Making soaps and cosmetics yourself is an art form made up of numerous art forms; formulating, color theory, and fragrance blending are just some of the creative components needed to make a truly standout product. The art of perfumery and fragrance blending is extensive and complex; today, we are going to cover the basics and also take a peek back into the rich history behind the human race’s fascination and love for pleasing scent combinations.
People have been blending scents to create olfactory experiences for thousands of years; at least 5,316 years to be exact! The world’s first recorded chemist was a perfume maker named Tapputi, a woman who is mentioned in the Cuneiform tablet from the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. Between 3300-1300 BCE, perfume and perfumery was documented in the Indus Civilization, too. In fact, one of the earliest distillations of ittar (also known as attar) was mentioned in the Hindu Ayurvedic Texts (Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita).
Between 2004 and 2005, the oldest perfumery known to date was discovered on the island of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. This factory existed approximately 4,000 years ago, during the Bronze age; it is estimated to have covered a little over 43,000 sq-ft (4000 m2), which tells us that at this point, perfume manufacturing was on an industrial scale.
Islamic cultures made significant contributions to the development of Western perfumery in two ways: by honing the process of extracting fragrances through steam distillation, and by introducing new raw materials. After the rise of Christianity ended the use of perfume in most of the Middle East, Muslims improved its production and kept using it in their daily routines and while practicing their religion. In Islamic culture, use of perfume and fragrance blends dates back to the 6th century.
The very first modern perfume was produced by the Hungarians in 1370, commissioned by Queen Elizabeth of Hungary and known in Europe as “Hungary Water”. In the 16th century, Catherine de’ Medici’s personal perfumer, Rene le Florentin, brought Italian refinements to the perfumery and fragrance blending process from Renaissance Italy to France; his laboratory was kept a secret, and was connected via hidden passageways to Catherine’s apartment so that no one could steal his formulas en route!
Perfume grew in popularity exponentially in France during the 17th century. Perfumed gloves were extremely popular, but with a caveat; French perfumers would also create poisons disguised as perfumes to be worn by unsuspecting victims.
The 18th century was the golden era of perfume, as Louis XV came to the throne; his court was called la cour parfumée (the perfumed court). King Louis demanded a different fragrance in his presence each day. Perfume was substituted for soap and water, and by the end of the 18th century, aromatic plants were being growing in France to subsidize the rapidly expanding perfume industry.
Fast forward to modern times; perfume and fragrance blends are still sought after luxuries that have become a part of both men and women’s daily routines. Fragrance is everywhere; perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, candles, cleaning products; comforting and clean scents can elevate a person’s mood or bring back memories, and consumers love the experience a well made fragrance elicits.
As we said in the beginning of this article, fragrance blending is a complex and extensive art form that is not mastered overnight. The best thing to do when you decide to blend your own scents is to become familiar with some of the terms and definitions you will commonly find while learning about fragrance blending and perfumery.
Note(s): Notes in fragrance blending and perfumery describe the level, intensity and vibrancy of scents detected in a blend. There are three classes of notes: top (head), middle (heart), and base notes.
Top Note: Also referred to as a “head note”, top notes are the scent that is recognized immediately upon smelling the blend. Top notes form a consumer’s first impression, and play a key part in sales based on their appeal. Usually, top notes are described as “assertive”, “robust” or “strong”. Some examples of top notes are: lavender, lemongrass, peppermint, eucalyptus, and bergamot.
Middle Note: Also referred to as the “heart note”, middle notes can be described as the scent that becomes apparent just as the top note is dissipating. Typically described as “well rounded” or “mellow”. Some examples of middle notes are: rose, marjoram, cinnamon, chamomile, and tea tree.
Base Note: Base notes are best described as the scent that appears just as the middle note is disappearing. Some examples of base notes are: frankincense, cedarwood, sandalwood, patchouli, and vanilla.
Aroma: A term used to describe the sensation between taste and smell. This sensation can be invoked by scents like vanilla, chocolate or coffee.
Cloying: A descriptive word for a smell that is excessively or “sticky” sweet. An example of this would be cotton candy fragrance oil.
Earthy: A descriptive word for a scent that smells of freshly overturned earth, roots and a mustiness. For example, oakmoss and vetiver.
Floral: Describes flower type scents, such as rose or lilac.
Dry: A scent that can be described as lacking in the dewy or watery element that brings to mind crisp vegetables or fruits. A dry scent can be mineral-like or woody.
Bitter: Describes a smell that is without sweetness and “sharp”. Not always an unpleasant quality, when utilized properly.
Flat: A blend or scent lacking in richness and variety; can be perceived as bland.
Forest/Woodsy: Described as an earthy or mossy scent. For example, cedar and oak.
Fresh: A scent that energizes the person smelling it. Typically, this will nature-inspired or citrusy scents.
Herbaceous: Scents that are also frequently used in cooking and have a warm, earthy smell. For example, rosemary and basil.
Medicinal or Camphorous: Pungent scents that have been used for the treatment of a variety of ailments. For example, eucalyptus and tea tree.
Minty: A strong, crisp smell; usually associated with cleanliness. For example, pepperming and spearmint.
Oriental: Warm, tangy scents. For example, patchouli and ginger.
Fruity: Evokes the thought of fresh, ripe edible fruits.
Citrus: A crisp, clean smell produced by citrus fruits like orange, lemon and lime.
Spicy: Pungent notes like cinnamon and ginger that give a pleasant (or sometimes unpleasant) warm sensation.
Sweet: Can be described as a scent that shares characteristics with a sweet taste.
Fungal: Scents like mushrooms or mold are categorized as fungal.
Green: A family of scents comprised of smells like fresh cut grass or a warm, live forest.
Harmonious: In fragrance blending, harmonious indicates a blend that is well balanced and unified using amicable scents.
Harsh: The opposite of harmonious; unbalanced, unpleasant.
Light: Typically a non-sweet, non-cloying fragrance with a prevailing fresh note.
Depth: This refers to the complexity and richness of the blend; full-bodied is also used to describe this sensation.
Profile: The makeup of the blend and notes within.
These are just some of the many terms and definitions used when blending fragrances; this is by no means the comprehensive and definitive list of all terms.
As with any project, taking the proper safety precautions when blending fragrances is very important. Wearing gloves and goggles or glasses will ensure that you do not get the oils you are working with in your eyes; an unpleasant sensation that will take away from your blending experience for sure!
Safety: check. Now it’s time to take a look at what scents blend well together to create a harmonious, pleasant scent! Generally, oils that share a category will blend well. Here are a few examples to get you started:
Florals: Blend well with woodsy, citrusy or spicy oils (think cedar, cinnamon, orange).
Woodsy: These oils are versatile because they can really be combined with any of the categories (floral, earthy, herbaceous, minty, medicinal, spicy, oriental or citrus).
Spicy: Spicy scents blend well with floral, citrus and oriental oils, but be mindful not to overpower your blend with the spicy oils. Oriental type oils also share these matches, and the same risk of overpowering a blend; use sparingly for the best results.
Minty: Minty oils blend well with citrus, woodsy, herbaceous and earthy oils.
Now that you’ve got an idea of what oils go together, think about how you will blend them. Starting out small with a new mixture is the key to perfecting the blend; start out with drops in increments of 5 (5, 10, 15, 20, etc). Try not to exceed 20 drops total; a small scale like this will give you plenty of wiggle room to add as you like, without producing as much waste if you do not like the results. Speaking of waste, skip the carrier oils and alcohol during your formulation process to avoid wasting them if you are not happy with how your blend has turned out.
Establishing a ratio for your blends is also important. A common ratio for beginners: 30% top notes, 50% middle notes, and 20% base notes. The beauty of fragrance blending, like any other creative art form, is that there are no strict rules; this is merely a suggestion to get you started. Tweak and configure your ratio to fit your desired scent. Once you have blended your oils, let them sit for a bit; it can be tempting to use them immediately, or dislike them immediately. Instead, let them sit for a few days to allow the chemicals to truly interact and round out your blend.
Keeping your blends organized is crucial in the creative process. Keep a notebook or binder detailing the contents of each blend. Include things like the name of the supplier you received your oils and carriers from, the contents of the notes, and pros and cons of the scent. Describe what you enjoy about the scent, or what it reminds you of. Also, it is a good idea to note whether the scent changed after being left for a number of days, and if it was allowed to sit, how long this process took. Recording your recipe in detail like this will help you to revisit your best or worst blends intuitively, and either improve upon them or use them time and again with continued success.
In addition to keeping a notebook, make sure to label the bottles you are storing your blends in clearly and neatly; if the name or combination is too long, you can use numbers instead to correspond with the description in your notebook or binder to make things a bit easier. Make sure that the outside of your container is clean
Blending fragrances is an intense practice in patience and creativity. Mastering fragrance blending is no easy feat, and can take years to accomplish. The most important part of this process is to remember that, although there are guidelines for blending to help streamline the creative process, no two blenders employ the exact same techniques. Use your own preferences and vision for your product to determine its contents; each sense of smell is different; what smells a bit questionable to you might be someone else’s new favorite scent!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article on fragrance blending basics! We’d love to hear about your favorite creations and the creative techniques you’ve used to perfect them. You can leave a comment here, or feel free to leave a comment on the Facebook post for this article!