Below is a post I wrote on Reddit when I first started. I wanted to re-post it here for easy access for my customers and fans. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
Long winded explanation of how I formulated an aftershave that turned out so well I decided to sell it.
From the very beginning of my foray into traditional wet shaving, my favorite part of the experience was always the aftershave splash (balms were just too boring and left my skin irritating “tacky”). The wonderful scents and the invigorating cooling sensation of a good splash just really brought the whole traditional shaving experience together for me in an especially satisfying way.
This simple enjoyment led to a small obsession that involved me purchasing literally dozens of different aftershaves to sample. However, it wasn’t until I tried Alt Innsbruck (an incredibly well reviewed Austrian aftershave), that I found exactly how good an aftershave could be. It seemed to have just the right amount of everything, although it was famously made with only four ingredients: alcohol, water, menthol and Virginia tobacco oil. Inspired by the apparent simplicity of these ingredients, along with the desire to save a couple of bucks, I decided to see if I could recreate my new favorite product on my own.
Exploring all of the on-line boards for shaving enthusiasts, I found many recipes for homemade aftershave, but nothing that really looked at all like what I was trying to accomplish. What I did find was that distilled water and Vodka or Everclear seemed to be the preferred base ingredients and that menthol came in a pure crystalized form that will dissolve, so I thought I had a start. However, when I got everything together and mixed it in all kinds of ratios – with multiple essential oils (including tobacco, eucalyptus, vetiver, hemp, hops, grapefruit, etc..) – nothing came close to meeting my expectations. The alcohol had too much of its own scent, and the essential oils were too one dimensional. To this day I still have no idea where Alt Innsbruck finds their Virginia Tobacco oil. I didn’t find anything that smells even close, and I tried every one I could find.
So I gave up on my quest, but my interest in traditional shaving continued, and I still checked into all of the on-line forums regularly. Until one day it finally came to my attention that (unlike Alt Innsbruck) the aftershave fragrances I enjoyed so much were basically just diluted colognes. Although perhaps obvious in retrospect, at the time this proved to be a highly impactful insight for me, which led to a brand new obsession. After all, if I enjoyed drug store aftershave, surely high end, meticulously crafted men’s fragrances would double my pleasure! So back to the sampling I went… and I found that there were many scents I enjoyed, particularly names like Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver, YSL Rive Gauche, Aqua de Parma Colonia, and Guerlain Vetiver, all of which were often referred to as “barbershop” scents.
Unfortunately, I also found that in addition to being very expensive, that when applying these colognes I usually couldn’t use my beloved splashes because of scent clashing. I tried switching to straight witch hazel or even gasp unscented balms to avoid this situation, but it just didn’t do it for me. Not only that, but I also became frustrated with the strength of the less diluted colognes themselves. They just had too much projection for my tastes, and that made me uncomfortable.
Now some of these colognes do come in aftershave versions, but at $60 – $80 per bottle that just wasn’t a reasonable long-term solution for me, even though it really was the best of both worlds.
More time passed, and my desire to create a truly enjoyable to use aftershave at home remained unfulfilled. That is until more internet browsing led to the most important discovery on this journey: Fragrance Oils.
Fragrance Oils are generally looked down upon by both perfume connoisseurs (Frag-Heads) and perfume making hobbyists. This is because they are often synthetic compounds and they are pre-blended. As a result they are often relegated only to the worlds of aromatherapy and soap or candle making, hence the reason it took me so long to find out about them. That said, there are several on-line vendors that sell fragrance oils blended specifically to duplicate famous brands, and to be used in small quantities directly on the skin or in cosmetic products.
I tried several of these vendors, and found that SaveOnScents.com had by far the best selection and prices. While exploring their offerongs, I also found that they sold what’s called Perfumer’s Alcohol, which at the time I was totally unfamiliar with. No aftershave recipe that I found on-line ever mentioned the existence of such a product; however this alcohol proved to be the last essential piece of the puzzle.
Getting back to the ”lab”, I began working on all different kinds of ratios between Perfumer’s Alcohol, distilled water, my favorite Fragrance Oils, and Menthol. I eventually found a suitable ratio between water and Alcohol that approximated the Alt-Innsburck feel. I also learned that each of the oils had a slightly different dissolvability potential in my base. For the maximum scent impact, which I preferred, I would just continue to slowly add oil until the mixture began to cloud. This usually worked out to about 4-6% of the original base volume. This may seem high based on what is typically called for in a “splash” product, but I believe the oils I use are much less concentrated than those typically used by big perfumers. As for the menthol, I just add it to taste, and generally need a lot less than you might think.
To me, the end result of this process was quite staggering. I really feel like I didn’t just replicate Alt Innsbruck, but that I may have actually improved on it! The scents I’ve chosen are far less polarizing than the tobacco in that formula, and the feel is just as good.
Regarding those scents, after many experiments, I decided to go with reproductions of Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver, which I branded Fresh Vetiver, and YSL’s Rive Gauche, which I branded American Blend, as my first products to market. So far, the vast majority of those who have tried these splashes have really enjoyed them, and I sell them both on www.FineAccoutrements.com.
This information was hard won, so I hope you find it useful. Feel free to PM me if you have any questions.
Mr. Fine, Founder & Chief Chemist, Fine Accoutrements
EDIT: If you order anything from SaveOnScents.com, please use my e-mail address (Mr.Fine<at>FineAccoutrements.com) in the referral section! Thanks.