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How To Make Perfume: Professional Perfumery Methods

Aug 17, 2007
If you've ever made perfume with vodka and essential oils, you know how limiting it is. You only have access to a few common oils, you can't get a good strength with vodka because the perfumes separate, and they end up vanishing within 30 - 60 minutes.

These perfumery methods will help you take your homemade fragrances to a more professional level; in fact, if you use these techniques, your could actually sell your end result! The basic professional perfume making process is the same as the amateur perfuming process, but the materials are not.

1) Use pure ethanol or "perfumer's alcohol" instead of vodka. Pure ethanol makes a great solvent for even the most resinous oils and absolutes. It is what all commercial perfumes are made with, except some boutique brands that make roll-on scented oil or solid perfume. If you live in a state where you can get 180-proof Everclear, then you can experiment with it and see how much better it works than vodka.

The only problem with Everclear is that you can't sell perfumes made with it. You also cannot get it in half the US states. If you want to sell your perfume, you must get "perfumer's alcohol," which is alcohol made undrinkable with additives such as Bitrex (extremely bitter but no odor) or methanol.

There aren't many places that sell perfumer's alcohol due to special licensing requirements, but you can get it via mail-order from perfume supply companies.

2) Use different fragrance materials, not only essential oils. There are many more fragrance materials available other than essential oils. If you only use EOs, you limit your perfume blending possibilities. It's like wanting to paint a mural, but only having red and yellow paint!

In addition to essential oils, there are also absolutes, fragrance oils, and isolated aromachemicals, all supplying scents that can't be produced with essential oils.

Absolutes are stronger and smell truer to the plant than essential oils, and are used extensively in perfumery. Some plants are too delicate to be pressed or steam-distilled; making an essential oil out of them is impossible. Jasmine is one of these plants. The absolutes are expensive, but a little goes a long way. They are much more concentrated than essential oils.

Fragrance oils, despite what you may have heard, aren't merely cheap substitutes for essential oils. They are a completely different spectrum of scent, containing a combination of absolutes, essential oils, and synthetic aromachemicals. Fragrance oils give you access to scents that you can't get naturally, such as strawberry, peach, and watermelon.

Fragrance oils also have the benefit of being skin-safe (as long as you get cosmetic grade.) If you want to create an entire line of perfume and bath and body products in a favorite scent, you can use the same skin-safe fragrance oil to scent all of them.

Aromachemicals are isolated fragrance molecules that are either synthetically produced or refined from plant sources. For example, the compound vanillin is what gives vanilla its characteristic odor and flavor. Artificial vanilla flavor is usually pure synthetic vanillin. Natural vanilla has many more compounds than just vanillin, which is why it tastes better!

Strawberry fragrance oil, one of the most sought-after scents in the cosmetic and fragrance industry, is a combination of strawberry aldehyde (Ethyl methylphenylglycidate) and other compounds to round out the scent. Strawberry Kisses (and also Pear Glace) from Victoria's Secret? Chemical.

3) Use fixatives in your perfume. If you've experimented with essential oils such as mint and bergamot, you've probably noticed that they disappear within an hour. This is because they evaporate quickly, aided by the heat of your skin.

Fixatives are a way to help make fragrances last longer. They are natural or synthetic substances that enhance scent and slow down the evaporation of scents that tend to disappear. Why do fixatives work? They are very high in scent molecule count, often with no distinct odor of their own. They just blend with the key fragrance and make it seem stronger.

For example, musk, a traditional fixative, can enhance the scent and make its perceived strength stronger. It only takes a small amount for a big effect - with effective use of musk, you won't smell it, but the entire perfume will last longer and smell stronger. (Musks have been synthetic since the 1970s due to cruelty and endangerment laws.)

Plant fixatives include many resinous, sticky oils and absolutes like benzoin, frankincense, vetiver, and orris. They often have an earthy scent that "deepens" a blend. With a little experience, you'll have a good idea of what fixatives can enhance and give subtle character to your perfumes.

As you can probably tell, using the professional methods are not much more difficult than what you've tried already. However, I must say that the techniques given here are more expensive than the home-brewed. They require the use of specialized, more costly materials.

Using perfumer's alcohol and absolutes are only for people who are somewhat serious about perfume, but it is a fun, fascinating activity. It is definitely possible to get started cost-effectively; you don't need to shell out hundreds of dollars worth of absolutes! Many botanical absolute suppliers have samples that you can use at first, and they will range in price from $2 to $15 for the rare ones.

It's also a good idea to try absolute dilutions before going for the real thing. Dilutions will help you work with the absolute without becoming overwhelmed by the un-concentrated fragrance, and they are also less expensive. Most dilutions are 3% - 5% absolute in jojoba oil, similar in strength to essential oils.
About the Author
Katherine Durkes has written 3 ebooks on how to make bath & body products and perfume. She runs a website, newsletter, and Yahoo Group for aspiring craft business owners. Visit http://www.excellentlivingguide.com/pr_fastguide.html for more articles on making perfume.
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