We get a lot of questions about perfumers alcohol, on this page we answer them.
First of all, this: the term ‘alcohol’ is very confusing to chemists, which, for them, is a large group of chemicals, many of which are used in perfumes. They are often recognizable by the suffix -ol, for example geraniol, linalool or menthol. For that reason, we use the term ethanol as much as possible on this page, which is the chemical name of the alcohol in beer, wine, liqueur and spirits. Ethanol is also the solvent of most perfumes that you can buy in perfumery.
Perfumers alcohol is a generic name for mixtures consisting largely of ethanol and recommended for making perfume and cosmetics. If you look at the composition you see that they usually consist for the most part of ethanol, often in addition to small amounts of additives, for example:
- Denaturants, which are substances that ensure that the ethanol can no longer be used for making liqueur and other alcoholic drinks
- Cutting agents, these are substances that make the product cheaper
- Antioxidants, UV filters, chelating agents, all substances that ensure that the final perfume does not spoil as quickly
Perfume alcohol is not necessarily better than pure ethanol for making perfume. But it can be a useful product for other reasons, see below.
Most perfume and cosmetic manufacturers just use pure ethanol to make perfume and not perfumers alcohol. Denaturants are not necessary for the perfume. They can add adulterants themselves and the same applies to the protective substances.
However, there is a problem with pure ethanol and that is the excise duty. In the Netherlands you pay about 18 euros excise duty on 1 liter of 96% ethanol, in Bulgaria that is about 6 euros and in Finland about 50 euro. In other countries it may be more or less. This is a tax that is levied because the government needs money and therefore has to levy taxes. We will not go into the reasons why ethanol is taxed so heavily, but there are several. As a perfume manufacturer, you can apply for a permit from the tax authorities, so that you do not have to pay this excise duty. This does create work and risk. You have to account for every drop of ethanol administratively. If you can’t, you pay excise duty and a fine. Similar regulations apply in other countries.
For small perfumers that is sometimes too much work, but there is another solution. If the ethanol made unsuitable for human consumption in a certain way, you no longer pay excise duty. Making this unfit for consumption is called denaturing.
Denatured alcohol is ethanol that contains a certain concentration of one or more chemicals that make it unfit for human consumption.
A so-called Eurodenaturant has been agreed within the EU. Ethanol denatured with Eurodenaturant can be transported and used excise-free anywhere in the EU. However, this ethanol has a well perceptible acetone-like odour and is therefore usually not suitable for perfumes.
In addition, most countries have other legal options for denaturing ethanol, but these are not the same in every country. In the Netherlands, for example, you can denature ethanol intended for making perfume with 2.5 grams of denatonium benzoate per hectolitre of ethanol. But in Belgium that is 2 grams per hectolitre. In Germany you also have to use something else in addition to denatonium benzoate, denaturing with denatonium benzoate alone is insufficient.
This ethanol would in itself be suitable for making perfume, because it is just as odourless as pure ethanol. So you could call this perfumer’s alcohol. Problem solved? No, apart from the different requirements per country, there are other difficult matters. Think of the transit of alcohol across the territory of another country: excise duty can also be levied in that case. Keep in mind that not every country is allowed to sell this perfumer’s alcohol to private individuals, or even exclusively to cosmetics companies. Or whether there are permits.
Advice from De Hekserij
Our advice for perfume manufacturers is to talk to the tax authorities and use a pure alcohol for perfumes. Arrange the permit and arrange the administration. Make sure to do this completely in accordance with the rules, additional assessment of excise duties and fines is expensive, very expensive. Optionally, you could use a specially denatured alcohol. Buy these mainly in the country where you make perfume and, if possible, opt for a variant that has been denatured without fragrances. Check carefully whether this alcohol is really allowed by customs!
There are a few options for hobbyists, schools and other small consumers. If you want to use fragrance-free alcohol, buy pure alcohol and accept the excise duty on it. You can buy this in specialty stores and webshops for liqueur makers. Sometimes, but not in every country, it is allowed to sell specially denatured alcohol to private individuals, if the price is right you can always try this.
In addition, there is De Hekserij solution. Under the name ‘Cosmetic Hair Water’* we sell a product that is legally a cosmetic product, which solves many problems. The disadvantage for some people may be that the light scent of this product disturbs the scent of the perfume. In practice, however, the own smell of the Cosmetic Hair Water is so light that this is not a problem. It is good, cheap and almost always satisfactory.
*IMPORTANT: Cosmetic Hair Water can only be shipped to customers in The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany
Especially interesting for professional (small scale) perfumers we wrote this article containing more information about the issues around the use of alcohol in perfumes.