Natural Perfumery

Craft evocative personal scents using natural ingredients, which lend delicate nuances to fragrances and evolve over time.

| January/February 2019

  • Learn to make perfumes with natural ingredients, and evoke your favorite scents.
    Photo by Stocksy/Trinette Reed
  • Even carrier oils for natural perfumes can be beautiful in their own right.
    Photo by Stocksy/Nadine Greeff
  • Orange blossoms offer two distinct scents, depending on how they're distilled: Neroli, from steam distillation, is fresh and green, while heady, floral orange blossom absolute is solvent-distilled.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Valeriya Zankovych
  • You may find yourself amassing a collection of essential oils for perfumery.
    Photo by Getty Images/Yue_
  • Rose and frankincense are particularly beloved perfume scents.
    Photo by Getty Images/Madeleine_Steinbach
  • Apply natural perfumes sparingly at first, to see how they develop on your skin.
    Photo by Getty Images/plprod
  • Damask roses make one of the most prized—and expensive—fragrances in the world.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Radka Danailova
  • Use dark glass bottles for natural perfume and essential oil storage; the oils can eat away at plastic and metal.
    Photo by Stocksy/Martí Sans

Thanks to the art and science of aromatherapy, we now appreciate the profound links between aroma and health; scents are processed in the amygdala, the same area of the brain that processes emotions. Because of the integration of scent and emotional processing, making natural perfume can contribute to our well-being. Perfume creation, which involves active olfaction and a total focus on the sense of smell, has been compared to concentrative meditation — it can help eliminate stress and bring about a sense of calm and peace. Not to mention, making perfume gives you the opportunity to develop your sense of smell!

Creating your own fragrances isn’t difficult. Maybe you already know that you prefer a certain type of perfume — an aroma that you identify with and that makes you feel good. Maybe you’d like to make a perfume to comfort, to uplift your spirits, to promote self-confidence, or for meditation. Or maybe you’d like to wear perfumes that reflect the season or evoke a specific mood. The possibilities are endless, and trying new combinations is part of the fun.

Natural Perfume Components

Natural perfumes made with essential oils and absolutes won’t be the same as commercial, alcohol-based perfumes. Essential oils are extracted from aromatic plants by steam distillation, or by physical expression, as in the case of citrus oils. Absolutes are made by solvent extraction; they’re aromatically similar to the plant, but are very concentrated and best appreciated when highly diluted. Rose, jasmine, and orange blossom are the most popular absolutes. They’re expensive, so you could use an infusion in jojoba oil as a budget-friendly alternative.

In mainstream perfumery, synthetic aroma chemicals dominate. This means that when a modern synthetic fragrance is applied, the effect is often linear — the perfume doesn’t substantially change its character from application until it has faded from our perception. The scent of perfumes made with extracts from aromatic plants, however, will evolve on our skin after application; we’ll first sense the top notes, then the middle notes at the heart of the scent, and finally the lingering base notes. Commercial perfumes are constructed for their initial impact and presence, their persistence, and for sillage — the trail of fragrance left in the air when the wearer walks by. Oil or wax-based natural perfumes are more subtle, and will usually fade more quickly. However, what’s lost in bombastic impact is more than made up for by the gentleness and beauty of naturally derived ingredients, and by the mood benefits of the aroma.



Fragrant Harmonies

A natural perfume isn’t composed randomly. To create a successful perfume, you’ll need to understand the olfactory relationships between essential oils, their volatility (which determines which scents are top, middle, and base notes), their diffusiveness, and their odor intensity.

The scent of every essential oil is made up of many chemical components, each of which has its own olfactory characteristics, and the components’ relative proportions have a major impact on the overall aroma of the oil. For this reason, some essential oils, such as rose or jasmine, are complex enough to make good single-ingredient fragrances, which are instantly recognizable. If you combine three essential oils, you create a new odor sensation, although you’ll still be able to discern the presence of the individual oils. But by combining five or more oils, you’ll create a completely new scent, which we’ll struggle to discern the individual ingredients of, because hundreds of chemicals will be constituents contributing to the aroma.



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