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Monday, November 29, 2010

Making Solid Perfumes - Less is more

Providence Perfume Co., 100% natural perfumes

If you can make alcohol based perfumes, making solid perfumes should be no problem right?  Wrong.  I've recently been working creating perfume balms.  This is a big step for a perfumer who is accustomed to working with alcohol.  Switching from alcohol as a medium to wax and oil isn't the easy transition I anticipated.

Using alcohol as a carrier for creating scents has endless benefits.  One can create alcohol based tinctures of fruits, vanilla beans, flowers, etc.  Alcohol allows aromas to diffuse and bloom when applied to the skin.  Sticky, resinous botanicals dissolve easily in alcohol.  Let's face it, what doesn't dissolve in 150 proof alcohol?  Blending essential oils and absolutes in alcohol seems relatively straightforward and comfortable.  Essences sing clearly in alcohol.

Oil and wax is a whole different beast.  First there is the oil.  Oils can go rancid and one must choose either fractionated coconut oil or jojoba (wax) in order to give their oil or solid based perfume an infinite shelf life.  Then there is the issues with dissolving botanicals.  Many, many resins will not dissolve in oil.  Additionally these resins can cause clouding and muddying of the oil.  Try blending benzoin in oil and you'll see what I mean. You get a cloudy mess that resembles melted butter!

Then there is the issue of top-notes.  Oil/wax tamps down and dulls many light essences.  One must double or even triple the amount of top notes used in alcohol based perfumes.  The oil seems to swallow citruses absorbing the fresh light notes, leaving the merest hint of bergamot or bitter orange.  In general, oil perfumes seem to dull many essences requiring a heavier hand with many aromatics.

Then there is the wax.  Because I try and keep my products as natural as possible I use unbleached yellow beeswax.  However, this beeswax has a prevalent honeyed beeswax odor.  I love the natural fragrance unprocessed beeswax possesses BUT, and it's a big BUT, this intrinsic beeswax aroma is very noticeable, even in the final product.  The beeswax aroma does not necessarily work with certain blends, such as very green crisp scents and requires much experimenting to discover what complements the beeswax aroma.  Another drawback of using pure beeswax is I often find the final solid perfume scent dries down to the same beeswax aroma despite experiments using massive amounts of varying essential oils.  In the end, the perfumes resemble each other slightly as the aroma of beeswax is potent.  Again, I love the beeswax scent but some may not.  I now understand more clearly why many companies choose filtered, bleached beeswax with no aroma.

Finally, there is the combining of the chosen oil and wax to create the solid perfume base.  I started out using the "recipe" in Mandy Aftel's book Scents and Sensabilities.  It consists of 5 ml. jojoba, blended with 1/2 teaspoon beeswax.  I found this mixture a bit too hard for my liking and kept tweaking the recipe by adding more oil and less beeswax but still wasn't happy.  I longed for the softer consistency of the solid perfumes found within vintage compacts.  After much trial and error I discovered that the introduction of shea butter created a softer solid perfume base.  Another perk of adding the shea butter was that it reduced the amount of beeswax needed and thus reduced the beeswax aroma slightly.

One of the biggest adjustments I faced when creating perfume balms was the lack of subtle nuance available when blending.  When creating perfumes, I am accustomed to being able to add minute quantities of accessory notes to achieve marvelous effects in the final blend.  In my experience this is not true when creating solid perfumes.  The more essential oils added the "muddier" the final aroma becomes.  Accessory notes are difficult to use in solids as they are potent and must be used in small quantities, rendering them unnoticeable in the final solid natural perfume.  By the time I add enough black currant bud to actually smell it in the perfume balm I find it overpowers.  I found subtracting the number of ingredients in a solid perfume blend often improved the aroma.  I'm accustomed to using 20 botanicals and upwards in my alcohol based perfumes and found my best solid perfumes contained between 3-8 ingredients!  Note to self, Keep it simple!

Lest you think I'm being negative regarding solid perfumery I'd like to tout the positives.  I truly love making solid perfumes.  I love the preparation, the vintage feel and look of perfume balms.  I love the feeling of rooting around my purse, locating my solid perfume (which will never leak and ruin my bag--I'm talking about you Gucci Rush circa 2001) and rubbing the satiny cream on my wrists.  I especially like being able to apply the scent surreptitiously when confronted with bad smells.  We perfumers are known to have sensitive noses, and when confronted with an inescapable malodorous aroma such as riding the train or standing in line next to someone who err ---who does not smell good---it's nice to be able to apply a little perfume balm and secretly inhale.

Due to the oil and wax base, perfume balms last quite awhile.  While the aroma is subtle, it is long lasting.  It also pleases me that I can focus on creating mid or top note heavy solid perfumes.  I've nearly perfected a stargazer lily and lilac solid perfume.  These soliflores work perfectly as solid perfumes, whereas I could never quite get them to work as traditional liquid scents.  There's something about the melding of the beeswax with the floral heart notes that just smells amazing.

Any other solid perfume makers out there who want to share tips or recommendations?  
Charna ethier gives classes on how to make natural perfume.


Anonymous said...

Great scent...

parfum said...

This is an amazing creation. Perfume balms are really different. Many women will be very interested in this new type of perfume. Love to experience its scent in the future.

Tiffany said...

Have you thought about using a soy wax instead? (neutral or no scent)

Tiffany said...

Have you tried using a neutral soy wax or carnauba wax?

Charna said...

Hi Tiffany, I have worked with soy wax and it's not my favorite. Carnuba wax or palm wax tends to make the solid perfumes very hard. In addition both waxes are saddled with a slew of environmental issues. I prefer a much softer consistency to my solid perfumes, which is why I use beeswax. In my opinion beeswax is best for solid perfumes and holds scent very well.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I wondered if you tried Candelilla wax before?

Biotech said...

Do you mind sharing how much of the ingredients you ended up using?