Back to Bases
People often assume that they must dislike something in the perfume base if they dislike a fragrance; that may be a likely possibility with oil perfumes since the oil base can often contain solvents that may have off odors to a subset of people, but it’s less likely with alcohol perfumes. The base of most alcohol perfumes on the market today is SD 39C alcohol, which is a specially denatured alcohol that has about the least amount of odor for denatured alcohol. If you look on the back of your perfume boxes, you’ll probably see SD 39C on most of them. You may see SD 40B on some, which is denatured with a substance called Bitrex. Neither one is likely to cause people to dislike the scent because any alcohol harshness should dissipate within a few minutes of application. Unless you dislike all perfumes with alcohol, then an alcohol base isn’t a likely culprit. (If you do dislike alcohol perfumes, you can find nice alternatives with natural lines that use oil bases with no solvents added.)
Maybe some lines do add a standard percentage of a particular solvent, like dipropylene glycol, to the alcohol base, but most artisan brands do not. Sometimes solvents are used to add tenacity to blends. You can sample to see what brands work for you and what scents in each line you like. Of course perfumers will have some ingredients they love and use more frequently, so your own feelings towards those ingredients will influence whether you like their general style.
With my alcohol-based scents, unless you dislike standard denatured alcohol, then you need to blame the blend and not the base when a scent doesn’t work for you. I don’t add anything to the base besides the alcohol: no solvents, just a pure alcohol base. There’s no single ingredient common to all my scents other than alcohol, so they will all be different.
I also don’t pre-blend my own accord bases the way some perfumers do. For example, I use a unique blend to create a different amber accord in each scent rather than mixing a generalized amber accord to use in all my scents. That way I can tailor the accords to each scent. I do refer back to my notes and formulas so I don’t have to start from square one each time, but I develop the accords to fit each scent. There’s no right or wrong method, but I prefer to individualize each scent that way.
To complicate matters, a few ingredients already come with solvents as thinners; for example, the musk galoxolide is available neat or in a base of isopropyl myristate, diethyl phthalate, or benzyl benzoate. Various solvents may end up added to the finished perfume at low concentrations along with a few ingredients that go into it, unless the neat forms of these ingredients are used. That means as a consumer you’ll dislike blends with those pre-diluted ingredients if you are super sensitive to the solvent used, but you won’t dislike the whole brand unless they use that ingredient in every scent, which is unlikely. (I don’t currently use galoxolide in anything, btw.)
I’m not fond of the solvents listed above (DEP, IPM, BB) or of dipropylene glycol (DPG). BB has a cardboard smell to me, and DPG sometimes can have a slight plastic smell to me. I’ve found triethyl citrate (TEC) to have the least odor to my nose, but others may feel differently. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using solvents and in fact they are useful for pre-diluting some ingredients and for adding fixation, but they can add very light scents of their own, which is something to consider when you’re formulating.
I think there is some truth to the general feeling people have about bases, but it’s a complex topic. We’ve touched on it here before on this blog and I thought the above might add some more useful information. If you want to read other posts with information on perfume making and ingredients, you can click on the perfume making and ingredients category listed on the right sidebar (near the bottom).
Laurie, what an informative post, thank you!
Thanks, Amy! Glad it was useful to you. I get a lot of questions about bases so I thought it deserved another post.