Perfume not Poison Mar05


As dawn breaks over the fields of lavender in East Anglia, the dew still heavy on the petals, shadowy figures are busy collecting the blooms before the sun rises and dulls the essential oils that create the scent in these beautiful flowers. In Grasse (Cote d’Azur), amongst other exotic places, fields of roses, jasmines, ylang ylang and orchids yield oils that constitute the exquisite perfumes and cosmetics that we use daily.


Guerlain produced the first modern perfume called “Jicky” in 1889. Aime Guerlain had rediscovered that dangerous hint of sex that the Victorians were so determined to subdue – something floral that hits you, something spicy that lasted for a while and something woody that lingered!


Scent is a silent and effective messenger. It can be an aphrodisiac - compelling, intoxicating and elusive. It stirs the memory, arouses the senses and generates confidence. We use scent to attract, invigorate, distress and rejuvenate. The Church uses it to mystify and glorify faith. Scent provokes and stimulates the flow of hormones in our bodies – it helps conquer the object of desire!


A fragrance with natural essential oils reacts differently on every individual skin; it fuses with the natural scent of the wearer. Perfumes with synthetic oils tend to smell the same on everyone! Natural essential oils cost more e.g. Orris from the iris root, natural musk, jasmine and tuberose. One ton (1000Kg) of jasmine flowers yields just 1Kg of Jasmine oil. As 8,000 blossoms weigh 1 Kg, it takes 8 million jasmine flowers to produce 1Kg of oil! Such pure oil would cost £20,000 and so it is not surprising that there are very good synthetic copies that are indistinguishable for most of us who do not have the ‘nose’ for fine smells.


Ambergris (from sperm whale), castoreum (from beavers), musk (from musk deer) and civet (from civet cat) are still available to oriental medicine and the perfume trade but they are ruinously expensive and politically sensitive. Perfumeries use synthetic copies to avoid public outrage.


Most of us are polite and bathed, sprayed and spritzed into a galaxy of ozone gaps by deodorants, anti-perspirants, mouthwashes, bath foam and detergents. The smell of sweat and human flesh has almost been obliterated by chemistry.  


Formulating and packaging perfumes for sale is an art and only the best ingredients and presentations win the hearts of young and old, those in and out of love! With high investment in research and development of new products, formulations and source of ingredients are trade secrets.


The gentle southern wind, which caresses the fragrance of these natural flowers to perfection, could be replaced by the blast of chill Brussels air. The EU intends to force manufacturers to declare all ingredients used in their fragrances on the packaging. Such a proposal is alleged to enhance consumer awareness of allergies and enhance the safety of cosmetic products.


Grasse is the heart of the perfume industry where most of the flowers for perfumery are grown. Perfumeries in Grasse produce £385m worth of essential oils from these flowers for supply to Chanel, Guerlain, Givenchy, Patou and many others. These names controlled 70% of the world’s perfume market but they now account for about 40%. A perfume has between 100 and 150 ingredients – natural and synthetic – and listing them would not help the public as they would not be recognised. There is no list of ingredients on the packaging of Coca Cola, Heineken, Fairy Liquid and Palmolive soap. We drink or apply these products far more than perfumes!


Why should the EU demand formulations to be declared on packaging from European manufacturers when the American, Japanese and others will not comply? Will the EU demand all manufacturers of detergents, disinfectants, polishes and other household products to declare the full list of ingredients of the perfumes they use? How will the EU monitor the import of hundreds of products imported by millions of EU travellers as they return from exotic destinations worldwide?


The EU must distinguish between unnecessary interference and good risk management. Bad EU legislation threatens investment and jobs in Europe.