On June 15th, Amanda Walker from A Perfume Organic, joined us in the kitchen to talk about the mysterious world of commercial fragrances. Her t-shirt said it all: “Every rose has its thorn.”

The word “fragrance” in a product’s ingredient list (whether it’s a body wash, shaving cream, lotion or handsoap…) is considered a trade secret and protected from public scrutiny by something called Confidential Business Information. Fragrance can in fact denote up to hundreds of individual chemicals that are often at best allergens and at worst carcinogens. Businesses demand that they need to keep confidential their formulas; they claim formulas are intellectual property that have to be guarded from competitors. But in truth, other businesses have sophisticated forensic techniques and patent documents to uncover exactly what’s in any fragrance — so really the only group that is shut out from knowing exactly what’s in a product is the general public or the consumer.

We decided to focus on Fabreze since its ingredient list is well anything but a real ingredient list (the label reads: odor eliminator, water, fragrance, non-flammable natural propellent, quality control ingredients…) and this company happens to be a one BILLION dollar business that makes 2000 different products. The Environmental Working Group found that Fabreze, a product used in many schools, has 89 air contaminants.

We think that is pretty stinky. So we turned to Amanda to share with us her techniques for fragrance-making that uses only certified organic essential oils, castor oil and vodka (ok, things are looking up already!). Her process is a pretty old technique, we discovered. The distillation process, or natural perfumery, was all there was before the 1950s when products like Channel No. 5 hit the market using a concoction of novel synthetic chemicals. Advancements in the chemistry lab during the first part of the 20th century, a direct result of war-time experiments supported by the industrial-military complex, paved the way for a whole new way of making smells that is the still the foundation for fragrance-making today.

For the hands-on part of the evening, we got a quick lesson in blending notes. The attendees collectively made a fragrance from the numerous essential oils that Amanda put before our eager noses. When we were done experimenting, Amanda shared some tips for making a balanced scent and then stepped us through a few recipes (see below) for making pine, citrus and floral air freshners.

Next, we made our own car freshners in fun shapes and scents. The lasercutter came in handy for this portion of the demo and we definitely did not make any “little trees!”

And lastly, we hacked an OFF Clip-on. This is a battery-operated fan that is meant to be worn to disperse a cloud of pesticide around oneself. The warning label on this product reads: If inhaled, move person to fresh air. If person is not breathing, call 911! We think it’s a whole lot smarter and less anxiety-inducing to pitch the pesticide package in this product and simply moisten the interior fabric with a blend of citronella, rosemary, cedar atlas and thyme. This should keep the critters away, make a pleasant smelling experience for all and definitely not necessitate calling 911.

Here are the recipes and more info to help you get started!

Room Freshners:

20 ml filtered spring water
10 drops of organic vodka
3 drops of organic castor oil
15 drops of silver pine essential oil
5 drops of sandalwood essential oil
5 drops of cardamon essential oil
3 drops of sage essential oil

20 ml filtered spring water
10 drops of organic vodka
3 drops of organic castor oil
25 drops of sweet orange essential oil
10 drops of lime essential oil
20 drops of grapefruit essential oil
10 drops of mandaran essential oil

20 ml filtered spring water
10 drops of organic vodka
3 drops of organic castor oil
10 drops of geranium essential oil
10 drops of lime essential oil
7 drops of bergamot essential oil
3 drops of pepper essential oil
3 drops of chamomile essential oil
1 drops of cinnamon essential oil

Recipe for bug spray or replacement liquid for the OFF Clip-on:
(makes 1/2 oz)

.3oz organic vodka
5 drops rosemary essential oil
10 drops cedar atlas essential oil
25 drops citronella essential oil
6 drops thyme essential oil
8 drops lemongrass essential oil
5 drops geranium essential oil

Where to shop?
We like Mountain Rose Herbs for essential oils. Much of their selection is certified organic.

If you are feeling inspired and want to make your own essential oils from herbs/spices/fruits etc, HeartMagic offers several different kinds of distillers.

And some books to get you started too:
Essence & Alchemy by Mandy Aftel
Book of Flowers by David Crow

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