A Perfumer's Guide to Pure Alcohol

What is "Perfumers Alcohol"?

Perfumers alcohol is any volatile carrying agent used to topically deliver essential oils or other aromatic compounds onto the skin. 

Perfumes made with Perfumers Alcohol in a warm and inviting bathroom

Quick Facts About Perfumers Alcohol:

  • Products labeled "perfumers alcohol" should contain only ethyl alcohol (ethanol).
  • "200 Proof" means 100% Alcohol by Volume
  • Some denatured formulas, including SDA 40B, have been approved for wide spread commercial use, and are still built on a base of ethyl alcohol.
  • Alcohol's high evaporative rate (volatility) and superior solvent properties make it a preferred carrying agent for perfumers.
  • Organic Certified perfumers alcohol represent the highest quality ingredients and manufacturing standards.

Perfumers Alcohol: Pure vs Denatured

Perfumers alcohol comes in two distinct forms, pure representing 100% ethyl alcohol and "denatured" representing ethyl alcohol blended with additives to inhibit ingestion as an intoxicant.  SDA 40B represents the most popular denatured alcohol blend in the commercial perfumery industry, and was created in response to the excise tax levied on pure ethyl alcohol.  Today more than ever, when we evaluate the ingredients we put in and on our body, there are better alternatives to using denatured alcohol blends for your DIY perfume making recipes.  

woman evaluating perfumer's alcohol labels for ingredients and additives


The Role of Perfumer's Alcohol in Fragrance Creation

Perfumer's alcohol acts as a crucial medium in perfume making, capturing and preserving the essence of fragrance notes. It dissolves essential oils and aroma compounds effectively, ensuring that the scent is released gradually and lasts longer. This makes it ideal for creating perfumes that maintain their complexity and depth over time.

The unique properties of perfumer's alcohol allow it to dissolve both oil-soluble and some water-soluble components, which helps in stabilizing the mixture and preventing the separation of ingredients. This solubility factor is key in achieving a clear and homogeneous solution, which is critical for high-quality perfume formulations. Many common perfume ingredients like citrus oils, musks, and floral extracts are more effectively utilized with perfumer's alcohol. It extracts the volatile aromas efficiently without altering their natural properties, ensuring that the perfume's fragrance remains true to the original scent profile of the ingredients.

High-quality alcohol impacts how a perfume is perceived. When first applied, alcohol carries the 'top notes'—the initial, lighter elements of the scent. As the alcohol evaporates, it reveals the 'heart notes'—the main body of the perfume. Finally, the 'base notes' remain, providing the enduring fragrance that lingers on the skin.

Will any alcohol work for perfume?

Well, no, not all alcohols are created equally.  As previously mentioned, only ethyl alcohol should be used for perfume recipes calling for alcohol as a base.  Isopropyl and methyl alcohol should never be used for perfume making.  Denatured alcohol (alcohol denat.) is ethyl alcohol with additives (denaturants) blended to certain minimum percentages according to the official formula filed with the TTB.

How to Identify the Ingredients (& Additives) in Your Perfumer's Alcohol

The term "alcohol" on a package or online listing doesn't alone guarantee purity of recipe, strength, or safety for skin applications including perfume recipes.  To go further, the term "alcohol" on a package doesn't signify the right kind of alcohol for perfume, either.  Selecting the best alcohol for perfume making doesn't have to be difficult, but the quantity of choices and products available today require that perfumers pay attention to the product's description or label to know exactly what they are working with.  Perfumers should always read the full description of the alcohol product to understand what is, or is not, blended into the alcohol labeled as "perfumers alcohol".

When shopping for perfumers alcohol, look for these key terms to understand exactly what's in your alcohol base. View our expanded blog post on perfumer's terms and terminology

  • ABV - Alcohol by Volume, represented as a percentage. 
  • 200 Proof - A term representing 100% ABV and 0% water.     
  • Ethyl Alcohol - Also goes by "Ethanol", this is the alcohol generally regarded as the safest for extended contact with the skin.  Ethyl alcohol should make up the majority (>70%) of most all perfume and cologne recipe components.
  • CDA 12A - Completely Denatured Alcohol "Formula 12A", ethyl alcohol blended with methanol and isopropyl alcohol.
  • Culinary Solvent - Pure, 200 proof ethyl alcohol designed for herbalists, perfumers, chefs, and artisans.
  • Denatured Alcohol - A term representing ethyl alcohol blended with chemical additives to inhibit consumption for intoxication.  Products labeled as "denatured" will list the chemical blended into the solution, always continue reading the product's label or description to understand exactly which chemical was added as a denaturant.
  • SDA 40B - Specially Denatured Alcohol "Formula 40B" ethyl alcohol blended with the chemical additives Tert-Butyl Alcohol and Denatonium Benzoate.
  • SDA 3C - Specially Denatured Alcohol "Formula 3C" ethyl alcohol containing the additive isopropyl alcohol.
  • Undenatured - Also sometimes written as "non-denatured", this term means "no additives" or just "pure ethyl alcohol".

Understanding the Basic Properties of Perfumer's Alcohol

Alcohol is superior to oil for perfumery because it exhibits excellent miscibility with oils and water, is highly volatile for aroma dispersion, and does not expire when stored properly.  

Miscibility with Oils and Water: Perfumer's alcohol is highly miscible, meaning it can blend seamlessly with fragrance oils to create a uniform mixture. This property allows the alcohol and oils to combine without separating or reaching saturation, ensuring a clear and consistent perfume solution. However, diluting 200 proof alcohol by adding water affects its alcohol by volume (ABV), potentially impacting the miscibility of some fragrance oils. At lower proofs, fragrance oils may not dissolve as fully, which can cause cloudiness or separation in the final product.

The Role of Volatility: Volatility is a critical property in perfumery, referring to how easily a substance vaporizes. Ethyl alcohol, whether in food-grade ethanol or SDA 40B denatured form, exhibits natural volatility, facilitating the release of fragrance notes into the air. The concentration of alcohol can influence volatility; adding water or fragrance oils may reduce it, affecting how the perfume disperses and lingers.

Shelf Life Considerations: Pure perfumer's alcohol, undiluted by fragrance oils, maintains its quality indefinitely. However, incorporating fragrance oils or water can modify the shelf life of the resulting perfume. Each fragrance oil reacts differently, so there's no universal rule for how these additions change a perfume’s longevity. It's best to store undiluted perfumer's alcohol in its original container and keep completed perfumes in cool, dark places away from sunlight, children, and pets. Ensure containers, especially atomizers and misters, are airtight to prevent the perfume from degrading due to environmental changes.

    Base Aroma

    When crafting your perfume, the choice of perfumer's alcohol matters more than you might think. Even if your recipe includes a large amount of fragrance oils, the base aroma of your alcohol can influence the final scent. This is because not all alcohols are created equal. Despite being distilled to 190 proof and dehydrated to 200 proof, certain characteristics from the original raw materials can persist. These include esters and aldehydes that sneak into the final product, giving each type of alcohol—whether distilled from cane, grape, or corn—distinct flavor and aroma profiles. Additionally, denaturants added to some alcohols can introduce their own odors, which could affect the scent of your perfume. It's important to be aware of these nuances when selecting your alcohol base, even if it's a high-proof option like 200 proof food grade alcohol. Read detailed descriptions of alcohol distilled from various sources here to better understand how they might impact your creations. What to do: Read the descriptive profiles of alcohol distilled from Cane, Grape, Corn, & Wheat here.

    What is the best alcohol for perfume making?

    With out a doubt, pure ethyl alcohol is the best alcohol for perfume making recipes.  Ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is miscible with fragrance oils, highly volatile for scent dispersion, easily diluted with water to modify the evaporative properties, naturally sourced from sustainable ingredients, has a proven track record for known side effects and body interactions.  Pure ethyl alcohol distilled from corn exhibits the most neutral aroma profile when compared to cane or grape.  200 proof ethyl alcohol has an indefinite shelf life, it does not expire if kept in a tightly sealed bottle.

    Denatured vs Pure Alcohol for Perfumers

    Denatured alcohol for perfumers in the form of SDA 40b is popular and widespread from commercial processors to first-time hobbyists.  The specially denatured alcohol formula 40b contains the additives tert-Butyl alcohol and denatonium benzoate.  Most commercial perfumes are made with SDA40b alcohol, however these additives do nothing to enhance the effect or performance of the perfume recipe.  These toxic additives are included in SDA40b alcohol solely to in inhibit consumption of the perfumers alcohol.  While generally regarded as safe for occasional use as perfume, there is new emerging evidence examining the side effects of denatonium benzoate exposure from denatured alcohol use.

    If denaturants are toxic, why use them at all?

    Because of the reduced cost of denatured ethyl alcohol vs tax-paid undenatured ethyl alcohol, denatured blends like SDA40b are used throughout the commercial perfume making industry.  

    Many perfumers have grown accustomed to using denatured alcohol for their perfume recipes and are unaware of the potential harms that a better, more pure alternative exists in food grade ethyl alcohol.

    Does Certified Organic Matter for Perfume?

    When crafting perfumes, the alcohol base should meet the same high-quality standards as your fragrance oils. Now, perfumers have choices that are not only better for our bodies but also for the planet. Any alcohol labeled as USDA Certified Organic adheres to rigorous quality standards and traceability requirements. For perfumers creating organic products such as perfumes, colognes, or body products, using USDA certified organic alcohol is essential to preserve the overall organic integrity of their products. Conversely, if an alcohol is denatured, it typically cannot qualify for USDA organic certification, which might prevent you from labeling your final product as organic.

    Compliance and Safety Guidelines

    When handling perfumer's alcohol, adhering to safety practices and legal regulations is crucial for both compliance and personal safety.

    Safety Considerations Working with Perfumer's Alcohol

    • Perfumer's Alcohol is highly flammable, both before diluting with fragrance oils, and in the final mixed perfume form.  Do not smoke or work near the stove.  Extinguish all nearby flames when working with, or dispensing perfume.
    • Clean up spills immediately.  Absorb large puddles with dry cloth or paper towels.  Rinse rags and paper towels in the sink with cold water running before disposing of in trash.  Open a window
    • Ensure adequate ventilation is available before working with perfumers alcohol.
    • Store unused perfumers alcohol in a cool, dark place, away from sunlight, sources of heat, or flames.  Keep away from children and pets.  Always store unused alcohol in the original container it was purchased in.

    Regulatory Considerations for Perfumers Alcohol

    The sale, use, and use of pure perfumer's alcohol is governed by specific legal considerations that vary by US State. These regulations dictate how and where perfumer's alcohol can be used, as well as labeling and shipping requirements.

    If you live in California, Florida, Maine, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Hawaii, or Texas, you may purchase pure 200 Proof Perfumers Alcohol online without additional permit or steps, even considering that Everclear 190 proof is banned in those states.  Customers in Washington, Oregon, Virginia, and New York may purchase pure perfumers alcohol online by completing a quick state-specific permit application. 

    We've done the regulation homework for you and researched the food grade ethanol rules for every state in the US.  View our map page to find your state's rules here.

    Denatured Alcohol (SDA 40B) is Not "Regulation Free"

    Some states, like California, have placed an outright ban on denatured alcohol, including SDA40b for perfumers, due to the toxicity to the environment presented by the additives.  

    While denatured alcohol purchase in states outside of California is possible without additional permit, there is a 5-gallon per year annual limit consumers may purchase without triggering additional Federal and tax registration requirements.  If you are a high-volume perfumer or commercial processor requiring more than 5 gallons of SDA40b per year, learn more about the regulations that trigger after 5 gallons of denatured alcohol use per year. **This 5-gallon limit applies to denatured alcohol only.  Pure perfumer's alcohol is taxed special by the TTB (Learn about Federal Excise Taxes here) and thereby does not share this 5-gallon limitation.  Always double check your local state and regulations to ensure that you are in full compliance while working with perfumers alcohol.

    About Making Perfume Using Perfumer's Alcohol

    The hardest part about making your own perfume or cologne is deciding on the scent!  Perfumers have the choice between extracting their own fragrances, or to work with carefully crafted pre-made fragrance oils.  Whether you are extracting or blending your recipe, perfumers alcohol from Culinary Solvent is ready for the task. 

    How to Buy Pure, Perfumers Alcohol Online

    Perfume doesn't benefit from toxic additives, and your skin doesn't either. 

    Zero additives, Culinary Solvent is simply pure ethyl alcohol that's perfect for perfume.  Say "good bye" to toxic additives in SDA40b and discover the benefits of using pure Perfumers Alcohol by Culinary Solvent.


    Additional Resources

    • García-Valenzuela JA, Baez-Gaxiola MR. Comments on the Risks From Exposure to Denatonium Benzoate (Bitrex®): Denatured Alcohol Disinfection and Pandemic Times. International Journal of Toxicology. 2021;40(5):475-477. doi:10.1177/10915818211038498

      About Food Grade Ethanol, for Perfumers.

      Pure ethyl alcohol is incredibly versatile, learn more about this amazing molecule that perfect for perfume and so much more.

      Learn More

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      How to buy pure Perfumers Alcohol from CulinarySolvent.com

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      Perfumers Alcohol FAQs

      Due to its neutral profile, coupled with clean evaporative properties and zero toxic additives, we recommend Culinary Solvent 200 Proof (100% ABV) Food Grade Alcohol for your next perfume making project.

      Rubbing alcohol, which uses isopropyl alcohol, is not suitable for perfumery. It has a strong smell and can be harsh on the skin. Additionally, the added water content in rubbing alcohol can interfere with the perfumes. Therefore, it is advised to avoid using rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol in perfumery.

      Everclear, a brand of high-proof grain alcohol, can be used in perfumery as a substitute for Trade Specific Denatured Alcohol (TSDA), especially for beginners who may have difficulty obtaining TSDA. However, vodka, with its lower alcohol content (typically around 40%), is not suitable for perfumery as it does not meet the desired high-proof requirement of 95%+ alcohol content.

      Witch hazel is not a suitable substitute for alcohol in perfume making, despite some information found online suggesting otherwise. It is advised to ignore such information entirely. As for methanol, it is a different alcohol altogether and should never be considered for use in perfumes due to its extreme toxicity and high skin absorption rate.

      When it comes to perfumery, the distinction between grain alcohol and organic grain alcohol is not significant. What matters is that the alcohol used is cosmetics grade and not diluted. Whether the alcohol is derived from fermented grains or organically grown source material does not affect its suitability for perfumery.

      Denatured alcohol is considered unfit for human consumption due to the addition of poison or bad tasting chemicals. There are various denaturants used, so it is not recommended to use something labeled solely as 'denatured alcohol' as it may contain toxic substances. However, cosmetic grade Trade Specific Denatured Alcohol (TSDA), specifically SD-40b, is widely used and recommended for perfumery.

      Yes.  Food Grade Ethanol refers to pure ethyl alcohol, identical to what's used in SDA 40B denatured alcohol blends but devoid of any harmful additives. It's completely safe for consumption and topical use, making it the superior choice for creating perfumes.