Creating a Perfume with Essential Oils

Perfumes are the feelings of flowers.
Heinrich Heine

Creating a perfume using only essential oils can be a real art from taking time, skill and lots of practice. The word Perfume has so many different connotations for each of us. Effectively combining aromatic oils from herbs, flowers and spices is a creative art. Throughout history we can find references to aromatics being used to perfume whether as incense or as an aromatic substance to be applied to the skin. Aromatic substances have long been used to aid with prayer and healing, as well as for adornment and embalming.

To become an experienced Perfumer takes a long apprenticeship and it is said that the truly great ‘noses’ are born not made. While we cannot all aspire to become Perfumers, by using essential oils we can create a unique fragrance all of our own – that special fragrance, which has meaning for us either individually or to be used for a special occasion.

Perfumes are classified into types and families. We will only look at those types using essential oils and not worry about those types based solely on synthetics.

Green Perfume Types:Perfumes of this type are fresh and clear and are composed mostly of evergreen oils such as Cedarwood, Juniper Berry and Pine to which Clary Sage or Lavender and perhaps a touch of citrus has been added. This is a cooling and invigorating type, which is popular with men.

Citrus Perfume Types: Perfumes of this type have a light, fresh character and are composed of citrus oils to which herby, spice or floral oils can be added. This fragrance type is very popular with men but also pleasing to women.

Floral Perfume Types: Perfumes of this type are created from fragrant flower oils such as Rose, Neroli, Jasmine and Ylang Ylang. A single floral note can be used or a combination of floral notes. This is essentially a feminine fragrance type.

Chypre Perfume Types: Perfumes of this type are based on a woody, mossy and flowery accord. They have a green fragrance blended with a floral and/or a citrus tinge. Often they will remind one of a wood after rain. They will usually include Patchouli and Oakmoss. Other essential oils, which might be found in this perfume type include Bergamot, Sandalwood, Jasmine and Rose. These are often long lasting perfumes and can be either a masculine or a feminine fragrance.

Oriental Perfume Types: Perfumes of this type usually have warmth and mystery. They are quite heavy and long lasting. Essential oils such as Vetiver, Patchouli and Sandalwood are often used in this type. Feminine fragrances usually have a sweet heavy floral note such as Jasmine added to the spices and balsams, while masculine fragrances of this type are less sweet and floral and have a greater emphasis on citrus oils and herbs such as clary sage and lavender.

Once you have decided on the type of perfume you want to create you are ready to start formulating your perfume. In order to create a balanced and harmonized blend you will want to consider the proportion of top, middle and base note you use in your blend. Aromatic oils are classified into top, middle and base notes based on the scale created by the nineteenth-century perfumer Charles Piesse. Top Notesare the ones you smell as soon as you smell the fragrance, however, they are usually short lived. Middle Notes are what is revealed when the Top Notes disappear. They are longer lasting than Top Notes and they form the heart of the blend. Base Notes are what is revealed after both the Top Notes and Middle Notes have disappeared and are the longest lasting aroma.

To create a balanced and harmonized blend you will want to include elements of all three notes into your Perfume. Classification of whether an essential oil is a Top, Middle and Base note can vary depending on your reference source and there are often further classifications within those classifications of Top to Middle, Middle to Top and Middle to Base and Base to Middle. Basically however the classification of what is a Top, Middle or Base note depends on how long it takes the particular essential oil to evaporate and for its aroma to disappear.

As a general rule of thumb Top Notes generally include all the citrus oils such as Bergamot, Lemon, Lime, Mandarin, Orange, some of the tree oils such as Eucalyptus, Fir and Tea Tree, as well as some of the herb and spice oils such as Basil, Clary Sage and Ginger. Middle notes comprise the larger group and include most of the essential oils from herbs and spices such as Black Pepper, Clove Bud, Coriander, Geranium, Lavender, Sweet Marjoram, Palmarosa, Rosemary, and Peppermint. Base Notes include oils like the woods, Cedarwood, Sandalwood and the thicker heavier oils like Vetiver, Patchouli, and Spikenard. An easy blending ratio to use when starting out with perfumes is 3:2:1. That would be three drops total of the Top Note oils to every two drops total of the Middle Note oils to every drop of the Base Note oils.

To make an oil-based Perfume fill a 10ml dark glass bottle with jojoba oil. Jojoba is actually a wax rather than an oil and is the preferred carrier for perfumes as it is long lasting and does not go rancid over time. To this, you will add between 14 to 20 drops of essential oil to make up your perfume.

Have a piece of paper and a pencil handy as well to jot down what you are putting in. There is nothing worse than to create a wonderful fragrance and then not be able to recreate it because you can’t remember what’s in it. After you have chosen the oils you want to blend start by adding the Base Note type oils slowly drop by drop to your bottle. Now add the Middle Notes oils drop by drop, swirl the bottle and sniff as you go to see how the aroma changes. As you adding the essential oil drop by drop you can always adjust slightly with one extra or one less drop to adjust the aroma. Lastly, add the Top Note oils the same way.

Remember this is a creative exercise. Finally, label your bottle with your blend and the date and put it away in a cool dark place for a week or two to mature. You will find it very interesting to see how the aromas have changed and melded together to create a wonderful new fragrance.

I do hope that you will have some fun creating your own Perfumes. To get you started here is a recipe for each Perfume type. You will find one top note, one middle note, and one base note oil and the blends are all 3:2:1, except for the citrus blend which has two top notes and one middle note. Most perfumes are much more complicated that this but this is a good place to start. Remember though that there are no hard and fast rules so be creative and let your own personal preferences guide you. Add a drop or two of an oil or change an oil, experiment and have fun!

David G. Williams , The Chemistry of Essentials Oils, Michelle Press, 1996.
Edwin L. Morris,,The Scents of Time: Perfume from Ancient Egypt to the 21st Century, Bullfinch Press, 2000.

Perfume Blends

Green Citrus Floral Chypre Oriental
3 drops of Fir 3 drops of Lemon 3 drops of Petitgrain 3 drops of Clary Sage 3 drops of Mandarin
2 drops of Juniper Berry 3 drops of Orange 2 drops of Lavender 2 drops of Cypress 2 drops of Black Pepper
1 drop of Vetiver 4 drops of Rosemary 1 drop of Jasmine 1 drop of Patchouli 1 drop of Ylang Ylang


You might also find the post I have on Natural Perfume

I now offer an Introduction to Natural Perfumery workshop that might be of interest to you.

Back to the Article Archives Index for more articles like this.