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July 8, 2020

Labels for Custom Aromatherapy Products: Know Your Options

Your custom aromatherapy product labels communicate a lot about your business and your professionalism. Personalized, attractive labels and packaging help your clients feel special and help you feel more confident, especially when your clients show off their blends to friends or via social media – a great way to get referrals!

And yet, aromatherapy practitioners face special challenges when it comes to labeling products. Each custom product requires its own unique label, and we often need to create more than one blend or product type for each client consultation. 

Any products we sell, even one-off custom formulations, require compliant labeling in the United States as per the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act. Often our client is present while we’re putting together our products, and it’s easy to feel rushed!

Over the years I’ve found several ways to create attractive and functional labels, balancing cost with convenience and features. Here’s a general survey of different methods, pros and cons, and resources/suppliers, organized roughly by cost. 

Thermal label printers 

My favorite solution for one-off labels for aromatherapy consultations. I’ve used mine for many years with excellent results. The photo below is a recent example.

Custom aromatherapy labels
Custom aromatherapy labels using a thermal printer. They can be surprisingly beautiful!

Pros: Complete control over each design. Easy to print one label at a time. No toner needed. Most come with their own user-friendly design software. Thermal printers cut each label to the exact desired size, so there’s no need to keep several label sizes on hand. Well suited for typical aromatherapy applications (inhalers, roller balls, cream/salve jars).

Cons: Slight learning curve, but doable! Limited sizes and shapes (no circular labels). Print output is grayscale, but can be beautiful with colorful packaging or natural packaging for a minimal look. I recommend gloss label stock to prevent fading or grease/water stains. The lettering can fade, but typically thermal labels last a few months. If you hire a graphic designer, they won’t design for thermal printers, but you can replicate the design yourself. 

Brands to consider: Brother printers such as model QL-810W (I own a QL-710W), Dymo

Laser printer and die-cut labels 

This is often the most familiar solution, and it gives you a lot of flexibility with some tradeoffs. 

Pros: Many shapes, sizes, and materials available. Easy to buy in small quantities. Some label brands offer their own software that allows you to design and print one label at a time – be sure when you buy. It’s easy to transition to retail product labels. Or, you can design labels with your primary logo and contact information, and handwrite the rest of your required info for each blend. 

Cons: Requires a little patience. Must be fed into your printer one sheet at a time, and you must make sure you’re printing in the correct place on the sheet. Plain paper labels are not grease- or waterproof, but polyester labels work well. Sometimes there are alignment issues leading to misprints. In short, it can take a little fiddling that can feel stressful if a client is waiting.

Suppliers: Online Labels (including their Maestro label creator), Avery, Planet Label, many more. 

Pre-printed roll labels 

These are generally printed with your logo, basic business and contact information, with room for handwritten info. Be clear on what you’ll need to write and how much room you’ll need. Typically this includes client name, date, product name, product weight, and ingredients. 

Pros: Many options for size, shape, and color. Easy to grab during a consultation. Many different finish choices, gloss or matte. Can produce an attractive apothecary or naturopathic style label. No need to use label software once your labels have been designed.

Cons: Handwriting may be difficult to read and can take up a lot of room. You’ll need to keep different sizes on hand for different products, so the cost can add up. Some printing companies have high minimum quantities. You’ll need to design labels yourself with your own software to meet their specs, or hire a designer. It can be challenging to comply with labeling guidelines. 

Suppliers to consider: Vistaprint, Richmark, Lightning Labels, many more

Primera label printers 

The most upscale, professional option for printing single labels or short label runs.

Pros: Excellent quality, professional appearance. Can print one label at a time or multiple labels. Ideal if you’re moving toward a retail product line with professionally designed labels and want to print small label runs in-house. In my retail business, I found this to be far more cost effective than having labels professionally printed. 

Cons: Expensive. Need to change label stock if a different size is required. Waterproof labels work best. You’ll need your own design software. 

Purchase at: Primera website

Tips to get started

  • Start with what you have. If you have a laser printer, start with die-cut labels. Choose the simplest solution that will meet your needs and keep your costs down.
  • Measure your packaging. A sewing-style tape measure works best as you can wrap it around your containers. Make a list of the label sizes you’ll need. You’ll be able to use one label size for a few different products. Create as much overlap as possible so that you have fewer labels and templates to juggle.
  • Reflect on your business identity. Are you comfortable with a minimal, apothecary-style aesthetic? If so, a thermal printer will work well for you. If you’re developing a retail product line, I strongly recommend a color labeling solution or at least a laser printer.
  • Invest a day to design all of your labels. Make sure they represent a cohesive aesthetic. Apply them to your packaging as a test, and see how they look together. 
  • If you’re design challenged, hire a designer – I guarantee it’s worth it!  You can browse Etsy for aromatherapy label templates, but be sure that what you buy is compliant with labeling guidelines.
  • Keep your label design files organized. I have a folder for my templates, and a separate folder for each client’s labels. Create a file naming system that is easy to understand. 
  • Practice. Time yourself opening a label template, saving a copy, filling it out, printing it, and applying it to a product. This helps you know how much time to allow during a consultation, or how much time to figure in to your overhead, particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic while we’re doing mostly virtual consulting

Regarding labeling guidelines

  • If your label gets cumbersome with a long list of essential oils, it is acceptable to list “fragrance” on the label and provide a separate handout with a detailed list of the essential oils in your blend. As Marie Gale points out, this is meant more as a marketing tool than a substitute for a full detailed cosmetic label, but it’s a helpful way to educate your customers about their blends.
  • Follow proper formatting guidelines for cosmetic labeling in the United States, even when hand writing labels. Marie Gale’s book “Soap & Cosmetic Labeling” is a must-have. Her website is a fantastic resource as well. 
  • This blog post doesn’t cover labeling guidelines in depth, such as avoiding drug claims (direct or implied), so make sure you’re compliant in that regard. Marie’s book (above) will help. 

What labeling solution has worked best for you, and what tips would you want to share with your fellow practitioners? What are your next steps for your own labels? Let me know in the comments!

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Michelle Gilbert

Michelle Gilbert, CCA, APAIA, R.SPE.P. is an educator and writer who helps aromatherapy entrepreneurs create better products, services, and results. Her work has been featured in Prevention, AromaCulture, and Health. She offers personal mentoring, freelance writing, and formulation review services for professionals and entrepreneurs who want more income and satisfaction from their work with essential oils.

  • This was so helpful! Thanks for the links. I’m just starting to create the line and labels were a stopping point. What a timely post!

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