June 3, 2023

fragrance bottle

If you want to hold presence in a room, you definitely need a signature scent. And what better way to define your olfactory footprint than with a DIY cologne formula you conceive of yourself? Woodsy and herbal, with a touch of citrus, or floral and powdery, with a decadent blend of tonka? Whatever your pleasure, express your creative side with a bespoke flavor profile that’s decidedly you. Ahead, find everything you need to create a cologne that conveys your aesthetic, as cologne formulators offer tips and advice, plus share recipes to DIY your own cologne.

“There’s a perception that colognes are for men and perfume is for women, but the difference is actually in the concentration of oils,” says Melina Polly, Co-Founder and former CEO of Henry Rose. “An eau de parfum is about 15 to 20 percent fragrance oil, while cologne is between two to four percent.”

Matthew Milèo, chemist, former in-house nose for Chanel and founder of oud-infused skincare line, Milèo New York, adds, “Cologne is a lighter alternative to perfume that is usually spiked with top notes and aldehydes, and contains a much higher concentration of alcohol.”  (For those lacking a degree in chemistry, aldehydes have a molecular formula that contains carbon, and in perfumery, are denoted with a fragrance profile of citrus-floral. They also have a waxy, soapy component that we associate with cologne).

Cologne is less concentrated and more volatile. It is mainly a citrus, aromatic base to give a refreshing feeling.

“It’s quite easy to make one’s own signature perfume, as all you need are alcohol, essential oils/absolutes, water, glycerin, and a fancy spray bottle worthy of the top shelf in your vanity,” says Milèo.

What You’ll Need

  • Essential oil blend – Use three essential oils: top, middle, base
  • Alcohol – Rubbing alcohol or witch hazel works
  • Glycerin – Use glycerin, like vegetable oil to add longevity to your formula, and help the cologne stick to your skin
  • Distilled water
  • Spray bottle

“You can even be extra fancy and throw in a dried flower or two,” suggests Milèo.

How to DIY Your Own Cologne

Once you’ve gathered all of the necessary ingredients and materials, formulating your own cologne is actually fairly easy. Don’t be intimidated, just follow the exact steps below.

Step One: Learn the Fragrance Scale

Carina Chaz, the founder and formulator of DedCool says it’s important to “understand the fragrance scale,” when blending your bespoke formula. “Top Notes will be the first thing you’ll smell in your composition. Middle will appear once the top note dries down, and base will be the fragrance foundation. Fragrance is all about ratios.”

Milèo, a formally trained chemist, agrees. Although you don’t need to know your way around a lab in order to create an amazing DIY cologne. “The best way to guarantee a scent you’ll love is to follow the basic pyramid accord, which is 60 percent of base notes, 30 percent middle notes, and 10 percent top notes. There are many fragrance shapes and configurations, but for a DIY beginner this is a good starting point.”

Chaz suggests using a ratio of 20 percent base, 50 percent middle, and 30 percent top. It’s up to you to figure out the formula that works with the type of profile you’re trying to create. Experiment for a recipe you adore.

Step Two: Blend Essential Oils

This is the fun part. “Now it’s time to start playing around,” says Chaz. “Remember, not all notes go together; this is where the trial and error come into play. Drop a few oils (one by one) and start mixing. Helpful hint: I always recommend using no more than 30 drops total and if one scent is much stronger than the rest, use less.” Once you have your desired formula, add two ounces alcohol.

Step Three: Brew

Now the cologne needs time to compose. “Allow the fragrance to brew and sit for 48 hours. I always refrigerate for two weeks straight. Then, shake it up so that molecules can mix,” says Chaz.

Step Four: Dilute

Once the fragrance is ready, it needs to be diluted. In a spray bottle, add two tablespoons distilled water and five drops glycerin. Swirl your bespoke fragrance mixture in, slowly and carefully. And just like that, you’re a perfumer with your own signature cologne.