It’s a matter of trust, buying a product. We trust that the company who developed and marketed this product has complied with government safety regulations. Do we trust our regulatory agencies? How much do we trust their efficacy to make consumer goods truly safe? After all, can we ever know for certain which ingredients comprise a product – be it tomato sauce from the supermarket, or a floor cleaner – unless we have made it ourselves? When we make perfume from scratch, we know, feel, and see the ingredients; we can test them on ourselves first for potentially adverse reactions. When we make our own perfume, we gain a few ounces of control over our bodies.
Most of the information in this essay comes from the book The Complete Book of Essential Oils &Aromatherapy, by Valerie Ann Worwood. According to Worwood (p 317), “…store perfumes are a cocktail of natural and chemical components.” We can infer from Worwood’s use of the word “chemical,” in juxtaposition to the word “natural” that she herself rejects chemicals. However, we know that anything from the natural world, be it water or air, is a chemical composition. Yet there are those of us with chemical sensitivities to commercially-manufactured soaps, body lotions, and fragrances. There are those whose skin breaks out and who develop headaches when walking through a department store fragrance section. One might have breathing problems when someone sprays air freshener nearby. It’s nearly impossible to control each environment we enter. Nevertheless, we can take small steps, and that is what drives some of us to eschew fragranced products altogether. Another alternative is to make our own fragrances.
Enter essential oils. Consumers find them most frequently at health food stores, in tiny colored-glass bottles. An essential oil is made from plant material and is, in effect, the essence of the plant. Their applications range from fragrance to skin care to food flavoring to health care. It takes an enormous amount of plant material to produce a a few ounces of oil. “Essential oils are extracted from certain varieties of trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, and flowers…Depending on the plant, the essential oil is stored in specialized oil or resin cells, glandular hairs, cells, or scales which have single or multi-cell pockets or tiny reservoirs…The oil is extracted from the plant by a variety of means…The most common method is steam distillation, although other…methods are solvent extraction [by application of chemical solvents], expression [to press the oil out of the plant material],” and a few other methods. (Worwood, Valerie Ann. The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. p 6 Novato: New World Library, 1991. Print.)
For those with chemical sensitivities, the essential oil displays in health food stores offer a little refuge from the world. Scents can affect our mood in powerful ways. Sampling essential oil might invoke euphoria and calm, or clear our sinuses. For example, citrus oils such as orange blossom, lime and orange essential oils are known to possess mood-lifting properties (Worwood, p 402-403). They won’t cure your depression, but any little thing in combination with proper treatment can be helpful sometimes. There are hundreds of essential oils available for purchase, and they are used around the world in a range of applications from creating moods to preventing wound infection. Both tea tree oil and lavender oil possess anti-bacterial properties.
Knowledge of essential oils greatly enhances success in perfumery. Results vary depending upon one’s level of commitment. Ms. Worwood offers these instructions: “Perfumery may be as simple as using [an essential oil] mixed with alcohol…” (Worwood, Valerie Ann. The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. p 320. Novato: New World Library, 1991. Print.) There exists a powerful appeal to rejecting commercial preparations in favor of do-it-yourself products. It can be as uncomplicated as buying a small bottle of orange essential oil and a bottle of vodka, combining them in appropriate proportion in a glass bottle, storing it away from light and heat and letting it mature for at least six weeks. The colored glass prevents light from breaking down the compounds in the oils and spoiling them. Conversely, it can be as complicated as keeping an exhaustive record of one’s experimentations and results. One can maintain a supply of hundreds of different essential oils, as well as vials and tiny funnels for pouring the finished product into the vials. One of the final steps Ms. Worwood describes is filtering the matured perfume. She recommends using a coffee filter. This can further complicate a perfume-making operation. Spillage occurs when filtering, and when transferring finished perfume from one container to another. One imagines the apothecary at work, hovering over tiny vials and funnels and beakers, experimenting endlessly with essential oil combinations. The perfumer begins to develop their craft.
A true understanding of perfumery moves us into the discussion of base notes, middle notes and top notes. These classifications refer to how long each fragrant component in a perfume remains on the skin before evaporating. Base notes, such as vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, myrrh or cedarwood form the foundation of many perfumes, be they homemade or commercially-made. Base notes often come from tree bark, roots, or resin. They have powerful, muscular scents and remain on the skin longer than lighter middle and top notes. Middle notes can be powerful florals, such as rose, jasmine, neroli (orange blossom), carnation, and geranium, or herbal or spicy elements, such as thyme, lemongrass, cardamom, oregano, carrot, and basil. Top notes of perfume evaporate most quickly from the skin, but present most prominently at first smell. Top notes include light-smelling florals and citruses, essential oils which are produced from leaves, flower petals, flowering tops, and pressed citrus peel. Some top notes are basil, chamomile, lavender, orange, lime, lemon, and peppermint. Worwood lists hundreds of essential oils used in perfumery. The home perfumer can choose to combine any essential oils which smell good to them. The beauty of this process is that it is self-directed and self-controlled at every step. (Worwood, pp 317-326).
So let’s design a perfume. Let’s start with a simple combination, one with a universal appeal. Let’s try cedarwood, clary sage, and lemon. Worwood classifies certain notes, or scents, as “feminine” and certain notes as “masculine.” The above combination of essential oils is relatively uncostly and draws from both Worwood’s “feminine” and “masculine” lists. Therefore, on paper, this ought to prove a universally appealing fragrance. Of course, we don’t know on paper how this will smell. We’ve simply chosen cedarwood as a base note, clary sage as a middle note, and lemon as a top note, such as defined by Ms. Worwood.
Next let’s discuss ratio. For our purposes, we want as much control as possible over the amount of oil dispensed from the bottle. Choose essential oils bottled in bottles with orifice reducers, plastic inserts which do as they say, and make the mouth of the bottle smaller, allowing us to more precisely control how much oil we add to our mixture [i]. Deciding on proportion can be done with guidance from a book or an expert. Yet the most effective way to produce a desired result is to personalize the process and experiment. To create one ounce of perfume, use a high quality vodka, or 180 proof grain alcohol, or perfumer’s alcohol, if you don’t mind the expense. The idea is to use as odorless a base (alcohol being the base) as possible. The alcohol is the carrier. The alcohol binds the essential oils together. The alcoholic base also allows the application of the fragrant essential oils to remain on the skin for longer than essential oils alone. Ms. Worwood recommends a solution of 70-to-85 percent alcohol to 15-to-30 percent essential oil. Following these proportions, add ¼ oz of essential oil to ¾ oz alcohol. Transfer this solution to a colored glass vial and store it for up to six weeks in a cool, dark, dry place. Ms. Worwood suggests at least six weeks for the mixture to mature into perfume. Allowing it to mature longer gives even more time for the ingredients to meld. A longer maturation period creates a perfume with more depth. The hundreds of complex chemical compounds in the essential oils have time to express themselves more fully within a more mature perfume.
Filtration comes after the essential oil and alcohol solution have matured. Again, as with each step of the process, this is subject to the perfumer’s desire for experimentation. However, passing the mature perfume through a paper coffee filter, one does observe oil droplets collecting on the paper filter. One also might see a bit of sediment from the mixture. To this perfumer, the evidence of sediment and oils on the filter suggest that purification occurs from the filtration. One wants to end up with a clear, uncloudy product. It might have a slight color to it. This is natural.
Perfumes with one note, such as rose or jasmine can be made as well. One can keep records of the oils and proportions one uses, in order to refer to recreate a particularly well-liked fragrance. Keep in mind that perfumes made with essential oils are subject to slight changes in fragrance. Commercially-sold perfumes and body sprays, on the other hand, are manufactured to smell the same from one bottle to the next. Variations in the homemade product will exist because essential oils are made from plants which are subject to varying growing conditions. Where a commercial perfume smells the same year after year, a perfume made by hand varies in fragrance and quality. This has its own frustrations and rewards. It reminds one of the changeability of nature itself. Commercial perfume contains laboratory-synthesized aromas in order to conform to the quality control standards which are present in any type of manufacturing. Using essential oils involves handling the essences of flowers, fruit, grasses, herbs, woods and resins. It’s a way of touching the essence of nature.
Obviously, making one’s own perfume requires experimentation, and not just instruction. So why are essential oils and chemical sensitivity to fragrances important? From page 8 of the 2015 Health.com article A Smart Guide to Scary Chemicals: “…if you see ‘parfum’ or ‘fragrance’ on a label, it could contain phthalates. What’s the worry? Phthalates, which decrease testosterone and may also mimic estrogen, have been linked to increased breast cancer risk.” [ii] From the journal Talanta: “Phthalates are commonly found in perfumes mainly as carriers or solvents for synthetic musks.” [iii] From the Journal of Hazardous Materials: “It seems that phthalates mainly act as hormone sensitizers by disrupting or impairing…the normal physiological mechanisms [of the body], which would directly reflect in the dysfunctions of body system[s] – implicating [a] strong association between EDCs [endocrine disruptors] and human diseases.”[iv] Chemicals known or believed to disrupt the human endocrine system may increase or decrease production of certain hormones, interfere with hormone signalling, compete with essential nutrients, and bind to essential hormones, according to the Environmental Working Group. [v] Essential oils are not known to interfere with hormone activity in the human physiology. Make perfume from scratch, and bypass the commercial fragrances. It can be clean. We can have that. We can take that one thing into our hands and make a minute difference. What we do in our homes – the small things we do in our lives are political acts.
[i] (“Orifice Reducers For Dram Vials.” The Essential Oil Company. The Essential Oil Company, 2017. Web. 17 Aug. 2017.)
[ii] (Graves, Ginny. “A Smart Guide to Scary Chemicals.” Health, 29, no. 10, Time Inc., Dec. 2015, pp. 120-134. EBSCOhost.)
[iii] Sanchez-Prado, Lucia. “Multicomponent analytical methodology to control phthalates, synthetic musks, fragrance allergens and preservatives in perfumes.” Talanta, vol. 85, Issue 1, 15 July 2011, pp 370-379. Science Direct, Accessed 19 Aug. 2017.)
[iv] (Sailas, Benjamin. “Phthalates impact human health: Epidemiological evidences and plausible mechanism of action.” Journal of Hazardous Materials, vol. 340, 15 Oct. 2017, pp. 360–383. Science Direct, Accessed 19 Aug. 2017.)
[v] “Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors.” Environmental Working Group, 28 Oct. 2013, http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors.
Last night I dreamt I went to MIT. I was so excited! So excited! I’m almost crying thinking about it. I couldn’t wait to be with other smart weirdos. But I wandered around all day with my plaid suitcase trying to find my room. The whole place looked like an upscale indoor – outdoor shopping plaza.
In real life, I am actually going back to college. So that’s good, right?
I never posted this, because I’m trying to protect my privacy. However, reading back over some of my posts, it’s clear that I never said here that I was able to move out of the subsidized housing system, and into a place of my own. Yipee! Things are better.
I adopted a cat, too! She was at the shelter for two years.
Meow. Thanks for reading.
I guess I’m not alone:
Friend, writer and L.A. comic Angel Castillo on self-care
Building and maintaining community is so important right now. Being unable to tolerate being in groups of people, most especially protests, one thing that has made such a difference to me has been regularly connecting with my like-minded people on the phone. These people have become my family.
Social media can be helpful, but also very tricky. I drew back from fb (I just hate doing free advertising for them, so I tell myself that by abbreviating the name of the site, and by not linking to it, I’m waging a small protest. Yeah, right, kat). Yet, I get so much from instant messaging with certain folks. I get to give and receive emotional support. I get to learn that I’m not alone in my outrage, fear, anger and in feeling kinda helpless…Kinda ‘What the hell do I do to change my country? I’m so freaking lost!’ I get to have dialogue with people, and I value that highly, particularly right now. Plus, that’s the only place where I’m in contact with certain friends-who-are-family.
My social media self-care strategy is something like this: I dart in real quick on all the sites I use (like, with a hand covering one eye). I do a quick glance. If I see something that triggers me, I look at it for a quick sec to check whether or not it’s news from a reliable source (not triggering // not a polemic from the left or the right). If it passes the test, then I open up the article. I scan the article, applying the same safeties. If it passes the second test, then I start reading. If I come across something that triggers me (the way I know is that I start having a panic attack), I skip it, and then scan the rest of the piece. If anything jumps out, I stop reading and get outta there. Otherwise, I read it.
So, social media sites can be helpful and hurtful. I’ve found valuable information, both news and what friends are saying and experiencing. I’ve also found meaningful daily connection and support. If you can get through the potential obstacles, you find your community. This is what I’m learning.
Most of you have seen the draft executive order on immigration and refugees that the President is expected to sign. If signed as written, it would ban Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspend the entire refugee program for 120 days, cut in half the number of refugees we can admit, and halt all travel from certain Muslim countries.
Having looked at the draft, I felt I had no choice but to speak out against it in the strongest possible terms.
In doing so, I want to make three points.
First, it is a cruel measure that represents a stark departure from America’s core values. We have a proud tradition of sheltering those fleeing violence and persecution, and have always been the world leader in refugee resettlement. As a refugee myself who fled the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, I personally benefited from this country’s generosity and its tradition of openness. This order would end that tradition, and discriminate against those fleeing a brutal civil war in Syria. It does not represent who we are as a country.
Second, this measure would directly harm our security interests. As you all know, the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East poses an extraordinary threat to the stability of that region and to our allies in Europe. We need to be doing more, not less, to alleviate the problem – and one important way to do that is to accept a modest number of thoroughly vetted refugees. The signing of this executive order would send a terrible signal to our allies in Europe and in the Middle East, who will now have an excuse to do less. It will also be a gift to ISIS, which has been telling Muslims around the world that the west is their enemy. I have no doubt they will use this order as propaganda to support that claim.
Third, there is no data to support the idea that refugees pose a threat. This policy is based on fear, not facts. The refugee vetting process is robust and thorough. It already consists of over 20 steps, ensuring that refugees are vetted more intensively than any other category of traveler.
The process typically takes 18-24 months, and is conducted while they are still overseas. I am concerned that this order’s attempts at “extreme vetting” will effectively halt our ability to accept anyone at all. . When the administration makes wild claims about Syrian refugees pouring over our borders, they are relying on alternative facts – or as I like to call it, fiction.
The truth is that America can simultaneously protect the security of our borders and our citizens and maintain our country’s long tradition of welcoming those who have nowhere else to turn. These goals are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they are the obligation of a country built by immigrants.
Refugees should not be viewed as a certain burden or potential terrorists. They have already made great contributions to our national life. Syrian refugees are learning English, getting good jobs, buying homes, and starting businesses. In other words, they are doing what other generations of refugees – including my own – did. And I have no doubt that, if given the opportunity, they will become an essential part of our American fabric.
Yesterday, I tweeted about my own background. I was raised a Catholic, married an Episcopalian and then found out I was Jewish. I said in my tweet that should a registry of Muslims be instituted by this administration, I would add my name to such a list.
Such a registry is not included in the language of this order, but by targeting Muslim-majority countries for immigration bans and by expressing a clear preference for refugees who are religious minorities, there’s no question this order is biased against Muslims. And when one faith is targeted, it puts us all at risk.
When I came here as a child, I will never forget sailing into New York Harbor for the first time and seeing the Statue of Liberty. It proclaims “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” There is no fine print on the Statue of Liberty, and today she is weeping because of the actions of President Trump.
That’s it. The end is here. It happened. Our President, his Cabinet and our Congress are already at work. They’re going to make the poor poorer, and make it even less safe for people of color, refugees and immigrants, the climate, LGBTQ+ individuals, and those of us who have particular health challenges or Disabilities. That barely describes the minimum of potential damage.
I’ve been limiting my news intake to sources like ProPublica , Democracy Now!, and the odd Washington Post or Guardian article that someone posts on facebook. I can’t listen to soundbites of Donald Trump without having PTSD flashbacks about my dad. It’s like hearing my dad all over again.
However, a friend pointed out that I can’t hide. I thought about it, and she’s right. As an articulate, educated person with skin color privilege and a bourgeois/middle class/wealthy background, I get so many passes.
Living below the poverty line for most of my adulthood, and then going through the NYC shelter and benefits system opened my eyes to how many passes I get. I wonder how helpful it is to name the instances here. It may just be hurtful. But you can ask me, and if we have trust between us, I’ll tell you. You just have to take my word for it.
So now it’s time for those of us with white privilege to advocate, advocate, advocate. I admit I’m new at it. I’m on a limited income, but I give a monthly pittance to the news sites I mentioned above. I’ll put the donate buttons for ProPublica and Democracy Now! below. I sent a little money to the bail fund for Inauguration Day (#J20) activists. I’ll put a link to the activist group below. I bought an issue of The Social Justice Journal from AK Press . I plan to read it when I am reasonably sure that I won’t get a migraine from reading.
We need to follow #BlackLivesMatter. We need to listen to what the Latino community is telling us they need from us. They’re really spelling it all out for us: Police aggression; wage theft; ICE raids against nonviolent criminals; slavery in the prison system; the disproportionately high number of people with brown skin who are arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated; and where the money from the private prison industry goes.
Let’s really fucking talk about this! How do those of us who have chronic or acute health conditions manage our health and still participate? How do those of you who have a demanding job, or 3 low-paying jobs, or a hard day with the kids all by yourself do it? What do you tell your kids about hate?
I know that I stay away from cable news and most newspapers. I absolutely do not read the President’s tweets, unless I see a debate among activist friends on facebook. However, I glance at it quickly, consider the source, see if I can find some good reporting on it and GET OUT OF THERE FAST. Then I write in my journal a little, or sing really loud to Lemonade, or take an angry nap, or go for a walk if I’m down with that. Or I order a massive amount of Penne Alla Vodka and a pizza. God, I can’t wait for John Oliver to come back.
How do I be Bi-Queer-Fluid and out and stay safe? What about having Disabilities and staying safe, particularly Mental Health conditions?
I know I sure as hell am scrambling to get back into a BA program and planning to get as many degrees as I need to in order to be employable: Because as we speak, this administration is putting together policies that will dismantle Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, Food Stamps, Cash Assistance, Unemployment and Social Security benefits. Yes, that’s what the previous four or five administrations have been doing, but it’s looking like this one will do it faster, louder and with less accountability.
There’s so much to talk about.
I normally don’t get comments, but please contribute!