The Apache Pow Wow

Basics of Perfumery

Cindy Tse, Staff Writer

Perfume is often overlooked in lieu of more colorful and noticeable cosmetics, particularly anything that has to do with makeup. But perfume can say just as much about a person as their style of eyeliner or the colors of their eyeshadow. And unlike other beauty products, perfume is easy to DIY if you have the right materials.

The art of manipulating scents has a long and respectable history, having been around since the time of ancient China and Egypt. The practice originally began with incense for rituals, leading to fragrances being made for personal use. In the Greek and Roman empire, they were known as attars, using essential oils distilled from crushed plants and flowers. Attar was popularized by Muslim perfumers, the doctor Abi Ali al Sina in particular, who refined the process and produced many of the earliest scents, which in turn were used as a method of treating ailments.

Modern perfumes use synthetic oils, which maintain their scent over time. However, most recommend beginner perfumers to start with natural oils since they are easier to identify and have better scent quality. Natural oils are divided into “essential” and “absolute”; essential oils come directly from the plant whereas absolute oils are drawn out with solvents and are stronger. The oils are mixed into a carrier agent, which are used to contain the scent when sprayed. A popular agent is alcohol in its purest forms (usually perfumers alcohol, pure grain alcohol, or high-proof vodka), which lasts a long time and spreads over a greater area. However, it evaporates quickly, which means the scent doesn’t last on the skin as long as opposed to when using a natural oil carrier agent such as jojoba oil or fractionated coconut oil. Oils have shorter shelf life but allow the fragrance to stick more on the skin.

The next step in perfumery after you’ve decided on your materials is the scents you want to use. Scents are generally put in categories of woody, citrus, floral, fruity, spicy, fresh, and gourmand (nontraditional scents such as chocolate or honey). Perfume is made up of three parts: base notes, heart notes, and top notes. Base notes are the ones that last the longest while top notes are fleeting. The trick to making lasting scents is to make sure the three parts complement one another. How strong your perfume is will depend on the concentration of pure oils it contains, the weakest being around 2% and the strongest at 40%. After mixing your scent, wait for a few days before smelling it for the true scent to emerge, and after diluting, let the final fragrance wait for a month to a month and a half for the chemicals to fully settle.

Perfumery is a complicated art form to master completely, but a very rewarding one. Not only can you personalize scents, but you can create something completely unique. The information in this article is only the bare essentials, further research will not only prepare you for your first steps into perfumery but will let you do so as safely as possible.


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Basics of Perfumery