In Search of the Perfect Bubble Bath

Bubble Bath

Bubble Bath by Quan Ha

I love all things that smell divine, and that includes a good bubble bath. With two small children, we take a LOT of bubble baths at my house, so I thought it’d be fun to make a deliciously scented one that was good-for-us, too. How hard could it be?

No Effort: Buy It
The effortless way is just to buy the stuff. Some good brands that use eco-friendly and baby-safe ingredients are:

Custom Scent Bubble Bath (Easy-Mode DIY)
But what if you want a custom scent? Well, there’s an easy DIY way to make your own aromatherapy bath:

  1. Use an unscented gentle, eco-friendly kids’ bubble bath (we use California Baby)
  2. For babies and children, mix 6 drops of your favorite essential oils* per 1 oz of bubble bath (for adults, you can safely use 25 drops a.k.a. 1/4 tsp per 1 oz of bubble bath)
  3. Add 1/2 to 1 tsp** bubble bath to running water as tub fills – and voila! – a scented bath with no harsh chemicals and delightful foam!

*Some of the best and safest essential oils for children are lavender, tangerine, mandarin, neroli, frankincense, petitgrain, and Roman chamomile. Source: Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art.
**You can add more bubble bath for more foam, just be aware that with babies and kids – 1/2 to 1 tsp is the recommended amount to keep the essential oil exposure low. Same source as above.

True DIY Bubble Bath
But what if you really want to make your own eco/kid-friendly bubble bath from scratch? The above brands cost a fortune, and you just don’t get the same “I made it myself!” satisfaction from using a pre-made bottle. I bounced around Google and Pinterest and the usual natural/crafty blog suspects, and every bubble bath recipe seemed to be a variation on the Castile soap + vegetable glycerin formula. Some with water, some without. Some with sugar or salt, some without. Some with more or less vegetable glycerin. Hunh.

Crunchy Betty offers two well-thought out bubble bath recipes, so I thought I’d give them a whirl this weekend.

The Castile Soap + Vegetable Glycerin Recipe
This one promised the most bubbles, so I thought I’d try it first. I’ll save you the suspense: in our hard water, the bubbles fizzled out almost immediately. BOO! Bubble disappointment! But, to be fair, Betty totally warned us. That said, the vegetable glycerin (harmless stuff, btw) left our skin feeling soft and silky smooth, and the bath smelled yummy too!

Here’s what you need to make ~5 ounces of not-very-bubbly bath:

Ingredients

Steps

  1. Whisk ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. Transfer to a jar with a lid.
  3. Let sit 24 hours before using.
  4. Pour ~1/4 cup (2 oz) into running bath water.

This recipe makes enough for ~2-3 baths. Stores up to 3 mos (supposedly, I have not tested this) in a cool, dark cabinet.

Okay, so what about the second option? By this point, I’d dropped all expectation of bubbles. This was another easy recipe that came together in a snap. It smells yummy and makes your skin feel delicious – but, no bubbles.

Creamy Honey Bath (also from Crunchy Betty)
This makes ~7-8 ounces of bath mixture, enough for ~1-2 baths. Store in a cool, dark cabinet and (supposedly) it will keep for 3 mos.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup sweet almond oil
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup Castile soap
  • 3 teaspoons pure Vanilla extract (get the kind with no added sugar or artificial flavors)
  • 5 drops essential oils (you can use Vanilla or something else)

Steps

  1. Whisk ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. Transfer to a jar with a lid.
  3. Pour 1/2 to entire amount into running bath water.

So…now what? I still have not fulfilled my quest to find the perfect DIY bubble bath recipe. Now, some might say that the problem is surfactants – the chemicals that create a nice lather – and that these harsh things are just not what a person with common sense would want in the tub.

And I’d agree, except…a little sleuthing of ingredients revealed that California Baby, Honest Company, and 100% Pure all use gentle/plant-based surfactants that seem like the sorts of stuff I’d want to use!

So now I just need to find a recipe with a combo of those ingredients and figure out where to source them. With the exception of saponified coconut oil, I suspect they are not as easy to get. So, the search continues! Do you have an all-natural bubble bath recipe that actually makes bubbles? If so, I’d love to know!

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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.

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.

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.

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

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.