It seems like every season there’s at least a dozen new high end perfumes coming out. Every beauty magazine contains samples of the latest trends that promise transformative results when you wear them, whether that be snaring a super-hot boyfriend, looking like a model, or being taken to a ritzy vacation getaway. Truth be told, none of these things actually happen because it’s all a marketing ploy in order to make a sale. However, more and more people fall for the allure of popular scents and soon find themselves sensitive to fragrances and perfumes.
This all has to do with the computerized and synthetic process perfumers use today. They come up with an idea for a scent, type in the properties of what they’re looking for, and enter it into a system of over 20,000 chemical compounds. They can then manufacture a synthetic scent using these dissected constituents that used to make up the whole of an essential oil. The finished product has in no way the medicinal, emotional, or physical effects of the pure essential oils used in classic perfume making.
Despite this fact, many still purchase ridiculously expensive perfumes with no thought in mind of the potential health risks of using these synthetic fragrances. However, there are growing numbers among us who strive to use whole natural ingredients to create their own perfume recipes using essential oils.
How to Blend a Perfume Using Essential Oils
Making your own perfume using essential oils is a fun and fulfilling activity as it allows you to explore different aromas and come up with a unique blend that is wholly your own. It may seem daunting at first, but I assure you it’s not as difficult as you might think.
The first step to creating your own perfume is to get to know your essential oils and the companies associated with them. I find that lavender essential oil will smell differently depending on the supplier. This might be because of where the lavender is grown, the time of year when it’s harvested, the time of day it’s harvested, the soil quality, the weather, and of course the company’s quality of standards as a whole. All of these factors and many others determine the scent and potency of essential oils. Make sure that your source is reputable and sustainable. You can often request samples so that you can compare oils in order to find the note or tone you’re looking for. Keep in mind that some oils can smell overwhelming in the bottle but smell amazing when used in small quantities in a blend.
Second, you need to determine what kind of fragrance you’re looking for whether that be woodsy, floral, musky, fresh, minty, resinous, camphorous, etc., and how to dilute it. Typically, you would use distilled water along with alcohol, a waxy oil like jojoba, or a fractionated oil like coconut (keep in mind that coconut oil will have a coconut smell!). Depending on what type of “diluent” you use, you can create several different types of homemade perfume.
• Eau de cologne – The second most diluted version of perfume. Usually light, fresh, or fruity and doesn’t last long. Has to be applied often.
• Eau de parfum – Middle notes tend to last longer in this mid-strength variety of perfume. Good for spraying on clothing or hair. (be sure to test it out first)
• Eau de toilette – Dominantly expresses top notes. Perfect as a refresher during the summer. Slightly stronger in dilution than cologne.
• Liquid perfume – The full-on symphony of the essential oils can be experienced. Long lasting and balanced.
• Perfume balm/solid perfume – The solid version of liquid perfume. Potent and long lasting.
• Splash cologne – Essentially a quick body spritz with a diluted and light aroma. Suitable as a refresher.
Many common household essential oils you use for beauty or cleaning are actually often used in perfumery. However, you may find that certain scents, like those used in classic perfume formulations are quite expensive – especially absolutes. These include oils like jasmine, neroli, rose, osmanthus, tuberose, etc. However, you don’t need to shy away from owning these magnificent oils since you only ever need a few drops at most.
When testing essential oils, make sure to use them “neat”, meaning undiluted so that you can experience the full fragrance profile of the oil. The water you use should be pure and distilled and the alcohol should be at least 80 proof. Keep in mind that you DO NOT add water to oil based perfumes or you may risk growing mold in the finished product.
The strength of your perfume will depend on the ratio of essential oils and diluent. Perfume is always the most concentrated and will usually have a 15-30% dilution of essential oils with 70-85% being the medium in which it is diluted. Water usually makes up about 5-10% of the whole, so keep that in mind when using it in a formula. For example, if you’re making a 20% blend you would use 70% alcohol and 10% distilled water. However, if you use an oil as the base, you would use 20% essential oils and 80% carrier oil to make the whole.
Some people are reluctant to add water to their formulations because it makes the finished product cloudy. You can choose not to add water if you prefer, just keep in mind that water can slightly extend the staying power of your perfume recipe. The alcohol in your homemade blend will evaporate quickly and will not leave a scent. Essentially, your diluent is just a means to deliver the essential oils.
One way to control cloudiness is to add your water ratio last, after the alcohol. This way you can prevent the formula from getting too cloudy.
The third step in making your own perfume using essential oils is to figure out the concentration of essential oils you want to use. I’ve set up an easy guideline below. Remember, you CAN omit the water if you like.
Type of Perfume – Essential Oil Concentration – Diluent Concentration
Perfume, 15-30%, 70-85% (5-10% is water)
Eau de parfum, 8-15%, 85-92% (10-20% is water)
Eau de toilette, 4-8%, 92-96% (10-20% is water)
Eau de cologne, 3-5%, 95-97% (30% is water)
Splash cologne/body spritz, 1-3%, 97-99% (20% is water)
Equipment for Making Your Own Perfume Recipes
In order to make perfume, you’re going to need a few essentials.
• A notebook for documenting your formulas including successes and failures
• Fragrance test strips or tiny bottles for aging your blends
• Small sterilized glass bottles for storing your recipes (don’t forget to label your creations on the bottle and in your notebook)
Notes and Tones
Formulating perfume is sort of like playing a musical instrument. There are base notes, middle or “heart” notes, top or “head” notes, and bridging or fixative elements that bring it all together into a harmonious blend.
Homemade perfumes using essential oils will smell differently on the skin than they do from the bottle. They also evaporate at different rates which is what gives us the notes and tones of an oil. This is called the volatility of an oil.
Top notes are known to evaporate quickest and give you that initial impact while middle notes are the bouquet of a blend and evaporate a bit slower. Base notes are the last to evaporate from the skin. This is why a fragrance applied to the skin will smell differently throughout the day but should still hold its harmony. If your perfume smells drastically different throughout the day, then you need to add a “fixative” essential oil to the blend to hold the scent together.
I’ve listed some examples of the different notes and tones of essential oils below. Keep in mind that essential oils don’t hold fast to any rules. Top notes can be used as middles tones, middle notes as top notes, etc.
Base notes are the foundation on which a perfume formulation is built. They are often strong, dense, heavy, tenacious, deeply resonating and supportive in nature. They have a profound influence on the blend as a whole by strongly influencing the mental, spiritual, and emotional plane. Typically, a perfume blend is comprised of 15-30% of the base note.
A few examples of base note essential oils include:
The middle note is the full-bodied and complex focal point of a perfume. They impart warmth and fullness to a blend and are often found in essential oils distilled from leaves and herbs. Many middle note essential oils have a positive influence on the digestive system and general metabolism of the body. Middle notes make up about 30-60% of the blend.
A few examples of middle note essential oils include:
The top note introduces the perfume as it’s the first scent you experience. They are usually thin, sharp, penetrating, uplifting, light, or fleeting notes that add brightness and clarity to a blend. They usually make up 10-30% of a blend.
A few examples of top note essential oils include:
Sometimes a homemade perfume needs a little adjustment if it comes out to sharp on the nose. There are some essential oils that help to soften these rough edges which will allow the blend to flow more harmoniously.
Essential oils with equalizing qualities include:
Adding any of these oils will help hold a blend together yet has little effect on the blend’s personality. These equalizing essential oils can be used in large quantities – up to 50% of the whole in some cases, especially if you use a blend modifier.
If your perfume smells flat and uninteresting, adding a blend modifier will help brighten and lift it. Adding a drop of a modifying essential oil may help improve your perfume.
Essential oils with modifying qualities include:
These oils should never account for more than 3% of a total blend as they can greatly influence the fragrance of your perfume even in small amounts.
Blend enhancing essential oils amplify a perfume without overpowering it. They often have a pleasant fragrance.
Essential oils with blend enhancing qualities include:
This oils can make up to 50% of a blend.
Fixatives prolong the staying power of your perfume by slowing down the evaporation process. Oils like jasmine, rose, and neroli are all quite expensive so it’s best to take full advantage of their scent in a blend. You can do this by using less expensive essential oils that are known for their ability to extend the volatility of a perfume.
• Angelica root
• Balsam fir
• Balsam of Peru
• Blue cypress
• Clary sage
• Douglas fir
• Orris root
• Violet leaf
Intensity of Essential Oils
Another factor to consider is the odor intensity of essential oils while formulating your own perfumes. Choosing essential oils with a high intensity may overpower a blend that was meant to be lighter in nature. The below essential oils are rated on a scale of 1-10 for intensity according to Appell (author of Cosmetics, fragrances and flavours).
Angelica root – 9 Frankicense – 7 Patchouli – 7
Aniseed – 7 Ginger – 7 Pepper (black) – 7
Basil – 7 Juniper – 5 Peppermint – 7
Bergamot – 5 Lavender – 5 Petitgrain – 5
Cedarwood – 6 Lavender (spike) – 6 Pine – 5
Cinnamon – 7 Lemon – 5 Rose absolute – 8
Citronella – 6 Lemongrass – 6 Rose otto – 7
Clary Sage – 5 Mandarin – 5 Rosemary – 6
Clove – 8 Myrrh – 7 Rosewood – 5
Eucalyptus – 8 Neroli – 5 Sage (Dalmatian) – 6
Everlasting (helichrysum) – 7 Nutmeg – 7 Sandalwood – 7
Fennel – 6 Sweet orange – 5 Thyme (red) – 7
Troubleshooting a Perfume Blend
Sometimes a blend just doesn’t seem to come together like we thought it would. Perhaps each note leaves the others behind making it flat, unbalanced, and lifeless.
A well-balanced perfume will have harmonious characteristics where each note retains part of the other. The top note will contain some of the middle note and the base note will contain some of the middle note, allowing for a fluid release of aroma that is balanced and enticing.
A blend that falls apart isn’t formulated well. So how do we potentially fix this?
Some oils have the ability to lift up and help others. For example, bergamot, though a highly volatile oil, is able to slow the evaporation rate of lemon and grapefruit. Neroli essential oil has a similar effect on bergamot.
If you find that a resinous/earthy tone (like vetiver) is being overshadowed, you can elevate it by adding lime essential oil, for patchouli you can use lavender, and for ylang ylang you can use sweet orange.
There are of course, too many factors to name that may be afflicting your blend, but hopefully these give you a bit of insight for rebalancing your perfume recipe.
How to Formulate Your Perfume Using Essential Oils
Now that about a few essential oils that fit into each group, it’s time to start experimenting!
The first thing you need to do is establish your base note, then your middle note, and lastly your top note. As you become more adept at blending essential oils and creating pleasant smelling perfumes, you can use the other blending elements like modifiers, extenders, enhancers, and equalizers.
You can begin blending by using fragrance test strips to get a quick idea of a potential blend or you can use teeny tiny essential oil bottles to allow your concoctions to age and meld together. Do NOT forget to take careful notes as you go. There is nothing worse than creating an amazing blend and then not knowing how to recreate it later!
I actually prefer to let my blends age if possible for at least a week before testing them in a carrier oil to see how I like the end result. You will notice that the oils create a synergy with one another that deepens the personality of the perfume.
Here’s a few characteristic examples you will find in essential oils:
• Citrusy – orange, lemon, lime, bergamot, grapefruit, etc.
• Earthy – patchouli, vetiver
• Floral – jasmine, neroli, rose, ylang ylang
• Herbaceous – rosemary, basil, thyme, marjoram
• Medicinal – eucalyptus, tea tree, cajuput
• Minty – peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen
• Spicy – nutmeg, ginger, clove, cinnamon
• Woodsy – pine, cypress, juniper berry, cedarwood
Here are some examples of essential oil characteristics that blend well together:
• Floral oils blend well with spicy, woodsy, and citrusy oils
• Minty oils blend well with earthy, woodsy, herbaceous, and citrusy oils
• Spicy oils blend well with floral and citrusy oils
• Woodsy oils blend well with pretty much all categories
You can begin by experimenting with these attributes in mind when creating your own perfume recipes.
You can be as basic or as complex as you like. For example, you can create a blend with a fresh top note, a floral middle note, with a soft base note.
As a basic combination, this may look like:
As a more complex combination, it may like:
The combinations are endless!
Don’t forget to check out my beginner’s guide for blending essential oils for more information.
Best of luck!
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