At home perfumery: How to make your own signature scent

Guest post by J.T.

If you’re a perfume junkie but tired of wearing the same scents as everyone else with access to Bloomingdales, maybe it’s time you learned to make your own bottle of perfume. The good news: it’s really easy to do and if you already know what your favorite ingredients are, you’re set. The mildly annoying news: the ingredients you use and the amount therein can change a perfume from amazing to awful in a snap. Making your own perfume is all about patience and experimentation… but if you like playing mad scientist/alchemist and you’re dedicated, then it’s really quite a lot of fun.

The Basics: Here’s where your childhood piano lessons come to use

All of the lovely smells dancing in your head right now — rose, lilac, orange, musk — those are called notes. You know how snooty people take a sip of wine and swirl it around their mouth before spitting it out and being all like, “It has a hint of cherry and tastes of the soil of the Burgundy region,” well that’s kind of similar. The notes you smell all work together to make up a chord.

A chord is composed of a base note, a heart note, and a head note. The base note is the one that lasts the longest and is usually something like vanilla or sandalwood. The heart note is the middle note which is generally floral. The head note is exactly that — a heady, strong smell that hits you right out of the bottle. One or more chords make up the composition (formula) of the perfume. So in non-musician speak let’s say you have sandalwood, jasmine, and orange. That is one chord — sandalwood is the base, jasmine the heart and orange the head.

Your head note is the most fleeting as they have an explosive scent and evaporate quickly. Over time, you will notice the scent changes, melts even, into the heart and base notes. It’s very subtle and beautiful when you think about it.

How do you pick the right oils to go together?

That really depends on you. What kind of perfume do you go for? Woodsy, citrus, floral, musky? My completely scientific process of choosing oil combinations starts by me imagining what certain famous people would have worn. Marie Antoinette was a straight up flower. Queen Elizabeth I had migraines so I stick to marjoram. Think about the scents you like and pick a few based on that. Here are some ideas:

Woodsy: Cedarwood, Pine, Sandalwood
Floral: Jasmine, Rose, Ylang Ylang
Fruity: Grapefruit, Orange, Bergamot
Earthy: Vetiver, Musk
Herbal: Rosemary, Lavender, Chamomile
Spicy: Black pepper, Clove, Ginger
Sugary: Amber, Vanilla

A few more tid-bits of info before we get started:

Order matters people! Once you have decided which ingredients will comprise your base, head and heart notes, make sure you add base first, heart second and head last.

For today’s lesson, we will be making a 5ml bottle of perfume oil. Perfume oil is my favorite right now because it contains no alcohol, just skin loving Jojoba or Sweet Almond Oil – your preference. These are lean in closer perfumes as opposed to the heady fill the room type – especially amazing if you areheadache prone like me. Perfume oils are also more bang for your buck because they can last anywhere between 5-12 hours depending on the strength of the ingredients you use. Compare that to eau de parfum (the regular alcohol based perfume you will find in stores) that lasts 2 hours if you’re lucky. Also, no one likes the old lady who goes crazy with the rose water.

The Maths. (Sorry)

In a cruel twist of fate, the artistry of perfumery requires the use of a lot of math. Not hard math mind you,’s.math. (I was an English major, I recoil at numbers). Every milliliter of liquid is roughly 20 drops with a pipette or glass dropper. As I stated earlier, today’s lesson is for a 5ml bottle of perfume. Sooo:

5ml X 20drops = 100 drops total

So you will have 100 drops of liquid in your bottle. The ratios of the notes are as follows:

2 parts base : 1 part heart : 1 part head : 1-2 parts carrier oil

I say 1-2 parts carrier oil because essential oils can be irritating if you have sensitive skin. If you have sensitive skin or you are headache prone, I advise doing 2 parts carrier oil to dilute the essential oils as much as possible. For today’s lesson, I am going to do 1 part carrier oil which will make for a stronger, longer lasting perfume. (If you want to do the more diluted version and need help with the formula, please let me know.)

Since we have 100 drops to account for and we now know the ratios, here is the formula we will be working with:

40 drops base + 20 drops heart + 20 drops head + 20 drops carrier oil = 100 drops

We did it! We survived the maths! Ok, now the fun can actually begin!

What You Will Need

  • 1 5ml bottle, preferably with roll on ball; you can order online or go to your local health food store and pick up an amber vial or dropper bottle.
  • 3 essential oils or fragrance oils depending on what you want. If you want all natural perfume, only use essential oils. Fragrance oils can contain synthetics but have already been diluted in carrier oil so they tend to be less irritating. When choosing essential oils, make sure to look up any health advisories they may have as not all EOs are skin safe. Brambleberry has a nice, affordable selection of both EOs and fragrance oils.
  • 4 pipettes or glass droppers; 1 for each EO and 1 for the carrier
  • Jojoba or Sweet Almond Oil. Trader Joe’s has a nice Jojoba in their spa section that is both affordable and great for dry skin beyond your perfuming needs.
  • Tag or label for your perfume; I usually just use some masking tape when I’m experimenting.

Getting Started

Clear off a workspace; wipe it clean and put some newspapers or table cloth down to prevent spill damage. Make sure that all your materials – bottles, droppers – are clean. Next open up your base note and insert your pipette. Gently squeeze the bulb and let go to get the oil in. Carefully (and slowly!) count out 40 drops of your base note into the 5ml bottle. When you’re done, close the EO lid and put it and your pipette to the side. Don’t shake yet! Next, open up your heart note. Count out 20 drops; then put that EO and pipette aside. Last, count out 20 drops of your head note. Once you have transferred the 3 EOs into your 5ml bottle, close the lid of the bottle and shake it up gently to let the oils mix in with each other.

Now comes the hard part. YOU HAVE TO WAIT A WHOLE WEEK TO SMELL IT AND PUT YOUR CARRIER OIL IN!!! Sorry, I should have told you sooner, but really, my reasons are just. You see, the EOs need time to mix and mesh together. Sure, it smells nice right now, you picked a good combination of oils after all, but trust me, with a week under its belt IT WILL SMELL THAT MUCH MORE AMAZING!

No Peeking!

Put your bottle in a dark place, preferably somewhere you won’t be tempted to look, and wait. Just think of it as Christmas and you’re eagerly awaiting Santa to come bring your bounty! Mark your calendar so you don’t forget (but how could you really?).

After a week has passed, the moment of truth has come. Open up your bottle. DOES IT SMELL AMAZING? If so, go ahead and put your 20 drops of carrier (Jojoba or Sweet Almond) oil inside…and…now you have to put it away for a month. A WHOLE MONTH! You hate me right now, I know. But I just want what’s best for you. You know how the EOs needed to mix and mesh together to create that amazing smell? Well the carrier oil wants in on that action. Don’t deny it. Wait the month like a good little lamb and then your dream of a natural, handmade perfume, your very own signature scent, will be yours! Don’t forget to label your perfume and I also like to write a little Born On date on my bottles so I know when they were made. They are my little children after all. (Not really actually, everyone knows it’s my cats that are my children. I went there.)

What if after a week your perfume concoction didn’t smell amazing? Unfortunately that’s a possibility. Maybe you didn’t pick a good combination of oils. Maybe you accidentally put a few extra drops of one of the oils. Whatever the reason, this is all part of the process. Copious note taking and experimentation, if you’re interested in serious perfumery, is what it’s all about. I currently sell 7 perfumes with 4 more in production…but I’ve made 33 total. They aren’t all winners, it’s ok. Just keep trying.

Let’s Unwind

Woo-hoo! Hopefully you have now been inducted into our secret society of perfumers. I hope your perfume came out lovely and I hope you enjoy it. This tutorial was for a basic perfume comprised of one chord. But now that you know the process, the possibilities and combinations are endless.

Comments on At home perfumery: How to make your own signature scent

  1. This sounds like so much fun! Can’t wait to try. Sounds like great info to pass along to my mother too – most perfumes give her an insta-headache, I bet she’d love to customize a scent that works for her.

  2. Is it possible to adjust the quantity so long as the ratios are maintained? I’m kinda thinking like when you cook.. Half batches, double batches, etc. Or does it get all funky?

    • Hi Erica, Yes and no. It’s really dependent on the oils you use. Some are really potent and even with the correct ratios will still overpower the other scents. The ratios are a starting point; as you pour the drops, follow your nose and adjust accordingly. For the most part though, as long as you’re making small batches it should be fine.

  3. Ooh, I can’t wait to try this! I love wearing perfume, but I’ve noticed the store bought ones tend to make me sneeze and my eyes water, which is great after I’ve applied a full face of makeup.

  4. I loooove this. I don’t really like store perfumes so I usually just wear a lot of straight jasmine oil. This looks like a great way to get something that lasts a bit longer and smells more complex. Thanks!

  5. Perfume has always fascinated me – although I rarely wear it unless someone buys it for me, I generally just wear Aveda rosemary-mint body lotion (there’s another one by a Canadian company that offers lotion scented with orchid that I also like).

    My thing is that with perfume, I only ever like the top notes! I don’t really care for florals – jasmine and orchid are the only florals I find bearable – or sweet scents, or vanilla, or most scents used as base notes (woods are OK). But what I really want is a perfume of top notes – lime, ginger, orange blossom, camphor, rosemary, tea tree, cherry blossom, basil, lemongrass, hinoki (Taiwanese cedar), fresh linen, citrus mint, verbena, bergamot, thyme – scents that will evaporate quickly.

    So they evaporate and I want to add more perfume because the base note is always my least favorite, but then I get all stinky.

    I remember this with my bottle of Armani Code – I loved the ginger and orange head notes and only tolerated the scent it evolved into. Seems it happens with every perfume I buy.

  6. this is great! thanks for taking the time to write this up- and do maths for us!

    quick question though- i may have missed something, or maybe i am just slow- how do i know which scents are base, heart, and head notes? i was looking at some of your suggested oils and coming up with fun combinations, and then realizing, maybe i am picking all base notes and it would be overpoweringly stinky! any advice here would be most helpful.


    • To be an experte perfumiste, you have to know how long each scent lasts to really mix up something that works like traditional perfume.
      Classic top notes have smaller molecules, allowing them to evaporate quickly–this is more of a hook to get you into the perfume. Heart notes will help ease the transition to base notes and are usually more mellow, but these tend to be what I remember from a perfume. Base notes have the heaviest molecules, which help the whole scent last longer. The heart and base notes contribute to the head note, but stand on their own, as well.
      The oils used as any one of these types of note aren’t necessarily a KIND. Orange won’t ALWAYS be a top note, though it is a common one. This is where the ratios come into play. Look up some of your favorite perfumes, and you’ll see that many use the same scents. The magic is in the mix.
      This post encourages you to mix and wear to discover what works for you. In that process, you’ll discover what seems to stick around the longest, and that will help you in your future mixing adventures. This will also help you decide whether the stuff you’re putting together is way too strong or weird or whatever. 🙂

    • What dootsiebug said.

      My totally scientific process of picking oil combinations comes from me choosing a few and sniffing them together before putting the drops in. Generally if I can see that one overpowers more than another it’s not a great combo. If they all melt/blend together, then it could work. Experimentation is key and there aren’t hard and fast rules. I definitely have perfumes where I mix up the orders or lean toward a base or heart more than the top. This will help you get started and the more you do it, the more creative you’ll be.

      • Hi there, your dillution ratios are totally off the scale I bet your perfumes smell amazing though. According to one of the dons on aromatherapy one should observe the following dillution : 20 drops of eo in 1ml do bottle.
        1oz = 30ml = 600 drops of oil.
        1% of 600 is 6 drops therefore 1% dillution in a 30ml bottle is 6 drops or at 2% which as far as I can see is the max dillution which is annoying is 12 drops.
        In the UK in order to get products approved for sale the max dillution is 2% so on a 10ml bottle that is only 4 drops! So annoying. But they are potent

  7. This is officially one of my all-time favourite OBH posts ever! Great idea, can’t wait to try, and I really enjoyed the manner in which it was written. Thanks!

  8. I love perfume. I guess my main concern with DIYing it is that more niche perfume ingredients like aldehydes (a trademark of Chanel floral fragrances for example) and synthetic civet/ambergris etc are hard to get hold of.

    Also eau de parfum is generally long-lasting (I wear Shalimar by Guerlain and it lasts all day), it’s eau de toilette that has less staying power (because it contains more alcohol and so evaporates quicker). Eau de cologne is even more lightweight.

  9. Ooh, this is neat. I don’t wear perfume, but I love reading about it. I highly suggest PERFUMES: THE GUIDE by Luca Turin if you wear the stuff, or just love crazy-amazing descriptions of scents.

  10. Hi! I can’t wait to try this, but have a question. I can only find 2 oils/scents that I really like. Lotus & Sahara Sandalwood (from Majestic Mountain Sage). Lotus is a blend of several scents already. Is it possible to use only 2 oils/scents? If so, how would I do that? Equal parts? What if the Lotus scent is the one I like more?

    • If you like the lotus scent more…you could just do all lotus. If you want to blend the two the best idea would be to smell the two together. If they go well, use Sandalwood as the base and Lotus as the top note. Another option is to put the Sandalwood in first and then (while smelling) put Lotus in drop by drop and stop when it smells balanced to you. There really aren’t set formulas, just guidelines. You can be as creative as you like 🙂 Hope that helps.

  11. Bit of a latecomer to the post, but it’s worth noting as well that certain essential oils are best avoided during pregnancy, as they can be abortifacient or emmenogogue oils and can cause miscarriage. They’re more risky if used neat on the skin, but even in a 1:2 or 1:3 dilution, I’d exercise caution.

  12. I’m looking at some fragrance oils, wanting to try this. I’m on brambleberry’s website and there’s an awful lot about “flashpoints” here, I assume because these are intended for soap making. Does that have any influence on how the perfume turns out?

  13. Hi..
    I am starting my own perfume store. And your recipe has turned out to be a perfect guide for me. I have a few questions though for the better understanding.
    What size of bottles would you prefer for the selling purpose?
    Would it be fine if I sell in TRANSPARENT glass bottles?
    What is the shelf life for these?

    • If you’re selling in transparent glass bottles, you’re basically asking for the perfume to go bad pretty quickly when you’re first starting IMO. I’m guessing the shelf life for these isn’t great because there’s no alcohol used, which is why the store perfumes all have alcohol in them – it acts as a preservative. Though you would need to have a reply from the article author to be sure, of course.

      Keep in mind also that this recipe is for perfume oils rather than the traditional EDP, a distinction that will be important to make for your clients.

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