We all remember the sweet scent of our first perfume and only need a simple whiff to propel us back to our youth. Studies show that scent memory is the longest lasting of all of our five senses, meaning you will always be able to instantly recognize the scent your grandmother wore when you were a child. But what if one day that perfume you hold so dear suddenly smelled slightly different? Recently, the perfume industry has become subject to stricter standards forcing longtime perfume makers to abruptly change their ingredient and formulas.
The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) was founded in 1973 in Geneva and its members create over 90% of the world’s fragrances. The IFRA serves to regulate the perfume industry in order to promote the safe use of perfumes worldwide. Two years ago, IFRA restricted the use of oakmoss extract, found in several top selling men’s and women’s perfumes, after it was found to cause a rash for some consumers similar to poison ivy. This restriction is forcing perfume makers to overhaul the makeup of several well known perfumes, including fragrances by Dior and Lacoste. Many perfume makers are concerned that this will cause an uproar, with consumers claiming they will easily be able to tell a change in the scent that they have worn for years.
Opponents and proponents of the new IFRA restrictions fall within the classic divide in the perfume world. Those who oppose the ban see perfume making as an expressive art whose history extends back hundreds of years. To them, the ban significantly limits creativity and resources in creating new scents. Those who support the IFRA see the restrictions as a way to avoid health or public relations trouble that skin rashes and outbreaks could have on the $2 billion dollar perfume industry. They see perfume making in the global business sense, with a popular scent leading to an entire line of products.
Synthetic scents are nothing new to the perfume industry and today they make up the majority of components of most fragrances, but natural elements such as oakmoss serve to add richness to the scent. Problems can arise when synthetic chemical combinations try to replace the natural elements. Not only is it a complicated process to recreate fragrances, but it also allows others to easily analyze the formula and duplicate the scent. In an industry that closely guards the chemical make up of famous and successful scents as though they were state secrets, this poses a huge threat both creatively and financially. In order to combat this, perfume companies are now trying to mimic the individual natural scents which would make the chemical makeup of the perfume harder to detect and thus allow them to keep their formulations and ingredients secret. Unfortunately, this is a slow going process so most perfume makers are instead forced to work without the natural scent in order to protect the secrecy of their scents.
While some see these restrictions as a hindrance, others see it as a challenge to create new scents by using innovative scientific methods. Over time, consumers may adapt to the new synthetic smells and scents that seek to replace oakmoss or other restricted elements, but until then we may just have to get used to the fact that some of our favorite perfumes no longer smell the way we remember.