Thursday, March 12, 2009 Article on Natural Scents is Misleading

On Tuesday, March 10, 2009, writer Marisa Belger wrote an article for titled “Safer Scents: Sniffing out Green Alternatives”. The eco-brand Tsi~La is highlighted. Below the article are links to other stories such as “Is Your Sofa Toxic? Switch to Eco Furniture”. There should be a new metric for this type of online attention-grabbing. It could be called “scare-to-click” vs. the pay-per-click model. Belger’s headline implies that there isn’t any danger inherent in natural materials and that anything labeled “natural” isn’t synthetic.

Apparently, Ms. Belger didn’t interview traditionally trained perfumers or IFRA watchdogs when she wrote her article and it’s evident in the copy. If she did, she’d know that bergamot essential oil induces photosensitivity (it can cause skin discoloration in the sun if “bergaptene-free bergamot oil” is not used) and that eugenol (the main molecule in clove) has been declared an allergen. Both ingredients are used in Tsi~La’s Fleur Sauvage and Saqui, respectively. When Belger uses the facts Tsi~La shares with her to form her opinion, readers don’t get all of the facts.

This is not a natural vs. aroma molecule discussion or a denial of the fact that chemical sensitivity is a real issue for some of the population. The issue here is fair and accurate reporting supported by fact-checking. Lack of proper fact-checking becomes evident when opposing viewpoints are not explored and supported by hard facts. Fact checkers take note; you can contact the The American Society of Perfumers, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), or any number of essential oils houses such as Givaudan, Firmenich, International Flavors and Fragrances or Symrise to get the scientific facts.

Ms. Belger’s article illustrates the kind of misunderstanding that is prevalent when it comes to defining what is “natural’ in flavors and fragrances. In flavors, nature-identical molecules made in the lab are considered equivalent to the real thing. Some consumers would argue that this kind of molecular manipulation equals frankenfood, but the FDA considers nature-identical molecules to be completely “natural”. A similar misunderstanding exists when it comes to how consumers define “sustainability”, as evidenced in The Hartman Report on Sustainability: Understanding the Consumer Perspective (2007). If you aren’t an architect building passive solar or LEED-certified buildings, sustainability can be more of an ethos than a cold hard fact. Flip through Hartman’s Gnomenclature, a Flash-based presentation, and you’ll get the gist from the consumer’s point of view.

Jean Pierre Subrenat, a perfumer who owns a fragrance company called Creative Concepts Corporation, was compelled to write Ms. Belger a letter after reading her article. Since doesn’t post comments or letters in the area where Ms. Belger’s article appears, Mr. Subrenat has agreed to share his letter with Glass Petal Smoke’s readers. If his name sounds familiar, it should; Mr. Subrenat is the Chairman of the World Perfumery Congress in Cannes and is quite outspoken when it comes to fragrance materials.

Dear Ms. Belger,

I am a perfumer (not a perfumier as you call us) and although I applaud every new venture which would promote my art and every article which talks about it, I am sometimes sensitive to untrue facts. I work a lot on natural products myself and have numerous products on the market using my fragrances (and some of them could be in the shampoo you are referring to (!)…names upon request if needed!) and I am sure that the
Tsi~La perfumes are nice, although I never smelled them. But, in order to promote a natural perfume, one doesn't have to denigrate or be condescending to the rest of the perfume industry.

It is NOT TRUE neither verifiable that mass market perfumes only contain an average of 3% naturals! Ms. Szapowalo doesn't have access to the formulas...It is NOT TRUE that perfumes contain benzene (just to make believe that we include gasoline additives in perfumes!) It is NOT TRUE that perfumes contain propylene glycol, at best some could contain dipropylene glycol which is a totally different product, and of course, not used in anti-freeze.

It seems that Ms. Szapowalo and Ms. Morton are a bit obsessed with these two (wrong) examples as they use them
each time that they are interviewed! Conventional perfumes have never harmed anybody (to my knowledge) and have made women even more beautiful since the last 150 years, when synthetics were discovered. Mother Nature is beautiful but sometimes capricious as she doesn’t give us, perfumers, all of her scents. The beautiful smell of flowers such as lilac, lily of the valley, peonies, or fruits like a succulent peach, a juicy kiwi or a refreshing melon cannot be obtained from the botanical. They are in fact too fragile to be extracted or distilled. This is when synthetics are indispensable as we are able to reproduce such great aromas in our labs. So, why try to destroy such an industry which, once again, is only attacked by a select few!

We could also debate the following points: “Synthetic fragrances stay stagnant on your skin, while naturals blend with your chemistry.” This is nonsense; synthetics are no more “stagnant” on the skin than naturals. As it’s a question of evaporation of the fragrance once applied on the skin and natural or not, each single ingredient having a different flashpoint (boiling point), a fragrance will always be changing on the skin. Skin chemistry or food diets interact with synthetic fragrances and non-synthetic fragrances alike. If you eat a lot of spices (garlic, curry, etc.) you can wear synthetic or natural, the spices will still come throughout your skin’s pores…with the fragrance! Also: “The body’s own natural chemistry mixes the fragrance.” It would be better to say that the body’s own natural chemistry mixes WITH the fragrance, as described above. And then again, it is the same reaction with natural or synthetic fragrances!

Lastly, as the profession of a perfumer is quite difficult to learn, lengthy as an apprenticeship and much more technically complicated than one thinks, I am wondering where Ms. Szapowalo has learned her craft as she was never a member of the American Society of Perfumers, neither do I know one company which has employed her in the past. But then again, I am perhaps not aware of all the companies in the USA. Should you have questions, I would be delighted to answer.

Jean-Pierre Subrenat
President Creative Concepts Corp.
Past-President American Society of Perfumers
Chairman World Perfumery Congress

In today’s world and the current economy everyone wants to feel safe. We are fortunate to live in a free country where everyone can express their opinion. People don’t always agree, but we are free to discuss our viewpoints. Being unbiased is difficult when you feel passionate about something, but that does not justify inaccurate reporting. If we are going to “go green” as a nation, let’s do it truthfully.


The complete version of The Hartman Report on Sustainability: Understanding the Consumer Perspective (2007) is available here.

Image of rose with barbed wire from My Thoughts about Things I Come Across.