creating a scent

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"perfume is a mixture of [many] aroma compounds blended together to make a pleasing fragrance or "composition". to balance and blend [all] these substances in just the right amounts, just the right proportions, is a daunting challenge ... musical terms are often used to help describe perfume. to create a top perfume is as creative and as difficult a task as writing a musical symphony."
aroma vocabulary
in the english language there are myriad words to describe the color red, yet we grope to describe the fragrance of a red rose; we are lost in a sea of inarticulateness. below are but a few terms used in the attempt to "describe" fragrances, their behaviors, and their components.
an accord is the perfumery equivalent to a chord in music. it's a blend of 2 or more individual smells that combine to produce a single distinctive smell. an accord may be a simple mixture or consist of many components and applies when each component material is in balance and harmony with each other material so that no single component can be detected.
aroma chemical
any chemical compound created and used for its aromatic properties. aroma chemicals could be isolates of essential oils, chemical modification of those isolates, or synthetic compounds from petrochemicals.
the main fragrance theme -- the middle note or "heart" of a perfume. also used to describe a fragrance that is well-rounded or full.
bottom (base) note
the underlying components of a fragrance, responsible for its lasting qualities ...often referred to as fixatives.
the ability of a scent (single oil or accord) to connect two notes of a fragrance and thus smoothing the transititon from one phase to another.
the final phase of a fragrance -- the bottom note, the character which appears several hours after application. perfumers evaluate the bottom (base) notes and the tenacity of the fragrance during this stage.
a material used in a perfume to "fix" the perfume or make it last longer. fixatives may be simply materials that are relatively longer lasting than the other components or they may have some physical or chemical effect of forming bonds with the other materials.
middle (heart) note
the core of a perfume composition which gives it its character. the middle or "heart" notes make up the main part of a fragrance and determines the classification or fragrance family.
one of three distinct periods in the evaporation of a perfume, (see: top note, middle note, bottom note). this also indicates an olfactory impression of a single smell. (see "notes" for a list of these discriptive terms.)
the term "common" thread describes a fragrance's ability to flow from one phase to another in a cohesive rather than a discordant fashion.
top note
the impression of a fragrance when first smelled or applied to the skin usually the most volatile ingredients in a perfume. the materials in the formulation that show themselves in the first stages of evaporation.
easily vaporized at a low temperature. changing easily from the state of a liquid to a gas or vapor.

perfume vs. scent blends
comparing a scent blend to a perfume is like comparing a simply piano melody to a complete symphony. a perfume is a highly complex composition which may contain as many as 200 components -- (today's perfumers have access to many thousands of scents to play with). a scent blend is the simpler, complementary combination of two or more individual scents, although some of the same principles of accord, balance, and common thread still apply. nearly all perfumes have top, middle and base notes. a blend need not be this complex. blending your own scents can be a lot of fun and in the doing you can learn a lot about perfumery.
see "fragrance formulas" for a list of [some] blends be used as is or as inspiration for some of your own creations.
formulating a "successful" blend does require some skill and effort, but, because you're working with so few ingredients, this need not be a monumental task. to make a top perfume, however, requires access to top quality ingredients, an in-depth knowledge [of the materials being used], experience, an acute nose (and the ability to smell not just with the nose but with the brain), diligence, patience, and time could take years to hit upon that exact "magical" combination.

essential oil vs. aroma chemicals
when most of us hear the word "chemical" then we think "not natural, toxic, dangerous". when we hear the words "natural" we think, "safe, healthy". of course the chemists among us know that everything around us is made up of chemicals. water is a chemical, vegetables are complex mixtures of structured chemicals, wood is made up of cellulose, a chemical and the earth is one big bundle of chemicals. we eat chemicals, we drink chemicals, we are chemicals ourselves.
when we extract essential oils from plants by distillation what we are doing is heating up the smaller volatile chemicals held in the cellulose plant material and transporting them with the steam to a condenser where the steam is cooled back into water and the volatile chemicals turn back into an oily mixture which float on top. these "natural" essential oils are complex mixtures of volatile chemicals.
when we use an essential oil in a perfume we are adding all of its component chemicals, the good and the bad. just as the same wine from the same vinyard varies from year to year, so essentials oils are never the same, being affected by soil quality, the amount of sunshine, water, wind etc. and so every year the oil composition changes -- maybe just a little, but it is never exactly the same. if you could control the consistency in the aromas, you could control the quality of the end product, the perfume. additionally, oils frequently contain some undesirable qualities that we don't want, such as traces of toxins (e.g. bergaptene in cold pressed citrus oils). now if we could extract these offending chemicals from an oil, we could improve its properties. herein lies the success of the aroma chemical.
e.g. in lemon oil d'limonene makes up over 90% of the oil, the problem is that d'limonene despite being the major ingredient adds little to the overall odor as it has a very soft odor. additionally the d'limonene has poor solubility in alcohol and water mixtures and in the presence of air (oxygen) polymerises to form a thick resinous substance. so when making a fine fragrance we may use a lemon oil with d'limonene removed by fractional distillation (terpeneless lemon oil) to get a more soluble and stable product.

the first source of aroma chemicals is from isolates of essential oils -- the second source is chemically modified isolates from essential oils. -- the third source of aroma chemicals is from the petrochemical industry.
when novices start to mix perfumes for the first time they may be reluctant to use aroma "chemicals". yes, chemicals should be treated with care, but, not any more than the care that should be exercised with the natural essential oils. overall, there are probably more hazards in many pure essential oils than there are in most aroma chemicals.
natural vs. synthetic perfume and flavour materials
natural oilsaroma chemicals
naturalvariable qualityconsistent qualitypoor consumer perception
complex odors that add depthsome sources non-renewablegenerally stable prices
(decreasing in real cost)
dependent on supply of source materials which are only by-products of much larger industries (viz. paper and oil)
superior pharmacological activitymay contain toxins or chemicals - if synthetic would be banned from flavours or perfumesinteraction with product bases or other ingredients can be controlledsome industrial quality chemicals sold as food or cosmetic grades
 components responsible for interaction and changes in color and odor hard to remove simple clearer, controllable odors 
 limited quantities when upscaling production  
 labor and land intensive  
 supply subject to natural cycles and phenomena  
 price varies and regularly increases in comparison to synthetics  

fyi: fragrance oils are merely aroma chemicals blended to create the desired aroma in an oil carrier.

blending basics and tips
a good approach is to first consider the oil's note and the other oils with which it blends well. see the "essential oils list" for the single note designation of the listed oils with a list (for each) of complementary oil. this is just a guide ...your nose is the final judge.
then, by blending two or more oils, you want to achieve an accord. this accord is then used as the top, middle, or bottom note of your fragrance ...or it can be used as the sub-structure of another accord ...which can be used as the sub-structure of yet another accord ...and so on. you can see how complicated and complex a fragrance can get, and most top perfumes are.
a top, middle, and bottom note of a "simple" blend need be only a single oil, and in fact, the blend doesn't have to have a top, middle, "and" a bottom, (as do most high end fragrances). but no matter how simple, you do need to include all three notes for a full-bodied, well-balanced fragrance.

a general rule is to use twice as much (top notes) to (middle notes) to (base notes). For example, a ratio of 3 or 4 parts top, 2 parts middle, 1 part base would be a good place to start.
first: decide what heart note(s) you want to use (i.e. body, middle note).
second: choose your complementary base note(s).
third: add the heart note to the selected base note -- (not the other way around).
fourth: finish off with your complementary top note(s).
last: add the modifier.

it doesn't take long to become skilled in running up and down the fragrance keyboard -- too fresh, add a little base note; too heavy, add a little middle or top note. go slowly, sparingly and always use very small amounts.
a modifier is a scent added to give the fragrance that "interesting twist". it should be used very sparingly ...better too little than too much. if you can smell the modifier in the blend, you have used too much. increase the amount of the middle note to correct this. modifiers make your fragrance distinctive, different and unique.
a well constructed perfume (as with a blend) will smell like one fragrance. you should not be able to distinguish its component parts. it might be soft and floral, woody, spicy or fruity. this is not to say it should be static; it should change and develop as it ages, revealing the top, middle, and bottom notes respectively over time. conversely, it should not change from one scent to another to another during this transition, but should subtly reveal the nuances of a common thread.
see "creating the scent" below for more details on the actual crafting of the scent itself.

now that you've created your scent, see "making perfume" for the simple process of converting it to a perfume or cologne.

creating the scent
this section appends the above over-simplified basic blending instructions. obviously, it's not that easy. if it were, everyone would be in the perfume business.
let me start by clarifying that i am not a perfumer, merely a hobbyist, (probably like yourself). therefore, the following is not intended to be authoritative, and surely not the approach taken by professional perfumers. this is merely the sharing of my own process -- (that i've developed from reading several books on perfuming practices, tips gleaned from other perfumers, and actual experimentation). all that being said...
i've divided [my] process into three areas:
•  i combine individual oils to form a simple, harmonious accord. this would encompass [most of] the blends found on the "fragrance formulas" page. i use this type of blend for scenting bath and skin care products.
•  i start with a balanced "base formula" for a particular [family] type of fragrance and devoping it further to a particular end.
•  i combine individual oils specifically to form top, middle, and bottom accords. i then combine appropriate amounts of these top, middle, and bottom accords to form the fragrance. this is the approach that is covered below.* -- this usually can't be expressed as a drop by drop forumla.
the examples on the "perfume page" follow this process and use blends from the "fragrance formulas" page as the heart notes, which are combined with complementary top and bottom accords.

*first, for a balanced, well-rounded fragrance, you want to form three accords, a middle (or heart), a bottom (base notes) and a top. to form each accord, combine oils that work together to form a harmonious odor, usually where no particular oil stands out. sometimes, however, you may want one of the oils to be dominant, providing the main identity of the accord. to start out, keep it simple; use just three or four oils per accord. your accords may become more complex as you gain experience and confidence.
do this with all three accords. start with the heart; that will be the perfume's main identity. then work on finding a base to complement this, and finally a complementary top. each accord need not contain only oils from that category, (e.g. the top accords can contain middle-note oils ...especially if these oils act as bridge notes; it's not unusual to find a bottom note as part of a top accord). the "essentials oils list" on this site gives (for most of the oils listed) their note classification, bridge note characteristics (if any), and suggestions as to what other oils each blends well with.
how do you know if the accords will work together? when creating the accords, test their compatibility by putting a sample of each on a test strip and holding the strips under your nose to sample the aromas together. do they work? your sense of what does and does not work together will come with experience and from your own experimentation with the various oils ...and your own particular tastes.
once you reached this point of compatibility ...and it may take awhile're ready to blend them.
start with a small amount (approx. 1/4 oz.) of whatever perfumer's alcohol you're using.
normally, blending the oils with the [alcohol] carrier would be the final step, but when developing the formula, this method has a two-fold purpose. first, the alcohol evaporates rapidly, so this aids in smelling and assessing the test strips. also, since you will be extracting many drops for testing as you move through the process, you won't significantly affect the formula ...since it's mostly alcohol that you'll be extracting.

for this example, i'm using the 1:2:4 ratio of base to middle to top. this is not a hard and fast rule. as stated above in the "blending basics and tips" section, it's just a suggested starting point.
add 10 drops of the base accord to the alcohol and mix well. now, assuming we're going to add 20 drops of the middle accord, start by adding 10 drops. sample by putting a drop [of the mixture] on a test strip to evaluate. continue by adding a couple drops at a time [to the mixture] and then sampling, again. do this until the middle "marries" well with the base ...using as much or as little as needed. this is, of course, a very subjective decision and is where the individual's skill, perceptions, and personal tastes come into play.
side note: with all the smelling, your nose becomes inundated with scent and this makes evaluation difficult. if you keep a small amount (half of a shot glass) of ground coffee handy, and sniff that between evaluations, it will help clear the "pallette".
repeat this process with the [40 drops] of the top note.
and by all means, keep notes on what you're doing ...every addition ...every drop. there's nothing more frustrating than to "accidentally" stumble on that perfect combination and not be able to duplicate it because you don't know exactly how you got there.

then, once you've finished, consider what your modifier will be ...if any. (you'll notice that so many [commercial] perfumes smell similar to one another. and it's one special, elusive aspect that gives each its uniqueness. that's the modifier.) this can be a single note or an accord, but in either case, it's used very, very sparing.
final note:: allow the mix to sit (cure) for at least 48 hours. then, do another test. after the accords have melded, you may find that...
  • the top note that seemed okay has diminished or disappeared altogether -- you need to add more top note.
  • the heart note has lost its identity as it coalesced with the base -- you need to add more heart note.
  • the base note may be too distinct during the dry-down-- you need to use less base note.
  • the modifier may be too obvious -- you need to reduce, change, or disregard the modifier.
make the proper adjustments and test again ...after 48 hours.
after you've made all your adjustments, you may find that, as a result of the combining of the accords, two or more of the components [of these accords] don't work well together; they create a discord ...which ruins the blend. don't be too hasty in dismissing this as failure. sometimes ...not always ...but sometimes, letting the blend sit for still longer curing will result with the incompatible oils settling into harmony, producing a very pleasant result.
still, you may find that after all the testing, adjusting, and waiting, it just doesn't work; you have to toss it and start from scratch. but don't be discouraged by these failure ...and there will be failures. they aren't a total loss. from them, you develop a sense of "what doesn't work". and do keep an eye open for "accidental successes". sometimes, while you're aiming for one thing, something unexpected happens ...something wonderful ...and if you've kept proper notes, you can duplicate it..