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How To Make Natural Perfume
The Art Of Natural Perfumery Using Essential Oils
Here you will find some great tips, recipes and resources on learning how to make natural perfume using essential oils. When making natural fragrances, you don't use chemicals in the mix at all. You only use pure, natural oils essences that are extracted through distillation from various flowers and plants.
Buying perfumes is quite expensive, and there are more and more people (women especially) who are learning the art of making their own fragrances from scratch, using the ingredients that THEY want to have inside their perfumes.
While it is a hobby that needs some trial and error, it's luckily not one that is very expensive, especially when compared to buying a bottle of real perfume that can cost upwards of $100.
This is why I've started my journey into natural perfumery as well a few years ago, and while I can't say I'm a pro at it, I've become pretty adept, with perfumes that people no longer consider 'stinky oils'. Enjoy the ride and please leave your comments (or even your recipes) in the Guestbook section below.
The Book That Got Me Started With Making My Own Perfumes
It all started with this book that I got as Christmas present from my husband a few years ago. He knew that I was using essential oils in aromatherapy mixes and he thought I could use another book in my arsenal. Little did we both know that this would start an entirely new hobby for me: natural perfumery.
Mandy Aftel is the person to learn from when it comes to natural perfumery. Her deep knowledge about essential oils, mixes and perfumery in general is amazing, and this book is but the start. Once you get through it, you will also want to buy her other book, and maybe also enroll in her online course (if you can't attend in person, like me, since I am living far away.)
I highly recommend this book. Mine is a hardcover edition which is full of yellow highlighted text, dog earmarks and oil stains. I wouldn't part with it at all - well, maybe just to get a pristine copy that I can again highlight at will.
Have You Tried To Make Natural Perfume?
What Is Natural Perfumery
Natural perfumery is the art and process of creating natural fragrances and related products using 100% pure essential oils, without the use of any synthetics that usually go in the retail perfumes.
The perfumes you buy in the shops are made using fragrant essential oils, along with fixatives, solvents and other chemical ingredients that stabilize the aroma. This is why some of the perfumes you buy smell so strong. However this is also why some people are so allergic to perfumes: not because of the smell itself, but because of the synthetic ingredients that are rather harmful to humans.
So what are some of the aromatic sources that go into creating a natural fragrance? There are two types of sources, including plant and animal sources.
The plant sources are basically the various parts of the actual plant, such as the flowers, the roots, the bark, the fruits, the peel and the leaves. The animal sources are are rather rare and quite expensive because in some cases it involves animals that are close to extinction. For example castoreum is using odorous sacs from the North American beaver, civet is using odorous sacs of the civets, and hyraceum is the petrified excrement of the Rock Hyrax.
As some animals are close to extinction, these days natural perfumery is using mostly plant sources, which can be found and made rather easily.
A Brief History Of Natural Perfumery
Natural perfumery is truly an ancient art. It has a long history, going back a few thousand years to the times of Ancient Greece, Egypt, India, China and other ancient civilizations which were along the trade routes of the times. Both natural perfumery and aromatherapy were quite flourishing during those times. Through using essential oils, people discovered that the various parts of plants were not only great for enjoying the fragrant smells in the baths, lotions and concoctions, but they were also healing.
The craftsman during those times used various ancient distillers to extract the essences from plants, such as lavender, mirth, rose and jasmine. As the years went by, more and more plants were used to create an additional range of fragrances for healing the mind, body and soul.
However the term 'cologne was not coined until 1703 when a French perfumer Johann Farina mixed several essential oils from plants with alcohol, which resulted in a liquid very pleasing to smell. He also claimed that this mix had healing properties that helped relieve pains and discomforts. This was the moment when the modern history of natural perfumery began.
What You Need - Ingredients And Equipment
First you need a range of essential oils. Luckily for us, 100% essential oils can be found quite easily in natural health stores, and in online stores such as Amazon.
Note: make sure that the oils you buy are indeed 100% natural. Avoid buying fragrance oils which are only poor imitations.
The reason for this is because the pure oils contain the life essence of the plants from which they are extracted. They contain the magic of life itself. In contrast, synthetically created oils are simply chemical compounds containing dead and flat elements.
While I have essential oils from several places, below is a starter kit that I use over and over again. It is because it has the oils I use the most in natural perfumery, as well as in aromatherapy.
It includes 14 100% pure essential oils that make a great starter pack. Great both for making natural perfumes, as well as for aromatherapy (I use these oils in recipes for both).
With this set you get the following oils:
bergamot, cinnamon leaf, clary sage, eucalyptus, lavender, grapefruit, lemon, lime, peppermint, patchouli, rosemary, tea tree and sweet orange.
They are enough to start mixing your own blends for some lovely perfumes. They all smell great, and depending on the recipes, you will get some awesome perfume samples that you can be proud of.
Essential Ols vs Fragrance Oils
Genuine essential oils have also positive psychological benefits, along with a great smell. They are usually more expensive and prices vary between the oils extracted due to their strong concentration.
Fragrance oils are artificially made with chemicals and they have no therapeutic benefits.
Along with essential oils, you also need carrier oils which are neutralizing and stabilizing. Some of the most popular carrier oils are: sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, apricot oil and coconut oil. Personally I use two oils: sweet almond and jojoba oils, depending on the recipe. Joboja oil is in fact a type of wax and as it is a great moisturizer, it is used a lot in mixing oils for aromatherapy as well.
The carriers are basically mediums that you use to blend your essential oils in. Another popular medium is 190-proof ethyl alcohol because the strength of it will dilute the thickest of absolute plant material (such as resins, balsams and concretes), and it helps mix the essences together much better than the carrier oils.
Note: if you can't find the right type of ethyl alcohol, you can also use vodka, while you are still learning to make perfumes. However once you are beyond the basics, you should really go for the ethyl alcohol instead.
In my parts of the world it is quite difficult to find the right grade of ethyl alcohol, and I don't like the smell of vodka, so I've used carrier oils for quite a lot of time. It does take a bit longer until the perfume is ready, however the final result is just as good. So don't be shy on using carrier oils instead of alcohol when you start out in natural perfumery.
Popular Carrier Oils
Basic Equipment For Natural Perfumery
Besides essential oils and carrier oils you also need the right set of equipment. Luckily most of the things are readily available and they are not expensive at all.
Here is what I use regularly when making my own perfumes:
- Beakers - Needed for blending the oils. The best are the small beakers used for 15-30 ml.
- Droppers - Used for measuring the drops of oils for the blends, based on the recipe. Also called pipette.
- Dark bottles - These are small brown or dark colored bottles used to store your created perfumes.
- Adhesive labels - Each perfume bottle will be properly labeled with these stickers.
- Rubbing alcohol - This type of alcohol is used to clean the droppers between uses - you don't want to add a dropper with a hint of orange in a bottle that has rose essence!
Different Types Of Natural Perfumes
There are 2 types of perfumes: regular perfumes made from oils and solid perfumes made from beeswax and other solid material. Here we are focusing on regular perfumes.
The Fragrance Pyramid
Fragrance Notes By Volatility
Natural perfumery is vast and there are lots of things you need to know to become really a professional perfumer. This article is not enough to teach you everything, however I hope I can get you started and point you in the right direction for further learning.
One of the first things you need to known when learning how to make natural perfume is about base notes. You can't just mix oils together and hope for a great result. In most cases you will get what I got when I first started: a pungent smelly concoction that was not good even for aromatherapy.
There are 3 types of perfume notes: top, middle and base, depending on their relative volatility. For example the top notes evaporate faster than the middle notes, which evaporate faster than the base notes. It is important to know this, as when you create your own perfumes, you will add the oils according to the right structure.
If you've ever tried natural perfumes, you might have noticed that the smell you feel initially is quite different from the one you feel 15 minutes after. This is because the top note is the first to feel (it's usually quite strong), but it is also the first to diffuse into the air. What remains at the end are the various base notes.
The oils listed in the illustration above are a small sample. See below for a larger list containing more oils to choose from.
Fragrance pyramid image created by MarciaG
Learn More About Fragrance Notes
Common Fragrance Groups
Besides the top/medium and base fragrance notes, there is another common classification that is in fact better known based on the actual smell. Here are some of the popular groups:
CItrus: lime, grapefruit, orange, bergamot, mandarin, neroli
Spicy: allspice, cardamon, cinnamon, clove, coriander, ginger, juniper, nutmeg, peppers
Herbal: ba, clary sage, lavender, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, thyme, wormwood
Floral: jasmine, magnolia, tuberose, rose, ylang-ylang
Woody: bois de rose, cedarwood, cpress, sandalwood, pine
Earthy: carrot seed, patchouli, vetiver
Edible: black tea, cocoa, cognac, green ta, chamomille, vanilla
Animal: ambrette, civet, costus, hay, tobacco
Learn More About Fragrance Groups
Make Your Own Fragrance Pyramid
Search in Google Images for "fragrance pyramid" or "fragrance wheel" until you get the image that speaks to you the most; print it out, cut it to size and glue it to a cardboard. You can use this to accompany you when learning about the various fragrance notes and scent types.
Natural Perfume Recipes
Basic Recipes For Natural Perfume
If you're eager to get started, here are some small perfume recipes that need but the basic ingredients. I assume you have some essential oils, the equipment and the patience to start your new hobby. So let's get started.
First pour the drops of carrier oil into a small dark bottle using the applicator or dropper. Next add each essential oil drop by drop. For example don't add all 6 jasmine oil drops in one go. Add them one drop at a time, this is very important!
After adding each oil, shake the bottle vigorously for the new oil to mix in nicely with the rest.
You can experiment with the number of drops for each oil. I like to add more geranium oil as this gives its characteristic smell.
List of ingredients
- 2 tbsp. jojoba oil or any other carrier oil
- 2 drops neroli oil
- 3 drops bergamot oil
- 3 drops of patchouli oil
- 6 drops of jasmine oil
- 8 drops of ylang-ylang oil
- 14 drops of geranium oil
Citrus Perfume Recipe
Add the various essential oils to the carrier oil drop by drop and shake the bottle in between.
List of ingredients
- 3 drops carrier oil
- 4 drops jasmine oil
- 2 drops lemongrass oil
- 3 drops vetiver oil
- 2 drops patchouli oil
- 2 drops rose oil
Simple Perfume Recipe
This is a very basic recipe, I think it was the first I've tried and was successful with (don't ask what I did before this one!). Here you need very few ingredients which you will most likely have from your basic essential oils kit. Of course, you also need your carrier oils. Feel free to experiment with the number of drops.
List of ingredients
- 3 drops carrier oil
- 3 drops bergamot oil
- 2 drops lavender oil
- 2 drops lavender oil
- 1 drop rose oil
Spicy Perfume Recipe
As usual experiment with the number of drops. I only add one drop of black pepper as it is quite spicy. In fact the whole recipe is a rather spicy one. I put one drop of rose oil to sweeten it up a little bit.
List of ingredients
- 2 drops carrier oil
- 2 drops bergamot oil
- 2 drops bitter orange oil
- 1 drop black pepper oil
- 1 drop rose oil
- 3 drops cedarwood oil
- 2 drops juniper berry oil
Some essential oils can cause allergic reactions when touching the skin or ingested orally. To test the oils, always apply one drop to the inside of your forearm and check after a few hours for any signs of irritation. Known ones are citrus based.
Avoid working with essential oils when pregnant.
My Secret Tip For Learning
Try To Recreate The Scent Of Retail Perfumes
This is really when my knowledge increased by leaps and bounds: by trying to recreate the scent of various retail perfumes, such as Shalimar, Nina Ricci, Samsara and several others. But how to do it?
Well, this is what you do.
First head over to perfume search page on the Fragrantica website or fragrance directory on Basenotes website. On both places you will find hundreds of perfumes listed, including the fragrant notes - which is exactly what you want.
Let's say you want to try to recreate La Vie en Rose de Borsalino. Simply go to the perfume page and you will see there a fragrance pyramid for that very perfume. If you have most of the essential oils listed there, you can start experimenting.
Another place that lists a few perfumes with their ingredients is Mabel White. The list here is smaller, but still worth a look.
Note: you will not find the exact amount of drops used, since each perfume is made using a secret recipe. However you will find the main ingredients for most perfumes available on the market today.
You Made Your Perfume...Now What?
Storing The Perfume
Once you've made your perfume blend, it is time to store it in a dark, cool place. You might be tempted to use the perfume right away, but if you do so, you will be rather unpleasantly surprised: it won't really have a smell of anything...yet.
Regardless whether you used alcohol or carrier oils to blend your essential oils, the perfume needs to sit for a while, preferably a couple of weeks. This is why early on I mentioned that you need lots of patience. The oils need to mix well with each other, to synthesize and hopefully create that harmonious fragrance that you are eagerly awaiting.
This is also why you need to store your perfume in dark bottles (I use the small brown glass bottles). If the natural essences are long in contact with the air and light, they get easily damaged. Also make sure that the bottle is glass and not plastic, with a top that is sealed tight, where no air can get in.
After a couple of weeks open the bottle, and provided the cap itself has a dropper, put one drop of the perfume on your wrist. Do you like the smell? If yes, voila, you've just made your first perfume!
ALWAYS write down the exact number of drops you used of each oil. Trust me, unless you do it, you might not be able to reproduce that awesome new perfume no matter how much you try.
Especially important when you start to make perfume for clients who will want more of a particular fragrance...
Useful Free Natural Perfumery Resources
- The Natural Perfumery Guild
An awesome resource that lists places to learn natural perfumery, along with professional perfumers accredited.
- Mandy Aftel's Website
The website of Mandy Aftel. She lists hear her popular classes, along with some information that you can use in your self-learning. You can also buy here oils and perfumes.
- Natural Perfumery Yahoo Group
The most popular and most active online group involved in natural perfumery.
- Anya's Garden Blog
A great blog I've been following for years
- The Blog Of JoAnne Bassett
Another great natural perfumer I admire
Official Natural Perfumery Courses
- Study With Mandy Aftel
Many Aftel's courses - While I could never take her live courses, I bought her first 2 workbooks online - perfect for self-study and they are both cheaper than a real perfumery course (which can cost over $1,000)
- Anya's Garden Natural Perfumery Institute
Basic courses in natural perfumery
- Perfumery Course In The UK
A 5 day live course in the UK with perfumer Alec Lawless
- Natural Perfumery Courses With Jeanne Rose
There are several courses here to choose from, including perfumery, aromatherapy, herbal studies, etc
- Course With Ayala Moriel
Here is a full 2 year program that is broken down in smaller session for the serious natural perfumery enthusiast.
- Natural Perfumery Course With AbdesSalam Attar
This course is held in Italy, but it is in English language. If you are in the area, it's worth checking it out.
- Natural Perfumery Teachers
Here is a small list of teachers in natural perfumery
Courses Too Expensive?
Learn on your own from books - that's how I started as well!