A problem that many beginner perfumers have is that they are unsure how to dose the different raw materials (the proper term for fragrance ingredients) in their perfume. In this article, I will give some advice for working this out yourself, as well as some websites which offer guidelines. If you are frequently bewildered when choosing how much of each raw material to add to your perfume compositions, this article will help you increase your confidence.
Working it out for yourself
When it comes to training as a perfumer, nothing beats the first-hand experience you gain by smelling the raw materials yourself. This is because every time you make an evaluation of a raw material, you strengthen your olfactory memory and gain an intimate understanding of its precise smell and get a feel for the way its scent profile evolves over time.
I like to work such that I make a 10% dilution in alcohol of each raw material I have. By dipping a scent strip in this 10% dilution, you have the ability to make a complete evaluation of how the smell of the raw material changes over time.
You will notice that some raw materials are stronger than others. For these, you should make a further dilution of 1% and again, evaluate the odour profile on a scent strip. For very strong raw materials, you will still be able to detect them strongly at an 0.1% dilution or lower.
Having done this process, you can estimate how to dose any raw material with no prior knowledge. Materials which are still strong at in the 1% dilution or lower often can overpower a perfume and therefore you should expect them to overpower your perfume when dosed too high. Conversely, if a material is hard to detect at 1% dilution, it stands to reason that it may have little effect when dosed too low in your perfume.
This is no hard and fast rule, since raw materials can exhibit strange behaviour at times. Like I said however, this is a good first approximation until the outcome of a trial blend alerts you to the contrary.
Looking it up online
While working out usage levels for yourself is my recommended method, there are many reasons you may wish to have access to data on generally accepted usage levels. You may for example be short on time while working on a particular project or simply looking for some external reassurance. The following list of websites will allow you look up this information.
Unguentarius is an excellent online resource, compiled from publicly available formulas. You simply navigate to the ingredient statistics tab and type in the name of the raw material you’re interested in. The website produces a diagram showing the average usage with upper and lower limit suggestions. It also shows you the maximum and minimum usage found in any formula.
Perfumers World is primarily a raw materials outlet for DIY perfumers. However, regardless of whether you purchase raw materials from them or not, they provide raw materials usage information on their website, presumably from their internal database of formulations.
Raw material manufacturer websites
Often, raw materials manufacturers will provide information about their raw materials on their website. This sometimes, although not always, includes suggested usage information. Your raw materials supplier may or may not include the original manufacturer, although it doesn’t stop you checking the manufacturer websites regardless. Some of the biggest raw materials manufacturers include Givaudan, Firmenich, IFF and Symrise, the latter 3 of which have online catalogues which frequently contain usage information.
Usage levels are highly subjective and stand as rules to be broken. Take Chanel’s famous perfume No. 5, which innovated with an overdose of aldehydes, a category of raw materials which were previously used in trace amounts. Usage guidelines can be a useful tool for the perfumer but also stand as rules to be broken. Regardless of your choice of dosage for raw materials, one thing that should always be observed is adherence to the IFRA guidelines for safety, including their maximum safe use limit for raw materials.
If you’re interested in evaluating raw materials and learning first hand, you can find quality bottles and scent strips in our online store for perfumery equipment.