Updated: Jul 22, 2021
Why make perfume at home
The earliest versions of perfume were crafted from essential oils and resins dissolved in oils. Man has been using fragrant compounds for personal aesthetics and for religious rites for eons.
In our modern culture, perfume is EVERYWHERE. The vast majority of the perfume in our modern world is synthetic. These are the fragrance materials in our cleaning products, hair and skin care, candles, laundry soap...literally every where.
And you may not know it, but those synthetic fragrances are actually known health hazards! There have been numerous studies showing that those Yankee Candles and Fe-breeze sprays cause some concerning health issues over time. Excessive exposure to synthetic fragrance is not good for you.
One example of a health risk associated with synthetic fragrance is the growing number of people who get severe headaches triggered by smells. These are excruciating headaches triggered for many from synthetic scents found in cleaning products, hair and skin care, candles and incense, to name just a few. I am one of the folks who cannot even go into a Yankee Candle without developing a horrible headache. I avoid the household aisle at the market completely and the perfume counters of department stores get pass.
So what if you love nice smells and love wearing perfume, but find it gives you a headache? Is there anything you can use?
Essential Oils to the Rescue!
The happy answer for many is yes! The key for me, and many others I have met over the years, is to avoid the synthetic fragrance, and stick to all natural scents. These can be made using pure essential oils.T
he process of developing a scent is actually really fascinating - and fun! And believe it or not, for a long time (hundreds of years) all that was used was essentials oils and resins. The synthetic fragrance compounds used in modern perfuming were not even invented until the early 20th century. This means that the skill set for inventing a classic scent, and a wonderful perfume that you can wear and enjoy for years to come, can be applied at home!
How to Blend Essential Oils
Lett's backup for just a minute. I want to give you just a little bit of background information.
Fragrances or smells, are discussed by perfume makers using vocabulary that has a lot in common with music. If a scent is very light, bright, is the first (or one of the first) thing you notice in a blend, it is called a TOP NOTE. See what I mean? A note is a term applied to music. The characteristics of a Top Note are:
Short lived (this part of the scent fades fairly quickly)
This is what you smell when you first open the bottle, or spray your favorite perfume
Common Top Notes are the citrus fruits and their flowers, like Lemon, Elemi, Bergamot, Orange and Lime. In general, these oils are less expensive and easier to obtain through pressing the peel or steam distillation due to the high volume of oil in the plant material.
Scents that linger for a longer time, and tend to remain noticeable for at least an hour or two are referred to as the HEART or MIDDLE NOTE. These elements give your scent fullness, and roundness. They add complexity and interest. They are the "heart" of the fragrance.
Common Heat Notes are floral scents like Rose, Jasmine and Ylang Ylang. These can be some of the most costly scents in the world, which was one motivation for the creation of some synthetics. For example, It takes a thousand pounds of the tiny, white Jasmine flowers to create 1 pound of the essential oil! Hence the price!
Then there are the BASE NOTES. As you might suspect, the Base Notes are the ones you smell after many hours of wear. These notes leave the lingering smell on your sweater when you take it off at the end of the night. The base note gives a perfume its unforgettable quality, that lingers long after the wearer has left the room.
Common base notes include Sandalwood, Cedar, Patchouli and Frankincense, to name a few. The cost of these can range dramatically depending on how rare or possibly endangered the original plant has become. For example Indian Sandalwood is a critically endangered species. As such, it is extremely important to find ethically grown and harvested Sandalwood if you wish to use this ingredient.
Making a Fragrant Symphony
So, why would you add something that fades almost immediately? Why wouldn't I just use all Base Notes?
Or, if the Heart notes are so pricey, why not skip them?
This part gets complicated. The short answer is, you get a nicer smell from a more balanced mix. And if you were able to isolate the ingredients of your favorite department store perfume, you would discover that they ALL are fairly complex. Modern perfumes are combined using dozens, if not hundreds of component parts in varying amounts, to achieve their perfect end result.
So how do you do that?
I won't lie, it will take you some time. It's a really fun process though!
This gets a little bit like a lab experiment, so those of you who kind of geek out on science experiments are going to love this!
Creating a Formula, 101Ingredients:
TIME: The first thing to remember is, essential oils change when they are mixed! They do something called "Synergy". This simply means that when you mix essential oils, over time as they sit, they become more than the sum of the parts of the blend. The truth is, sometimes a mix that smells not so good when you mix it, can become quite wonderful over time. Not always though - it can go the other way too! So the first ingredient in any mix will be time.
TRACKING: The second thing to remember is to write down every single step/measurement - EVERY SINGLE ONE. The worst thing ever is to come up with a blend you just adore, but cannot replicate! You will be positive that you will remember the proportions, but eventually you will have that perfect blend you cannot quite recall the steps to make. rite everything down!
CONTROL CHANGES: This one is huge. I struggle tremendously with this one as I love to mix 'by the seat of my pants'. That can be fun and spontaneous, but again, impossible to replicate! Making small changes and waiting to see what they do is the mark of the best perfumers.
Professional perfumers use a table to create what they call ACCORDS (again, a reference to music). An Accord is a combination of elements of one tone or area in the fragrance world. So an accord might be a BASE Accord, or a Top Accord. Once you find some accords you like, you can blend the Accords together to build fragrances.
Building the foundation - the BASE Accords
To build a few base accords for your perfuming, you start by creating a little table graph like this:
Oil A B C D E F
Cedar Wood 1 1 1 1 1 1
Frankincense 1 2 3 4 5 6
Patchouli 1 1 1 1 1 1
This is your opening work. In this example, you would have 6 little bottles, each labeled Base A, Base B, Base C and so forth. In each bottle, you would put the corresponding number of drops/parts of each oil. So for example, in Base C I would put 1 drop or part of Cedar Wood, 3 drops/parts of Frankincense and 1 drop/part of Patchouli.
You might want more than 1 drop, but don't mix a lot! You will toss a fair number of your maiden efforts here, and these oils aren't cheap...so start small.
Once all the bottles are labeled and have their oils in them, you put them in a cool dark location for around 90 days. I know, it's a long time. This is the time for the oils to synergize.
After the 90 days are up, you open them and smell them in turn. Make notes about what you do and don't like about each.
Note: To smell, put a drop of the mix on a small piece of paper. Don't smell it in the bottle. You can't really tell how things smell in the bottle.
Also, have some ground coffee to sniff between oils. This will clear your nose so you can better smell the next scent. It really works, trust me!
Once you find a base you like, you can start to alter it. Make up the Base you liked best in 6 bottles. Label them Base A1 (for example), base A2 and so forth.
Base A1 A2 A3 A4 A5 A6
Add Myrrh 1 2 3 4 5 6
Add Vetiver 1 1 1 1 1 1
Notice that I only vary one of the new ingredients. Now we wait, another 90 days. Then smell each of these and pick the favorite.
You can repeat these passes as many times as you like. The variations are almost endless. I have spent up to 2 or 3 years getting a scent I like!
The process for creating a Heart or Middle Accord is the same as that used above. Keep the amounts small in case you develop some you really don't like. And record everything, including the mixes you didn't like. Then you can look back at your notes and save time and materials next time!
The Top Accord will be done the same way. The good news is, you can absolutely make sets of accords and wait the 90 days and have them all ready together. Do your Top, Middle and Bases accords and have them ready to smell at the same time.
If you guessed that the last step is to combine the accords to create a perfume, you were right! There are varying opinions on how much of each NOTE you should use. Some say 1:1:1, some say 4:2:1, in my opinion, you should experiment and find what you like. I have found exceptions to literally every rule.
Remember: top notes are what you'll smell fist and they will fade first. Middle notes will last and provide the structure of your scent. Base notes will linger and be there many hours later.
You make a little table, like the others, and start adding a little of each thing:
A1 A2 A3 A4 A5 A6
Top A 1 2 3 4 5 6
Heat/Middle B 6 5 4 3 2 1
Base C 1 1 1 1 1 1
Notice in the table above the inverse relationship between the Top and Heart notes. This is one way to test multiple proportions and see what you get. If you do this, keep the third variable the same. In this case, the Base is always 1 part.
Once combined, you let the mix sit, yup - for another 90 days. Then smell the results. If you like one, but don't love it, try adding a drop more of the base, or the top until you hit just the right balance for you.You can also try adding a drop or two of a completely new oil if you think it would be a nice mix. This is the art part of combining fragrance.
One final note: When your perfume is done, you will want to wear it, but you should NOT wear it full strength on your skin! You need to dilute essential oils before applying them to the skin. Any reputable source will tell you the same thing.
For more on dilution, see my previous blog post: Using Essential Oils for Aches and Pains
Typically, a good starting point is about 30 drops of your final mix in a 10 ml bottle of carrier oil like coconut or Jojoba oil. Again, as the fragrance sits, the perfume will get stronger.
What about the Magic?
Well the magic comes in when you remember the inherent magic of the ingredients, and the magic in you! If you make your perfume as the moon waxes in Cancer, and you use oils associated with water and moon, you will have a very charged water scent. If you use Earth scents like Vetiver and Patchouli and mix them as the moon waxes in an Earth sign, you will have a wonderfully earth charged oil.
If you combine oils as the moon wanes, that perfume could be charged to help let things go. If you make it on a full moon, and use oils that are aphrodisiac in nature....well you get it.
Making your own perfume is a fun and fascinating hobby. The ingredients are readily available and your recipes can be continued and improved for years to come.
Happy mixing and Bright Blessings!
Below are a few of my absolute favorite books on essential oils, perfume and blending.
These are Amazon links:
The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Revised and Expanded: Over 800 Natural, Nontoxic, and Fragrant Recipes to Create Health, Beauty, and Safe Home and Work EnvironmentsScent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative PerfumeEssence and Alchemy: A Natural History of PerfumePerfume: The art and Craft of Fragrance
Sources for Essential Oils:
Amazon has a lot of oils available. Try to stick to organic, and only buy a small amount to see if the quality is good if you don't know the brand.
Mountain Rose Herbs - I buy a lot of oil from these folks, and herbs too. They are wonderful.
New Directions Aromatics - these folks have nice oils. I buy a fair amount of organics from them.