Make Your Own Cologne
• Shelley Stonebrook
• July 15, 2013
• 10:02 am
The natural soaps and detergents industry has gotten quite creative in recent years when concocting their fragrances. Grapefruits and sandalwood lend their scents to laundry powders and eucalyptus and tea tree castile soaps have found their way into my shower.
I recently came across a new favorite dish soap — lavender bergamot — that, with its decidedly woodsy aroma, turned my mind to men’s cologne. (Find out how to make floral-based perfumes, if that sounds more like you.)
Do men’s fragrances need to be the ultra-bold, musky, often toxic chemical soups found at the department store? With my smell-palette tuned to natural aromas, I was inspired to try concocting my own natural colognes for friends and family using essential oils. (Of course you can make your own laundry soap or dishwashing detergent, but that’s for another day.)
Understand Fragrance Families
Fragrances can be divided into a number of categories or “families.” In order to have success in cologne alchemy, you need to determine which fragrance families are your favorites. Here are the four main families:
Animal musks are often overpoweringly strong and can smell rancid if sniffed on their own. For this reason, they are used in minute amounts in store-bought colognes to impart a “dark note of primitive, exotic mystery,” as M.T. McLeod writes in her article on home perfume making.
Spicy or woodsy smells come from bitter tree and spice sources, such as clove and cinnamon. Oak, cedar, myrrh, and roots and barks lend their aromas to this group. Just a touch of cinnamon packs a big punch to muffins or cereals and it will do the same for colognes.
Herbaceous fragrances smell fresh, green and “foody.” Citrus, lavender, camphor, and eucalyptus are just a few of the herbal scents in this family group and they can add a briskness to your colognes. Many commercial colognes are based on the herb family of scents.
Floral fragrances are sweet and well, flowery. This group is typically most utilized in perfume-making and doesn’t play the starring roll in colognes. However, when mixed appropriately with woodsy and herbal scents, a touch of floral can create a soothing balance of softness. Think of that lavender with bergamot that got me started with this in the first place.
Choosing the fragrances to mix and match is the most difficult part of making cologne. The technique is so easy you’ll realize that you aren’t paying for labor when you purchase expensive colognes from the department store. It all comes down to choosing the right essential oils.
The basic combo is:
One part essential oils
Six parts perfume diluent (or clear alcohol such as vodka or everclear)
One part fixative (liquid benzoin or powdered orrisroot)
I put about 40 to 60 drops of essential oil in a half-pint canning jar (a similarly sized spray bottle would work, too) and top it off with the diluent. I use a metal teaspoon to mix in the final fixative.
The most expensive part of the process is purchasing your cache of essential oils. However, a little goes a long way and you’ll constantly be mixing and matching, so your oils should last for many batches of cologne, and for other projects. The good news is there are dozens of ways to use essential oils around the house, from bath time aromatherapy to cleaning kitchen countertops.
Vanilla and cinnamon make an excellent combo — and add just a few drops of sandalwood or cedar to bring out the woodsiness. Lemongrass with citrus is fresh and springy. Almond and coconut with a splash of clove is a perfect way to lift spirits in the wintertime. By all means, go crazy, but remember that balancing the four fragrance families is key — some aromas can be overpowering, so adjust concoctions very gradually. And, of course, if you are making colognes for friends and family, think of those scents that the recipient will most enjoy. Natural smells are starkly different from the chemically enhanced, store-bought scents many of us have grown used to.