Working With Stinky Ingredients - Part 1

Working with natural (plant-based) ingredients has its occasional challenges. Some of the (beneficial) ingredients I work with have an inherently heavy, sharp, pungent, musky, or otherwise less than appealing scent.

Ok, that was the diplomatic description.

Some of them are so stinky that there is instant nose-wrinkling and the instinctive pull-back when the seal is broken and the package is opened.

Yes, that stinky.

At the same time, they have all kinds of skin-loving goodness to offer, so they do deserve a chance.

Choices must be made.

The Stinky Conundrum

So, how shall we solve this stinkiness? Shall we mask the odor?

Perhaps just replace the ingredient?

There's also 'the industry maneuver' (my term)  – using such a small amount of the ingredient that it won't be discernible to the nose. This is common practice in many commercially manufactured cosmetics and is known as a tip-in. Using an ingredient as a tip-in is great for marketing purposes, but the downside is – of course – having to live with the fact that the ingredient won't have any effect at all because there's such a minute amount in the product (0.05%) that it might as well not be there.

So, maybe we should give up and dump the stinky ingredient entirely?


Maybe we could figure out how to incorporate the smelly thing in such a manner that the end product works without insulting the nose.

Maybe we can even make the end product a delight to the nose?

Challenge, accepted.

Considering the Synthetic Factor

In truth, it's pretty easy to mask even the stinkiest of ingredients with synthetic scent. Think of detergent (and many other cleaning agents). Without the addition of perfume, most household cleaning agents are downright foul smelling.

Grabbing a bottle of fragrance would be the most obvious and easiest choice. But personally, I have a problem with this choice.

I am not a big fan of synthetic scents.


I do not like synthetic scents.

Ok that was the diplomatic description.

In truth, I find synthetic scents worse than the stinkiest ingredients I work with. I cannot bring myself to work with them – at all.

This might be due to a perfume allergy (I've never been tested, so I can't say for sure), but it could also just be because I have an incredibly snobbish nose.

Coming Up

In a few upcoming posts, we are going to examine how to deal with naturally stinky ingredients.  We're not going to mask them. We're not going to cover them up either. We are going to embrace them and teach them how to smell pleasant.

Stay tuned.

Do Tell

Which ingredients do you have a hard time incorporating into your products without nose-wrinkling? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Meantime, if you're not into stinky ingredients, make your own perfume using essential oils. 


María Zamora said…
To me, my first dose of reality regarding natural ingredients was neem oil. Awful!
Some essential oil also smell horribly to me, for instance German chamomile, patchouli and palmarosa (only examples).
Heather Behan said…
After receiving one bottle of argan oil that was without scent, I was rather alarmed to receive another one with a decided pong! The manufacturer assured me it was normal but I'm not sure - it smelt rather rancid to me! Also I seem to have trouble working with chamomile hydrosol when I make creams with it. I have tried it in the hot water phase and also putting some in the cool-down phase (a small amount), but I still ended up with a product that had an unpleasant smell that even quite a lot of essential oils couldn't mask. So now I avoid it but will try the powdered version next, as I believe in the soothing powers of chamomile so much as to want to include it often (and I don't always want to use the chamomile essential oil).
Lise M Andersen said…
@María - You are not alone in the perception of neem. I think it is the all time number one ingredient people point to when I ask about stickiness. I am not all that fond of either german chamomile or patchouli essential oil either, but find palmarosa a great addition to blends.

@Heather - I have experienced the same thing with argan oil. As for chamomile hydrosol - it is incredibly concentrated and you could try using it in smaller amounts. I usually mix it with others when using it in emulsions for the same reason you describe. If you mix with a neutral smelling hydrosol such as cornflower you might like the results. :)
Gentle & Quiet said…
Neem oil, patchouli, lanolin.
Heather Behan said…
Thank you for your response Lise. I wasn't aware chamomile hydrosol was so concentrated, so that's a good tip. Yesterday I made a lovely glidy eye lotion, but it too resulted in a smell similar to the one chamomile produces, only it didn't have any in it! I think the culprit might have been witch hazel water though it smelt ok before it was heated. I couldn't even mask the unpleasant smell with fragrance. I can live with it but of course the first thing prospective customers go for is the smell!
Gwen said…
I'm with Gentle on the patchouli, can't stand it, smells like dirt to me. If I wasn't being diplomatic, like you, I'd say it smells like a person that has been taking dirt showers with a side of cannabis.

Believe it or not, I'm not a big fan of the aroma of coconut oil. Mixing it helps, but sometimes leads to smelling like the beach. I love the beach, but never want to smell like I ran out of regular lotion and grabbed the SPF until I can get more.
Barb Miller said…
Lanolin would be my first pick for stinky ingredients...
Lise M Andersen said…
@Gentle & Quiet - We are not in disagreement here! Ever since I found a source of deodorized lanolin, I never looked back! It's fabulous! Google Colins Cosmetic Consultancy - Colin sells in smaller portions

@Heather Behan - Oh yes, the cham hydrosol is incredibly potent - you can easily dilute it in your formulations. Did you mean witch hazel hydrosol? Or witch hazel as the Americans know it ? (which has an alcohol content)

@Gwen - Love your description of the patchouli scent! (made me giggle). I actually know what you mean about coconut oil. It's lovely up to a point. I love cooking with it but am less crazy about the raw (scented) oil for skincare.
Carol said…
Love carrot seed EO in my facial moisturizer but the smell is very earthy and overpowers the blend - can't wait for this series to say the least...
Ashlynn Kap said…
Oh just in time! I was just formulating some pigmented lip butters this morning and cannot stand the scent of Candelilla wax! It smells terrible so I have been sticking with beeswax in the meantime... Cannot wait for this!
Lise M Andersen said…
@Carol - I agree that carrot seed oil can be a tad 'earthy' :)

@Ashlynn Kap - This is new to me .. the Candelilla wax I have worked with seems quite neutral . at least I have never noticed any unpleasantness. I am now going to go have a sniff!
Heather Behan said…
Yes Lisa, I meant witch hazel,the hydrosol. I try to order it without alcohol if possible. But I'm still not sure if it is the smelly culprit though two formulations with it in have turned out smelly! I need to use it more, and in different ways, to find out. I want to use it so I will persevere until it's non-smelly!
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Heather - I have never found witch hazel hydrosol to be smelly - more like a mix of woodsy and tea-like. I have never seen the hydrosol with any alcohol content either.. I wonder if we are speaking of the same thing.
Heather Behan said…
Hi Lise - I think I need to educate myself more about witch hazel (water)! I bought it from a chemist's and these ones usually have alcohol in. I think the hydrosol must be a superior witch hazel water which I must buy from a supplier next time and not simply buy from the high street! So no, it probably wasn't a hydrosol. Having said that I have bought witch hazel from a supplier before which didn't have alcohol in, though they sold others that did. Perhaps that was a hydrosol but it wasn't described as such. I need to do more work on this to sort out the differences! Thank you for your comments.
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Heather - I did a blog post about witch hazel that you might find interesting. It was a bit of an eye opener for me. There is a huge difference between the distillate and what is found in many drugstores (which has alcohol content).

Heather Behan said…
Wow - so interesting! Thank you Lisa. No wonder I've been confused! Here in the UK witch hazel is readily available over chemists' counters and I suspected it wouldn't be of a particularly good quality. Now I certainly wouldn't buy it for my products, not only because of its alcohol content but because the amount of active ingredients in it is questionable. I shall be on the lookout for a small, preferably organic, supplier in future. It's an ingredient that has important qualities for skincare (for what I make anyway). If I find a good supplier I'll be sure to let you know on this page.
Thanks again Lisa.
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Heather - Happy to help! I believe Aromantic in the UK carries witch hazel hydrosol, and it is the real deal. In mainland Europe, Aroma Zone carries it.
Heather Behan said…
That's great! Thank you Lise.
Connie Johnson said…
One of the stinkiest things I have worked with is spirulina.I absolutely hate the fishy smell it has, but it so oxygen rich and beneficial to the skin. Not to mention the fact that it makes a lovely,natural green color in soaps. It is very beneficial in your bath along with other components, but the smell has to be masked for me with essential oils.
Lise M Andersen said…
HI Connie - I agree- spirulina is a real challenge, but I've noticed it will get fishier smelling as it nears the use by date. I usually discard mine when it starts taking on a fishy-smelling quality.
Korkor Kugblenu said…
Yes neem oil for me too.
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Korkor - Neem is an all time favorite 'stinker' :D
Pam said…
I agree with those already posted. My current challenge is camelina oil for beard oils, men are not liking the smell and I'm struggling a bit to find acceptable cover scents for them.
Lise M Andersen said…
Hi Pam, Thanks for your comment! You're the first to mention camellia oil I believe