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Making Perfumes from Essential Oils: Terms & Fragrance Types

by Alison Sheehan-Dion, 2013

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Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to scent people, homes and goods. Used in bathing, on skin, and in some cases as a restorative or curative, essentials come is many grades and many forms.

One of the oldest, and most common uses for essential oils is in the creation of perfume. Traditionally, oils were used singly or blended together to apply to the skin as fragrance. In many cases, due to the costly nature of essential oils, the essential would be added to a base or carrier oil to extend the valuable essential.

In modern times, the practice of adding alcohol to essential oils and other ingredients to make colognes and spray perfumes has become popular. Walking through any department store perfume department will show how many combinations and versions of this type of fragrance can be made. The blends and possible results are practically limitless.

There are a few terms used in the perfume industry that can make using essential oils for blends a little easier:

Note: A note is the way the industry refers to the character of a scent.

High Note, or Top Note: The high note is the first scent to hit the nose when a fragrance is smelled. High notes are the first element you will notice in a blend. A high note is potent, but fades quickly. The signature of a high note may not be noticeable after as little as 5-10 minutes.

Mid Note, or Middle Note: A middle note has more staying power. Most blends of multiple oils use mostly middle notes as these are the lasting yet light scents. Middle notes last for several hours typically, although they too will fade away eventually.

Base Note or Bottom Note: A base note is one that will last for many hours, or possibly even days! Patchouli is a classic base note that lasts on the skin for a very long time. After the other elements of a fragrance have seemingly slipped away, the base note lingers on. The base is the scent left lingering on the clothing at the end of the day, or the scent left on the skin, noticeable only with close contact.

Blending a Fragrance

What makes a good perfume? The answers are as varied as human taste and preference!

There are many classes or types of fragrance discussed by the perfume industry, and the terms they use are standardized. Here are a few:

Green: Refers to light, clean scents. Think of the brand name Green Tea.

Oriental: Rich, deep, long lasting, spicy. Think of the brand name Opium. This is not intended to be politically incorrect, but refers to a time when all the countries in the far east were referred to as 'the Orient'. This scent type includes many oils that are derrived from Asian sources.

Floral: Composed predominantly of flower extracts. This is a WIDE range of scents. And there are multiple sub-classes, but a classic example could be Vera Wang.

Aldehide: This type came after the invention of this constituent, at the end of the 19th century. Channel #5 is probably the most famous of the Aldehide scents.

There are others, I'll try and get the complete list added soon.

Blending Your Own

To create a new fragrance, there are a couple of pointers you may want to consider:

1. Try using less expensive oils at first. Oils like the citrus fruit oils, and many of the woods, like Cedarwood are good initial ones to experiment with blending. These are less expensive than some of their flower counterparts and allow you the freedon to get used to the process without breaking the bank.

2. Blend a small amount until you are sure you like the result. Try thinking in terms of drops, rather than milliliters or ounces at first.

3. Become obsessively exacting with recording details! Write down the exact measurements of the mix - every mix, every time! This is VERY important. I know you think you will remember, but trust me, you probably will not over time. Then you could have the perfect scent and no way to recreate it!

4. For a balanced scent with a good scent life - spread the 'notes' and use at least one of each. Use at least 1 base note, 1 high note and one middle note. If you want to add more ingredients, add high or middle notes first until you get used to the lasting effects of the base notes.

5. Remember that a small amount of base note oil goes a long way! Just try using vanilla or patchouli as personal fragrance, then see how many people still smell it on you at the end of the day after many hours have passed. These oils last!

I'll try and get some more articles on blending your own, and a few recommended resources up here soon.

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