In business, as in life, there will often be decisions to be made. Just like in life, some of those decisions will be harder than others. I am talking about those decisions that keep you awake at night, the ones that cause that nagging voice inside your head to constantly question if you are doing the right thing and make you wish that someone else could take charge, even if just for a little while!
Over the last few weeks, we here at soap HQ have faced one of those decisions. It has been perhaps our toughest choice so far since launching our business two years ago. A question that has prompted many hours of discussion, research and indecision on our part and it is all down to two little words..... "Fragrance Oils".
Those of you familiar with our company will know that we have always prided ourselves on keeping all of our ingredients natural. That means no artificial colours, no unnatural preservatives and, crucially, no fragrance oils to scent our products. All of our creations have always been scented with a blend of natural essential oils, which have created some beautifully fragrant items. So why, you may ask, are we questioning this decision now?
There are a vast number of reasons why we are thinking of introducing a range of items scented with fragrance oils into our collection, so let me try and talk through these one at a time!
We will begin with the obvious one - scent! Through two years of selling both online and in person at events we have spoken to a lot of lovely people. We have also listened to a lot of feedback and comments on our range, which has been overwhelmingly positive. However, the one comment that does often crop up is people requesting certain scents or a strength of scent that we just cannot offer when only using essential oils. Essential oils are heavily controlled in the cosmetic world and there are very strict limits on how much of an oil we can include in a soap. This limit is always 3% or less. This means that our soaps have what we feel is a beautiful, subtle scent to them and most people love this. However, we do get occasions when people request a stronger scent. Unfortunately, this is just not possible with essential oils within the limits that are placed on their use. Fragrance oils offer a much stronger scent, which we have to accept is what some people prefer.
Similarly, it is not possible to get certain scents using essential oils. Essential oils of (for example) Strawberry, Watermelon, Blueberry and many other "fruity" fragrances just do not exist. If you ever see someone claiming that they are using Strawberry/Blackberry/Raspberry Essential Oil this is not true. It is physically not possible to create an essential oil from these fruits. As a lover of all things fruity, even I myself must admit that I occasionally miss not being able to wash with a bar scented like Melon every now and again! Fragrance oils offer the opportunity for us to create an almost infinite choice of smells for our customers to choose from.
Then there are the ethical benefits to consider. We are often asked if we sell a soap scented like Sandalwood and the answer is that no, we don't. As well as being eye-wateringly expensive (did anyone see that episode of "The Apprentice" where one of the candidates confused Sandalwood and Cedarwood with disastrous consequences?), true Indian Sandalwood is at risk of being over-exploited and is classed as a "vulnerable" species. A Sandalwood fragrance oil can offer a similar scent without the associated ecological concerns.
Now so far, this blog will appear to be me, singing the praises of fragrance oils and I don't want to create a one-sided argument here! Obviously when we began our business we chose to go "all natural" for a reason, so let's examine that too!
There is no denying that fragrance oils are synthetic chemicals created with the sole benefit of giving off a good pong! They do not have the skin loving benefits of essential oils and some of them can contain ingredients that are frankly, a little bit dodgy! I am talking about things like parabens which will often not even be listed on the ingredients label. The only way to know for sure if these are included is to get in touch with the manufacturer, which let's face it, sounds like a whole lot of effort if you are trying to make a quick online purchase! It is possible that you will be allergic to something in a fragrance oil (though in fairness, it is also absolutely possible to be allergic to a component of an essential oil too) and it is possible that a certain fragrance may bring on a headache or dizzy feeling (again, this is also possible with essential oils, but on balance, less likely).
So, as you can see, there are positives and negatives to the "to fragrance or not to fragrance" argument. So, we took to our social channels to ask our customers how they would feel if we were to introduce a small range of soaps that did include fragrance oils. We were honestly shocked by the response! The results showed that the vast majority of our customers would either be more likely or equally as likely to shop with us if we were to create such a range, which was not what we expected!
We can currently count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who said they would be less likely to shop with us if we were to create this range and the most common reason given for this was concerns about having to check ingredients before purchasing to make sure that no synthetic fragrances were used. As a business which has always been naturally focused, we don't want this either. We want to be honest and transparent about what we are doing, so, should this range ever come to fruition, you can be sure that any soap that includes a fragrance oil would not only have this detailed and highlighted at the top of the description, it would also be in a completely separate category from our completely natural range of soaps.
We also want to address the issue of fragrances that contain "hidden" parabens. We have spent a long time researching the use of parabens in fragrances and have learned a great deal on this journey! The first conclusion that we have come to is that we don't want to include parabens of any kind in our soaps. It's as simple as that! You have our assurance that we will always be a paraben free company! Luckily, we have managed to find a couple of wonderful companies who produce high quality, skin safe fragrance oils who do not use any parabens. For us, this is great news as while we are excited to introduce this new range there are things we will never be swayed on and the use of parabens is one of those things! We will always, always be a paraben free company!
Despite all of this research, soul searching and questioning though, the final decision does come down to what we feel is right. To try and answer this, I asked myself three simple questions about our three original, key company statements. The questions I asked myself were:
1: When you started this company, you said you would never use Palm Oil, even sustainably sourced. If you went back on this and used palm oil, would you still feel as proud of what you have achieved?
2: When you started this company, you said you would never use single use plastic packaging. If you went back on this and used plastic, would you still feel as proud of what you have achieved?
3: When you started this company, you said you would never use fragrance oils. If you went back on this, would you still feel as proud of what you have achieved?
Hand on heart, the answer to questions one and two was a resounding "No!" I couldn't ever imagine using palm oil or plastic because those choices impact our planet, what we stand for and it would just feel so bad!
When it came to question three, I realised that everybody has the right to choose what they like and what they enjoy. If we use safe, synthetic oils that are sustainable and eco-friendly then that choice is not harming anyone who disagrees and prefers essential oils. Our essential oil soaps are certainly not going anywhere! All it does is offer more choice to those people who prefer a strong, fruity scent (or something else that we can't achieve with an essential oil). Unlike using palm oil or plastic, using fragrance oils is more of a personal preference rather than a sustainability or ecological choice. I think this is why, on balance, I am OK with the idea of introducing a limited range of soaps scented with fragrance oils.
So do watch this space as we are very tentatively working on a few limited edition fragrance oil soaps. Who knows if we will take the plunge and launch them, but remember, if we do, our promise to you is that they will always be free of parabens and most definitely listed in an entirely separate section on our website and clearly labelled as containing fragrance oil, so that there can be no confusion between our natural range and our fragrance oil range.
Oh, and one last thing... our main focus will always be on natural, so rest assured all of our essential oil soaps, body butters and salt bars will still be available. If we do create this new range, they will definitely not be taking over the natural range that we have worked so hard on creating and that we know so many of you love!