“Noses,” those elite folks who create alluring scents for perfumers large and small, are up in arms to varying degrees over new regulations from the European Union about which ingredients may be used in the formulation of such iconic, romantic names as Chanel No. 5, Shalimar and Anaïs Anaïs. At issue are a number of substances, ironically many of them natural, that the EU says will result in allergic reactions for 1–3% of the population and thus must be eliminated.
In question are such molecules as atranol and chloroatranol, found in oak moss—a natural ingredient contributing a woodsy element that also adds to a scent’s longevity. They are found in traditional fragrances, like Chanel No. 5, and in a wide range of other scents as well. Also endangered is the synthetic HICC, known as lyral, which conjures up the scent of lily of the valley. All three are on the proscribed list because they can cause dermatitis in that tiny percentage of the population.
Other ingredients are also under debate, including linalool, which is found in lavender and is also a popular element of numerous high-end fragrances; the Givaudan synthetic lilial, which contributes a “green” scent; citral, which comes from lemons and tangerines; eugenol, from rose and clove oils; and coumarin, sourced from bergamot and related species of plants. While no ban has been issued—yet—for these, it was recommended, although the issue is still under study.
In a report published by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) in 2012, those recommendations were made public and the perfume industry reacted with horror. The first regulations take effect early in 2015, with discussion and testing continuing to determine the fate of those other proposed bans. In the meantime, perfumers have been scrambling to find ways to reformulate their scents in ways that will neither alienate customers nor drag down the bottom line. And the task is not an easy one.
While perfume formulas are notoriously secret—they’re not protected as intellectual property, but instead regarded as, unromantic as it may sound, industrial formulas that can be duplicated —customers always seem to know when a perfume has been altered, whether or not such an alteration has been disclosed by the parfumier. And that can result in a search for a new scent by the finicky consumer. People can be more sensitive to the minuscule differences present in natural scent oils that gas chromatographs cannot distinguish, and for many, if an ingredient changes, the scent is no longer alluring.
That’s no small thing in an industry that’s worth $25 billion globally for high-end products alone. And in 2013, a report by Global Industry Analysts projected its worth in 2018 to nearly double to $45.6 billion, thanks to increasing popularity in emerging markets—in particular the Asia-Pacific and Latin American regions, expected to contribute particularly to growth—and in the men’s market, to ever-younger customers and in the celebrity fragrance sector.
This is by no means the first time that certain ingredients have been banned from perfume. The International Fragrance Association (IFRA), the perfumers’ self-regulatory body formed in 1973, has already restricted a number of ingredients over health concerns, and of course the perfume companies themselves have taken action from time to time to accommodate shortages of some ingredients and increasing costs for others.
Still, Guerlain’s Shalimar once contained birch tar oil, which was eliminated when it was thought to pose a risk for cancer. The use of linalool is already limited because of allergy concerns, while eugenol, also limited, can cause allergic reactions as well. And the organic compounds of furocoumarins have been removed because exposure to the sun can cause them to produce dark spots on the wearer’s skin.