Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Many Uses Of Allergen Labelling

A conundrum for you. There's a new perfume on the market. Its price per ml places it in the upper stratosphere of 'luxury' scents. It's sold as an eau de parfum, but according to a statement made by its creator, its concentration is much stronger than that of most EDPs. It reportedly contains a "high proportion" of natural ingredients, including "rose", "jasmine", "orange absolute" and "cardamom", amongst others. However, the allergen info on its packaging lists the presence of only limonene, linalool, citral, coumarin, benzyl salicylate and benzyl benzoate. Why is this odd? Read on...

Rose otto and rose absolute contain significant percentages of substances such geraniol, eugenol and citronellol. These must be declared on packaging if they are present over a certain (very low) limit. So if the aforementioned perfume really does contain a "high proportion" of natural rose, then how come geraniol, eugenol and citronellol aren't specified on its packaging? Either the label is inaccurate, or - shock horror - the fragrance hasn't been near many rose petals.

If it's a case of the former, then I suppose it means the firm has exposed itself to potential litigation. An unlikely eventuality, if ever there was one. If it's a case of the latter, then needless to say, it wouldn't be the first time that a perfume's marketing is less than generous with the truth. However, on this occasion I was especially struck by the disparity between the press release and the labelling, partly because of the vehemence with which the marketing claims have been made, and also because of the product's price, which implies the presence of expensive ingredients.

Of course, a great deal depends on the interpretation of that conveniently relative phrase: "high proportion". In an industry where natural ingredients tend to be used only in minuscule quantities, anything slightly above zero could be called a "high proportion", in much the same way as half a droplet of agar wood oil justifies the term "contains real oud". That's just the nature of the PR game, right? Or is it a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act?

I won't name the scent nor the brand in question. For one thing, I'm sure most fragrance houses employ similar advertising strategies, so it would be unfair to single out just one. For another, I'm not privy to the perfume's formula, so I mustn't point fingers without being in full possession of the facts. After all, the contents of this post are pure conjecture... albeit fairly reasoned, educated conjecture.

It's interesting to compare the label of this scent with that of Dominique Ropion's Portrait Of A Lady (Frederic Malle), which unashamedly proclaims that it is "undoubtedly the perfume containing the strongest dosage of rose essence and patchouli heart". Those of us without access to gas chromatographs have no way of verifying the statement, but at least the inclusion on the wrapper of chemical names associated with rose provides some sort of reassurance that it might be true.

So here's a little suggestion. The next time you're out perfume shopping and an SA tries to sell you something on the basis that it contains "tons of rose", ask to see the box. And if you can't find citronellol, eugenol or geraniol mentioned anywhere, feel free to request clarification. Let me know how you get on!



  1. This is really interesting. I know that I always check rose skincare for these ingredients, but I never question perfume. Although I am not in the least surprised to think that truth of the formulation is generously interpreted in the marketing. I have worked for skincare brands who rely on pricing high to position products as quality, and it looks like this perfume is a case of the same thing.

    1. Jess, yes, I'm sure there's a lot of interesting 'psychological pricing' going on. After all, it happens everywhere else, right?

  2. I've noticed this before as well. The bad thing is that we're probably not talking about the same brand since this is probably a very common practice.

    At the end of a long day, it's all about the sales. And most people don't give a flying flip about "ols" as long as they are buying something they think smells good. But, I do think people need to know about this.

    1. Victoria, yes, I'm sure quite a few brands follow a similar practice... but there aren't many brands that charge as much for their perfumes as this brand does!

      I totally agree that most people care only about the smell - which is fair enough - but would you say that some people also enjoy being sold a wonderful dream about luxurious, all-natural ingredients...?

    2. Oh, now I'm dying to know ;)

      I do believe that people want to buy something that is luxurious...even if it is or not. But, I do feel that people are getting wiser and smarter about their purchases.

    3. Victoria, I hope you're right about people becoming smarter.


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