Luxury Soaps Using Natural Perfumery

There has been an upsurge of interest in handcrafted natural perfume. In particular, Mandy Aftel's wonderful book, Essence and Alchemy, sparked an interest that led to the availability of many formerly obscure aromatics and perfumery tools. Once you've been making soap for a while, and if you use essential oils, you will have accumulated a stash of the “usual suspect” aroma materials such as lavender, peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, patchouli, rose geranium, clary sage, rosewood, sweet orange, grapefruit, lemon grass, and litsea cubeba. You have worked with these and others and have at least a basic understanding of their properties. With the addition of a few less common and affordable and a few less common and expensive aromas, you can learn to move into “real perfumery.”

The aromatics used in fine fragrance can be overwhelmingly expensive. Perfumery specialists such as White Lotus Aromatics and Liberty Naturals stock rare and exotic aromas in a variety of sizes that allow the small perfume adventurer to sample even the most precious aromas for a relatively reasonable price. Adding rose absolute that at a bargain price costs more than $125 per ounce to scent a big batch of soap is a terrifying prospect. If you make a lot of soap, buying some essential oils by the pound is not uncommon, so “sticker shock” may hold precious aromatics out of reach. The ability to make small batches is the key to enjoying using exquisite natural perfumes in soap. Remember that you're only using a tiny amount as opposed to the ounces and ounces you use in a big batch of soap.

Rose and jasmine are often thought of as the heart of perfumery. Surprisingly, when many people smell the real thing, they don't like it. Other beautiful “heart” scents include neroli, tuberose, frangipani, and lotus.

To begin experimenting with perfumery, do some research. As mentioned earlier, a great source of education is the perfume counter at department stores. Besides her strictly perfumery book, Mandy Aftel collaborated on a cookbook called Aroma, and you can use that to educate yourself about the aromas of foods — a place you may not have thought to look for perfumery inspiration. From the very specific aroma of cardamom in Scandinavian sweet rolls to the “so that's what that is” aroma of labdanum in your favorite cola, what you like to eat can be quite related to what you like to smell.

Fine Fragrance Soap Project

You can make some incredible aromas with the essential oils you already have, and you can enhance, deepen, and beautify them further with the inclusion of just two or three pricey items. Once you graduate to using fine fragrances, you need perfumer's alcohol and pipettes to work with the precious oils in a way that doesn't waste them. After you've used a pipette to move the scent material to the blending container, get as much of it back into the original bottle as possible. When you've done that, use perfumer's alcohol in a small bottle to rinse the pipette. After you've cleaned the pipettes of each material, you'll have an amazing smelling eau de toilette in the bottle.

Here's a list of common essential oils:

  • Lavender

  • Patchouli

  • Rosewood

  • Rose geranium

  • Clary sage

  • Orange

  • Peppermint

Here are some uncommon, yet reasonably priced, aroma sources:

  • Balsam Peru

  • Benzoin resin

Here are some precious aromas that are a good place to start:

  • Rose absolute

  • Jasmine absolute

  • Neroli essential oil

  • Tuberose concrete

  • Labdanum absolute

Make a one-pound batch of soap using the luxury fixed oils you've had stashed. When your soap is at a thin trace, divide it into small molds. Add your perfume to the small bars-to-be drop by drop, stirring well to incorporate the scent throughout. Do one with the top notes, one with the heart, one with the base, a couple of bars with the full fragrance, and the rest with single notes of the blend.

When you are experimenting, make careful notes of what went into each bar. When you are assessing the aromas later, take note of which aroma survived the best, partially, or not at all. When you tinker with micro-batches, you get a variety of luxury soaps and an excellent set of lessons on how to put your precious aroma materials to their best use in soapmaking.

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