Valentine's Day is coming, and love is in the air--along with the scents of banana, watermelon, magnolia, cucumber and other exotics used to make custom-blended products that pamper the body.
A growing number of specialty shops in Orange County offer shampoos, body lotions, oils and after-shaves custom-made with scents of their customers' choosing. Many prefer these do-it-yourself body care products because they're more personal than the pre-formulated lotions and oils sold in department and drug stores. Would-be cupids can concoct massage oils and other love potions specifically for their beloved.
Mixing up your own shampoo or lotion is like playing scientist.
Most shops offer customers a fragrance counter where they can sample the different scents by pulling wands from test tubes filled with perfume oils. Once they've picked a scent (anything from almond to ylang-ylang), they wait while the unscented lotion or other body product they've chosen is blended with a few drops of the oil.
Often choices don't stop at the nose. Sometimes a shopper can pick the color of the shampoo or the thickness of the lotions. He can even select the size of the bottle, which usually can be returned for a refill at a small discount.
"You can get our body lotions in the thickness you want, the size you want, the scent you want. Sometimes by the time people are done making all of their choices, they hate me," jokes Patti Werrlein, owner of Scents of the Soul in Irvine.
Her customers can choose from lotions in six thicknesses, foaming bath and shower gel in five colors, shaving gel and after-shave, massage oils and two kinds of shampoo and conditioner.
Each product can be scented with any of the 160 perfume oils. There's coconut, orange blossom, cucumber ("it's great in a shower gel"), passion fruit, mango, vanilla, daffodil, blueberry, wisteria and watermelon. When a customer smells more than three perfume oils, Werrlein offers them a whiff from a tin of coffee beans to cleanse the nasal palate.
Oatmeal is usually popular with children, Werrlein says. Patchouli oil is one of her more popular scents, but she can't stand it.
"I think it smells like oil and dirt," she says, wrinkling her nose. Yet five minutes later, a woman walks into her boutique requesting a half-ounce of patchouli oil--straight.
Werrlein also offers "designer duplicates" that mimic brand-name fragrances. The copy-cat oils come in 40 women's fragrances (Chanel No. 5, Giorgio) and 20 fragrances for men (Obsession, Eternity). They're less expensive than the real thing; most products come in four sizes, from two ounces to 16, and average $1 an ounce.
"Often they can get a fragrance in a really light lotion that isn't sold over the counter," Werrlein says.
Custom-blending allows buyers to control the amount of scent they want in a product, says Heidi Blanton, manager of Millefleurs in Dana Point.
"They can have a light or heavy fragrance by adjusting the amount of oil," she says.
Millefleurs carries lotions in three colors, body sprays, bath gels, shampoo and conditioners and body and massage oils that can be scented in one or more of 65 fragrances. The products come in four- and eight-ounce bottles and cost about $1 an ounce.
While fragrance oils might smell like orchids, honeysuckle and other plants, they're mostly synthetic.
"Computer technology can copy the scent of any plant," Blanton says.
A rose extract might cost $200 an ounce if it were a true essential oil, Werrlein says. A half-ounce of her rose petal oil is $10; she says they smell identical, and a whiff of the sweet stuff is convincing.
For purists interested in the therapeutic properties of scents, Bare Escentuals in Fashion Island Newport Beach offers more than 15 pure plant extract oils, such as eucalyptus, rosemary and chamomile, to flavor their line of massage oils and lotions, Vitamin E body lotion, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel.
The rest of the 70 scents offered in the shop are synthetic. Products average $1 per ounce and come in different sized refillable bottles. Adding the extract oils costs extra--from 5 cents to 33 cents a drop depending on the herb. Most products require a couple of drops an ounce.
"This gives people their own special identity. When you go into a department store you're limited," says Vanessa O'Connor, vice president of stores for Bare Escentuals in San Francisco. "Here you create your own scent. If you like floral and cinnamon, you can mix them together."
Scents should be tried on the body before buying, suggests Amanda Smart, manager of the Body Shop in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. Fragrances smell differently than in the test tube because the skin absorbs the oil, she says.
The Body Shop stores in South Coast Plaza, Brea Mall and MainPlace/Santa Ana offer foaming bath oil, lotions and massage oils that can be blended in 22 fragrances. Customers can visit the stores' perfume tester bars and use glass dippers to choose from an earthy masculine scent such as sandalwood or a sweet fragrance such as rose or lilac. Their products also fall in the $1-an-ounce range.
"It makes you feel unique when you're choosing your own scent rather than wearing what other people are wearing," Smart says.