Now that I’m diving into candlemaking, it’s getting me thinking about expensive essential oils. I have resigned myself to the fact that most florals are now and forever will be out of my financial reach. But I still like having those properties in my soaps. So what’s a soapmaker to do? Well, over my career I’ve done a lot of substituting when it came to expensive essential oils, and I don’t see any reason not to share what I’ve learned.
Now, as I’m sure you know, anytime you use essential oils, be sure to read the warnings. Some oils are skin irritants. Some oils shouldn’t be used when pregnant. Some oils shouldn’t be used on your body at all. Sometimes the cheaper oils are cheaper because there are cautions that go along with them. Just do your research. Ok. Now let’s save some money!
Ah, sandalwood. You elusive, expensive oil. While I was in India a few years back, I bought locally made sandalwood soap and slathered myself in the stuff for my entire month-long trip. This was before I had done any real soapmaking, so I put it on my mental list of things to make when I got home. It quickly fell off the list, though, when I realized the environmental impact of harvesting the oil was pushing that poor tree to extinction. That and the fact that it costs a gazillion dollars. So I set out searching for alternatives.
As with every substitution on this list, if you don’t use the real thing you’re not going to get the real thing. These are substitutions, alternatives, good-enoughs. With sandalwood, I wanted to find something that had sweet, woodsy, slightly peppery tones. The closest thing in my price range is probably amyris or West Indian sandalwood. It’s made from wood chips and shavings. It does have a more cedar-like smell than true sandalwood, but when blending you can get a lot of the sandalwood properties and no one ever has to know the difference. I won’t tell. Also in blending, I’ve found that patchouli and cedarwood can sometimes be used as substitutions…albeit with varying results.
Rose and Jasmine
A rose by any other oil is not as sweet. And nothing, I say nothing, smells like jasmine; that evocative, sensual, tropical beauty. The best I hope for is to find less expensive florals, which is a task in and of itself. Rose geranium is a beautiful substitution for rose but it’s often as expensive as rose itself. Ylang ylang is going to set you back a pretty penny, but it is a strong and lovely substitute for jasmine. It’s hard to get a floral note that doesn’t come from a flower, but I think palmarosa does a pretty good job.
Instead of trying to find an essential oil as a substitute, I’ve been itching to try floral waxes. They are inexpensive (compared to the oils) and you need relatively little in a soap recipe to get the scent. My preliminary research suggests adding about 1/3 oz per pound of oil of jasmine or rose wax to your regular recipe.
Neroli is one of my “black rain cloud” oils. I have tiny sample vials of a few choice essential oils in my stash that I pop open whenever I’m having a rough day. One whiff of that floral citrusy beauty lifts my spirits every time. And as I’ve been saying this whole post, nothing is a substitute for the heavenly smell of this oil. But you know what I’m going to say, don’t you? I’m going to suggest any citrus oil, right? Well, kind of. While you’re not going to get anything close to neroli from lime or lemon or plain ol’ orange, you can get a richer smell from others. Try clementine, tangerine, or blood orange. They add a lot more depth than most. Also, you can get bitter orange oil inexpensively. It’s the fruit part while neroli is the foliage part.
Since we’re using essential oils in soapmaking, the delicate nuance of a lot of oils gets lost. (Thanks a lot, lye.) The good news is we often have the opportunity to use different parts of the plant to achieve similar results. For example, cinnamon bark is expensive. Cinnamon leaf is not. And when you’re mixing up your Christmas scents, it all smells pretty similar. A few others:
Sweet basil = expensive. Basil methyl = cheap
Cedar leaf = expensive. Cedarwood = cheap
French lavender = expensive. French lavender spike (or lavender 40/42) = cheap
Clove stem = expensive. Clove bud or leaf = cheap
Also, remember that citrus and mint oils are plentiful, cheap, and full of personality. Til next time!