If only it was as easy as just picking all your favorite scents! Part aromatherapy and part perfumery, finding a perfect, signature essential oil is a tricky task. This three-part series aims to explore the different aspects of choosing scents that can make or break an essential oil blend, and to demystify some of the language used to categorize scents and essences. The first part will explain the concepts of top, intermediary or heart and base notes; the second part will describe aromatherapy principles and how they can be applied to a mix, as well as the different scent families and how they pair with each other; and the final installment of this series will look at the carrier bases and integrate the principles discussed in the first two. Happy reading!
Principles of proportion The famous perfumer Jean Carles established some of the most popular principles of perfumery, defining top, intermediate (heart) and base notes. These different elements of a blend are classified according to their volatility, that is, their propensity for wafting in the air, and tenacity, which is to say their ultimate duration.
Base notes have the most staying power of any scent, like Divine Essence basil exotic organic essential oil: they’ll mellow out with time and their aroma will improve after an hour or two. They add complexity to a scent, and they’re the main scent responsible for making it memorable, but they also tend to smell off when on their own: for example, the lovely Jasmine essential oil adds a simply sublime element to mixes, but it is somewhat off-putting when diffused pure. Cinnamon, cedar wood and rose are other essential oils that fit into this category.
Intermediate or heart notes are perhaps the most relevant essential oil to consider when making a massage oil blend. With a balance of volatility and tenacity, they’ll blossom to their fullest within the time frame of a massage; as with the base notes, however, it is usually best to modify them with a top note, which will create the scent’s first impression. Basil, geranium and ylang ylang are among the intermediate notes established by Jean Carles, and rosemary, pine and thyme can also considered heart notes.
Top notes, then, are the second most important notes to consider when making an essential oil blend. Highly volatile, these oils will have an immediate effect, and when paired appropriately with a heart note, they’ll modify the scent harmoniously. They tend to be over-represented among ready-made essential oil blends: due to their instant intensity, it is perhaps easier to convince a prospective buyer of the value of a particular scent if it is pleasant from the first sniff. This category of scents included most citrus notes, such as sweet orange, grapefruit and lemon, as well as lavender, peppermint, lemongrass and ravensara. Jean Carles, when outlining these principles, favored using base notes in the highest proportion; however, making a perfume is an altogether different task than making scented massage oils, or even picking essential oils to diffuse. We recommend using the heart notes in the highest proportion, followed by top notes, and using base notes sparingly.
Guide to Mixing Essential Oils, part 2: Aromatherapy and Scent Families Once you’ve familiarized yourself with base, intermediary and top notes, the next step is to consider what type of scent to build your blend around, and how to go about doing so. While there are no strict rules per se as to which types of essential oils will go together, there are some loose principles: if you go about mixing oils from every family of scent without consideration as to which ones may go together, you’re much more likely to end up with a muddy, unpleasant aroma than a successful one, after all. Different essential oils can be used for various purposes and therapeutic ends. It’s important to consider these functions when making a blend, as they can determine which ingredients are most suitable. Principles of aromatherapy Essential oils also have different effects and functions; while it is true that some of these are more up for debate than others – for example, lavender isn’t relaxing to someone who simply hates it – certain oils do as a general rule fulfill these roles better than other. Therapeutic values of these oils are oftentimes rooted in their chemical composition: while spike lavender can help relieve pain, sweet orange essential oil simply cannot. Here are some examples of functions for essential oils as well as oils that can be used for these purposes.
Relaxing oils chase away anxiety and stress, and they can also help those suffering from insomnia.
| True Lavender Spanish Marjoram|
|Stimulating oils boost energy levels and concentration, bringing about wakefulness and clarity of mind.||
|Analgesic oils relieve pain and ease muscular tensions. They have a high cross-over with decongestant oils.|
Decongestant oils clear up mucus and ease breathing. They can be rubbed on the chest, diffused or used in massage.
|Anti-depressant oils help regulate moods and ease sadness and numbness. These oils often cross-over into the stimulating oil category.||
Families of scent Families of scent are categorized loosely according to the nature of ingredients and their scents. It is not an exact science, and certain aromas defy categorization: for example, sandalwood is neither arboreal nor properly a resin, and it is therefore included in the atypical category. Families of scents, save perhaps for the atypical category, tend to pair well together, and certain categories are more likely (though not guaranteed!) to harmonize with other ones. Floral. Extracted from flowers, these scents tend to pair well with sweet scents, resins, atypical scents such as sandalwood and certain spices. They generally clash with arboreal scents, though this effect can be mitigated by adding fruit-based oils, or carefully balancing them. Fruits. Tending to be in the top note category, these essential oils are extracted primarily from citrus fruits. They pair well with spices and floral scents, as well as some arboreals: pine and lemon, for example, are an exceptionally popular combination in deodorizers. They’re known for their uplifting and stimulating effect: while relatively rare in perfumes, they’re extremely popular in massage oils in part for this reason. Herbs. This category can be distinguished from the spice category due to its usually milder scents, which are mostly extracted from leaves. Some exceptions such as garlic blur the line between spice and herbs, but they tend to be unpopular in perfume and massage oils. These scents tend to pair particularly well with arboreal and citrus aromas: the fresher and sharper the scent, the more they tend to complement woodsy smells, and the milder, fuller scents tend to complement fruits better. Spices. Including cinnamon and ginger, these aromas complement fruits and arboreal scents particularly well. These scents are usually much more intense and slightly sweeter on average than herbs. They generally work as accents to a main scent, and usually aren’t in the greatest proportion. Arboreal. These scents tend to be extracted from needles, leaves and woods, and they often have decongestant properties. They pair well with each other, often not needing other families, but they can also be combined successfully with fruits and spices. Resins. Rare in essential oils, these scents are unusually popular in incense. They can pair well with floral scents and fruits, but they’re very rare in massage oils and diffusion. A notable exception is camphor, because of its analgesic properties. Atypicals. Sometimes called exotics, this category includes ingredients that sometimes could quite literally fit into another category, but that have scents that have significant differences from these families. For example, sandalwood would be an arboreal, but its scent is so sweet that it is too distinct from pine, black spruce and others to follow the same pairing rules. Guide to Mixing Essential Oils, part 3: Picking a Blend and Carrier Bases In this last part of our guide, we’re aiming to help you integrate the different aspects covered by the two previous installments of this series. This guide is meant to provide you with a useful starting point for picking out oils and creating harmonious scents, but it is by no means an end point nor a series of rules to follow to the letter: experimentation is absolutely key to the process! Choosing the right products When choosing essential oils, it’s important to try and pick ones that are organic: not just for the planet, but for the added aroma therapeutic benefits. The Divine Essence we carry at Lierre.ca, for example, picks out the ingredients from which they extract their oils carefully, and respect both organic and ethical criteria. In many cases, it isn’t just the essential oils you’re trying to choose, but the medium in which you infuse them. The same rule of thumb applies here: organic, locally and ethically sourced brands tend to be of higher quality, and it’s easier to combine the essential oils uniformly in these types of products. For example, L’Herbier’s Neutral Balm makes a particularly wonderful carrier base for essential oils, since the locally sourced beeswax from which it is made is of much higher quality – and therefore much smoother – than competing brands. If you’re hesitating between using a massage oil, gel, cream, lotion or balm, you may want to consult our article on the subject explaining their different advantages and disadvantages. If you’re considering making a massage bar, we also have a recent blog post that gives you a detailed run-down of how to proceed. The carrier medium you end up choosing may not affect the particular oils you choose to use, but it’s very likely to determine the proportion of base, heart and top note essential oils that will work best for you.
How to pick essential oils for a blend If you’ve read the previous installments of this article, you should have a basic grasp of the different functions of essential oils as well as a loose idea as to how to match them. After having considered what kind of purpose you want to achieve your essential oil blend, you should have narrowed your search for ingredients down to a short list of ingredients that may be suitable. For example, camphor, peppermint and spike lavender all work as analgesics, but they’re also from different scent families. You may already have a preference for one of these: from there, you can try and find different groups of scents that will complement your essential oil of choice appropriately. Following the last example, you may prefer to use peppermint, a sharp, fresh-smelling herb, which complements arboreal scents particularly well. A top note, it can therefore be paired successfully with cedarwood, a base note. If you wish to accentuate the analgesic and decongestant effects of peppermint, eucalyptus would be a good choice of heart note; otherwise, other herbs such as rosemary could complement the mix as well. Determining the proper proportion for such a mix, then, also depends on its use: in a massage oil, the heart and top notes should dominate, with for example 4 drops of peppermint, 5 drops of eucalyptus and one or two drops of cedarwood. In a massage bar, however, which tends to be used over longer periods of time, the proportion of cedarwood could be increased to 3 or 4 drops, the eucalyptus could stay at 5 drops and the peppermint could be only 2. You could add a drop of two of spike lavender to either of these mixes for a more complex scent. It’s important to try different proportions of these oils first, using testing bottles or scent strips, before committing to using large amounts. When looking to create your own signature blend of essential oils, whether it is intended for diffusion or for massage products, a good rule is to always consider function first, and to build your list of ingredients from there. Proportions of essential oils also vary according to the carrier base, which should also be determined according to function and quality. Discovering different families of scent and experimenting with related aromas is a much better way to achieve a favourable result than simply combining your favourite essential oils, which more often than not won’t complement each other. Different essential oils will have a scent that will achieve its fullest effect in varying time frames, and certain types of scents only mask or even bring out the negative qualities in another. Though we haven’t mentioned it yet, perhaps the most important part of the whole process is to enjoy yourself! Creating your perfect mix is an art, not a science, and it should ultimately be a fun, exploratory process, rather than a tedious exercise. On a final (heart) note, we wish you best of luck with your blends, and happy mixing!