Perfumers Alcohol, What Is It?

Perfumers Alcohol, What Is It?

alcohol being added to a glass beaker sitting on digital scales

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We all know what alcohol is. It’s the stuff you find in wine, beer, spirits, and liqueurs. However, if you’re dipping your toes into perfume making, you might be asking yourself what is perfumers alcohol? 

Today I’m going to talk about exactly that. And it’s important information, especially if you’re planning on really getting stuck into the wonderful craft of perfumery. 

So what is it? Why is it used? How is it different from regular alcohol? You’ll find the answer to all these things and more below.

Let’s dive right in.

perfumers alcohol being added to a glass beaker sitting on digital scales

What is Perfumers Alcohol?

So what exactly is it? Perfume is made using cosmetic grade ethanol at 95/6%. But for tax reasons, this ethanol is denatured with something so it becomes undrinkable.

However, as many countries have laws preventing people without a proper license from purchasing ethanol, manufacturers get away with supplying it to the average consumer by adding extra ingredients and calling it ‘perfumer’s alcohol’.

These extra ingredients can be a whole range of things. Although the most common I’ve come across are Isopropyl Myristate and Monopropylene Glycol.

Many manufacturers will claim that these added ingredients improve the quality of the finished product, these claims are dubious at best. They really only exist in the mix so they can label it ‘perfumers alcohol’.

So, if you can get hold of denatured, 96% ethanol, there’s no need to look any further.

If you need a license to purchase it and don’t want to travel that road just yet, consider perfumers alcohol, see below for a large list of suppliers. 

Nevertheless, if you’re going to be spending any amount of time making perfume, it might be worth looking into acquiring a license to buy ethanol. You might find it’s cheaper.

Why Is Alcohol Important In Perfume? 

Eau de parfum, sitting next to some wood
How to make Eau de Parfum

Alcohol is vital in spray perfume. 

It serves dual functions. First and foremost, it works as a ‘carrier’. The fragrances used in perfuming are extremely strong. Some don’t smell great until they’re diluted, and most will actually irritate skin as well. 

So, by using a carrier, we dilute the fragrances to make them safe. But that’s not the only reason we use it. 

By using alcohol, we also don’t need to worry about the product spoiling. If we used water, your perfume would last less than a week before microbial gets to unsafe levels. 

Lastly, alcohol evaporates very quickly. This sounds bad, but for perfuming this a good thing. As the alcohol evaporates, it takes your perfume scent with you. This gives your fragrance a greater presence, and others (and yourself) will smell it more readily. 

I mean, who wants a perfume that most people aren’t going to smell, right? 

Can I Use Carrier Oils Instead?

A woman applies an oil based perfume to her skin

We talked about ‘carriers’ earlier, so what about using a carrier oil instead? 

You absolutely can, but there are things to consider. First, what type of perfume are you making? Are you making a spray? Then carrier oils just won’t do. Nobody wants to spray pure jojoba oil onto their clothes. You’ll get oil stains. 

However, if you’re using a roll on an applicator, or combining it with a wax to make a perfume balm, then carrier oils will be exactly what you need. I would recommend either fractionated coconut oil or jojoba oil. They are mostly odorless and have excellent shelf lives. 

But there’s something else to consider. Not everyone can tolerate alcohol well. Those with dry or sensitive skink will struggle to use a perfume that is alcohol based. So you might actually prefer to use carrier oils. 

The only other downside is that oils tend to hold a scent against the skin. This is the opposite of what alcohol does, and thus leads to a fragrance with less presence. 

Perfumers Alcohol Suppliers

USA

Canada

UK

A 30ml bottle of cologne, sat next to another bottle, some lime segments and a couple of bay leaves
How to make Cologne

I Can’t Get Perfume Alcohol In My Area

Yeah, this can be a problem. And if you can’t get perfumers alcohol, it’s likely local law will prohibit you from purchasing denatured ethanol either. 

Firstly, it’s worth noting that if you can apply for a license to purchase ethanol, absolutely do it if you think perfuming is something you’re going to be doing a lot. 

However, if you’re completely new to the craft and can’t get either perfumers alcohol or ethanol, try using a very strong grain alcohol. You’ll want it at least 96%. If you’re in the states, it’s likely you’ll be able to get hold of Everclear, which will do for now. 

As you progress, you’ll want to look into ways of procuring either ethanol or perfumers alcohol. This is because grain alcohol, while totally strong enough for this purpose, has more of a distinctive smell than their more sophisticated cousins. The less impact you have on your scent profile, the better. 

Will Rubbing Alcohol Work? 

Fragrances being mixed in test tubes using a pipette

Absolutely not. Rubbing alcohol, or ‘isopropyl alcohol’ absolutely stinks. This is a real problem for perfumers, as it will mask the smell of your fragrances… Basically the opposite of what we want. 

Ethanol or perfumers alcohol doesn’t do this. It has a much milder alcohol smell. Furthermore, these two evaporate much slower than rubbing alcohol. 

While I did say earlier that evaporating is good as it increases the presence of your fragrance. I stand by this. You want it to do this. But you want this process to be a bit slower than the time it takes for rubbing alcohol to evaporate. 

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Angela Wills
Angela Wills
Hi, I’m Angela, I make most of the homemade things here at Savvy Homemade. I'm an experienced soap maker, skincare formulator, author, busy Mom of 3, and recently a Grandma! "Every day I share my experience while crafting something new, it’s fantastic".

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