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.

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

Essential Oil Safety

Vintage Pharmacy, Dripping Springs

Vintage Pharmacy, Dripping Springs by Dave Wilson

Yes, essential oils are all-natural and they come from plants. But nature makes all kinds of dangerous and toxic things, so it’s best to use caution and follow safety guidelines.

The main thing about essential oils is that they are extremely concentrated plant essences, a.k.a. chemicals. Some of them are skin irritants, mucous-membrane irritants (try accidentally rubbing your nose with cinnamon EO sometime – you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy), photo-sensitizing (many of the citruses can cause reactions in the sun), or even toxic (hello, absinthe).

Robert Tisserand is the guru for essential oil safety, but his classic safety reference is massive and geared more towards professional aromatherapy practitioners. For the lay person, Kathi Keville’s and Mindy Green’s Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art has a very helpful chapter that covers the safety basics, and Julia Lawless’s The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils has wonderful information for each individual plant. The info below is mostly taken from Keville’s and Green’s book.

General Rules of Thumb

  • Use high-quality, pure oils. There is an incredible amount of poor-quality stuff out there. Choose your suppliers with care.
  • Do not use oils “neat,” or undiluted on the skin. There are two exceptions to this rule – lavender and tea tree oil, for very specific spot-applications.
  • Safe aromatherapy dilution is 2%. This is 10-12 drops EO / 1 oz carrier oil. (Most perfume dilutions are higher, a natural perfume might be closer to 10%, but application typically involves smaller surface area of skin.)
  • Keep away from eyes and mucous membranes. Ever touched your eyes after chopping a jalapeno? Yep, that was an essential oil.
  • Test for sensitivity. Even diluted, some oils can a reaction. If in doubt, try a patch test in the crook of your elbow at 2% dilution (10-12 drops EO / 1 oz carrier oil).
  • Understand photosensitivity. Many citruses naturally contain the chemical bergapten and can cause a reaction to the sun. Good suppliers have warnings for these oils. It’s no big deal if you’re using a tiny amount in a perfume, but you might think twice before using in a lip balm. You can also buy “bergapten-free” oils, which eliminates the problem.
  • Do not take orally. Seriously, this is a great way to burn your mouth. That said, you can use them to cook with, if you know what you are doing. Herbs have essential oils too, just much less concentrated. So, when added to recipes in the right amounts, essential oils are dilute and harmless. Keville and Green’s book has some fun suggestions.
  • Keep out of reach of young children. Some oils smell sweet and delicious. Little people may want to drink them.
  • Be careful when using with children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with severe or chronic illness. They are more sensitive, so smaller dosage / milder dilutions are required. Use a 1/2% (2-3 drops / 1 oz carrier oil) to 1% dilution (5-6 drops / 1 oz carrier oil). Also, some essential oils are contra-indicated for certain conditions, including pregnancy, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. So read up on each essential oil before use.

Guidelines for Use with Children

  • Safest essential oils for children: lavender, tangerine, mandarin, neroli, frankincense, peititgrain, and Roman Chamomile.
  • Use 1/4 to 1/2 the adult dosage. This is 1/2% (2-3 drops / 1 oz carrier oil) to 1% dilution (5-6 drops / 1 oz carrier oil).

Guidelines for Use with Pregnancy

  • Safest essential oils for pregnant women: rose, neroli, lavender, ylang ylang, chamomile, citrus (bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, lime, mandarin, orange, petitgrain, tangerine), geranium, sandalwood, spearmint, frankincense.
  • Many sources disagree on what’s safe. When in doubt, pregnant women should “follow their nose” – if something smells unpleasant during pregnancy when senses are heightened, then it’s best to avoid it.
  • Use a 1/2% (2-3 drops / 1 oz carrier oil) to 1% dilution (5-6 drops / 1 oz carrier oil).

Measurement Conversion Chart

When working with essential oils, the most common conversions you typically need are:

  • 20 drops = 1 ml
  • 100 drops =1 tsp = 5 ml
  • 300 drops = ½ oz = 15 ml
  • 600 drops = 1 oz = 30 ml

But, sometimes a little more detail is in order:

Drops Teaspoons Ounces Drams Milliliters
10 drops 110 tsp 160 oz ~18 dram ~½ ml
12 12 drops 18 tsp 148 oz 16 dram 58 ml
25 drops ¼ tsp 124 oz 13 dram 1 ¼ ml
50 drops ½ tsp 112 oz 23 dram ~2 ½ ml
100 drops 1 tsp 16 oz 1 13 dram ~5 ml
150 drops 1 ½ tsp ¼ oz 2 drams ~7 12 ml
300 drops 3 tsp ½ oz 4 drams ~15 ml
600 drops 6 tsp 1 oz 8 drams ~30 ml
24 tsp 8 tbsp 4 oz ½ cup ~120 ml
48 tsp 16 tbsp 8 oz 1 cup ½ pint
96 tsp 32 tbsp 16 oz 2 cups 1 pint

Source: Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by Kathi Keville and Mindy Green.

This chart makes the common assumption that 20 drops = 1 ml. However, always remember that drops vary in size based on liquid viscosity and the dropper or pipette you are using. If you want certainty, conduct a test with a calibrated beaker to see how many drops = 1ml.

For example, in Mandy Aftel’s book, Essence & Alchemy, she assumes that 40 drops = 1ml. Double the common assumption! I recently tested this myself using a glass eyedropper and found it to be absolutely accurate. So definitely check before moving forward with a recipe or formula.

Eden Botanicals offers a more detailed range for how many drops = 1 ml, and so far this matches my experience as well:

1 ml = 30-50 drops, depending on viscosity and size of the drop; aprox. 40-50 drops per ml for very mobile oils such as some citrus oils and fir needle oils; more viscous (thicker) oils such as Vetiver and Sandalwood will be approx. 30-40 drops per ml.

1 oz = 30 ml. Using these measurements, it can be extrapolated that there are approx. 900-1500 drops per ounce.

Notice how there are more than double the number of drops in the first estimate (600 drops = 1oz) and the Eden Botanicals estimate (900-1500 drops = 1oz)? Yikes.

This variability is why professional perfumers measure in weight with accurate lab scales. Still, if you’re just messing around at home, drops are far easier and most beginner recipes are calculated in drops. For more conversions, try this handy Volume Unit Converter site.

Grapefruit Rose Solid Perfume

Ella's Grapefruit RoseMy 5 year-old daughter loved the Bulgarian Rose when we were doing the “Rose sniff test” and asked to make a solid perfume out of it. Why not?

I originally wanted to do something with top, heart, and base notes, but the only scent she liked other than the Bulgarian Rose was Pink Grapefruit. Everything else – from Benzoin to Ylang Ylang – elicited a strong, “Blech. Yuck Mommy!”  Or even, “That one smells like tulips sprayed with skunk powder!”  So! Grapefruit and rose it is. Here’s how we made it.

Ingredients
8 ml Jojoba oil
1/2 tsp grated beeswax
14 drops Bulgarian Rose Absolute
10 drops Pink Grapefruit Essential Oil

Steps

  1. Pour the Jojoba oil into a small beaker.
  2. Add the essential oils to the beaker and stir with a glass stirring rod.
  3. Next, add a heaping 1/2 tsp of grated beeswax to a small lab casserole (or other porcelain or glass container), and melt it over a hot plate or double boiler.
  4. Then pour the oil into the melted wax and stir to combine as quickly as possible. You don’t want to overheat the perfume and burn off the top notes.
  5. Pour the liquid perfume into a 1/2 oz tin or other container. Close it immediately and let it sit for 10-15 minutes to cool before you touch it.

How does it smell?
Sweet, happy, and round, and very rosy. At first it’s hard to detect the grapefruit relative to the rose – they blend together well – but it’s there. I wouldn’t really call it a perfume so much as a “pleasant scent.” My daughter loves it though – and that’s what’s important.

Notes for Next Time
This blend is relatively safe for children – rose and grapefruit are two essential oils that are very kid-safe with positive effects on mood (this is a super happy scent), though I think the concentrations in the solid perfume are a bit high compared to standard aromatherapy dilutions. I’m not too concerned since my daughter just dabs a little on every once in awhile.

Aesthetically, if I were to do this again, I’d add more top notes (since solid perfumes pretty much devour top notes) so the grapefruit is more prominent and decrease the rose. I’d also add a base to increase longevity. This vanishes in about 30 minutes to an hour.

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!