What’s the best natural or botanical fixative for perfumes oils and fragrances?

When creating or using natural perfume the holy grail of the experience is creating a potion that can last. Yet the process is not intuitive and requires a significant devotion to the trial and error of many substances to learn which will last and which, unfortunately, will fade within a short hour of application. This is the truth about natural fragrances, they do not have the same longevity as their synthetic counterparts – thus care must be taken to compose a blend that allows the wearer to enjoy a longer fragrance.

This is a living article, a list that will be updated as I test out and work out which solutions work with different scent profiles:

Ambrette Seed – Musk, airy, spacious, old. This is often used as a musk substitute as it is one of the few natural ingredients that contain similar chemicals to the originally used Deer Musk glands. While its scent is hard to describe, there’s a subtlety to it, it can be very overwhelming in small amounts, covering the other ingredients in a mix. Almost slightly nutty. In my experiments, this is not a fixative, but it is long-lasting. It does help to round out perfumes. It smells similar to civet oil.  

Amyris – Balsalm, resin. Has a smoke-like essence. A lot of places recommend it as an alternative to Sandalwood, though it does not have many similarities and I do not believe it has any reason to be used as a Sandalwood replacement. Amyris has a smoke-like heavy air to it. It is not sweet and it is not soft. While long-lasting, this tends to have a softer scent that does not compete with the perfume similar in effect to frankincense or sandalwood when blended.

Angelica Root – Musk, turpentine, coumarin, grass, dirt. Another musk alternative.

Balsam of Peru/Balsam Fir  –  Pine, resin, amber, woody, creamy, sour. Considered a possible allergen (what isn’t?).  In my experiments, this is a successful fixative for other ingredients, although the slightly harsh character of this may be difficult to blend.  

Benzoin Resin – Cream soda, vanilla, resin, amber. This is reminiscent of an older vanilla, it is not fresh, but it is warm. It reminds some people of an older perfume smell.

Cedar wood – It’s hard to discuss cedarwood as there as so many varieties with completely different scent profiles. I would say that generally, this is not a base note nor a fixative. The scent tends to be of cedar chips, woody, balsam, camphor. Varieties labeled as “cedar wood” can be derived from Junipers, Cypresses,PlatycladusCupressusTaiwaniaCalocedrus, and Cedar of Lebanon. Many of these are not true cedars, and it can be confusing as to whether someone is referring to the Atlas Cedar, Virginia Cedar or Cypress which all have drastically different scent profiles.

Cistus/Labdanum – Musk, resin, amber. This is frequently used as a base in most amber formulas. It is complex and can easily overpower most fragrances. It is both sweet and dirty, like an animal. It is deep and tenacious. In my experiments this is a somewhat successful fixative for other ingredients, although the strength of this scent is so powerful on it’s own other incredients are eclipsed.

Clary Sage – Nut, herbal, balsamic, musk. I find this to be very herbal and overwhelm formulas though other perfumers have used it to great effect.

Frankincense/Olibanum Balsamic, warm, resin. The resin and Essential Oil do not have the same properties and do not smell the same. In my experiments this is a somewhat successful fixative for other ingredients. It is a softer scent and easily masked, while long-lasting it is not strong.   

Galbanum Balsamic, green, wood. One of the strongest ingredients; it quickly overpowers everything. In my experiments this is not a fixative, and perhaps should be instead referred to as a top note. 

Immortelle/Helichrysum – Sweet, floral, herbal. In my experiments, this is not a fixative.

Myrrh – Balsamic, warm, resin. Similar to Frankincense and often used together.

Oakmoss – Wood, dirt, decay, fungus, bark. Main component of Fougère and Chypre style fragrances. Usually diluted to a lower concentration; frequently used with Vetiver. Smells like a walk in the woods. Long-lasting and strong in its profile.

Opopanax/Opobalsam – Gum resin, sweet myrrh.

Orris Root Butter/Concrete – Floral, woody, delicate. This is a hard smell to describe. I’ve heard places call it “violet-like” but it does not smell like violets exactly. It’s powdery – in a way it has more of a presence than a smell. It takes up air but is hard to ascribe a concrete smell to. In many of the sources I’ve smelled this has a slight carrot seed scent to it, something musty and the tiniest bit like violet leaf oil. It generally smells better as a dilution. Frequently used as a modifier in perfumes. Can make perfumes take on a “powdery” note. In my experiments, this is a somewhat successful fixative for other ingredients, although it creates a powdery effect and modifies the other ingredients. 

PatchouliEarthy, wood, dark, sweet. Easily overwhelming, very recognizable. Great in small amounts in gourmand additions, can add sophistication to overly sweet perfumes. In my experiments, this is a somewhat successful fixative when it is aged and dark, the light and young version overpowers and smells a little clumsy in fixative concentrations. 

Sandalwood – Woody, sweet, balsamic. It is a warm, pleasant smell that can be used on its own, used to modify other ingredients, or to enhance. It tends to be one of the more expensive ingredients at about $100/ounce. In my experiments this is a somewhat successful fixative for other ingredients. The modification that Sandalwood provides is a creamy roundness that is hard to notice unless you are familir with it, not a strong scent on its own, it’s easily masked by others.   

Storax Balsam/LiquidAmber – Floral, balsam, resin. This is a curious scent that has strong notes of plastic in it. They dissipate in some combinations though not all. This does not easily dilute in alcohol and is one of the ingredients that is easier to blend into oil. With an alcohol mix, there will be precipitate that should be filtered out in the final composition In my experiments, this is a somewhat successful fixative for other ingredients.

Tolu balsam –  Musk, amber, resin. Seems to often be confused with Balsam of Peru. I have never used this and have no clue!

Vetiver – Earthy, woody, heavy, forest.

Vanilla – Sweet, warm, slightly woody, deep. The different varieties have subtle differences; some are warmer, some are cooler.

Are there any I’ve missed?

Notes

Fire, Smoke, Leather, Amber, Amyris, Tobacco, Myrrh

Body & Heart

Top lasts 15 minutes. No body.

Dry Down

Drydown lasts 8 hours, slowing down at the 6-hour mark.

Longevity

Fragrance becomes subtle and soft at the 8-hour mark.

How does this fragrance unfold?

0 – 5 minutes

This is dark and strong- it’s the moonlight hour and a walk away from the campfire. You smell the nearby woods, the dirt, the thick air.

5 – 10 minutes:

Hints of spice develop. You remember the warm campfire. Over time, the fire and smoke grow and enhance as you move closer.

10 minutes – onwards:

A soft, powdery, smoke, leather develops. The smell of fire. Something ethereal just past the smoke.

FINAL THOUGHTS

While this starts fresh the true fragrance develops 15 minutes in, revealing its dark smoke. This fragrance lasts 8-10 hours and stays rather consistent for much of the time.

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