used on its own, Patchouli works better when it’s blended with other oils. It’s earthy and dark and very powerful. Goes very well with Rose or Rose Geranium.
Used in rose soap recipes like this Pink Clay Soap Recipe and of course, this Patchouli Soap Recipe.
The blend is the same: Patchouli and Rose Geranium/Rose Absolute.
Patchouli might work with other blends but I always save of for rose ones.
Essential oil peppermintPeppermint
Mentha Piperita
2%
(9 ml)
Sharp and filled with herbal menthol, Peppermint can be used on its own or blended with other herbal essential oils, It’s strong and tends to overpower the other scents.Used in Peppermint Soap.
Blends well with Rosemary and Cedarwood.
Essential oil rose ottoRose Absolut / Rose Otto
Rosa damascena
0,2%
(0,9 ml)
Base note.
Rose Absolute is overwhelmingly scented of roses. Mainly sold in dilutions, its usage in soaps is restricted due to its Methyl eugenol content. It’s also one of the most expensive essential oils.
Used in rose soap recipes like this Pink Clay Soap Recipe.
I don’t list it in my recipes because it’s outrageously expensive. It’s replaced with Rose Geranium.
I have a bottle of diluted rose absolute and add some drops to the blend.
It blends absolutely perfectly with Patchouli, and Rose Geranium.
Essential oil rosemaryRosemary
Rosmarinus officinalis
3%
(13 ml)
Sharp and herbal rosemary blends well with other herbal scents as well as citrus, and very well with woody scents.
My favorite essential oil.
Used in Rosemary And Eucalyptus Soap Recipe
Blended with Amyris, Eucalyptus, Scots Pine and Tea Tree.
One of my most sucessful blends with camphorous scents.
essential oil sandalwoodSandalwood
Santalum albumsandalwood
3%
(13 ml)
Base note.
Soft, warm, and woodsy, Sandalwood is a gorgeous base for many citrus and floral oils. I didn’t buy this essential oil yet, only synthetic fragrances.
I also use Amyris as a cheap essential oil replacement.
(To be tested as fragrance oil in a blend in soap)
essential oil scots pineScots Pine
(Pine Needle)
Pinus sylvestris
3%
(13 ml)
Sharp and herbal, Pine blends with other herbal, woodsy, and citrus oils.Used in Rosemary And Eucalyptus Soap Recipe
Blended with Amyris, Eucalyptus, Rosemary and Tea Tree.
One of my most sucessful blends with camphorous scents.
Essential oil tea treeTea Tree
Melaleuca alternifolia
3%
(13 ml)

Sharp, camphorous, and medicinal scent. Very strong and overpowering scent, I recommend to use it sparingly. Use drops instead of tsp, and add more later.
Used in Rosemary And Eucalyptus Soap Recipe
Blended with Eucalyptus, Scots Pine, Rosemary and Tea Tree.
One of my most sucessful blends with camphorous scents.
Essential oil vetiverVetiver
Vetiveria zizanoides
3%
(13 ml)
Base note.
Green and earthy and related to lemongrass. A very strong earth/wood scent. Blend with floral oils and other deep scents, but use drops. Also, an expensive essential oil. Didn’t find a blend that pleased me so far.
Clary Sage, Lavender, Patchouli, Ylang Ylang
Essential oil ylang-ylangYlang-Ylang III
Cananga odorataylang-ylang
3%
(13 ml)
Base note.
Called the ‘Flower of Flowers’, this oil is sweet and tropically floral. Use in blends with citrus, floral, and woodsy oils. Very strong and overpowering scent, use with drops first.
Used in Cold Process Soap Recipe With Layers.
Blends well with Neroli, Lavender and Benzoin.
I’ve used blended with Cedarwood in Ylang-Ylang Soap Recipe but the scent is weaker.

References

4 thoughts on “Best Essential Oils for Soap Making”

  1. I have always been interested in essential oils and how they work. For years my son has struggled with eczema and it was always a tedious process finding the right soap for his sensitive skin. Just reading about how you can incorporate different essential oils into your soap and how to put the right amount to make is very enlightening. 

    What are the right essential oils to incorporate in soap making for people with severe skin conditions?

    • Hello Kgalalelo, thanks for your comment.

      First of all, let me make it clear that I am not a health professional and you should seek one for advice and treatment on health issues such as eczema, including what sort of soap to use for your son. 

      Having said that, and from what I know about essential oils and naturals soaps, I’d say that for a severe health condition, the best is to use NO essential oil and use a bar of soap with gentle oils for skin like olive oil, or sweet almond oil.

      I’d recommend trying an 100% olive oil soap bar, known also as Castille soap (if you wish to try and do it yourself at home, you have my recipe here), and go from there. From my experience, It’s hard to find an even gentler soap than 100% olive oil soap, although most natural soaps are gentler than most commercial soaps and bath gels.

      Regarding essential oils, I’ve found this article about using essential oils to treat eczema and other skin conditions. A couple of advice about it:

      – Purchase essential oils from a reputable source (see my other article, Good Essential Oil Brands – a Guide)

      – Under no circumstances try to apply an essential oil directly on skin to treat skin conditions. They are potent plant extracts and should be used with caution. 

      – Use a carrier oil and dilute the essential oil with it.

      – Perform a skin test before using the carrier oil + essential oil widely on skin

      Personally, I’d make an infusion oil instead (please, find here instructions to make infusion oil), after making a small research of the best plants to treat eczema and make soap with it. This way you have full control of the ingredients on it and it’s a milder treatment compared to essential oils.

      In alternative or as a complement, you can also make a healing salve with that infused oil, I have a very good experience with healing salves (although I don’t have any skin condition). Or you can apply the infused oil directly on skin.

      Always do a skin test first, whatever you decide to try.

      I don’t have personal experience with eczema, but I know what is to live with a permanent health condition (I have headaches frequently), and know that you are always seeking to have alternatives to normal medicines, whether because these have bad side effects, are expensive or are simply not working.

      So, I’m sorry this reply was so long but I felt that you should have some natural alternatives to explore.

      Wish you the best with controlling your son’s eczema effectively.

      Best Regards,

      Sofia

  2. Oil are an integral part of our daily routine and they come in varied forms. This could be in the form of body soap for daily bathing of hands and body, as well as oil  for ,floors, clothes and countertops around the house.

    What is common in all the above oil used for different needs is the fact that they have a cleansing,  refresh and refreshing effect on whatever surface they are used on.

    • Hello Serina thanks for your comment.

      Have you ever used essential oils mixed with those oils for skin care? This article is more about how to use them in soapmaking, where you have to count with saponification chemical reaction (it partially destroys some ingredients, and essential oils are delicate….). But you can find out in Essential Oil Chart many essential oils to be used with a carrier oil, including their properties, and what is scientifically proven.

      Cheers,

      Sofia

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