Adventures in Perfume-Making Part the First

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I’m not really a perfume kind of girl. I’m kind of a cheapskate, and I don’t like plopping down $10-$20 for a cheap bottle of perfume, only to realize that it has an undertone of rubbing alcohol and a synthetic whiff about it that I don’t like. Also, chemicals, if you’re worried about that kind of thing. I am.

On the other hand, sometimes I do want to be feminine. I admit that it gives me a rush when I’m going out for a date night and my Compatriot smells my sandalwood necklace or my hair. It’s sexy.

So I decided to try and make my own perfume oil. In the future I will be making real perfume with alcohol, but I’m having a heck of a time finding Everclear, even though its sale is supposedly unrestricted where I live.

There’s already lots of information on hobby perfumery. I’m just giving my personal experiences and my method, which tends to be rather haphazard, favoring exuberance over careful planning.

Materials and Cost:

  • Almond oil (jojoba oil is more commonly recommended, but I wanted almond oil) – $11.99
  • 3 kinds of essential oils (top, middle and base notes) two were $8.99, one was $4.99
  • Bottle with a glass dropper, preferably dark colored – $1.99 (you will probably want a dropper for each oil to avoid mixing them in their bottles)
  • Dark colored bottle for storage

Total cost: Anywhere between $25 and $50+, depending on your ingredients. It’s a substantial initial investment, but you can make whole lot of perfume.

You could get a group of people together to pitch in for some essential oils and carrier oil/alcohol and have a scent-making party if you wanted to keep costs down and make a fun memory!

My process is highly unprofessional. If you want to take even a modicum of care, you should have a separate glass dropper for each oil.

I, however, elected to simply wash my dropper in between each oil because I am both lazy and impatient. That probably didn’t clean out 100% of the oil, so if you don’t want them mixing and polluting each other… you’ll want separate droppers.

For my recipe, I knew I wanted sandalwood and rose. But I didn’t do my research beforehand to know that I needed a third, top note. So I had to think about that, and decided on… citrus. Yep. I thought about an “oriental” fragrance or a flowery fragrance, but ultimately wanted something unexpected and fun over something classic.

What does all that jargon mean? Well, you’ve got a few different components to a perfume:

You’ve got your top note – what you initially smell. I ended up with tangerine after debating extensively with myself. I think grapefruit also would have been good. I really wanted lime to work, because I love lime and it seemed like the most quirky and fun, but it just didn’t work out.

Then you’ve got your middle note. That tends to last a little longer and makes up the bulk of the fragrance. I used rose, a classic flower scent.

Finally there’s the base note, which carries everything else and is the part that lingers after you’ve moved away, leaving swains to swoon in your wake. For that I chose sandalwood, because I love sandalwood.

Most of the sites I saw gave a ratio of roughly 30% base notes, 50% middle notes, and 20% top notes to start with. So I used 9 drops of rose, 15 of sandalwood, and 4 of tangerine.

If you do the math, 4 drops of tangerine isn’t 20% of 30 (15 drops is 50% and 9 drops is 30%). That’s because I wanted to add something truly novel; tea tree oil. I had some around that my mom gave me a while back, so I added 2 drops.

Mistakes were made. If you decide to use tea tree oil, watch out! It is incredibly overpowering.

I ended up adding 4 more drops of everything else, which helped a lot.

Once you’ve played around with some scents and have something you like, it’s time to let the mixture sit in a dark place for a few days. I couldn’t resist taking mine out and smelling it every day, but managed to wait five days before I broke and added the oil.

You’ll want to wait a few days to a month, because the smells change over time. They become more muddled and intermixed. Mine in particular mellowed out – it’s hard to distinguish the tangerine from the rose anymore, but I really like the smell. It’s fresh, floral, sensuous and, I think, lovely.

This project may not seem all that frugal, but I think the initial investment is worth it: it’s cheaper per ounce than a nice perfume, you can make a ton of it, and you know exactly what’s going into your fragrance and onto your body.

Keep in mind that oils do break down over time, even if you keep them out of direct light; ideally, you’ll want to use them within a year. That does cut down on the cost-effectiveness, but I’m going to try making a bunch of different scented produces – spray-on perfume, soaps, even incense.

Layering scent is the way to go – spritzing on a bunch of perfume just before you leave the house can be overpowering. A light layer of body wash and lotion and soap and perfume is much more subtle. But have you ever kitted yourself out with body wash, soap, lotion and perfume in your favorite scent? It adds up fast.

Once I find some Everclear, I’ll do another installment with a spray-on perfume. For now, I’m enjoying my scented oil.

More Resources:

Mapping the Vocabulary of Scent – a neat article about the components that go into recreating different types of smells. A little technical.

Aromatic Blending – scroll down for a list of top, middle and base notes

I did use a chart that had a list of scents that typically go well together, but I can’t find it now. If I find it, I’ll update the resource list.

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