"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.
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
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
the main fragrance theme -- the middle note or "heart"
of a perfume. also used to describe a fragrance that is well-rounded or
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
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
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 ...to 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 ...it 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
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
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
poor consumer perception
complex odors that add depth
some sources non-renewable
generally 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 activity
may contain toxins or chemicals - if synthetic would be banned from flavours or perfumes
interaction with product bases or other ingredients can be controlled
some 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 ...you'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
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..