Vietnamese Green Oil, DIY Colognes and Other Cool Delights

The second part of my refreshing scents series focuses on non-alcoholic and DIY options. Some people prefer to skip alcohol during hot days, and I’m often asked for inexpensive solutions. Experimenting with scents during summer is fun, but when the temperature rises above 35C, the idea of putting on perfume becomes unappealing.

I instead reach for oils from Vietnam or Thailand, especially Dầu Gió Xanh Eagle Brand Medicated Oil. This popular Vietnamese oil is used for headaches, muscle pains, etc, but I also find it effective on hot days when my head feels heavy. The scent is spicy and incense-like, but it’s unexpectedly refreshing. The oil was created in 1935 by a German chemist, Wilhelm Hauffman, for a Singaporean trading house J Lea & Co. Hauffman was perfecting the extraction of chlorophyll, which gave the oil its color, while the other main ingredients included menthol, methyl salicylate and eucalyptus oil

Green Oil became a household favorite in Vietnam once it was introduced in the 1960s. On the other hand, its Art Deco-styled bottle and vivid hue would be familiar not just to those who grew up in Vietnam and other Asian countries, but also the former Soviet ones. During my childhood in Ukraine, medicated oils and Cao Sao Vàng (Golden Star Balm) were considered as nothing short of panacea.

Green Oil is sold widely at Asian shops, and here is one link I found for a store here in Europe. I haven’t used this site myself, it’s just for reference. Of course, the price is much higher than what I paid for my bottle in Vietnam, but it’s still under $10.

My recommendation is to check what your local Asian store has in stock. Eagle Brand has a wide array of other medicated oils, while different local Asian brands produce their own versions. I warn that some of these oils smell quite pungently of herbs or eucalyptus, so you have to experiment. Many, however, smell good and have a wide range of applications.

In my video I also discuss making fresh splashes using hydrosols as bases. The smells won’t last for more than an hour, but they provide an instant boost. Imagine how good a spritz of mint hydrosol spiked with a drop of lemon oil feels on a balmy day. I decant mine in atomizers and store them in the fridge.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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28 Comments

  • Alison: Using Turkish lemon cologne. I hate the summer with a passion and cant wait for cooler weather and to get my amber delights out again. August 7, 2020 at 9:40am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t like summer either, especially here in Belgium, where nothing is designed for warm weather. This year I’m better prepared, though. August 7, 2020 at 4:23pm Reply

      • Alison: With global warming the UK is much warmer but not prepared, few homes have air con for instance. August 7, 2020 at 8:16pm Reply

        • Victoria: Same here, it’s rare to find trains with A/C, for instance. August 8, 2020 at 7:52am Reply

          • Alison: Our countries will have to adapt as the summers are now much hotter and winters milder. August 8, 2020 at 6:07pm Reply

    • Kitty go: I love Turkish cologne! Spanish ones..royale ambree and Alvarez Gomez are my favourites…colognes are also good antibacterial liquids September 6, 2020 at 8:33am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    Thank you for your lovely post and video.

    Just looking at the pretty green liquid in that bottle makes me feel cooler! That will be an enjoyable quest – seeking out the Vietnamese Medicated Oil and its ilk. I love the scents (not to mention flavours) of aniseed and mint, so it would be great to find the one you mentioned.

    It is also fun to create scents. Many years ago, I made one using essential oils of spearmint and lime (as in my favourite Lime Mint Julep drink) and mixing it with perfumer’s alcohol. Initially I used too much alcohol, and it stang, so I then diluted it with demineralised water, which improved wearability considerably. I still have some left, and it is so refreshing on hot days.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline August 7, 2020 at 9:40am Reply

    • Victoria: You have to find the right proportion, but using some water is important, because many materials include compounds that are solulible in water and not in alcohol. A typical perfume mixture includes some water. August 7, 2020 at 4:24pm Reply

  • Silvermoon: Hi Victoria!
    I am very intrigued about hydrosols that you mentioned in your video. I don’t know much about them, but understand that the term often refers to flower waters. I am very curious to know whether particular flower/herb waters, and combinations of them, are used for particular purposes? Or is the simple pleasure of the scent and refreshing feel of a mist spray the main point of these waters? I have two fascial mists/sprays which I use in the latter sense: a jurlique rose water mist and the Forest Essentials vetiver spray. August 7, 2020 at 4:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: Different herbs have different properties. Chamomile is good for sensitive skin, rose—for dry. Nettle and rosemary hydrosols are excellent for hair. Jasmine is a good face toner, but it leaves a strong indolic drydown, so I don’t use it on its own.

      I love vetiver hydrosol from Forest Essentials; it’s refreshing on a hot day. August 7, 2020 at 4:27pm Reply

      • Silvermoon: Thanks, Victoria. Very useful. I guess I am going to have to do some research on which is best for what.

        I used my rose mist earlier today, but am off to use my vetiver one now. ☺️ August 7, 2020 at 4:36pm Reply

        • Victoria: Try and see what works for your skin. You can also mix them, since hydrosols are usually available in low concentrations. August 8, 2020 at 7:51am Reply

  • Sara: Nice review! Always enjoyed your articles. So please forgive me for pointing out that the “green oil” is actually from China (the label is in Chinese and I grew up with it in Shanghai during summer).

    By “from”, I meant that the formula is originated in China. The product is still widely popular in China. It was hard to image a Chinese household without it during summer time. The bottle in the picture could be made in Vietnam. There are many Chinese in Vietnam and Thailand, so I am not surprised that it is popular there too. August 7, 2020 at 9:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: Technically, Thien Thao, while made in Vietnam, is owned by the Singaporean Eagle Brand. According to Eagle Brand’s website, Eagle Brand medicated oil was formulated in 1935 by a German chemist, Wilhelm Hauffman, for a Singaporean trading house J Lea & Co. “The product was first introduced to Vietnam in the 1960s, and has since gained an overwhelming popularity and acceptance amongst the Vietnamese. In the local Vietnamese community and household, the “Green Oil” is widely accepted as a common cure-all household remedy and a “must have” item. Further in Vietnam, the “Green Oil” has attained a status whereby it is widely given and sought as premium gift item during festive and joyous occasions due to its unique fragrance appeal and cure-all remediable use.”
      I find that the Vietnam-produced green oil smells different from the ones I bought in Singapore. And I’m sure that it’s super popular all over Asia. It’s a fantastic product. August 8, 2020 at 8:24am Reply

      • Eliza: Yup, that Eagle green oil is definitely a Singaporean product, I live here!

        I’ve not smelt the Vietnamese version before, but the local version here actually has has fragrance added to the usual medicated oil ingredients.

        A few years ago, they came up with limited edition oils with different fragrances, which I bought, of course! One had cloves and the other one lavender, I think. September 7, 2020 at 1:07pm Reply

        • Victoria: They all have fragrance added, and of course, some of the scent comes from the ingredients themselves like camphor. The combination is fantastic. September 8, 2020 at 2:47am Reply

  • Joyce: Thank you for this post, Victoria! I remember white flower oil (Hong Kong) growing up. It’s a staple for long bus trips 🙂

    Something refreshing (and less strong!) for summer is White Linen – a recent discovery for me and while it’s winter here, I am looking forward to applying it during warmer months. August 9, 2020 at 1:06am Reply

    • Joyce: Just to elaborate – we didn’t have green oil, and white flower oil is the main product. Mostly used by my mother (liberal smearing around the nose and temples) to ward off car sickness!! August 9, 2020 at 1:08am Reply

      • Victoria: I have White Flower oil in my collection too. Another favorite. 🙂 August 9, 2020 at 7:16am Reply

    • Victoria: These particular oils feel cooling on skin because they contain a combination of menthol and camphor, whereas Tiger Balm has more camphor, so while it feels cooling at first, it later will cause a warm sensation.

      White Linen, however, is fantastic. An instant boost of freshness for me too. August 9, 2020 at 7:16am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you for a wonderful idea Victoria, I found a source on eBay for the Eagle oil.
    For years I have been using roswater with drops of essential oils of lavender, geranium and incense as a toner. August 9, 2020 at 6:04am Reply

    • Victoria: Rosewater is easy to mix with other essential oils–and you have a ready-made perfume. It even has some lasting power on skin. August 9, 2020 at 7:17am Reply

  • Jasmine: I haven’t tried this one, but in Hong Kong we have a similar product called White Flower Oil (although it doesn’t actually contain anything extracts from white flowers) with similar effects, as well as a lot of other similar oils and balms that use menthol, camphor, wintergreen, eucalyptus etc. I think they’re all originally from Malaysia and Singapore, but they’re extremely popular among the elderly here. It is by FAR the most effective treatment for mosquito bites IMO! Nothing sooths the swelling and itchiness like white flower oil, and I also love how it smells. Too bad people are afraid of using it because they don’t want to smell like the elderly – something that is nothing to be ashamed of in the first place. August 9, 2020 at 9:39am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with you, many of these oils have excellent formulations, and because they’re blended with the right mix of menthol and camphor (and other ingredients), they’re great to relieve headache (especially the ones caused by weather). The scent makes me nostalgic. When I smell it, I recall Penang–or certain old, calm quarters of Singapore. And of course, Hanoi. August 9, 2020 at 9:50am Reply

  • Jenni: I found this on wikimed. Have you smelled both formulas?

    “According to a 1987 FDA alert, Eagle Brand Medicated Oil has two formulas: one sold in the United States of America and one sold elsewhere. The formula sold in the United States of America consisted of: menthol (13.5%), ethyl alcohol (13%), methyl salicylate (4.5%), chlorophyll, mineral oil, and otto of roses.

    The other older formula consisted of: 12% chloroform and 20% methyl salicylate, among other ingredients. Chloroform is carcinogenic and such high levels of methyl salicylate can be toxic.[2]

    Since then the formula has been updated to exclude the chloroform and methyl salicylate.”

    Seems like they would be two very different scents? August 11, 2020 at 10:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve never smelled the old formula. That’s an old FDA alert. On the other hand, formulations would vary based on the country, as tends to be the case with perfume. August 12, 2020 at 2:30am Reply

  • jelenaeva: in china, we often use ‘six gods’ (liushen), some sort of floral tonic/water which actually in summer months serves mostly as insect repeller, but it is, in fact, cooling skin tonic, which actually started as eau de toilette in 1900s. although the main ingredients are secret, it contains honeysuckle, menthol and musk. but it ‘s actually very versatile as it is being used also as skin cooler, deodorant, bite reliever. August 21, 2020 at 4:11am Reply

    • Victoria: I love all of these products. They have sophisticated fragrances too. Believe it or not, but the other day I received a compliment on my perfume, and the only thing I had on me was Green Oil. Its drydown smells like an incense chypre. August 21, 2020 at 5:43am Reply

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