How to Make Your Own Perfume
With few exceptions (one of which being the beloved clean fragrance brand, Inkling Scents), the fragrance industry should make you angry.
That probably sounds weird for an article about making perfume. But hear me out.
First, we’ve got to get okay with our stink. Especially us girls. We’re taught from an early age that body smells are naughty smells and we should do everything we can to get rid of them. Which, of course, is next to impossible. So, we do the next best thing, right? We try to cover them up.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m 100-percent pro-shower. I love getting squeaky clean. But, so what if a little human smell slips through now and then? Truth: it took me a while, but now I prefer it to all the detergents we use to try and cover it up.
I remember as a teen getting that first whiff of my own armpit on a hot, humid summer city day. I was mortified. I couldn’t believe my body did what it is bodies do. I was petrified that my boyfriend would be disgusted. I was having a full-on panic attack over something absolutely normal.
I was a product of a system that profits off of this fear by selling us every kind of odor-wicking, odor-suppressing, odor-masking products they can come up with.
We’ve let corporations tell us what bodies should smell like. And worse than that, we’ve let ourselves become conditioned to think that the natural odors of healthy bodies are anything but natural.
And this brings me to the second reason you should be really angry at most of the fragrance industry: Unless we're talking about clean fragrance (and thankfully for us, Kinder Beauty is completely clean), much of what the mainstream fragrance industry is selling us is poison. Patent-protected, trade-secret poison that you’re paying them to give to you. I’m not being hyperbolic. Fragrances are loaded with toxic chemicals that are so heinous they’re also often tested on animals before they’re allowed into stores (also luckily for us, Kinder Beauty is totally vegan and cruelty-free).
There’s a reason artificial fragrances have been labeled as the new second-hand smoke.
These chemical cocktails find their way into nearly all of our personal care products (including some of those labeled as unscented). Because they are proprietary formulations (like Coca-Cola’s secret recipe), brands don’t have to disclose what goes into their fragrance formulas.
The trouble is, these chemicals can lead to skin irritation and allergic reactions, migraines, asthma, and neurological and reproductive issues. Some have even been linked to certain types of cancer.
This is largely due to the use of a number of chemicals, including one particular bunch known as phthalates. These chemicals are used to help those fragrances linger. It’s why you can pull clothes out of the drawer weeks after washing and they still smell like Tide. Or spray a bit of perfume on Monday and still catch the scent in your car on Tuesday.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to smell like flowers or fruits, right? There’s something immensely rewarding about communing with nature through a spritz to the wrist. It’s the human equivalent of dogs rolling around in another dog’s scent in the yard. Perfume makes us feel primal, even at $200 a bottle. We sure do love it: The global perfume market was estimated at $32.50 billion in 2019.
But what if you could get the same experience of that fancy perfume but without all the harsh chemicals? Or without the hefty price tag? What if you could make your own perfume?
It’s easier than you probably think. And as COVID keeps us looking for new hobbies, this is one worth a try.
One important thing about DIY perfumes: they don’t linger. But they do linger long enough. So, while you may have to reapply more often, think of it like that dog rolling around in the grass. That’s the fun part anyway, right? Who wants to be situated inside of a heavy cloud full of fragrance all the time?
The most common natural fragrances for DIYing perfume are essential oils. These are distilled from a number of natural products like flowers, seeds, fruits, barks, and leaves. These substances are modified into the basis of synthetic fragrances, too, which you typically find in conventional perfumes. Think of rose, as an example. It’s a distinguishable scent, even when it’s artificial. And it’s often artificial.
There are a number of essential oil starter kits if you don’t have one yet. Your best bet is going to be to find one that offers a range of singular scents rather than pre-made blends. Look for those that offer some basics, like lavender, lemon, sweet orange, lemongrass, rosemary, and eucalyptus. Essential oils have many uses beyond perfume making, so they tend to be a worthwhile investment.
Of course, even though they’re natural, essential oils can bring some health risks if overused. Some people with sensitive skin should use caution. And in some cases, some aren’t suited for pregnant women or small children. So be sure to read the fine print.
How to make your own perfume with essential oils
The simplest method is to dilute an essential oil with a carrier oil. A carrier oil is a neutral like jojoba, sunflower seed, or argan oil. Add your carrier oil almost three-quarters to the top of a small roller or pump bottle (or a spray bottle with a large enough nozzle for oils). Begin to add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Mix well, let it settle for a minute, and smell. If it’s not strong enough, add a few more drops. Be sure to shake before use. You can dab this on wrists and neck and smooth into hair.
To make a thinner perfume, more like what you may be used to, there are two great substances to use. The first is vodka, as it’s virtually odorless. Don’t substitute with rubbing alcohol as that has a strong odor. You can also find perfumer’s alcohol if you prefer.
Another option that works well (especially for kids) is witch hazel. Be sure to get the unscented kind.
Using the same method as the oil, you’re going to rely mostly on your bulk liquid here. In this case, you can use any perfume bottle or sprayer. Fill with your liquid close to the top. Begin to add your oils. You can do a single scent, like rose or lavender. But the real magic, of course, comes from the alchemy of mixing scents. Love something like Kenzo’s Flower scent? Mix vanilla and rose until you find the perfect notes. Love something woodsier like Byredo’s Gypsy Water? Try sandalwood and vetiver.
The best part about making your own perfume is, well, making your own perfume. You can wing it, or be precise and track your “formulas.” Make a few different scents. Spritz one kind under your arms and another kind on your neck. Spray some in your car or on your pillow before bed.
As long as you use your new perfume addiction to enhance your life, not cover it up, you really can’t go wrong.
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Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.