“Iconic 90-year-old perfume Chanel No.5 is one of a host of well-known perfumes that could be banned following research into the allergy-inducing ingredients they contain,” says the Telegraph article “Chanel No.5 perfume faces ban.” So, should you start stocking up on Chanel No 5?
The mainstream press seems to have woken up to the idea of reformulations and ingredient bans, which is why the Telegraph and other newspapers are running these alarmist headlines. In short, no, Chanel No 5 is not going to be banned in the near future. On the other hand, the pace of ingredient regulation is so fast and so stringent that it’s becoming a real issue for creative perfumery.
The industry has been self-regulating its fragrance production since 1973, when it created IFRA, the International Fragrance Association. Its members include fragrance ingredient and compound manufacturers and suppliers, together with the multinational fragrance companies Firmenich, Givaudan, IFF, Robertet, Symrise and Takasago International. IFRA is usually a bad word for perfume lovers, which means reformulations of their beloved fragrances, but the issue is really much more complex. Fragrance has no legal copyright protection, which means that in order not to be regulated by others, who might endanger fragrance know-how and open up the formulas to the public domain, the industry has to regulate itself.
The problem is that external pressures for regulations are so intense that the industry might as well forget about trying to self-regulate. It can’t get away from the EU regulatory bodies that want to operate with a no risk policy. When the two EU agencies, the Directorate General for Consumer Protection (DG Sanco) and the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety (SCCS), discovered that 2% of the EU population is allergic to fragrances*, they found this number to be too high. The list of potential allergens now includes around 100 perfumery ingredients, natural and synthetic. It doesn’t mean that all of these ingredients are to be banned outright; most of them are to be restricted to low levels.
Some might say that the industry has already reformulated and changed its fragrances for years due to the pressures of regulations, and there are ways even around the proposed regulations. Rose oil can be produced without eugenol, a clove scented compound that is on the list of regulated substances. The effect of the oakmoss can be replicated by a clever use of patchouli and other woody-mossy aromatics. Perfumers have more ingredients in their palettes today than they did 50 years ago, and even the limitations themselves can spur greater creativity.
But from my own experience, I can tell you that the regulations are frustrating, especially when combined with other issues in the perfumery today–the faster pace of launches, dwindling budgets, and no reward for creativity. The regulations are a slippery slope, especially in case of the EU regulatory bodies, which always find something new to regulate. Even if a perfumer is creative at solving the problem, a few months later she faces even more constraints.
The fragrance industry is not the only one facing this issue. The EU regulations are the reason why some traditional cheeses are no longer made, why the production of olive oil can’t follow the classical methods and so on. Perfume is just the latest newcomer to the to-be-regulated list.
After the latest round of proposed regulations, the fragrance industry decided that it finally needs to take a more active role in communicating with the EU. The EU’s drive to regulate has even moved the conglomerates like LVMH into action. Better late than never, I suppose. January 2014 is the proposed timeline for the new regulations within the fragrance industry, so it remains to be seen what the outcome will be.
While the Telegraph article is undoubtedly alarmist and not exactly correct in its conclusions, I’m glad that this topic is discussed by the press. Perfume is the most simple pleasure and the most indispensable indulgence. Today we need this more than ever.
*By allergic, the EU Scientific Committee means “allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, photosensitivity, immediate contact, reactions (contact urticaria), and pigmented contact dermatitis” (SCCS Report/1459/11).