My most popular eBook is definitely my fifty essential oil blends compilation, and I totally get wanting blends that are tried, true, and tested for use in soapmaking. However, it’s not as difficult as it’s made out to be to create your own essential oil blends! In this article, I break down a few easy exercises I use to teach soapmakers to create their own essential oil blends in a practical way.
These exercises are much more fun in a classroom setting, where you can discuss and share with others. If you have a partner in crime or a soapy friend to join in, invite them over and get started! If not, go for it solo – the hands-on exercises are why it works so well to connect the dots.
Ready to create your own essential oil blends?
First, if you are a beginner, you want to get acquainted with your essential oils. You’ll begin by identifying if an essential oil is a top, middle, or base note and what fragrance family or category it belongs to. At this stage, there are no wrong answers!
What You Need to Create Your Own Essential Oil Blends
The supplies that you need to dive in are really pretty basic:
- Essential Oil Collection: Choose a collection of about five to ten essential oils to start with. You don’t want to dive in with too many up from the get-go! If you aren’t sure where to start, I wrote about my top ten recommended essentials oils here, and I reached out to fellow industry pros to compile their top ten favorites in a post, too.
- Disposable Pipettes: I’m a super eco-friendly girl, but disposable pipettes are one place that I just can’t sacrifice the convenience of disposable. Glass pipettes are a pain in the rear to clean, but if you would prefer a reusable option, that’s what you want to do! (Another source for disposable pipettes.)
- Chemical Resistant Gloves: I prefer nitrile gloves as they fit snugly, but don’t break down if I spill anything on them. (Latex gloves can deteriorate in contact with essential oils, plus I’m allergic to latex.)
- Fragrance Testing Strips: Fragrance blotters, testing strips, or sachet cards are extremely handy for blending your own fragrance blends. (There’s also a huge variety of fragrance testing strips/cards out there to try!) If you don’t have any on hand or don’t want to order any, you can use watercolor paper or heavy duty coffee filters cut into strips/cards.
- Fragrance Wheel: I prefer Michael Edwards’ fragrance wheel, but there are a ton of options out there. Just hit up a Google search!
- Notebook & Pen: Start a notebook specifically for scent blending. Trust me on this one! When I first started, I just used my regular formulating notebook, but I couldn’t easily reference notes about fragrances or essential oils that way. Nowadays, I keep them separate.
- Optional Coffee Beans: Some folks like to sniff coffee beans to “cleanse” their nose when blending. I prefer to simply take a nice walk outside every 15 to 30 minutes to snag some fresh air. Whatever you do, do not spend more than an hour or two working up-close and personal with essential oils, or you may end up with a migraine or nausea.
Getting Ready to Create Your Own Essential Oil Blends
Prepare your workspace, so you can focus – clear out the clutter, wipe down your surface, etc. Lay down a piece of protective covering, like a sheet of freezer paper, on your surface, if you are working on your kitchen counter, a wood table, or a plastic table. I formulate on a stainless steel table, so I don’t mind spilling on it!
Label each of your fragrance testing strips with the name of your essential oil. If you have multiple essential oils of different botanical varieties, use the latin name. Make sure to write down the botanical name, country of origin, and supplier for each oil you are working with in your notebook, for reference.
Place a single drop of each essential oil on its corresponding fragrance strip. Tip: Bend your fragrance strip about two inches down. When you place the strip back down on the table, the part of the fragrance strip with essential oil on it is in the air. Again, this isn’t something I bother with, but if you are working on a delicate surface, it sure is handy!
Once you have finished prepping all of your fragrance strips, ensure all of your essential oil bottles are closed securely and out of your way.
One by one, you will start by smelling your fragrance strips and making notes in your notebook. Keep the fragrance strip away from your face – don’t inhale it! You want to identify if an essential oil is a top, middle, or base note, as well as what fragrance category (on your fragrance wheel) it falls into.
Top notes are the scents that you smell quickly, when you first open a bottle or smell a product. Top notes evaporate the fastest of other notes, and rely on the middle and base notes to anchor them.
Middle notes provide the body of the fragrance, and are smelled after the top notes have faded or been interpreted by the nose.
Base notes are the notes that linger and are smelled last. They’re the notes with all the sticking power, and smell heavy. Without the use of base notes, fragrance notes will evaporate very quickly and not provide staying power, especially in cold process soapmaking.
It’s easiest to consider the range of base to middle to top notes as a spectrum, some essential oils will fall in between categories. Don’t rely on classifications made by other people, either, as the varying levels of particular constituents, the botanical variety, country of origin, etc., will all change how the essential oil smells. For example, your particular cedarwood essential oil could be much more of a base note than mine!
As for fragrance families, read up from the source of your fragrance wheel. Each fragrance wheel out there is slightly different, and many have different defined families than others.
When you have sniffed all your essential oils and made notes about each one, you are ready to move on to blending!
It’s Time to Create Your Own Essential Oil Blends!
The easiest blends are those in equal parts, so I usually have students start by smelling two fragrance testing strips together, cycling through each essential oil and taking notes on the pairs they like.
Once you have cycled through each possible pairing, go back to the ones you noted as smelling good to your nose. Identify whether the two essential oils you have paired together are top, middle, or base notes by using your notes from before.
A nice and easy essential oil blend of a top, middle, and base note in equal parts is a great start. So, for each pairing, determine what notes are missing.
For instance, if your two essential oils are orange and lavender, you have a top and middle note. Since you would be lacking a base note, try smelling each of your base notes with the pairing. For example, adding cedarwood, patchouli, cinnamon, or clove.
Depending on your chosen essential oils, you may need to modify the blend to use it in soapmaking or products safely. So, if you have equal parts lavender, orange, and clove, you may end up taking a blend from:
33% Lavender, 33% Orange, 33% Clove
33% Lavender, 33% Orange, 23% Patchouli, 10% Clove
If one of your pairings is two top notes, then try it with various single middle and base notes to round it out. You might also want to try two different pairings together. For instance, let’s say in your notes you chose lavender and orange as a good combo, as well as rosemary and cedarwood. Try smelling the four altogether.
The nice thing about using fragrance testing strips in this way is that you can play to your heart’s content and only use one drop of each of your essential oils!
I also like to turn to color theory and the fragrance families on a fragrance wheel to create essential oil blends. By combining essential oils from your fragrance wheel in monochromatic, complementary, split complementary, double complementary, analogous, and triad arrangements, you can create complex and beautiful essential oil blends.
An example of each combination, using Michael Edwards’ fragrance wheel:
- A monochromatic blend: Using essential oils from one category together in a blend, i.e. all Citrus essential oils
- A complementary blend: Using essential oils from categories that are directly opposite one another on the wheel, i.e. Soft Florals and Dry Woods together
- A split complementary blend: Using essential oils from two categories next to a complementary category, i.e. Citrus and Dry Woods mixed with Floral Oriental
- A double complementary blend: Using essential oils from two sets of complementary categories, i.e. Green and Woody Oriental (complementary), with Citrus and Soft Oriental (complementary)
- An analogous blend: Using essential oils from categories that sit next to each other on the wheel, i.e. Fruity, Green, Water, and Citrus together
- A triad blend: Using essential oils from triad placements on the wheel. (Unfortunately, this particular wheel has an odd number of categories for triad placement, so you end up with a an in-between category), i.e. Green and Dry Woods with something in between Soft Oriental and Oriental
If you need further help identifying where each of these relationships fall on the wheel, here’s a great poster reference for color theory from Jeff of Paper Leaf.
By this point, you usually will have a good handle on knowing which essential oils you like together and which ones you don’t. Many students typically realize that some essential oils they hate solo are beautiful in a blend, so don’t discriminate on which ones you buy based on previous sniffing.
You’ll find that you will start to get more adventurous, wanting to use four or five essential oils in a blend, or altering the ratios from equal parts. Go for it! If you want to use two parts Patchouli instead of one part, simply create a new fragrance testing strip for your patchouli so you have two instead of one! Here are a couple top, middle, and base note ratios to try:
- Heart Heavy: 25% Top Note (1 strip), 50% Middle Note (2 strips), 25% Base Note (1 strip)
- Feminine: 50% Top Note (2 strips), 25% Middle Note (1 strip), 25% Base Note (1 strip)
- Masculine: 25% Top Note (1 strip), 25% Middle Note (1 strip), 50% Base Note (2 strips)
Remember to try to balance across the top, middle, and base note spectrum by including essential oils that represent each of the notes for added longevity and structure in your blends. Check your usage rates, and see if you need to alter a blend by adding a secondary base, middle, or top note to reduce another essential oil’s usage rate.