New proposed legislation in the European Union may serve as a death sentence for many classic fragrances by putting unprecedented restrictions on the use of natural fragrance ingredients. Such restrictions imposed by The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) are not new. IFRA updates its list of disallowed ingredients to use in commercial fragrances on an ongoing basis. What is different this time around is the magnitude of the proposed restrictions. If turned into law, the proposed legislation would have impact on all aspects of the industry and consumer worldwide. While the impacts are seen mostly as negative, they also present an opportunity for the archaic fragrance industry to take a new approach to doing business.
Impact on the Industry
The proposed legislation is believed to have a game-changing impact on almost all areas of the fragrance industry. The updated list of potentially allergic fragrance ingredients has grown from 26 in 2005 to 100.
Most fragrances, which have been on the market since 2005 will likely be negatively impacted.
Perfumes that contain natural ingredients such as oak moss, will be hit the hardest.
The implications for the fragrance houses are that they will either have to reformulate their signature fragrances or discontinue them. Discontinuing Shalimar, for example, is probably the easiest way to deal with the situation but it is also the least preferred for the fragrance companies and consumers alike.
Reformulating the fragrances poses a two-fold problem: first it costs money and second it draws attention to the dark side of the perfume industry – reformulation.
Reformulated fragrances are rarely better than the originals containing natural ingredients.
Reformulating a fragrance can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the complexity of the formula. Even when a lot of money is thrown are reformulations, there is always a risk that the end product may be a commercial flop. Reformulated fragrances are rarely better than the originals containing natural ingredients. For example, the reformulated Eau Sauvage currently sold on the market is just a pale copy of the original fragrance release in the 60’s.
The other problem around reformulation is the one that scares fragrance companies more than the high reformulation costs. It is bringing the practice of reformulation itself to light.
…reformulations are taboo in the industry and that they are rarely talked about.
Flur Roberts with Euromonitor says that reformulations are taboo in the industry and that they are rarely talked about. It seems like fragrance companies live in this illusionary world where consumers are oblivious to all the tweaks and changes to the original formula go unnoticed by the consumer.
Jean Guichard with Givaudan says “Consumers know their perfume better than any expert…We say nothing to consumers, but they notice when their fragrance has been changed…” Just because I keep buying Eau Sauvage doesn’t mean I don’t know you are playing with it. I am just waiting to screw it up completely before I give up and move on to something better.
The proposed legislation would require thousands of commercial fragrances to be reformulated. It would also allow fragrance companies to come clean about reformulations and have a fresh start building relationships with consumers based on honesty.
How impacted each perfume company will be will depend on how many of the potentially banned ingredients they use in their fragrances. LVMH, for example, will be impacted to a much greater extend than L’Oreal. LVMH owns the houses of Guerlain and Dior, which have strong traditions in perfumery and most of their best selling products contain many of the to-be-banned ingredients. Chanel is in a similar situation.
Perfume companies, which use mostly synthetics in their fragrances will likely be impacted to a lesser degree. Coty, for example, has built its business model around short-lived celebrity fragrances, which use mostly synthetics. The risk around future restrictions for Coty is limited for two main reasons: first, most of their ingredients will most likely not be on the list; second, it would be much easier and cheaper for them to drop the current version of Kim Kardashian‘s True Reflection and reissue a flanker without the banned ingredient. No one would even notice considering the saturation of celebrity fragrances on the market.
The success of Coty’s celebrity fragrances are also dependent on the success of the celebrity. Provided the volatility of celebrity popularity, Coty has probably built a short-term strategy around each fragrance. Would anyone even remember Kim Kardashian 20 years from now let alone wear her fragrance? I bet no.
“If this law goes ahead I am finished.” – Frederic Malle
The proposed legislation could have a very opposite and dramatic impact on smaller niche brands. “If this law goes ahead I am finished.” says Frederic Malle. Unfortunately, he may not be very far from the truth. His fragrances are known and admired among connoisseurs for the fragrant nuances and creativity given partly by the use of naturals. Take those away and Musc Ravageur will not be the same.
Some industry experts say that fragrance ingredient companies (e.g. Firmenich, Symrise, Givaudan) will likely profit from the proposed legislation. After all, they are the ones manufacturing the synthetic molecules to replace the naturals. This would make sense if it wasn’t for the fact that the large ingredient manufacturers also produce many of the naturals used in perfumery. Therefore, any potential gains may not be as evident
Impact on the Consumer
IFRA’s motivation behind the ingredient regulations is to protect consumers from the exposure of potential allergens used in fragrances. In a way, they protect the interest of the general public. Do they really?
1 to 3 percent of the population in Europe is allergic or potentially allergic to the natural ingredients found in fragrances.
The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) have estimated that approximately 1 to 3 percent of the population in Europe is allergic or potentially allergic to the natural ingredients found in fragrances. Logically, the remaining 97 to 99 percent of the population enjoy fragrances with natural ingredients without any allergic reaction. With this in mind, how does the ingredient restriction at hand serves the majority of 99 percent? Wouldn’t killing historical and cultural symbols like Chanel No 5, Eau Sauvage and Miss Dior deprive the majority of the population from enjoying these unique artistic creations? How are the SCCS and IFRA serving the majority of consumers?
Quite intelligently, when I wear a fragrance, which gives me a rash, I stop wearing it.
It seems like SCCS and IFRA think of consumers as brainless creatures who, for the life of them, can’t figure out what to do when they have allergies. In fact quite the opposite is true. People can actually take a pretty good care of themselves without having agencies telling them what is bad for them. Quite intelligently, when I wear a fragrance, which gives me a rash, I stop wearing it. I don’t need SCCS or IFRA to tell the dumb me that I should stop using it and take away my choice of using it. I can figure that much by myself.
In the spirit of the IFRA’s regulations, I suggest we ban all dairy products, nuts and shellfish because they all are potential allergens. While we are at it, let’s ban wine too because when I drink it I turn red and I am pretty sure that’s an allergic reaction.
Other industries successfully deal with allergens in their products by listing them on the packaging or displaying warnings. For example, it is quite common in any donut shop to see a sign that says “Allergy Warning: Products may contain traces of nuts.”
Fragrance companies, however, are not as eager as donut shops to list their ingredients. The reason for this is the lack of copyright on fragrance formulas. Therefore, protecting key ingredients and formulas is paramount for maintaining market advantage.
Even if fragrance companies list their ingredients, they wouldn’t mean much to the average consumer. Linalool, Limonene and denatured alcohol may get a chemist excited but will get a blank stare from the average consumer.
If listing chemical ingredients is useless, then how about listing potential allergic reactions a fragrance may cause. This seems to work with most medications but then they do not try to sell you the dream of sensuality and intense allure. Fragrances do exactly that: they try to sell the image of feeling glamorous, sensual, a better version of you and this is hard to do when talking about eczema and rashes. Then again, fragrance companies continue to peddle the illusion that their fragrances come from pure nature and how can such innocent purity as jasmine petals cause you a rash? In fact, it can and is more likely to than the unsexy 2,3-benzopyrrole.
How restrictive the future regulation is going to be will become evident in the first half of 2013. Until then, it may not be such a crazy idea to stock up on your favourite scent because it may not be the same after IFRA is done with it.
- Perfume Reformulation: Why Perfume Companies Mess with Success (scentbound.co)
- Fragrance Regulation Q and A: “Like an Atomic Explosion” (boisdejasmin.com)
- Chanel No.5 Perfume | EU Wants to Ban Key Ingredient (theblend.ie)
- Definition: Flanker Fragrance (bellasugar.com)