making perfume / cologne

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the procedure for making perfume or cologne is very simple; all of the artistry and creativity lies in first creating the scent. this can be based on a single scent or it can be a complex symphony with hundreds of different aroma components. see "creating a scent" for tips on crafting your own scent or "fragrance formulas" for a list of scent blends.
the difference between perfume and cologne is merely the concentration. the descending levels of concentration are: perfume (30%); eau de perfume (15%); eau de toilette (8%); cologne (5%); and cologne splash (3%). the remainder is alcohol and water, or a carrier oil (for oil-based perfume). the chart below gives an [approximate] breakdown of the amounts of scent, alcohol, and water for each scent level.
a note on alcohol -- the odorless alcohol used in perfumery is ethanol. this is the same as grain alcohol, the same type that's in booze, and is therefore, strickly regulated and impossible to obtain. sd (special denatured) alcohol has additives, which are odorless but render the alcohol undrinkable. but, this is still very difficult to get ...impossible in some places. but there "are" sources, if you know where to look.
a substitute for sd alcohol is an [almost] pure grain alcohol product called "everclear" (which is 95% alcohol). because of the stringent restriction placed on grain alcohol, there are certain states (including california, massachusetts, minnesota, ohio, oregon, pennsylvania, and washington) that restrict the sale [and import] of everclear (and other brands of this type of product). however, it can be purchased in arizona, colorado, illinois, indiana kentucky, louisiana, mississippi, nevada, new jersey, new york, north carolina, north dakota, oklahoma, texas virginia, washington dc, wisconsin, and wyoming. another alternative to sd alcohol is 100 proof vodka (50% alcohol) which is not ideal, but can be used if no other alternatives are available.
click >>: it may be "illegal" to sell any perfume/cologne made with vodka or everclear!
addendum: since writing the above, affordable "perfumers' alcohol" has started showing up on essential oil sites a probable result of popular demand. this is usually formula "40b", which is the denatured ethanol with added bitrex -- (a substance which is extremely bitter and unpleasant to the taste and is used to discourage the ingestion of the ethanol). to this 40b, other compounds are added to make the product easier for the non-professional to use. this is usually a proprietary blend so you can't get the exact formula, but the supplier will disclose the ingredients, which, in addition to the alcohol, may include dipropylene glycol, benzyl benzoate, propylene glycol, isopropyl myristate, and/or isopropyl alcohol. two sources for these perfumers' blends are "my sweet victoria" and "snowdrift farms".
please note that there are those [authorities] who state: "do not use any variation of isopropyl alcohol, nor any so-called 'perfumery blend' that might contain it; the rapidity of the drying rate is far too high and it can carry a scent that may interfere with your blend. isopropyl myristate is known for causing skin-clogging and blackheads and it is a dermal, eye, and respiratory irritant."
"the chemistry store" is a source for the [unadulterated] 40b sd alcohol with 10% distilled water as the only additive. however, they only sell it in gallon units ...but at a good price. update: this item has been "out of stock" for quite awhile ...they've even removed the page, so it's unclear whether they plan to ever resume sale.
as of august '07, a new source for perfume alcohol is "save-on-scents", a business which specializes in [a vast array of] fragrance oils. they now offer formula 39c sda: 190 proof ethanol, denatured with diethyl phthalate*, with no additional ingredients. because this is sold unadulterated, it "is" subject to batf regulations, (i.e. if this is being used in a product that is to be sold, you will have to acquire the necessary permit and pay the appropriate taxes). however, if this is for personal use, it is a source for unadulterated sda in states where everclear (and products like it) are not available.
* in listing this as a source for sd alcohol, i need to point out that there's a considerabe amount of concern over the safety of "phthalates" in cosmetics. however, i also need to point out that "diethyl" phthalate (used in formula 39c) has been widely accepted as safe, and formula 39c is widely used in the commercial perfume industry. "this article" from proctor and gamble may shed some light on this topic.
using special denatured alcohol (or everclear)
prepare scent by combining desired oils.
add oil and alcohol, and then, [spring or distilled] water in the proportions from the chart below.
mix by stirring slowly but long enough to ensure complete dispersal.
let mixture mature for 48 hours (to 6 weeks) ...the longer, the stronger.
adjust strength (if desired) by adding more water and mixing well.
using 100-proof vodka (50% alcohol)
prepare scent by combining desired oils.
add oil to vodka in proportions from chart below.*
mix by stirring slowly but long enough to ensure complete dispersal.
let mixture mature for 48 hours (to 6 weeks) ...the longer, the stronger; stirring slowly but completely every 24 hours to remix since some oil will separate and float to the top.
adjust strength (if desired) by adding more [spring] water and mixing well.
because of the high water content that results with using this method, there will always be some oil that floats to the top. it will, therefore, be necessary to shake the mixture before each use.
* remember that when using vodka, for all intents and purposes, the non-alcohol part of the vodka serves as "water" so your water/alcohol ratio will always be at least 50% : 50%.
fragrance levels
by percentage% of total% of remainder
 oil %alcohol %water %
perfume15 - 3090 - 955 - 10
eau de perfume8 - 1580 - 9010 - 20
eau de toilette4 - 880 - 9010 - 20
eau de cologne3 - 57030
cologne splash1 - 38020
(reading from the above example for perfume, your essential/fragrance oils would constitute 30% of the total quantity. of the remaining 70%, 95% would be alcohol and 5% would be water.)
by ratio% of total% of remainder
perfume8 (29%)19 (95%)1 (5%)
eau de perfume3 (13%)18 (90%)2 (10%)
eau de toilette2 (7%)23 (88.5%)3 (11.5%)
eau de cologne1 (4.7%)14 (70%)6 (30%)
cologne splash1 (2.8%)28 (80%)7 (20%)
(if you don't want to do the math, this table shows the ratio of the three components. reading again from the above example for perfume, you would simply combine 8 parts essential/fragrance oils with 19 parts alcohol and 1 part water.)
now that you've created that ultimate fragrance, you'll have to choose a suitable container. fragrance is all about perception and the presentation is as importaint as the fragrance itself. "atomizers king" has an extensive collection of elegant perfume bottles and atomizers.
additional notes
the fragrance blends made by the preceding method(s) and using only commercially available essential (and fragrance) oils will not yield a product equivalent to that of commercial perfumes, colognes, etc. commercial perfumers use concentrated essences and incorporate fixing agents in their fragrances making them smell stronger and last longer. in addition, their arsenal of ingredients includes aldehydes and other aroma chemicals that don't exist in nature, especially for those fragrances in the ozone-oceanic and modern categories. some fragrances in these categories are made wholly from aldehydes.
cologne vs. eau de cologne
"eau de cologne" is the name of a scent; the original was created in cologne, germany. this is not to be confused with "cologne", which is the level of concentration or strength of a fragrance (3% to 5%).
perfume oil
to make perfume oil, substitute a carrier oil for the alcohol and water. (for a massage oil, use the essential oil -- single oil or blend -- [generally] in a 10% dilution. some essential oils may dictate a greater dilution.)
there are many oils that one can use, but jojoba, (which is actually not an oil, but a wax which is liquid at room temperature), is recommended since it has a very long shelf life and won't go rancid, and it [usually] has no smell of its own. it blends into the skin without leaving a greasy feel.
some advantages of using perfume oil over alcohol-based fragrances are:
alcohol is drying to the skin.
some people who are allergic to perfumes are actually only allergic to the alcohol.
since oil doesn't evaporate like alcohol, the scent, (which may not seem as strong) actually lasts longer.
if blending your own fragrances, the alcohol may be difficult to obtain, and if available, is rather expensive.
using diluted (thinned) essential oils: sometimes an essential oil is diluted ...perhaps to make a [thick] resin easier to use (i.e. balsam de peru, benzoin, oak moss), or to thin an [expensive] absolute (i.e. jasmine, labdanum, neroli, vanilla). whatever the reason, these essential oils are either diluted in alcohol or in oil (e.g. jojoba). if an essential oil (or any component of a blend) is diluted in alcohol, do not use this to make an oil-based perfume. the amount of alcohol present is not enough to dissolve the oil carrier and will separate out of the solution.
solid perfume
another form of fragrance which is very easy to make is solid perfume. a basic formula would be 12 parts [your favorite] light carrier oil, 2 parts beeswax, and .5 to 1 part fragrance. if you were using 1/4 tsp. as the unit of measure, this would work out to 1 tbs. oil, 1/2 tsp. wax, and 1/4 tsp. fragrance.
melt wax with oil, let cool*, add fragrance, blend well, pour into container ...lip balm jars and tins make excellent containers for this. if your results are too hard, add more oil or less beeswax; to soft, add less oil or more beeswax; too strong, add less fragrance, etc.
*(let the mixture cool somewhat; you want it as cool as possible but still in a melted state so you can work with it. never add essential oil to a really hot mixture lest the scent "whoosh" away. each essential oil has its "flash point", the temperature at which the scent burns off. this can range from 80° f (frankincense) to 215° f (patchouli).
dry perfume spray
if you apply fragrance from an atomizer, you may prefer a spray that goes on dry. this can be accomplished by blending your scented oils with a silicone carrier instead of alcohol. "cyclomethicone" is perfect for this application since it evaporates very quickly and delivers the fragrance without leaving any wetness behind.
cyclomethicone is used in a ratio (essential/fragrance oils to cyclomethicone) of 1:3 to 1:6 (or greater). the "greater" amount of cyclomethicone creates a weaker scent concentration and makes an excellent linen or room spray as well as an all over body spray.
these figures are approximate, since the size of the "drop" varies depending on, among other things, the viscosity of the liquid and the diameter of the dropper opening -- all drops are not created equal.
300 drops=1 tbs.=15 ml.
100 drops=1 tsp.=5 ml.
25 drops=.25 tsp.=1.25 ml.
20 drops=.20 tsp.=1 ml.

the above [commonly used] conversions seem to be based on measuring water. when measuring most essential oils (and alcohol), the resulting quantity seems to be approximately half the volume of the same number of drops of water using an identical dropper-top glass pipette; the surface tension of the water creates a bigger drop. if you use, say, the above conversion chart, 1 milliliter [of oil] may be far more than the 20 drops you wanted.
i've personally found that the milliliter as indicated by the disposable pipette actually contains "40" drops of thinner oils, vodka, and alcohol. thicker, more viscous oils tend to form bigger (read fewer) drops.
when mixing quantities that have been measured by drops with quantities that, because of their large volume, are being measured by milliliters, just using a "chart" to convert drops to milliliters can really screw up your results.
as a result, when converting drops to milliliters, actually [take the time to] measure exactly how many drops of a particular substance are contained in a milliliter as indicated by the measuring device(s) "you" are using. don't measure each individual oil, but measure, for instance, thick oils, as opposed to thin oils, alcohol, and water. chart and use your own findings to assure accurate and consistent results.