How to Dilute Perfume Materials

Ah, perfume making! It’s so romantic, so poetic…so FULL OF MATH.

Why dilute?
Perfumers often need to dilute their materials to 20%, 10%, or sometimes even 1% or .5% or more before adding them to a blend. This serves a number of purposes – from wasting less material while blending to making it easier to work with trace amounts of strong-smelling materials.

What material to use as a diluting agent?
Typically, you’ll want to dilute in perfumer’s alcohol. You should dilute in whatever medium you would be working in – so if you are making oil-based perfumes, dilute in oil. Some people prefer to dilute in Dipropylene Glycol (DPG), which is a common odorless solvent that is completely soluble in water, alcohol, and some oils – and it also is a humectant (attracts water) and has fixative properties. A strictly all-natural perfumer will not want to use DPG since it is a synthetic, but if you’re concerned about safety, don’t be. According to the Environmental Working Group, DPG is safe / very low risk.

Use Weight/Weight Dilutions
An important consideration is that when professionals are talking about dilutions in the perfume industry, they are talking about diluting by weight rather than by volume. So assume all dilutions on any materials you purchase or for any formulas are listed in weight/weight.

Creating a Dilution from Materials at 100% Concentration
Creating a dilution from 100% pure raw material is relatively straightforward.  In the chart below are the ratios in generic “parts” – this would work for drops, ml, grams, etc. as long as you keep the units of measure consistent – but as I mentioned, most professional perfumers work by weight (grams) – so let’s assume this is grams.

If you don’t want to do the math, here is a weight/weight dilution calculator.

You can also check out this nice tutorial on dilutions and blending from Chris of Pell Wall Perfumes. He gives a very thorough step-by-step approach.

Aroma Material Dilutant Total Parts Percent Dilution
1 1 2 50%
1 2 3 33%
1 3 4 25%
1 4 5 20%
1 9 10 10%
1 19 20 5%
1 99 100 1%
1 199 200 ½%

Creating a Dilution from Materials at Different Concentrations
What if you want to do something a little more complicated? For example, I have a bottle of Benzoin Absolute pre-diluted to 50%.  I have a perfume formula that calls for Benzoin at 20% dilution.  How do I dilute a 50% solution to 20%? (These are the questions that make former English majors clutch their heads in agony and wish they’d paid a little more attention in Chemistry lab.)

Well, it turns out there’s a relatively straightforward formula for this: C1V1=C2V2.  C=Concentration and V=Volume. Now, I don’t want to do this by volume – I want to do it by weight. If I wanted to be super accurate, I should probably take into account molecular weight. But since the amounts I’m dealing with are relatively low and I don’t need to be that insanely accurate, I’m not going to worry about molecular weight. (Also, if a chemistry person is reading this and wants to explain how to do this absolutely properly, I’m all ears! Please comment!)

Okay! So let’s figure this out. How do we dilute a 50% solution to a 20% solution? I’m about to do some math. If, like me, math makes your head hurt – you can skip the pain and go use this handy-dandy dilution calculator.

But hey, if you want to see how the math works, here goes. I already know my concentrations. All I have to decide is what final weight I’d like to end up with. For kicks, let’s decide on 5 grams final weight.  So!  Here’s how it would work out:

C1W1=C2W2

    • C1 = 50% = .5
    • W1 (the weight of the 50% solution to add) = unknown
    • C2 = 20% = .2
    • W2 = 5 grams

.5(W1)=.2*5g
.5(W1)=1g
W1=2g

So, okay – now I know that I need 2 grams of my starting 50% solution, and I want to end up with a final weight of 5 grams. So 5 grams – 2 grams = 3 grams. Which means I need to add 3 grams of my diluting agent (alcohol) to 2 grams of the 50% material to get 5 grams of 20% material. Or…

Starting % Ending % How many grams First solution? How many grams diluting agent to add? How many grams final solution?
50% 20% 2g 3g 5g

That’s it! Do you have a better method for calculating dilutions? If so, please comment! I’d love to hear from you.

Alchemy Perfume

Alchemy

I’ve been taking a small break from the Fragrant blending experiments to mix up “Alchemy,” the alcohol-based perfume from Mandy Aftel’s earlier book, Essence & Alchemy. Last week I mixed up the required amber accord and then the base accord. Then yesterday I added the heart and top notes. Even though I haven’t let it mature AT ALL, this is a fun, easy-to-love perfume modeled on the classical amber base-floral heart-citrus top notes model. Here’s what you need to do the job:

Raw Materials*

  • Base accord in perfumer’s alcohol (vanilla, benzoin, and a few drops of the amber accord)
  • Rose absolute
  • Jasmine absolute
  • Ylang Ylang Extra essential oil
  • Bergamot essential oil
  • Bitter orange 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

  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of rubbing alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • 1 oz dark glass bottle (already containing the base accord – you will add the heart and top notes to it)
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels.
  2. Add the essences to the bottle that already contains the base. Use a separate eye dropper for each essence.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
Sweet amber-jasmine deliciousness! The bergamot and bitter orange give it a zippy, fruity bounce – but what really shines through is the beautiful jasmine, supported by the ylang ylang and rose. The vanilla-benzoin-amber base gives it sweet base that is dense and practically lickable. Yum! This reminds me of something….What is it? I’ve smelled other classical perfumes like this before, but for the moment they are escaping me.  This smells a little retro – fleetingly like a Chanel… No. 5 or one of its family members? – but without any of the aldehydes and angular modern art business. It’s probably the rose-jasmine heart that is common to so many of the greats. This smells simultaneously fresher and denser (if that’s possible) than the more synthetic classics.

I wonder how it will smell when it’s aged a month?

Notes on Notes

  • Rosa damascena absolute, Turkey, White Lotus Aromatics – Rose, honeyed, sweet, soft, med/low intensity, pretty, more vegetable than jasmine, more rooty
  • Jasmine absolute, grandiflorum, India, Eden Botanicals – jasmine, SWEET, narcotic, rich, seductive, round, white floral
  • Ylang Ylang Extra EO, Organic, Comoros, White Lotus Aromatics – harsher than jasmine, sweet white floral, much lower intensity than jasmine with sharp, almost woody top, thinner than jasmine
  • Bergamot EO, Organic, Italy, White Lotus Aromatics – citrus, green, sharp, peppery, light
  • Bitter Orange EO, Dominican, Liberty Naturals – citrus, orange, tart – like this
  • Black Pepper EO, Sri Lanka, Organic, White Lotus Aromatics – pepper, phenolic?, eye watering, hot, thin, edge, woody

The top notes link one to the next nicely. Sharpness of the Ylang leads in to the green citrus? My skin seems to exaggerate the sour, sharp aspects of the rose – at least it did at first, while blending, but did not later – even after the blend only matured a day.

Orange Blossom-Tobacco Alcohol-Based Perfume

This is the alcohol-based version of the perfume Chameleon from Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant. I’ve been doing a bit of a “Julie & Julia” thing, blending along with Mandy’s recipes as a beginner’s way to leap into the world of artisanal perfume.

It’s been a fun and funny ride so far. Just pushing forward has already made me bark my shins against problems like: figuring out where to source quality oils, how to measure incredibly sticky impossible-to-work-with absolutes, how to clean glass eyedroppers, and what to do when you accidentally touch your nose with cinnamon bark EO (ow!).

Mandy’s style is nonchalant and does not advertise challenges, so I tend to just stumble upon them and faceplant. Best way to learn! So here I am at Chameleon.

When sourcing the raw materials for the perfume, I overlooked this key paragraph, which is the entire point of Chameleon, and how it earns its name with a nod to transformation:

If you have the materials, you can also explore the effects of a couple of animal essences. After you have completed the perfume, divide it equally among four tiny bottles. Add a drop of ambergris to one bottle, half a drop of costus (dip a toothpick) to the second bottle, and a drop of hyraceum to the third bottle; leave the fourth bottle as is. Smell the four bottles and note the differences between them. Repeat after an hour, four hours, a day, and a week. – Mandy Aftel, Fragrant

Whoops! I should have sourced: costus, hyraceum, and ambergris. Not an easy task. Animalics can be a challenge to find. And more than that: To use ambergris, I actually have to purchase it (expensive!), grind it up, and create a tincture at 10% that takes ~6 mos to mature. (Hear that? That is the sound of me very quietly beating my head against my desk.)

But you know what Mandy? I accept the challenge. I’ll just need a little time. Meanwhile, here’s how to make the Orange Blossom-Tobacco perfume that becomes Chameleon.

Orange-Blossom Tobacco Perfume Supplies

Supplies for creating Orange Blossom-Tobacco perfume.

Raw Materials*

  • Perfumer’s alcohol
  • Tobacco absolute
  • Vanilla absolute
  • Patchouli essential oil
  • Linalool – a natural isolate from Basil
  • Rose absolute
  • Orange flower absolute
  • Virginia cedarwood essential oil
  • Pink grapefruit essential oil
  • Bitter orange 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

  • 10-25 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 vanilla absolute out)
  • 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 (tobacco, vanilla, patchouli) and work your way up to the top notes (cedarwood, grapefruit, bitter orange).
  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.
  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?
Now that I’ve (mostly) gotten the hang of working with the gooey essences with a curette (I’m looking at you, vanilla), this perfume was relatively straightforward to mix up. But how does it smell? This one is a little more challenging to describe. Unlike some of the other solid/alcohol perfumes – this one smells noticeably different from the Orange Blossom Tobacco Solid Perfume. So far, I’ve let it age only 1 week.

The most obvious difference is the tobacco. The solid perfume is extremely tobacco-forward. This perfume, with its tobacco-vanilla-patchouli base, is more complex and the tobacco is less apparent. The perfume is still very much ABOUT tobacco, but my brain simply doesn’t scream, “Oh hey, that’s tobacco!” Overall, the character of the perfume is intense, woody-earthy, rich and lightly sweet. The orange blossom makes it floral – but it’s a heavy-yet-elegant masculine floral. The green edge to the orange blossom wanders in and out. Sometimes I catch it, sometimes I don’t. The linalool enhances it nicely? (I’m guessing.) Still, this is a perfume that’s about the base notes. The base notes bend the middle floral notes to their will. I get a mental image of a sumptuous men’s club, the old-world kind with deep leather sofas and humidors and a posh dress code. The top notes – cedarwood, grapefruit, and bitter orange – lend the opening a little fruity pizazz, but it’s a very light touch.

Notes on Notes

  • Blond Tobacco Absolute, Nicotinia Tobacum, France, Nicotene-Free, Liberty Naturals – Viscous amber-brown. Clean pipe tobacco. Earthy, dry, only lightly sweet, RICH, thick/powerful.
  • Vanilla Absolute, Eden Botanicals – Vanilla! SWEET. Rich, bitter, dense, boozy. A tar-like chocolate brown.
  • Aged Patchouli, Aftelier -Minty, camphorous, woody, earthy, rooty
  • Linalool Isolate, Ocium basilicum, India, ex. Basil, Liberty Naturals – Pleasant, green, spicy?, peppery, vegetal, clear
  • Rose Absolute, Bulgaria, Rosa damascena, Eden Botanicals – deep red orange liquid, a tomato-soup red. Sweet, floral, rosy, honey, edible, toothsome. Rose has a “rootier” and more vegetal vibe than orange flower or jasmine.
  • Orange Blossom Absolute – Fine, Eden Botanicals – Love! Honeysuckle, green-white floral, a little sharp, intense, refined, sharp green leading edge
  • Virginia Cedarwood EO, Juniperus Virginiana, USA, Liberty Naturals – Faint, hard to distinguish from paper at first. Then, very woody, peppery, and dry.
  • Pink Grapefruit EO, Citrus Paradisi, USA, Eden Botanicals – happy citrus, sunny, sweet, acid, tart
  • Bitter Orange EO, Citrus Aurantium, Dominican, Liberty Naturals – Citrus, orange with the white pulpy bits. Really straight up ORANGE, but with those bitter bits. The whole orange. Not as tart and green as the grapefruit, but still tart. Really like this orange. It’s interesting.

Creating the Base Accord for Alchemy Perfume

Alchemy

I’m taking a small diversion from the Fragrant blend along to make up “Alchemy,” the alcohol-based perfume from Mandy Aftel’s earlier book, Essence & Alchemy.

The base accord for the perfume is made up of:

  • Perfumer’s alcohol
  • Vanilla
  • Benzoin
  • Amber accord ( ratio: 20 benzoin / 5 labdanum / 1 vanilla)

Mixing it up and bottling it is extremely straightforward. You just need a small glass beaker for mixing, a stirring rod, a bottle to store it in, and a funnel to transfer it.

I’ve aged it about a week, and it smells a bit like cream soda from all that vanilla and benzoin. The trace amounts of labdanum add depth and pique the interest, without giving off an overtly leathery note. I look forward to adding the heart and top notes to see how it evolves.