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.

Supplies for Creating Perfume

Perfume Organ

Perfume Organ, Fragonard Perfume Museum, Paris by Nico Paix

Beginner’s Kits

Raw Materials – Naturals

  • Aftelier* – Quirky selection of unusual perfumers botanicals. Fast shipping. No minimum.
  • Aqua Oleum – Excellent UK source for essential oils from Julia Lawless.
  • Aromatics International – Expensive oils connected with the Aromahead Institute. Site has excellent information.
  • Eden Botanicals* – EOs, CO2s, Absolutes. Excellent quality, wide selection, no minimum purchase.
  • Enfleurage – Aromatics from the natural world. Specialize in Frankincense. Also offer hydrosols and more.
  • Liberty Natural Products* – Amazing selection. Includes isolates and more. $50 minimum.
  • Mountain Rose Herbs – Wide selection. Somewhat expensive shipping. (Mentioned more often by home aromatherapists than perfumers. Never tried.)
  • Nature’s Gift – Just tried them for the first time for more aromatherapy-type oils. Also have wide selection of hydrosols, carrier oils, waxes and butters. Well researched and reasonable prices.
  • White Lotus Aromatics* – Gorgeous, superior quality naturals personally sourced from around the world. $100 minimum.

*Companies with an astrix * are the ones I order from most frequently. Eden Botanicals is my “go to” supplier.
Also helpful: Providence Perfume offers a useful review of some of the best/worst essential oils she’s ever purchased.

Raw Materials – Synthetics

Beeswax

Carrier Oils
Carrier oils are for making oil-based perfumes, solid perfumes, or other body products. Do not add them to alcohol-based perfumes (they will separate and make a mess). Some carrier oils will go rancid fairly quickly. Fractionated coconut oil and Jojoba oil are two of the longest-lasting.

Alcohol
For alcohol-based perfume, use perfumer’s alcohol a.k.a specially denatured (SD) alcohol, which is 95% ethanol that has been denatured with an additive. The denaturing is done for regulatory reasons to prevent consumption. When purchasing perfumer’s alcohol in the United States, use 40b, which is denatured with t-butyl alcohol & Bitrex. Do not use 39c, because it contains diethyl phthalate (DEP), a.k.a. phthalates for which there are serious health concerns. For natural perfumers, there are also organic alcohols that have been denatured with natural materials. If you are not planning to sell your perfume, you can also use Everclear / Pure Grain Alcohol instead of Perfumer’s Alcohol. It should be 190 proof (95% alcohol) ethanol. In the USA, PGA is available for purchase in some states but not all. Some natural perfumers will also use Vodka for perfume, but it’s not as desirable as Everclear/PGA due to the lower alcohol content. For cleaning, you can use Isopropyl alcohol, Vodka, or PGA.

Dipropylene Glycol (DPG)
DPG is an odorless, colorless synthetic carrier oil that is perfect for diluting fragrances to 10% or 1% to be used for sniff tests / educating your nose. It is oil-based, but water and alcohol soluble.

Bottles and Packaging

Amber Spice Solid Perfume

IMG_4179

Experiment No. 1: Amber Spice Solid Perfume from Fragrant by Mandy Aftel. Out of respect for the author, I won’t publish the amounts – you’ll need to buy the book for that. But I will tell you what supplies you need, how to do it, and and how it turned out. What I like about Mandy’s recipes is that they are the perfect “experiment” size. They fit neatly into a 1/2 oz metal tin. No waste!

Raw Materials

  • Labdanum Absolute
  • Cinnamon Essential Oil
  • Rose Absolute (optional)
  • Lime Essential Oil

Carrier Media

  • Jojoba Oil
  • Beeswax

Equipment

  • Fragrance tester strips
  • Cheese grater (for grating wax)
  • Measuring spoons
  • Glass eyedroppers or pipettes (minimum 1 per EO)
  • Tiny graduated beaker or cylinder – smallest graduations you can find
  • Glass stirring rod
  • Lab casserole dish (80 ml size works great)
  • Hot plate (optional – you could also work over your stove)
  • Paper towels
  • Shot glass of Vodka or Everclear for dropper cleanup

Packaging

  • 1/2 oz flat metal tin
  • 1.2″ circle label

Steps

  1. First, I tested each of my raw materials by placing a single drop on a labeled fragrance tester strip. It’s helpful as I’m learning to smell each oil individually – to discover the shape of the material itself, its intensity, longevity, etc.
  2. Next, I set up my work area and laid out everything I needed in easy reach. Paper towels everywhere in case of spills.
  3. I poured the Jojoba oil into the graduated beaker, and then added the essences to it. Be very careful to use a new dropper for each oil, and put used droppers into the shot glass of alcohol to clean them. You want to be extra careful not to cross-contaminate your oils.
  4. I added grated beeswax to the lab casserole, and melted it over a hotplate. Once melted, I added the oil + essences, and stirred together as quickly as possible and removed from heat.
  5. Finally, I poured the perfume into the tin, capped it, and waited 15 minutes for it to solidify. Finis!

Notes on Materials

How did it smell?
Quite nice, actually. It’s amazing how well the scents meld to create a new thing. The top and base notes were most prominent to my nose.  A good strong hit of lime up top that fades fairly quickly, and the labdanum makes a sweet, leathery, ambery base that is apparent throughout the arc of the perfume and into drydown. At first, I had a hard time picking out the cinnamon – where was the cinnamon? But I realized it had been transformed into a sparkling, hot brightness that did not read as “cinnamon.” Nice. I could not find the rose at all. Perhaps it was rounding things out, or perhaps it was simply buried. Overall, it felt unisex – perhaps leaning slightly masculine. Wears soft and close.

My husband (not a fumehead) had an interesting insight. One sniff, and he said, “Cherry coke!” That puzzled me for a minute, then I looked up the formula for the original Coca-Cola – and sure enough, there was a lime-citrus-cinnamon combo.

Coca-Cola Formula

2 drops lime essential oil
2 drops orange essential oil
1 drop lemon essential oil
1 drop nutmeg essential oil
1 drop cinnamon essential oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

– From Fragrant

Mistakes and Questions

  • I spilled the Jojoba. How on earth does one pour out of a Boston round without sloshing?
  • Need to be careful to get all the perfume oil out of the beaker.
  • Cheap hot plate was ok but it smoked unpleasantly – need to clean?
  • How do you clean the droppers?! I got a trace amount of cinnamon oil in the cap of a dropper, and then after bathing them in Everclear, I ran all my droppers and caps through the dishwasher to sterilize. Now ALL of the smell like cinnamon. I curse you, cinnamon!

What Worked

  • 80 ml lab casserole was a great size to work with
  • Vintage 10 ml graduated beaker with 2 ml increments was also perfect choice
  • 1 eye dropper per raw material, with a shot glass to park them in afterward
  • glass stirring rod
  • 1/2 oz tin and 1.2″ circle labels = perfect size
  • OXO grater with attached box = awesome for grating beeswax and storing it
  • Paper towels = unglamorous but vital

That’s all for now!

Compartive Study: Rose Absolutes

Rosa damascena

Rosa damascena “Jacques Cartier” (Moreau Robert 1886 ) by Patrick Nouhailler

The first recipe I want to make calls for “Rose Absolute” – and ah, that can mean so many things! Figuring that there’s no such thing as “too much rose” I ordered three different small samples when I was stocking up on essential oils.

To test them, I put a drop of each on its own fragrance tester strip and sniffed, made notes, rested my nose, sniffed again, made more notes.

Rose de Mai Absolute

It’s amazing the degree of variation in such similar materials. The most unique one was “Rose de Mai” – which makes sense, as it’s a cabbage rose, Rosa centifolia, a slightly different species than the other two, which are both Rosa damascena.

Although this particular essence came from roses grown in Egypt, “Rose de Mai” is the rose famously grown in the region of Grasse, France and so it’s intimately connected to French perfumery. The liquid itself was the lightest in color, a light green-yellow, with a piquant, fresh, sweet, and a lightly spiced / peppery character with hints of green. This is a sprightly rose, rather than a sultry sexy rose – I found it to be my favorite, and also the most unique. It seemed..individual, pretty – but perhaps a bit unwilling to blend? It has its own precise character. And while the scent was strong, after I had smelled the other roses, I found myself unable to pick it up after I had sniffed the others, and so I wondered if it would bury easily when mixed with other strong scents. On the tester strip at least, it turned out to be surprisingly tenacious, given its “airy” character. Another thought: it immediately brought to mind Serge Lutens’ Sa Majeste la Rose.

Rose Absolute, Bulgaria

Bulgarian rose has a reputation for being most prized among perfumers. My 5 year old daughter immediately named this one her favorite. “This one smells strong! I like strong smells!” Wow, this is a rosy ROSE!  From my notes: Spicy, sweet, more vegetal than Rose de Mai – less light/fresh/green – denser, fruitier, apricot(?) – STRONGER, more savory. A maximum strength ROSE – the classic, straight up and intense. ROSE ROSE ROSE. Dark orange-red juice. Not a fussy and fickle beauty like Rose de Mai. This damask rose from Bulgaria was more a gorgeous country girl, rosy cheeked and sturdy, strong and beautiful. It turned out (not surprisingly) to have the best tenacity.

Rose Damascena Absolute, Turkey

From my notes: Beautiful! Fruity, sweet, jammy. A honey rose, soft, round, and mellow. Yellow-orange juice. Since the recipe I want to make is not a floral blend at all (rose plays only a supporting role) – I chose this one since it seems like it may blend well and round things out. This one had the least tenacity on the tester strip though.