Creating an Amber Accord

Catherine’s Palace - Amber Room

The restored Amber Room at Catherine I of Russia’s palace is decorated in baroque panels of amber with gold leaf and mirrors. Photo by Larry Koester on Flickr.

Ah, amber. It’s one of the most essential notes in perfumery, yet it’s totally imaginary – a fantasy note. Amber is named after the semi-precious natural amber, or fossilized tree sap, because they share the same rich honey-molasses hue.

There’s something about the feeling tone of amber: its warmth and richness, that makes many of us go all weak in the knees and grabby-hands. Ancient peoples revered the fossilized sap as a precious gem for its rich luster – and occasionally went baroquely insane with it, as seen above in the reconstruction of the 18th Century Amber Room (yes, constructed of real amber!) at the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg.

But there is no amber in perfume “amber.”

Instead, amber is usually constructed around deliciously soft balsamic notes: rum-like and boozy sweet vanilla, leathery labdanum, and occasionally another resin, such as the creamy soft benzoin. The overall effect is rich and comforting, and the foundation of most oriental perfumes and some rich florals to help “fix” the more volatile flower notes.

Amber has many variations. I’m beginning with the accord in Mandy Aftel’s book, Essence & Alchemy. Her ratio:

  • Benzoin absolute 20
  • Labdanum absolute 5
  • Vanilla absolute 1

How does it smell? Rich, dark, and sticky sweet – mouth-watering like a piece of dark toffee or caramel, yet not quite edible due to the faint leathery note in the labdanum. It’s used as a component of the perfume Alchemy in the same book, and I look forward to trying it in other compositions (and variations) too.

Zesty Ylang Ylang Solid Perfume

Sexy Curls..

Ylang ylang flower in bloom. “Sexy Curls” by Zaqqy on Flickr.

This morning my daughter begged me, between Saturday morning cartoons, to make her another perfume. So we did. We picked out a few things we thought would smell good – and mixed it up. And it DOES smell good! Like citrus-ylang-ylang-candy, in fact. I made some boo-boos along the way – there were some silly technical errors – but overall, it’s delicious.

So! In the name of science and trying to figure out how to make better blends – and hopefully reproduce this one day minus the technical mistakes – I’ll record what we did.

Raw Materials

  • 8 ml jojoba oil
  • ½ tsp grated beeswax
  • 3 drops vanilla absolute
  • 6 drops benzoin absolute – 50% in alcohol
  • 8 drops rose absolute – I used Bulgarian Rose Damascena
  • 7 drops ylang ylang extra
  • 6 drops pink grapefruit essential oil
  • 3 drops sweet orange essential oil

Equipment

  • Box grater (for grating beeswax)
  • Measuring spoons (for beeswax)
  • 80 ml lab casserole (for melting beeswax)
  • 10 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • Curette (for scooping viscous vanilla absolute out of container)
  • Stirring rod
  • Hot plate (can also use stovetop)
  • ½ oz tin (for storing perfume)
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels.
  2. Add the 8 ml jojoba oil to the graduated beaker.
  3. Next, measure out each of the essences into the beaker of oil. Start with the vanilla absolute. Use the curette to scoop out drop-sized blobs of it, and then stir it into the oil. Uh oh, it won’t dissolve! (I thought it would melt with the wax over heat, but it didn’t!) Then use eye droppers to add the rest of the essences (a separate one for each essence).
  4. When you are done with an eye dropper, place it in the glass of alcohol, and pump it a few times to clean it, and leave it sitting full of alcohol. This will prevent cross-contamination and also dissolve any EOs left on the dropper to make clean up easier.
  5. Once you have your oil blended, switch to working with the beeswax. Measure out ½ tsp of the grated beeswax into the lab casserole.
  6. Hold the lab casserole full of grated wax over the burner until the wax melts. You don’t want to burn it, so keep the temperature at “medium” or lower.
  7. When all the wax has melted, quickly pour the essential oil blend into the liquid wax. Stir the blend into the wax for about 10 seconds until it’s a smooth mixture. (Or, in this case, until everything blends except the vanilla and benzoin.)
  8. Finally, pour the molten perfume into the ½ oz tin, cap it, and leave it alone for 15 minutes to solidify. Finis!

Mistakes were made… But how does it smell?
So how does it smell? Well, like ylang-ylang, except much better 🙂  My daughter loves it. This is a candy-sweet ylang-ylang with a sunny citrus top note and an ever-so-slightly rosy middle. Great tenacity for a solid perfume, too.

For comparison, I made a “just ylang-ylang” solid perfume with 30 drops ylang-ylang extra and the same amounts of jojoba oil and beeswax. It’s nowhere near so nice! Ylang ylang by itself smells sweet but a little thin with a sharp edge in the beginning – even a very high quality ylang ylang extra EO. It mellows as it dries down, but the first opening notes can be off-putting when it’s by itself. Adding the rose gave it a nice round body and feeling of “plumpness” in the middle, and the sweet orange and pink grapefruit give it a sunny, smiling disposition and mask that sharpness.

This is one happy perfume! From an aromatherapy perspective, ylang-ylang and rose are excellent for chasing the blues away, and sweet orange and grapefruit are cheerful and uplifting.

But what about the base notes – the vanilla and benzoin – are they up to anything? I’m not sure I can tell. I wanted to add them for their sweet, grounding, and calming aspect. The perfume is sweet and the tenacity is good, so I think at least SOME made it in. More experimentation needed – and my usage was inexact due to the solubility problems – the vanilla absolute + the benzoin did not dissolve into the jojoba oil. The vanilla should have dissolved (though the mix would have been cloudy) – but I think it got tangled up with the benzoin, which was diluted in oil-insoluable alcohol, and well…neither really got all the way into the blend (I think? Or did they?). There was a lot of vanilla/benzoin residue (dark brown beads of oil) left behind on the beaker and the lab casserole.  So…phooey. That was just foolish. I know better than to try to dissolve alcohol in oil. Doesn’t happen. Maybe next time I can try a vanilla CO2. Not sure what to do about the benzoin. I’ll think of something.

So! Whether this is a perfect blend or not, this turned out to be a sweet, happy, yummy, tenacious citrus-ylang-ylang-rose candy bouquet. PERFECT for my 5 year old client, lol. Perhaps not the most sophisticated thing I’ve ever smelled, but happy and fun. I still want to tinker. Maybe next time I should rough it up a little with lavender or vetiver + patchouli, or somethin’, somethin’…? And I definitely want to work on the solubility issue with the base notes.

Frankincense Alcohol-based Perfume

Now let’s do the alcohol version of the Frankincense perfume (an earlier post shows how to make Frankincense solid perfume). Whew! We’re on experiment No. 6 in blending along with Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant. I adored the solid version of this delicious walk-in-the-forest perfume, and I like the alcohol version even more.

Here’s what you need to create Frankincense alcohol-based perfume:

Frankincense Alchol Perfume Supplies

Supplies for creating Frankincense alcohol-based perfume.

Raw Materials*

  • Perfumer’s Alcohol
  • Balsam fir absolute
  • Frankincense essential oil
  • Phenyl ethyl alcohol – natural isolate
  • Styrax essential oil
  • Lavender absolute
  • Tarragon essential oil
  • Wild sweet orange essential oil
  • Frankincense CO2

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • 10 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of rubbing alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • Curette (for scooping fir absolute out of jar)
  • Stirring rod
  • ½ oz dark glass bottle (for storing perfume)
  • Tiny funnel
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels.
  2. Add the perfumer’s alcohol to the graduated beaker.
  3. Add the essences one at a time. Start from the base notes and work your way up to the top notes. Start with the fir absolute. You’ll need to scoop it out of the jar with the curette, and swirl it into the alcohol to dissolve it. Once it has dissolved (there may still be some particles), add the other essences using a separate eye dropper for each one.
  4. Stir after each addition, and sniff to experience the blend.
  5. When you are done with an eye dropper, place it in the glass of rubbing alcohol, and pump it a few times to clean it, and leave it sitting full of alcohol. This will prevent cross-contamination and also dissolve any EOs left on the dropper to make clean up easier.
  6. Using the tiny funnel, pour the finished blend into a small dark glass bottle.
  7. Cap the bottle tightly and shake it to be sure all the ingredients are well mixed. Label it, and store it in a cool, dark place.
  8. Let the blend mature from a week to a month to let the essences marry and create a smooth blend. Finis!

How did it work? How does it smell?
The fir absolute is a bit tricky to work with, but it dissolves relatively easily into the perfumer’s alcohol with a little stirring. The other essences are easy enough to add. The final blend is mossy green from the fir absolute and a bit cloudy, so it could probably stand some filtering (after it matures, I think?) but I haven’t attempted that yet with mine. So how does it smell? After a week of maturing (it could probably stand to go longer, but is already nice), the opening is sharply green, very “green pine needle sap” and a tad grapefruity – an impression largely created by the wild orange essential oil merging with the frankincense CO2. The sharp green pine/citrus opening serves as reminder that citrus oils contain the same limonenes and pinenes as conifers, and so the two blend well together. I don’t detect the tarragon, but it’s probably adding a green sweetness to everything. This all transitions beautifully to the delicious balsam fir absolute at the heart/base of the perfume – hooray for the edible pine forest! The lavender is only slightly noticeable, and is supporting the fir balsam, making it even softer and richer. I have no idea what the phenyl ethyl alcohol and the styrax are doing! Everything about this scent, similar to smelling frankincense resin, makes you want to inhale deeply and fill your lungs with fresh, clean air. It’s peaceful but joyful in the same way as a walk in the woods. The drydown is gentle, softly balsamic and lightly sweet. Very nice.

Notes on Notes
I have notes on frankincence eo, balsam fir absolute, lavender absolute, and frankincense co2 in the frankincense solid perfume post. Here are my notes on the other essential oils in the alcohol blend.

  • Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol Natural Isolate, Organic, France, Aftelier – This is a natural isolate extracted from Cassia. To my nose it smells simple, sweetish, and fruity/rosy. As an isolate, it does not have the same complexity as an essential oil, so my nose finds it hard to place. The Aftelier web site describes it as follows, “This transparent and warm middle note features notes of honey and rose.”
  • Styrax, Asian, Essential Oil (Liquidamber orientalis), Turkey, Wild Harvest, White Lotus Aromatics – I like this! Sweet, spicy, slightly floral, and musky in a balsamic way. Slightly dirty. Ambery? Interesting. Reminds me of a little of a fresh horse stable, but in a good way, lol! Not the manure, but the hay and the horses themselves.
  • Tarragon Essential Oil, USA, White Lotus Aromatics – Sweet, bright, minty, anise, friendly, happy, cheerful, GREEN. Smells like the fresh herb itself. Very pleasant.
  • Wild Orange Essential Oil, Dominica Republic, Wildcrafted, Eden Botanicals – Citrus. Sharp. Bright. Happy. TART. Dry. Bordering on grapefruit. Like an orange-grapefruit blend. Or orange with bits of the bitter white inner rind left in.

Frankincense Solid Perfume

Now it’s time for Experiment No. 5 from Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant: Frankincense Solid Perfume. This perfume claims to be all about Frankincense – but the true star is the amazing deliciousness of Fir Absolute. Heaven! This smells like a walk in the forest in the best possible way.

Here’s what you need to create Frankincense solid perfume:

Frankincense Solid Perfume Supplies

Supplies for creating Frankincense Solid Perfume.

Raw Materials*

  • Jojoba oil
  • Grated beeswax
  • Frankincense essential oil
  • Balsam fir absolute
  • Lavender absolute
  • Frankincense CO2

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • Box grater (for grating beeswax)
  • Measuring spoons (for beeswax)
  • 80 ml lab casserole (for melting beeswax)
  • 10 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • Curette (for scooping viscous fir absolute out of jar)
  • Stirring rod
  • Hot plate (can also use stovetop)
  • ½ oz tin (for storing perfume)
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels.
  2. Add the Jojoba oil to the graduated beaker.
  3. Next, measure out each of the essences into the beaker of oil. Start with the fir absolute. It’s incredibly viscous (like tar) – so what you need to do is use the curette to scoop out a drop-sized blob of it, and then stir it into the oil. It won’t dissolve – that’s ok. It will melt when you add it to the beeswax. Then, use the eye droppers to add each of the other essences.
  4. When you are done with an eye dropper, place it in the glass of alcohol, and pump it a few times to clean it, and leave it sitting full of alcohol. This will prevent cross-contamination and also dissolve any EOs left on the dropper to make clean up easier.
  5. Once you have your oil blended, switch to working with the beeswax. Measure out the grated beeswax into the lab casserole.
  6. Hold the lab casserole full of grated wax over the burner until the wax melts. You don’t want to burn it, so keep the temperature at “medium” or lower.
  7. When all the wax has melted, quickly pour the essential oil blend into the liquid wax. Working over the heat, stir the blend into the wax for about 10 seconds until it’s a smooth mixture. The fir absolute should melt just fine! It may leave some sediment, but that’s okay – it still will look fine as a solid perfume.
  8. Finally, pour the molten perfume into the ½ oz tin, cap it, and leave it alone for 15 minutes to solidify. Don’t touch it or you’ll burn yourself and/or mess up the nice smooth surface. Finis!

How did it work? How does it smell?
Oh my stars in heaven, this stuff smells AH-mazing! You really get the fir absolute, supported faintly by the lavender. It’s very sweet and balsamic, almost edible. Love, love, love it. This was a more challenging solid perfume to create simply because working with the fir absolute is a hassle – but WOW, is it worth it! The frankincense I can’t detect as much – but interestingly, this DOES remind me somewhat of the way a chunk of frankincense resin smells (sweet, balsamic, piney). Whereas Frankincense EO doesn’t have precisely the same character as the resin itself. So it’s almost like this is a recreation of the raw material. But, frankly, better. Did I mention I am now in love with fir absolute? It’s strangely edible. A magical edible pine forest of wonderfulness.

Notes on Notes

  • Frankincense EO, Organic, Aftelier – Pinenes. Piney. Turpentine, but cleaner. Pinesol. After it’s been on the strip awhile, it mellows and becomes soft, balsamic, nicer. On the Aftelier web site, this is described as, “This essential oil, from boswellia neglecta, is my favorite frankincense for perfumery. This light, but tenacious, base note is fresh and fruity with hints of lemon.”
  • Balsam Fir Absolute, Abies balsamia, Canada, White Lotus Aromatics – Sweet, jammy, edible, balsamic, pine forest
  • Lavender Absolute, France, Liberty Naturals – Beautiful. Soft but also very intense. Blanket quality. Calming. Herbaceous. Cooling. Soothing.
  • Frankincense CO2 Select, Somalia, Wild Harvest, White Lotus Aromatics – Similar to the EO but more pleasant. Piney. Still very pinene-y but more ethereal.

Next time I get Frankincense, I want to use Enfleurage. They seem to be Frankincense experts and I’d love to sample their stock. I’d like to try the Frankincense from Oman, boswellia sacra.

Mint Vetiver Alcohol-Based Perfume

Aaaaaand…now we’ve got the alcohol-based version of the Mint Vetiver perfume (a previous post explains how to make it as a solid). This is experiment No. 4 in blending along with Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant. The alcohol makes it possible for the perfume to really sparkle and shine, so this version features a more complex array of notes.

Here’s what you need to create Mint Vetiver alcohol-based perfume:

Supplies for creating Mint Vetiver perfume in an alcohol base.

Supplies for creating Mint Vetiver perfume in an alcohol base.

Raw Materials*

  • Perfumer’s Alcohol
  • Vetiver essential oil
  • Benzoin absolute
  • Patchouli essential oil (aged patchouli is nice)
  • Clary sage essential oil
  • Ylang Ylang Extra essential oil
  • Spearmint essential oil
  • Bergamot essential oil
  • Black pepper essential oil

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • 10 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of rubbing alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • Stirring rod
  • ½ oz dark glass bottle (for storing perfume)
  • Tiny funnel
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels.
  2. Add the perfumer’s alcohol to the graduated beaker.
  3. Add the essences one at a time. Start from the base notes and work your way up to the top notes (I’ve listed them in order – start with the vetiver and end with the black pepper). Stir after each addition, and sniff to experience the blend.
  4. When you are done with an eye dropper, place it in the glass of rubbing alcohol, and pump it a few times to clean it, and leave it sitting full of alcohol. This will prevent cross-contamination and also dissolve any EOs left on the dropper to make clean up easier.
  5. Using the tiny funnel, pour the finished blend into a small dark glass bottle.
  6. Cap the bottle and label it, and store it in a cool, dark place.
  7. Let it mature from a week to a month to let the essences marry and create a smooth blend. (I know! The waiting!)

How did it work? How does it smell?
This blend came together very easily. I’ve only let it age a week, so who knows if it’s reached its final scent profile – but right now, it has the same character as the solid perfume, but with more complexity and a more obvious evolution through time. It begins with a heavily menthol-y minty character – I can barely detect the black pepper sharpening it slightly, and then it moves into its clary sage heart. The transition is clever, because the spearmint top note is very similar to a green minty note that is a natural part of clary sage. The tabacco-y facet of clary sage is also present, and bridges nicely to the vetiver base. The patchouli is lightly detectable in the base, supporting and strengthening the woody nature of the vetiver. To my nose, the ylang ylang disappears (though perhaps it is sweetening things?) and primarily serves to round out the blend. Similarly, the benzoin also does not make itself known but instead serves as a fixative (I am guessing?) because the alcohol perfume certainly has better longevity than the solid version. The overall effect is medicinal, herbaceous, and earthy/woody. I like the aged patchouli-vetiver drydown even though I’m not a huge fan of the opening and heart of this one.

A quick note on technique: most perfumers will advise you to blend the essences first, then dilute in alcohol. This makes sense if you are working with prediluted essences. However, Mandy’s recipes call for the undiluted oils. In this case – it’s much easier to add them directly to the alcohol, especially when you’re working with a viscous material such as vanilla, benzoin, or fir absolute. My benzoin absolute is diluted to 50% in alcohol (so I added double the amount Mandy called for in her recipe) – which makes it easier to work with. But if your benzoin is semi-solid, it should dissolve easily in the perfumer’s alcohol.

Notes on Notes
I have notes on vetiver, clary sage, ylang ylang extra, and spearmint in the mint vetiver solid perfume post. Here are my notes on the other essential oils in the alcohol blend.

  • Benzoin, Siam, Absolute 50% in alcohol, Laos, White Lotus Aromatics – Faint on the tester strip. Hint of cream soda. Sweet. Edible.
  • Aged Patchouli, Aftelier – Camphorous? Woody? Pine-y? Definitely WOODY. I mean, it smells like patchouli. How does one describe patchouli?
  • Bergamot, Italy, Organic, White Lotus Aromatics – A green orange. Orange, but greener and sharper. Sunny, happy, refreshing, brisk, refined. More restrained and drier than a sweet orange.
  • Black Pepper EO, Sri Lanka, Organic, White Lotus Aromatics – Seering, bright, hot, phenolic?, sharp

Mint Vetiver Solid Perfume

Tah-dah! It’s Mint Vetiver solid perfume, experiment No. 3 in blending along with Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant. Designed to highlight humble spearmint, this blend is both zingy and earthy.

Here’s what you need to create Mint Vetiver solid perfume:

Supplies for making Mint Vetiver solid perfume

Supplies for making Mint Vetiver solid perfume hanging out un-glamorously on my kitchen counter.

Raw Materials*

  • Jojoba oil
  • Grated beeswax
  • Vetiver essential oil
  • Clary sage essential oil
  • Ylang Ylang extra
  • Spearmint essential oil

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • Box grater (for grating beeswax)
  • Measuring spoons (for beeswax)
  • 80 ml lab casserole (for melting beeswax)
  • 10 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • Stirring rod
  • Hot plate (can also use stovetop)
  • ½ oz tin (for storing perfume)
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels (unless you are way neater than I am).
  2. Add the Jojoba oil to the graduated beaker.
  3. Next, measure out each of the essences into the beaker of oil, using a separate eye dropper for each one. Start with the base notes and work your way up to the top notes: Vetiver, Clary Sage, Ylang Ylang Extra, Spearmint. Stir after each addition, and sniff to experience how the blend is developing.
  4. When you are done with an eye dropper, place it in the glass of alcohol, and pump it a few times to clean it, and leave it sitting full of alcohol. This will prevent cross-contamination and also dissolve any EOs left on the dropper to make clean up easier.
  5. Once you have your oil blended, switch to working with the beeswax. Measure out the grated beeswax into the lab casserole.
  6. Hold the lab casserole full of grated wax over the burner until the wax melts. You don’t want to burn it, so keep the temperature at “medium” or lower.
  7. When all the wax has melted, quickly pour the essential oil blend into the liquid wax. Working over the heat, stir the blend into the wax for about 10 seconds until it’s a smooth mixture. Do this as quickly as possible so as not to burn off the top notes.
  8. Finally, pour the molten perfume into the ½ oz tin, cap it, and leave it alone for 15 minutes to solidify. Don’t touch it or you’ll burn yourself and/or mess up the nice smooth surface. Finis!

How did it work? How does it smell?

Once you try it once or twice, making solid perfume is extremely easy! This blend is super simple – all the materials are very easy to work with. As for how it smells…well, this one is not my favorite. It’s very medicinal, and my best friend nailed it when she said it was reminiscent of Tiger Balm. The mint gives it that same menthol-y vibe. That said, this has a unique earthy-rooty depth from the Vetiver, and the Clary Sage fuses it all together. The Ylang Ylang more or less disappears, rounding things out. While I don’t love the Clary Sage in it personally – I enjoy the earthy freshness of the Vetiver. It seems like it might pair well with lemon or another citrus? Perhaps something to experiment with in the future.

Notes on the notes:

  • Vetiver Essential Oil, Haiti, Wild Harvest, White Lotus Aromatics – Earthy, rooty, powdery – but soft & scratchy. A fuzzy, furry, tannic sort of vibe. A little bit bitter? Definitely not sweet. Viscous and golden liquid.
  • Clary Sage EO, France, Organic, White Lotus Aromatics – Ok, it seems as though Clary Sage and I do not get along. The first whiff of this made me nauseous. It was so overwhelming and strong! It’s slightly minty and herbal, but with a faintly tobacco base. There’s something a little dirty about it. Somehow it reminds me of menthol cigarettes. I thought perhaps the nausea was from smelling a powerful EO undiluted – but it still made me nauseous in the final solid perfume. Ugh.
  • Ylang Ylang Extra EO, Comoros, Organic, White Lotus Aromatics – Sweet, rich, white floral. Tropical. Edible. Banana. Fruity. Ever so faint “plastic” note that I sometimes get with white florals, but it’s barely detectable here. Overall, this smells heavenly!
  • Spearmint EO, South Africa, Organic, White Lotus Aromatics – Yum! Spearmint. Reminds me of my mother’s garden. Sweet, bright, crisp, phenolic?, mint, zingy, happy.

Amber Spice Perfume Recipes: Oil-Based vs. Alcohol-Based

So, this is Experiment No. 2 in blending along with Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant. Earlier I created her solid Amber Spice perfume, and now I’m exploring those same notes in oil-based and alcohol-based versions.

Amber Spice Perfume: Oil-Based Version

Here’s what you need for the oil-based perfume:

Amber Spice Oil-Based Perfume Supplies

Supplies for creating the oil-based version of Amber Spice perfume.

Raw Materials*

  • Fractionated coconut oil
  • Labdanum absolute
  • Cinnamon bark essential oil
  • Rose absolute
  • Lime essential oil

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • 25 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Stirring rod
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Bamboo ear cleaner (for scooping out drop-size amounts of semi-solid materials)
  • 1/2 oz bottle (dark glass – blue or amber); you can also use a roller ball bottle
  • Tiny funnel

Steps

  1. Measure out the fractionated coconut oil into the graduated beaker.
  2. Add the essences (using a separate eye dropper for each one), and stir after adding each one to mix well.
  3. Use the tiny funnel to transfer the blend to the bottle.
  4. Seal tightly, label with the name and date, and let it age for at least a couple of weeks to let the scents marry.

How did it work? How does it smell?

It was incredibly easy to make the oil-based perfume. After aging only about a week (I haven’t been able to wait long!) it smells about the same as the solid version of the same perfume – an initial impression of “cola” (lime + cinnamon) followed quickly by leathery labdanum. This isn’t very surprising since the oil-based perfume uses the same essences in the same proportions as the solid. The fractionated coconut oil absorbs into the skin relatively quickly and smoothly. Still, I find the projection for both these sorts of perfumes to be relatively weak, and for some reason applying the oil-based perfume – while fine – is less enjoyable than applying the solid perfume. So, if I want to make a skin scent in the future, I’ll probably stick to a solid perfume format. Still, you can’t beat this recipe for ease!

Amber Spice Perfume: Alcohol-Based Version

Here’s what you need for the alcohol-based perfume:

Amber Spice Alcohol Perfume Supplies

Supplies for making alcohol-based Amber Spice perfume.

Raw Materials*

  • Perfumer’s alcohol
  • Benzoin absolute
  • Vanilla absolute
  • Labdanum absolute
  • Cinnamon bark essential oil
  • Rose absolute
  • Jasmine absolute
  • Fresh ginger essential oil
  • Lime essential oil
  • Bois de rose essential oil

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • 15 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Stirring rod
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Spray bottle

Steps

  1. Add each of the essences into the spray bottle, using a separate eye dropper for each one. Start with the bases (benzoin, vanilla, labdanum), then add the heart notes (rose, cinnamon, jasmine), and then the top notes (ginger, lime, bois de rose). Smell after each addition to experience how the blend is progressing.
  2. Measure out the perfumer’s alcohol into the graduated beaker, then pour it into the spray bottle with the essences.
  3. Shake well to combine.
  4. Seal tightly, label with the name and date, and let it age for 4-6 weeks to let the scents marry.

How did it work? How does it smell?

This recipe was *a lot* harder to pull off than the solid perfume and the oil based perfume because it uses two really challenging natural materials: Benzoin and Vanilla. These materials are solid to semi-solid, and very hard to work with undiluted. Fortunately, I had the good sense to purchase Benzoin absolute that had been diluted to 50% in alcohol, so I was able to add it in drops. Still, this left me puzzled as to how many drops to add. Should I double the drops since it was a 50% dilution? I assumed so, and did. But what about the vanilla? It had the consistency of tar – thick, gooey, and totally impossible to get at with an eye dropper. I tired warming it gently by placing it in a bowl of hot rice (you should never microwave essential oils). This made it slightly more liquid – and I was just barely able to use the eye dropper to add it to the blend. Still, I don’t think I added an accurate amount of vanilla – it got everywhere! In the future, I think I’ll either need to buy prediluted Vanilla absolute or dilute it myself by 50% (by weight) before working with it. Which means….I need to purchase a scale.

As for how it smells…well, it only has aged for 1 week, and quite honestly it smells like cream soda. I may have OD’d the benzoin and the vanilla. Sigh. I need to try the recipe again with less of those base notes. Still, it smells delicious (if you want to smell like a cola float!) and reminds me of those Bonne Bell lip smackers from the 70s when I was a little girl. The scent is also much more complex and layered than the oil or solid perfume with better intensity and longevity too – so I think I’m hooked on using alcohol as a carrier medium for future blends.

UPDATE: On Handling Viscous/Semi-Solid Materials in Mandy Aftel’s Recipes

Confused about the dilutions, I reached out to Mandy to ask her how to handle the viscous/semi-solid vanilla, benzoin, and fir absolutes she uses in her recipes. She was kind enough to get back to me, and explained that she doesn’t dilute them. Instead, she uses them at 100% strength, and uses a tiny bamboo ear cleaner to scoop out the material and add it to the blend.

Comparative Study: Jasmine

Confederate Jasmine

Confederate Jasmine

For a formula I’m trying out, I need a single drop of jasmine. Just one! But which jasmine?

My favorite jasmine is the one that grows wildly over my back courtyard wall – Confederate Jasmine (also called “Star Jasmine” or “Chinese Jasmine”) – which loves hot climates and flourishes all over the Southern US. It has an aroma that’s honey sweet, fresh, and narcotic. At the height of blooming season (late April-early May) just walking out into the garden is like walking into a humid blanket of scent. The intoxicating fragrance brings an immediate smile to my face, and a quickening of the senses – while at the same time making me feel lulled and drowsy. Meanwhile, my ears fill with the thrumming buzz of the honeybees. The combined effect is nearly hypnotic, and I often find myself drifting over to smell the blossoms like a sleep-walker.

Still, this is a fresh jasmine, and the scent of a living flower is impossible to capture perfectly in the natural raw material. When we smell a flower, we are actually smelling the volatile molecules in the air around it. The air around the flower has a different chemical makeup than the essential oil, concrete, or absolute once it’s extracted from the plant – so the flower extracts can never smell the same as the living flower on the stem. Perfumers are forever using their noses and intuition or more recently, fancy headspace technology and gas chromatography to analyze the “living scent” of a flower and try to reproduce it.  The late, hilarious Alec Lawless of Essentially Me UK created some videos explaining how gas chromatography can be used to fake an extremely expensive rose otto. The whole thing spoofs the clandestine nature of the perfume industry through an “interview” with a masked man whom I suspect is Lawless himself. Anyhow, it’s informative and funny, and worth watching if you’re curious about gas chromatography.

ANYWAY. Back to the matter at hand: Choosing a jasmine.

Eden Botanicals conveniently offers a jasmine sampler pack – so I purchased that and began sniffing my way through it to compare the scents and pick one for my blend.

Eden Botanicals Jasmine Sampler Pack

Eden Botanicals Jasmine Sampler Pack

  • Jasmine Absolute, Grandiflorum, India – Grandiflorum is the classic jasmine. This one is beautiful, white floral, narcotic, extremely sweet with great longevity. There is no plastic-y note that I sometimes detect in jasmine. This one is rounded, rich, and voluptuous. It’s so sweet there is almost a boozy-quality to it. The liquid itself is dark yellow-orange.
  • Jasmine Absolute, Sambac, India – Sambac is typically a spicier jasmine than Grandiflorum, and this one is true to character. A gorgeous jasmine that is spicier, greener, and less sweet (though still very honey sweet!) – fresher even? – than the Indian Grandiflorum. Reminds me instantly of honeysuckle and sparks a flood of childhood memories. Lots of character. Intense. Perhaps my favorite of this set. Liquid is dark amber color.
  • Jasmine Absolute, Grandiflorum, Egypt – This Grandiflorum is very similar in character to the one from India, but to my nose of lesser quality. Less sweet? Less fresh? Still very pretty and nice though! It just doesn’t elicit the silent “wow” of the other. Drydown is very soft and pretty, and less intense/strong than the one from India.
  • Jasmine Grandiflorum Organic Extract, Egypt – This jasmine was altogether unique – very different from what I am used to. It’s extracted using benign solvents, so it’s certifiably organic and very safe for aromatherapy. Neat! It is a green color, with some particles. The scent itself is soft, very slightly medicinal?, cooling, sweet, a bit spicy/tangy – almost with a hint of Anise? It’s very hard for me to describe, and doesn’t read as classically jasmine, but is a beautiful, tranquil, and very calming and pretty scent.
  • Jasmine Grandiflorum CO2, India – This would be hard to work with for the beginner (moi!) it’s a waxy yellow concrete paste. Might be good for solid perfume? At first, I did not like the scent of this one very much. But I noticed that it lasted a long time on the scent strip, and lingered pleasantly.

Ultimately for my blend I chose the Jasmine Grandiflorum from India. It’s voluptuous, rounded quality might work well to bring together the spicy notes I will be working with. Still…the Sambac and the Organic Extract both piqued my curiosity – and I’d love to work with them in the future.

The DIY Perfume Lab

99 Bottles of Tonic on the Wall ...

Niagara Apothecary in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Designing Your Workspace

When designing your workspace, one of the first things to consider is air quality. Essential oils and aroma chemicals are, of course, smelly! Good ventilation and odor containment are important considerations when setting up your lab. For your own health, and also for your ability to detect differences between scents, you need to keep the fragrant “noise” to a minimum. Some options to consider:

  • Install an exhaust fan (like the kind you find in bathroom ventilation).
  • Manage the trash. Use a can with a lid that seals.
  • Store raw materials in cabinets with doors that shut (glass or plastic doors allow view of bottles).
  • When testing perfumes on scent strips, consider using a bell jar, or a homemade one out of plastic bottle.
  • Wear disposable latex gloves to avoid contaminating your fingers.

Your “bench” or worktable may be subject to aroma chemical spills from time to time, so choose a non-reactive, non-absorbent surface that’s easy to clean. Some options:

  • Stainless Steel – food prep tables from restaurant supply companies work well, for example.
  • Formica
  • Glass top – tempered is best.

Refrigeration. Some aroma chemicals, like the citruses, will have a longer shelf life when refrigerated. Consider getting a mini fridge or a wine fridge.


Lab Equipment List

Lab Notebook – Always take notes. Take notes when smelling and familiarizing yourself with a new chemical. Take notes as you formulate a new blend. Note what works, note what doesn’t. Note everything.

Digital Scale accurate to 0.01g – Perfume industry professionals measure raw materials by weight. Ohaus makes a pricy but nice scale. And there are less expensive options, too. Several good people on Basenotes recommend this one from Old Will Knot that seems to have all the right features at a good price.

Tiny Glass Beakers – If you are working by volume (many recipes are in drops/ml), you’ll want to be able to measure accurately in ml. Look for beakers with small graduations (10, 15, 30 ml). You can find these at lab supply companies or nifty vintage beakers on eBay. These 25 ml graduated beakers at Aqua Oleum in the UK are some of the most ideal beakers I’ve seen, and very reasonably priced.

Pipettes or droppers

Stirring rods

Tiny funnels. You can also get them in glass.

Fragrance Tester Strips

And maybe something like this to hold all those test strips, or like this. Or possibly this. I’ve also heard you can use chopstick rests.

Casseroles – for melting small quantities of beeswax if you are making solid perfumes.

Curettes for scooping out viscous and resinous absolutes like vanilla, benzoin, and fir. You can find them in bamboo or stainless steel.

Hot Plate
If making solid perfumes, you will need a heat source. You can work over your kitchen stove with a double-boiler – or if you’d prefer not to work in your kitchen, you can get a hot plate as an alternative heat source. There are a range of options.