Claudia Davaar Lambie makes cosmetics using ingredients straight from the source at NauNau DIY Studio. Photo by Vinh Dao.

Notes of lemongrass and lavender dance around my nostrils as I enter the studio. Concoctions of varying lotions and potions are in abundance. There is an impressive collection of every type of oil scent imaginable, some I have never heard of but smell delightful. Adjacent to this assortment are wooden shelves which host NauNau’s own product-line: shower gels, face masks and body butters to name a few. In the centre of the studio there is a long wooden workbench table and chairs. Beakers, stirrers and metal mixing bowls are scattered haphazardly on the workspace. 

NauNau DIY Studio was opened in 2013 by Yen Huynh. The quirky DIY concept invites people to experiment with scents to make homemade skin, hair or perfume products. DIY prices range from VND 150,000 for smaller, less time consuming items such as lipbalm and bathsalts to the more expensive perfumes priced at VND 2,500,000 which take around two weeks to make. The costs of the workshop includes all of the tools, materials and guidance that is needed to make all of these products from scratch.

Huynh’s inspiration for creating NauNau stems from her passion for perfumes and aromatherapy. In Thailand she had the chance to study the art and technology of fragrances and smiles brightly when she talks about her hobby. Her career, spanning over 10 years, was previously in the distribution of spa and cosmetic products to the hospitality industry. Huynh remembers at that time it was difficult to import the ingredients needed for things like soaps and shampoos. “The import taxes were very high and it wasn’t easy to get good quality products and cosmetics shipped to Vietnam for clients,” she says.

This experience coupled with her education in business management led Huynh to seek out ingredients and develop cosmetics from within Vietnam. “I wanted to use natural ingredients from here, like coffee from Bao Loc and cinnamon essential oil from the Tra My Mountains.”  Huynh is passionate about all things natural and so chose the Vietnamese word ‘nau’ which translates as ‘brown’ in English for the name of the studio. “It’s my favourite colour and is the colour of the earth,” she says. Some of the plants and products simply cannot be grown in Vietnam’s tropical climate and so Huynh imports them from around the world via Thailand. The shea butter comes from Ghana, lavender from France and green tea from Japan.

Time to DIY
In the time that I have, I decide to make an essential oil and a bath bomb. I’m clueless about what scent combinations would work well together. Huyen opens the NauNau DIY recipe book (VND 169,000) and asks what kind of oil I would like to make. There are around 50 different concoctions; some to relax, de-stress and even some to make you feel more confident. After a hard day’s work, Huynh recommends that I make a relaxing aroma and helpfully points to some recipes that she has tried and tested herself.

Tram, one of the ladies who hosts the workshop, invites me to smell the different types of oil. Carefully dabbing a droplet of each scent on testing paper, I begin the smelling marathon. Bergamot; rosewood; violet; cinnamon; vanilla and grape fill my airwaves. They all smell wonderful and as always in my case, annoyingly so, edible. I decide on a dreamy mix of lavender, blue chamomile and tuberose.

Tram explains that it is important to delicately mix the oils together. There are three ‘notes’; top, middle and base, and this determines the quantity of each oil and how it will smell once it has been mixed together.  Like a mad scientist with my beaker, stirrer, oils and formula sheet, I begin to add the scented oils together: two droplets of tuberose; 15 drops of chamomile and 20 drops of lavender. I repeat this process until I reach a total of 10 millimeters of the oil mix; always stirring and smelling between each stage. The end result is a perfect blend of soothing scents tinged blue from the chamomile. 

Next up is the fizzy bath bomb. Having already smelled the oils, I choose orange, bergamot and mandarin. Tram arranges my workspace and I’m a bit overwhelmed when she unveils a variety of jars labeled citric acid, ethanol and corn powder. She gives me rubber gloves and I’m let loose, this time like a baker, spooning ingredients into my mixing bowl as if I’m baking a cake.

After about 15 minutes of measuring, adding and mixing, I drop my essential oils into the centre of the powdered blend. Throwing in some lavender seeds for good measure, I then shape the mix into two sphere-shaped molds which clasp tightly together. Around ten minutes later, the ball has solidified and a spray of ethanol helps to keep it intact. Impressively, I’ve made my first ever bath bomb.

What’s in your face wash?
Huynh views the DIY workshops as an important stepping stone for natural cosmetics. As well as the element of fun and satisfaction gained from making a homemade product, she also wants people to know what ingredients are in the products they buy. “I want people to know what products are suited for themselves and their skin, especially for the younger generation,” she says.

Globally, there has been an explosion of beauty and health care products available. Huynh encourages people to come and make a product and compare it with the other brands they buy. She points out that many young Vietnamese are buying cosmetic products from Korea and China but they don’t know what is in them. Huynh emphasises the importance of natural, eco-friendly ingredients that can be made right here in Vietnam, in the DIY studio.

NauNau DIY Studio is located in Hanoi, Danang and Saigon, at:
5th Floor, 42 Nguyen Hue, Dist 1
Ho Chi Minh City. Hotline:
Tel:09 03 894 6681