Mixing your own blend of essential oils can be a fun way to experiment with your creativity. But because there are hundreds of botanical oils to choose from, covering a diverse mix of flowers, herbs, grasses, bushes, and trees, concocting your own recipes may feel a little…overwhelming. Whether you wish to create a personal scent, a room fragrance, or a pleasing therapeutic aroma, the most important thing to keep in mind is that there are no hard and fast rules for blending.
Our sense of smell has the powerful ability to conjure up emotions and memories, both good and bad. When we inhale essential oils, odor molecules have a near-instantaneous interaction with the brain’s limbic system, which influences stress levels, hormone balance, memory, breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. But fragrance is highly subjective – we do not all love the same smells, after all – and discovering an agreeable mix for you, that serves your purpose, is what makes blending so rewarding. It is both a science and an art form, and the possibilities are practically endless.
Supplies You’ll Need
To get started blending, you should have these items on hand:
- Blending bottles or any small (think ½ or ¼ ounce) glass container with a lid
- Glass dropper or reducer cap
- Fragrance test strips or cotton balls to compare your creations and see how the scents hold up over time
- Gloves to protect your skin
- Paper and pen to track your experiments and record your changes
- A collection of essential oils with your favorite scents
Understanding Scent Notes
Akin to a musical composition, professional perfumers have separated scents into three distinct classes: top notes, middle notes, and base notes. These scent notes are determined by the essential oil’s volatility; lighter molecules evaporate quickly while heavier ones take longer to dissipate. Each note can influence the perception of the other notes. To create a well-rounded and balanced fragrance, you should aim for a combination of all three notes.
Top Notes – These generally provide the first impression of a fragrance. Enduring for an hour or two, top notes are usually light and fresh, but they also evaporate the fastest. Examples of top notes include lemon, lime, bergamot, eucalyptus, peppermint, and basil.
Middle Notes – Once the top note dissipates, the middle notes make their presence known. Also called the heart of the fragrance, middle notes usually last between two and four hours and bear a strong influence on the final base note. Chamomile, jasmine, rose, tea tree, ylang ylang, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clary sage are all considered middle notes.
Base Notes – Once both top and middle notes have completely evaporated, the base notes provide the longest impression of the blend. Taking one to several days to dissolve, base notes are rich and heavy. Patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla, ginger, angelica root, and oakmoss are examples of base notes.
Determining fragrance notes is steeped in subjectivity as well. For instance, some have classed lavender as a top note while others consider it to be more of a middle note. So although it’s good to have a guideline of scent notes (and you can see a full accounting here), what really matters is how you perceive the fragrance.
Grouping Aromas by Type
Another way to begin mixing and matching different oils is to first group them into aroma categories. Here are some examples:
- Floral – Lavender, geranium, jasmine, vanilla, ylang ylang, rose, neroli
- Citrus – Grapefruit, lemon, orange, bergamot, tangerine, lemongrass
- Woody – Fir, cedarwood, cypress, sandalwood, juniper, frankincense, myrrh
- Earthy – Oakmoss, patchouli, valerian, angelica root, vetiver
- Herbaceous – Basil, marjoram, rosemary, clary sage, oregano, thyme, tea tree
- Spicy – Clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, cardamom, aniseed
Generally, oils within the same category blend well together. Floral oils typically jive with woody, citrus, or spicy scents, while citrus blends nicely with spicy and herbaceous oils. Woody oils usually get along with every fragrance category. Feel free to experiment with your own cross-category blends, you never know what aromas you will discover!
Trust Your Senses
Some oils fit into more than one odor profile so you may want to give each bottle in your collection a good whiff and write down your own impressions.
Place one drop of the essential oil you’d like to use in your blend on a perfume testing strip or cotton ball. Holding the strip close to your nose, take a long, deep inhale. Alternatively, let the scent come to you by keeping the strip about an arm’s length away, slowly tracing an invisible circle, and allow the aroma to waft towards you. Close your eyes and jot down whatever comes to mind – feelings, images, colors, sounds, memories, textures, and even shapes.
To see how the aroma will change over time, put the testing strip aside to let it dry for about 30 minutes. Clear your olfactory palette by getting some fresh air outside or smelling coffee beans. Once dry, smell the strip again. Has the aroma changed? Does it make you feel differently than it did earlier? Is there one aroma family – citrus, woody, spicy, and the like – that would best describe it for you?
Once you’ve performed this test on one essential oil, repeat these steps – one at a time – for the rest of your collection.
Ready to get blending? When experimenting with new blends, it’s wise to start small. Use only three oils to begin with – a top note, middle note, and base note. You can always experiment with more complex fragrance combinations once you feel you are getting the hang of it.
Use 10 Drops in Total
During this highly experimental phase, make your first blend with a total of 10 drops. By using such a small amount, you haven’t wasted too much of your precious oils if you don’t care for the end result. If you hit a winning formula, 10 drops are easy to convert to larger batches later. Be sure to write down the exact amounts you used since a drop off here or there can make a dramatic difference when you attempt to replicate your blend.
Try the 30-50-20 Rule
With all this about evaporation rates and the lightness and heaviness of various botanical oils, it can be difficult to ascertain what proportions to use when you’re just starting out. A good rule of thumb for beginner blenders is the 30-50-20 rule, which is to prepare your oils by using 30% top note, 50% middle note, and 20% base note. In our three oil experiment using 10 drops, that would translate to three drops top note, five drops middle note, and two drops base note.
Let it Be
Once you’ve mixed up your blend, let it rest for a day or two. This allows the oils to truly combine and harmonize with one another.
The Sniff Test
After you’ve given the blend a couple of days of rest, you are now ready to give it the final sniff test. Place one drop of your blend on a testing strip and breathe it in with a few deep inhales. Get your pen and paper and write down any sensations it conjures up for you. Allow the strip to dry, clear your nasal palette, and smell again. Has anything changed? Write down your impressions once more.
Next, try diluting it with a mild-smelling carrier oil like jojoba or sweet almond oil. To make a 20% dilution, use four drops of carrier oil and one drop of your blend. Smell it again. How does the aroma affect you now?
If you love your new concoction, slap a label on it and stow it in a cool, dark space such as a cupboard or dresser drawer. If you dislike the scent, or are just so-so about it, give it a few more days and smell again. Sometimes fragrances need a little time to grow on you.
Making Therapeutic Blends
Mixing up essential oils for fragrance is one thing. Creating a lovely aroma and something that will heal what ails you is quite another.
Although it is necessary to identify which essential oils have the medicinal properties you’re after, it is just as important to find a combination of oils that smell pleasant. Combining several analgesic oils to help with migraine headaches, for instance, won’t do a lick of good if you can’t stand the odor! Here are some tips to help strike a balance between aroma and therapy:
Do Your Research – The first step is to determine which essential oils have medicinal qualities for the condition you wish to treat.
You can start by reading some of our articles on the benefits of specific essential oils:
- Tea Tree
Or by various conditions that can be treated with essential oils:
- Hair and scalp care
- Hormone imbalance
- Pain relief
- Skin care
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight loss
Get Categorizing – Once you’ve identified a few medicinal candidates, start organizing them into aroma categories (floral, citrus, spicy, etc.) and by scent notes (top, middle, base) so you can begin the work of sorting which essential oils will blend well with the others on your list. You may wish to cast a wide net and write down several different combinations that have all three scent notes. Then narrow it down by only selecting scent families that blend well together. Feel free to add in non-medicinal oils to help round out the fragrance.
Blend and Test – When you have a formula you’re ready to test out, follow the above blending and sniff testing steps. If you dislike the fragrance, keep at it! Can you identify which oil in the blend isn’t synergizing with the rest? Try swapping it out for another oil.
Once you have a pleasing scent, you can move on to testing its therapeutic qualities. Some oils are best inhaled or diffused, added to a bath, or used topically as a soothing salve or massage ointment. When inhaling therapeutic oils, you should see a result almost immediately. With topical oils, it may take a few weeks of use to see whether it has the intended effect.
Basic Aromatherapy Recipes
In case you still don’t know where to start, here are some simple essential oils blends that you can easily augment to create an individualized fragrance:
Boost Your Mood – 6 drops of bergamot + 2 drops of grapefruit + 2 drops of ylang ylang
Relieve Stress – 4 drops of lavender + 2 drops of vetiver + 4 drops of Roman chamomile
Stay Energized – 4 drops of peppermint + 2 drops of frankincense + 4 drops of lemon
Ready to get started blending essential oils? Get yourself this set of Plant Therapy Essential Oils and get mixing!