One thing that never tempts me at the fragrance counter is the expensive selection of scented creams and the other matching body products offered in perfume sets. The trained sales associates will usually pitch them as “making the perfume last better” or “being a great value,” but I remain skeptical. A good fragrance should linger well on its own, and my hard-earned money can go further by being spent on something more useful (like another bottle of perfume!) Body lotions and shower gels can easily be sacrificed, especially if my budget needs to be kept in check.
That being said, I still love the ritual of applying scented lotion to my skin. In the evening, I massage away the fatigue accumulated during the day, enjoying the sensation of fragrant cream melting under my fingers. It’s such a simple pleasure that it feels wrong not to indulge oneself. The good news is that perfumed lotions are easy to make, and as long as you don’t require fancy packaging, you can enjoy your perfume in a variety of ways.
In a professional perfumery lab, matching lotions and gels are formulated by blending fragrance oils into the unscented base, the mixture of active ingredients and emulsifiers comprising the lotion or gel. I would make a small sample and let it mature at high temperature to check its stability–is the mixture liable to separate, discolor, develop an off odor, or behave in some unpredictable way? The art of functional perfumery is in getting all of the components right to obtain a product that smells as good out of the bottle as it does on skin. The fragrance oil might also have to be modified to cover up the natural scent of the product base.
At home, you will have to experiment by changing the base, rather than the perfume component. Most creams and shower gels we buy are already scented, and the unscented creams might have some deodorants added to mask the scent of the active ingredients. Even fragrance-free products are likely to have their own mild scent. Moreover, commercial perfume includes not just the scented oil (which is what perfumers use to scent creams in the lab), but also water and alcohol, which may affect how your DIY scented products behave. That’s why you will have to experiment to find what works best.
I recommend making small batches. I already described my favorite way to perfume body cream in One Perfume, Four Ways to Wear It. I put cream into the palm of my hand and add a couple of sprays of perfume, mix thoroughly and apply to my skin. That’s exactly what I do in the lab when I need to quickly check how the scented oils will work with the base, and it works well enough at home to. You will enjoy a delicate veil of scent and silky soft skin.
This is a quick and easy method that applies to any perfume, and of course, the lighter the scent of your cream, the better a fragrance will bloom. Among my favorite unscented lotions are Curel Fragrance-Free Moisturizer, Alba Botanica Original Body Lotion Unscented and almost anything from Eucerin and Bioderma. By contrast, Cetaphil lotion, which I like on its own, made my perfume smell dull and plasticky. I also don’t recommending using jojoba oil, which has its own distinctive scent. Almond oil, on the other hand, is wonderful with fragrances rich in amber, woods and vanilla.
If you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of the product in case something goes wrong, take a clean glass jar–to be on the safe side, I sterilize mine by baking them in the oven at 250F/120C for 30 minutes–and make a tiny test batch. Add two tablespoons of lotion and about two sprays of perfume, mix with a clean spoon, cover the jar tightly and leave in a dark, cool place for a few days. When you open the jar and examine your creation, check if it still smells the way your perfume should. In some cases, the addition of lotion will smother the top notes or change the balance slightly, but if the perfume smells sour, musty, or acrid, throw the test batch away. If, on the other hand, you’re happy with the scent, you can try making a larger quantity. Be diligent about sterilizing your jars and other implements, and make only as much scented lotion as you would use within a couple of weeks.
Once you find your perfect perfume and lotion match, you might indulge in such scented fantasies as Serge Lutens La Myrrhe cream or L’Artisan Parfumeur Passage d’Enfer body oil. You can also use essential oils to create your own simple blends, mixing rose and vetiver or jasmine and vanilla (start with 3 drops per 1 ounce of lotion or unscented carrier oil like almond, apricot kernel or grapeseed; add more as needed). Handmade creations may require a bit more effort to put together than simply handing over your credit card at a department store, but the rewards are plenty, not the least of which is the pleasure of playing with scents.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin
If you have your favorite unscented lotions or creams, please let me know in the comments.