Birth of Nightcap: My Apothecary Experience

Few weeks ago, I came across a custom botanic perfume making workshop hosted by Aba Love Apothecary. The workshop involved making your own perfume using essential oils extracted from plants. As an individual who enjoys perfumes, the selling point was using non-synthetic fragrances to develop my own, personal fragrance.

The first half of the 3 hour session involved smelling 17 different essential oils. The instructor, Aba, provided us with scent tester strips dipped in essential oil and we were to guess what each fragrance was. We learned about what the fragrances did (stress reliever, energy projection, etc), what level note it was mostly used for (base, middle/heart, or top), and what other fragrances it complements. To briefly go over, top notes are the scents we identify first, and it is also the first to evaporate. Middle notes follow once the top notes start to disappear. Base notes are the longest lasting note, which blends with your skin and natural scent (which could explain why your best friend's perfume doesn't smell so great on you).

Inhaling and appreciating the scents involved a special technique. We had to sit with our back straight, waving the blotted scent strips under the tip of our nose. We inhaled the scent - long inhale, followed by a short inhale, repeating the pattern to our own liking. With each scent, we wrote down what smells we perceived (woody, spicy, earthy, etc), taking an occasional break by smelling the coffee beans. Tip: coffee beans help with olfactory fatigue, which is when your senses become overwhelmed with scents.

Numbered, blotted scent strips. Aba did not tell us what the scent was as she handed those out for us to guess, hence the numbers instead of actual names of the plants. Notice how certain oils produced a very visible color, while others didn't. 

Numbered, blotted scent strips. Aba did not tell us what the scent was as she handed those out for us to guess, hence the numbers instead of actual names of the plants. Notice how certain oils produced a very visible color, while others didn't. 

Guessing what the scent was the trickiest part for me. I’m used to synthetic materials so I could never correctly guess what each scent was. Rose, ginger, and black pepper were an easy guess, others like tobacco and basil did not even match closely with my guesses (for tobacco, I guessed "something sweet"; for basil, I guessed carrot). Going back to top, middle and base notes, the scents blotted on the strips had different rates of evaporation. Some lingered even after the session. Others lost its distinct scent within minutes.

I will not go into detail about what each essential oil we tested, what those oils did (in terms of energy and mood), what pairings worked out well, as these information are essential to the class, and I would not want to take it away from Aba. 

The second half of the session was us choosing our preferred essential oils to use to create our own perfume. We chose 4~5 essential oils, at least 3 of them having to be a base, middle and top note. It took few tries, but I settled for black pepper (B), ylang ylang (Y), rose (R) and lavender (L). I chose black pepper because it reminded me of Prada L’Homme, a perfume I like. Ylang ylang and rose provided a feminine touch, and lavender was relaxing. Normally, I stay away from anything lavender-y, but its absolute-ness made it tolerable, if not addicting. Black pepper can be used as a middle/top note, and it promotes alertness and aids in curbing addiction. Ylang ylang is a "heartnote”, providing femininity. Rose, which was an absolute oil, adds in feminine depth, thus known as “Queen of Love”. Lavender was also an absolute. Absolutes are highly concentrated and the scent is more true to nature.

Taking a pipette, I added a drop of each oil into a vial, starting with the B:Y:R:L=1:1:1:1 ratio. Before going into the second round of pipette, we were told to wait as some scents blossom with time. It was good that I did. Initially, the black pepper was seducing, but within minutes, the lavender began to overpower - it was most definitely an absolute. Other absolute oil, rose was hardly noticeable and ylang ylang seemed nonexistent. After second round of “pipetting”, the ratio was now B:Y:R:L=1:2:2:1. The ylang ylang and rose came up, but it was still too light. Third round, I settled for B:Y:R:L=2:3:4:1. The Goldilocks in me was pretty satisfied.

Preparing our vials with droplets of oils of scents we preferred. I have twitchy hands so Aba assisted with the pipette-ing.

Preparing our vials with droplets of oils of scents we preferred. I have twitchy hands so Aba assisted with the pipette-ing.

It was very interesting to see how the scent preferences were different with each students. One other student and I differed in only one essential oil. Yet, hers produced a completely different product which was more woodsy and masculine, whereas my scent was more relaxing and spa-like. Some students favored a particular fragrance, while I couldn’t even fathom the thought of having that scent on me. Body chemistry and personal preference is that important.

Once we reached our final essential oil balance, we had it sit for 5~10 minutes, again for the purpose of waiting for the blossoming scents. Once I decided I was satisfied with the overall scent, it was time for the carrier oil. Aba used the organic goldenseed jojoba oil as our carrier oil. The vial was capped with a rollerball top-thus my own roll-on perfume!

Final touch with the carrier oil.

Final touch with the carrier oil.

After several idea exchanges, my fragrance was labeled “Nightcap”. Perfect name in that the scent is therapeutic and spa-like - a great way to end the day.

I enjoyed the experience in making my own scent. It’s one of a kind, and depending on how strong the essential oil you use, even if you apply the same essential oils and drop ratios as my Nightcap, the scent would be different. I like knowing that something that is applied on my skin is not a synthetic, unhealthy ingredient. It’s great knowing that once you know what you like, you can make your own fragrance. Don’t forget, perfumes are inhaled and also absorbed into your skin. Perhaps going a natural route, even for perfumes, is another aspect of natural beauty to think about.