When reading the ingredients in many natural skincare products, you may see items like “infused oil.” While many of us know or have at least heard of essential oils, infused oils are often less used an therefore not as well known. So what are infused oils? How do they differ from essential oils? And which of these are better?
First, let’s discuss what “infused oil” actually means. An infused oil is a carrier oil (often olive, jojoba, or almond oil) which has had some herb, spice, fruit, or flower steeped in it for a period of time. They are sometimes referred to as mascerated oils. The process of steeping (or soaking) the herbal ingredient in the oil allows the beneficial properties, as well as the color and scent, of that herb to “release” into the carrier oil.
A very common example is calendula oil. Calendula, a type of marigold, does not produce it’s own oil and cannot really be reduced to an essential oil. However, calendula petals have magnificent properties for skincare. In order to extract these properties for products like soap or lotion, we need to steep or soak calendula petals in a carrier oil. This is a little like making a sun tea. We allow the petals to steep in a jar of carrier oil. When not using heat, this process takes 3-8 weeks. Heat is usually not recommended because it destroys the vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial properties we’re trying to extract.
This whole process differs from essential oils because essential oils are the oils extracted directly from a plant. They can be extracted from plants by several methods, but each method requires a large amount of the plant in order to obtain just one vial of oil. The benefit is that both the scent and beneficial qualities of the essential oil are FAR more concentrated than in infused oil – just a few drops of essential oil is equal to a tablespoon or more of an infused oil. The scent of essential oils also tends to last longer in the finished product (especially soaps.)
So, which is better? This is actually a complicated question to answer. Many schools of thought assert that infused oils are less consumptive – and therefore more sustainable – than essential oils. However, many carrier oils that are used to make infused oils are problematic in their creation as well. Others assert that essential oils are far superior because they are so much stronger and therefore require less product consumption.
For Honey Bear Soaps, the answer lies in why the chosen ingredient is being used. Some ingredients, like calendula, are truly powerhouse options for skin care. Calendula has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties for skin, as well as fatty acids and vitamins that help repair and maintain the natural skin barrier. But to use it, we must have it infused into a carrier oil. This can actually have a double benefit IF the right carrier oil is chosen. Jojoba and almond are both great options because they also have wonderful skin-loving properties.
Other uses of infused oil in our products are to help boost the natural scent of the end product by adding the herbal ingredient to an oil we were already going to use in the product. For example, our rose soaps contain rose-infused olive oil because olive oil was already going to be used in the soap AND because rose petals have their own gentle scent and healing skin properties. They also contain rose essntial oils because you simply can’t put the quantity of infused oil necessary for the same level of benefits in a soap recipe.
For some, the answer may also come down to skin sensitivity and skin care needs. Some skin might benefit greatly from eucalyptus oil, but might simultanouesly find eucalyptus essential oil (even when used in small amounts in a product’s recipe) too harsh. In this instance, looking for eucalyptus-infused oil as an ingredient might be a perfect compromise.
In the end, the choice of which ingredient to look for or use is largely a personal choice based on needs, means, and beliefs. We hope this article will help you at least understand the differences to help you choose products that are right for your skin.