Botanical Fixatives in Natural Perfumes

Essential Oil Fixatives - Perfume Application

When you first start wearing botanical perfumes, you may notice how brief the aromatic lifespan of some blends are. Sometimes this is the desired effect or is simply the result of formulations that are restricted primarily to top notes. Other times, it’s preferable to have the perfume linger so as to enjoy the shapeshifting nature of the aromatic dry down, as each layer of scent molecules is revealed and then evaporates at varying speeds. Done well, this creates a complex symphony of aroma that leaves one marveling at the multi-faceted nature of the fragrance.

By their very nature, botanical perfumes tend to be more delicate and ephemeral than most fragrances that use synthetic fixatives. Botanical perfumes can, however, be created in a way that will last all day, and sometimes even longer. The desired length of tenacity in a fragrance will vary with the intention of the creator, but it is very useful to be able to direct longevity as desired.

Fixatives are always an important part of perfumery, but especially for those individuals whose skin quickly absorbs perfumes so that the scent rapidly fades. Humidity, skin chemistry, body temperature, and other factors are all contributing factors, but regardless of cause, fixatives will help to ensure an extended aromatic experience. Given the precious and expensive nature of perfume ingredients, extending their life allows us to enjoy them that much longer.

Dripping oil into a roll on oil bottle.

The Architecture of a Scent

One of the most common ways of formulating botanical perfumes is in a structure of base notes, heart notes, and top notes. These are essentially delineated by the rate of evaporation, which is to say their “tenacity” or how long they can be perceived.

Top notes (or head notes) are most readily noticeable in a fragrance, being made up of small, highly volatile molecules that rapidly evaporate. Petitgrain, mandarin, and pink pepper are all popular top notes.    

Middle notes (or heart notes) are what is revealed as the top notes start to dissipate, and they also serve to smooth out and give body and nuance to the overall fragrance. They also blend with the base notes and can shift the overall impression of the fragrance. Rose, jasmine, and lavender are common heart notes.

Base notes are the longest-lasting notes in a scent, made up of heavier and denser compounds that evaporate the slowest. It is in the essences that make up this layer of the perfume that we find our fixatives. Often rich, heavy, and complex, some can be perfumes all on their own.

By creating a lasting and rich foundation, the entire fragrance’s life is extended and deepened. Although this is the class where we will find the majority of our fixatives, it is important to note that not all base notes are considered to be effective fixatives. When used with skill, base notes can accentuate the rest of the notes to bring out specific nuances of the overall fragrance. Sandalwood, oakmoss, and vanilla bean are base notes that also serve as effective fixatives.  

 Bottles of essential oils surrounded by fresh plants and a dark and evocative scene.

Fixative Profiles

This list is not intended to be exhaustive but rather to highlight some fixatives I have personally worked with and find of particular use in botanical perfumery. These are a few of my favorite widely available fixatives that I believe are well worth exploring in your own formulas.

Note: Many botanical fixatives are quite resinous in nature, so many of them are solvent extracted in some way, whether as absolutes or sometimes even as handmade tinctured tree resins. In order to be an adequate fixative, the substance needs to not just have lingering power on its own, but also the power to make the rest of the fragrance last longer. Ideally, they will exalt and amplify other notes in the perfume.

Oakmoss Absolute: This rich, earthy scent is unmatched in all of perfumery, adding a sensual woodsy tone with exquisite notes of forest floor and musk to a fragrance. Along with its excellent fixative properties, it’s easy to see why it has been one of the most important ingredients in classical perfumery. Oakmoss is of particular importance to the creation of chypres and fougéres. It not only helps botanical perfumes to last significantly longer, but can also highlight and add depth to many other ingredients.

Sandalwood Essential Oil: One of the most widely known perfume ingredients, the warm balsamic embrace of sandalwood is considered both sacred and sensual. Woodsy, incomparably rich, sweet, and lush all at once, the deepness of this note is almost essential to woodsy type fragrances. Unfortunately, sandalwood has also been grossly over-harvested and poached, so please purchase from a sustainable source. High quality Australian sandalwood can be a wonderful choice for botanical perfumery

Tonka Bean Absolute: Similar to vanilla in some ways, this coumarin-rich ingredient is a strong and dependable fixative with a scent reminiscent of freshly mown hay and sweetgrass with vanilla overtones. This is a wonderful base when creating chypres, fougéres, ambery, and many different florals. There is something sunny and inherently warm to tonka bean that lends itself exceptionally well to blending with tobacco and herbaceous fragrances.

Vanilla Absolute: A wonderful fixative with a familiar and much loved scent. Commonly featured in gourmand type fragrances, vanilla’s luxurious nature is also gorgeous alongside white florals such as tuberose, gardenia, or jasmine and provides an earthy roundness to conifer notes. I particularly enjoy incorporating vanilla into green, herbaceous perfumes to soften the sharp edges and give further complexity to ingredients such as violet leaf absolute.

Violet Leaf Absolute: Violet leaf lends an intensely green tone to fragrances while acting as a powerful fixative. Its scent can run the range of sharp and grassy to soft and earthy with a sweet undertone of leafy decay. This spectrum allows for a wide variety of expression in herbaceous, leather, chypre, fougére, and other fragrance types. When skillfully used, violet can contribute a delicate floral note as well, and I consider it one of my favorite notes for creating forest-floor influenced perfumes.

 

Looking to learn more from Kiva Rose?

Sign Up For Her Upcoming Good Medicine Confluence Happening July 28-31, 2022


You may also be interested in:

Essential Oil Belding for DIY Perfumes
Best Carrier Oils for Essential Oils
9 Essential Oils for Stress Relief

Pinterest Image to Essential Oil Fixatives

 


Topics: Aromatherapy, Specialty Ingredients

Kiva- Guest Writer

Written by Kiva- Guest Writer on March 15, 2022

Herbalist, wildcrafter, artist, and storyteller, Kiva Rose lives in a canyon botanical sanctuary within the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. She is also the co-director of the Good Medicine Confluence, held each year in the mountain Southwest, coeditor of Plant Healer Magazine, and publisher of the just-released historical novel, The Medicine Bear by Jesse Wolf Hardin. She also maintains an herbal blog, The Medicine Woman’s Roots.


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Botanical Fixatives in Natural Perfumes

Essential Oil Fixatives - Perfume Application

When you first start wearing botanical perfumes, you may notice how brief the aromatic lifespan of some blends are. Sometimes this is the desired effect or is simply the result of formulations that are restricted primarily to top notes. Other times, it’s preferable to have the perfume linger so as to enjoy the shapeshifting nature of the aromatic dry down, as each layer of scent molecules is revealed and then evaporates at varying speeds. Done well, this creates a complex symphony of aroma that leaves one marveling at the multi-faceted nature of the fragrance.

By their very nature, botanical perfumes tend to be more delicate and ephemeral than most fragrances that use synthetic fixatives. Botanical perfumes can, however, be created in a way that will last all day, and sometimes even longer. The desired length of tenacity in a fragrance will vary with the intention of the creator, but it is very useful to be able to direct longevity as desired.

Fixatives are always an important part of perfumery, but especially for those individuals whose skin quickly absorbs perfumes so that the scent rapidly fades. Humidity, skin chemistry, body temperature, and other factors are all contributing factors, but regardless of cause, fixatives will help to ensure an extended aromatic experience. Given the precious and expensive nature of perfume ingredients, extending their life allows us to enjoy them that much longer.

Dripping oil into a roll on oil bottle.

The Architecture of a Scent

One of the most common ways of formulating botanical perfumes is in a structure of base notes, heart notes, and top notes. These are essentially delineated by the rate of evaporation, which is to say their “tenacity” or how long they can be perceived.

Top notes (or head notes) are most readily noticeable in a fragrance, being made up of small, highly volatile molecules that rapidly evaporate. Petitgrain, mandarin, and pink pepper are all popular top notes.    

Middle notes (or heart notes) are what is revealed as the top notes start to dissipate, and they also serve to smooth out and give body and nuance to the overall fragrance. They also blend with the base notes and can shift the overall impression of the fragrance. Rose, jasmine, and lavender are common heart notes.

Base notes are the longest-lasting notes in a scent, made up of heavier and denser compounds that evaporate the slowest. It is in the essences that make up this layer of the perfume that we find our fixatives. Often rich, heavy, and complex, some can be perfumes all on their own.

By creating a lasting and rich foundation, the entire fragrance’s life is extended and deepened. Although this is the class where we will find the majority of our fixatives, it is important to note that not all base notes are considered to be effective fixatives. When used with skill, base notes can accentuate the rest of the notes to bring out specific nuances of the overall fragrance. Sandalwood, oakmoss, and vanilla bean are base notes that also serve as effective fixatives.  

 Bottles of essential oils surrounded by fresh plants and a dark and evocative scene.

Fixative Profiles

This list is not intended to be exhaustive but rather to highlight some fixatives I have personally worked with and find of particular use in botanical perfumery. These are a few of my favorite widely available fixatives that I believe are well worth exploring in your own formulas.

Note: Many botanical fixatives are quite resinous in nature, so many of them are solvent extracted in some way, whether as absolutes or sometimes even as handmade tinctured tree resins. In order to be an adequate fixative, the substance needs to not just have lingering power on its own, but also the power to make the rest of the fragrance last longer. Ideally, they will exalt and amplify other notes in the perfume.

Oakmoss Absolute: This rich, earthy scent is unmatched in all of perfumery, adding a sensual woodsy tone with exquisite notes of forest floor and musk to a fragrance. Along with its excellent fixative properties, it’s easy to see why it has been one of the most important ingredients in classical perfumery. Oakmoss is of particular importance to the creation of chypres and fougéres. It not only helps botanical perfumes to last significantly longer, but can also highlight and add depth to many other ingredients.

Sandalwood Essential Oil: One of the most widely known perfume ingredients, the warm balsamic embrace of sandalwood is considered both sacred and sensual. Woodsy, incomparably rich, sweet, and lush all at once, the deepness of this note is almost essential to woodsy type fragrances. Unfortunately, sandalwood has also been grossly over-harvested and poached, so please purchase from a sustainable source. High quality Australian sandalwood can be a wonderful choice for botanical perfumery

Tonka Bean Absolute: Similar to vanilla in some ways, this coumarin-rich ingredient is a strong and dependable fixative with a scent reminiscent of freshly mown hay and sweetgrass with vanilla overtones. This is a wonderful base when creating chypres, fougéres, ambery, and many different florals. There is something sunny and inherently warm to tonka bean that lends itself exceptionally well to blending with tobacco and herbaceous fragrances.

Vanilla Absolute: A wonderful fixative with a familiar and much loved scent. Commonly featured in gourmand type fragrances, vanilla’s luxurious nature is also gorgeous alongside white florals such as tuberose, gardenia, or jasmine and provides an earthy roundness to conifer notes. I particularly enjoy incorporating vanilla into green, herbaceous perfumes to soften the sharp edges and give further complexity to ingredients such as violet leaf absolute.

Violet Leaf Absolute: Violet leaf lends an intensely green tone to fragrances while acting as a powerful fixative. Its scent can run the range of sharp and grassy to soft and earthy with a sweet undertone of leafy decay. This spectrum allows for a wide variety of expression in herbaceous, leather, chypre, fougére, and other fragrance types. When skillfully used, violet can contribute a delicate floral note as well, and I consider it one of my favorite notes for creating forest-floor influenced perfumes.

 

Looking to learn more from Kiva Rose?

Sign Up For Her Upcoming Good Medicine Confluence Happening July 28-31, 2022


You may also be interested in:

Essential Oil Belding for DIY Perfumes
Best Carrier Oils for Essential Oils
9 Essential Oils for Stress Relief

Pinterest Image to Essential Oil Fixatives

 


Topics: Aromatherapy, Specialty Ingredients

Kiva- Guest Writer

Written by Kiva- Guest Writer on March 15, 2022

Herbalist, wildcrafter, artist, and storyteller, Kiva Rose lives in a canyon botanical sanctuary within the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. She is also the co-director of the Good Medicine Confluence, held each year in the mountain Southwest, coeditor of Plant Healer Magazine, and publisher of the just-released historical novel, The Medicine Bear by Jesse Wolf Hardin. She also maintains an herbal blog, The Medicine Woman’s Roots.