Store-bought perfume doesn't work for everyone. It can be irritating to people with allergies or sensitive skin, and there's been a lot of concern lately about name-brand perfume manufacturers "hiding" potentially harmful chemicals by not listing them on ingredient labels. It also can be tough to find the right scent, so you can end up throwing a lot of money down the drain by constantly trying out different perfumes.
So, why not create your own one-of-a-kind scent -- for a fraction of the cost of a name brand?
If you've never made perfume before, you might think it'd be a pretty complicated task. Where do you start? How many different oils do you use and how much of each one? How do you know what smells good together? How much do you make, and what do you put it in?
Don't panic! There's a definite rhyme and reason to how perfumes are assembled, but it's actually very simple -- once you get over the hurdle of trying to find the perfect scent combination (or one that's even remotely appealing). We'll walk you through the entire process, from selecting oils to blending them to putting them all together into a finished product. We'll also clue you in to a pretty surprising perfume ingredient.
First step: Are you going to use fragrant or essential oils?
Using Fragrant and Essential Oils
Before you take the plunge and start selecting perfume oils, you should do a little research first. There are two basic types of perfume oils: fragrant and essential. Essential oils are 100 percent natural, highly concentrated plant essences. The price of essential oils is based on how much of a certain plant it takes to make a pound of oil. Eucalyptus is one of the cheapest essential oils because it takes 50 pounds of it to make a pound of eucalyptus oil. Fifty pounds of eucalyptus seems like a lot -- until you consider that it takes 2,000 pounds of roses to make one measly pound of rose oil.
Fragrant oils are synthetic re-creations of essential oil scents. They smell exactly the same as essential oils and are also less expensive, but they don't boast the healing and aromatherapeutic benefits of essential oils.
The decision to use one type of oil over the other might be an economic one, but it also depends on exactly what you're looking for out of a perfume. If you just want a sweet-smelling product, go with fragrant oils. If you're in search of physical or physiological healing, you might want to give essential oils a try. But choose one or the other for your perfume -- don't mix them.
Selecting Perfume Oils That Blend Well
Depending who you ask, there could be as many as nine or 10 scent families from which to choose when you're trying to create your perfume. That could get a little overwhelming, so for a beginner's purposes, let's stick with five basic scent categories:
- Floral: lavender, jasmine, geranium, hyacinth
- Oriental: patchouli, vanilla, mandarin
- Woodsy: sandalwood, cedar, frankincense
- Spicy: ginger, neroli, nutmeg
- Citrus: grapefruit, lemon, orange
There really aren't any hard-and-fast rules about which types of scents go well together. Woodsy scents tend to be the most versatile, and combine nicely with the four other families. Floral, spicy and citrus can be a good combo, too. If you want to break it down even further, you could add "minty," "herbaceous," "medicinal," and "earthy" to the mix.
You don't need to worry about picking out an elaborate set of 10 different scents -- but you shouldn't just go with one, either. On the next page we'll tell you why three is the magic number and give you more guidelines on how to go about selecting them.
The Three Notes of a Perfume
Even the most basic perfumes should blend three scents, or "notes." The combination of a base note, middle note and top note (added in that order) is what causes a perfume's aroma to subtly change the longer it stays on your skin.
The base note is added first and lingers the longest on your skin -- some essential oils can hang on for a couple of days. Base notes are often from the woodsy family, but vanilla, vetiver and patchouli are common, too. The base oil should make up about 20 percent of your blend.
The middle note makes up the core of your scent -- it should comprise around half of the oil you use. It will usually evaporate within two to four hours, leaving the base note to react with your skin.
The top note is what gives the first impression of your perfume -- you smell it immediately upon spraying. It's the last thing you add to the mix (about 30 percent) and the first scent to evaporate, usually within a couple of hours. Citrus and floral oils like orchid, chamomile and anise are popular top notes.
A few drops of a "bridge note" are sometimes added at the end to help the other notes blend together more smoothly. It's often lavender, vanilla or a very mildly scented "carrier" oil, like vitamin E or jojoba oil, that doesn't evaporate from the skin.
So you don't waste precious ingredients when you're playing around with scents, make samples on cotton swabs and let them sit overnight. If you're happy with the combo in the morning, you'll be ready to take the next step: making the actual perfume.
Making Your Perfume
The two key components of a very basic perfume are oil and a diluting agent, which is often rubbing alcohol or high-proof alcohol (vodka is a popular choice). Yes, you read that right -- vodka is the main ingredient in many homemade perfumes.
So, all you need for your very own perfume are your oils, the diluting agent and a 2-ounce glass bottle. Add your base, middle and top notes (in that order, remembering the basic 20-50-30 percent ratio) and a few drops of bridge note if you're using it. Then fill up the bottle with diluting agent, shake it well and let it sit at least 48 hours. The longer you wait -- up to six weeks -- the stronger the scent will be.
When the waiting game is over and you're happy with the product, add 2 tablespoons of water, pour it all through a coffee filter and return it to the bottle.
While you're experimenting, remember to keep detailed records and clearly label everything you make. Just using two fewer drops of one type of oil can make a huge difference in the aroma of your perfume!
For more information about perfume, take a look at the links on the next page.
- Aromatherapy at Home. "Health Safety When Using Aromatherapy Essential Oils." (May 1, 2012) http://www.aromatherapy-at-home.com/healthsafetywhenusingaromatherapy.html
- Aroma Web. "Aromatic Blending of Essential Oils." (May 1, 2012) http://www.aromaweb.com/articles/aromaticblending.asp
- Aura Cacia. "Essential Oil Basics." (May 1, 2012) http://www.auracacia.com/auracacia/aclearn/ar_basics.html
- Ellison, Sheila and Judith Gray. "How to Make Perfume." iVillage, Dec. 9, 2011. (May 6, 2012) http://www.ivillage.com/how-make-perfume/6-a-144545
- Environmental Working Group. "Not So Sexy: Hidden Chemicals in Perfume and Cologne." May 2010. (May 6, 2012) http://www.ewg.org/notsosexy
- Striepe, Becky. "How To: Make Your Own Perfume or Cologne." Green Upgrader, June 18, 2010. (May 6, 2012) http://greenupgrader.com/12108/how-to-make-your-own-perfume-or-cologne/
- Totillo, Rebecca Park. "Essential Oils: Understanding Notes When Making Perfume." Heal With Essential Oil, May 25, 2010 (May 6, 2012) http://healwithessentialoil.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/essential-oils-understanding-notes-when-making-perfume/
- Vanderlinden, Colleen. "DIY Your Own Solid Perfume to Smell Great, Naturally." Treehugger, Feb. 24, 2012. (May 6, 2012) http://www.treehugger.com/organic-beauty/smell-good-naturally-how-make-solid-perfume.html