The Eco Well explore… Is your fragrance – or scented beauty product – ‘clean’? Is it safe for you to wear?
If you spend more than a few minutes on Instagram, or any other social media, you’ll be bombarded with similarly worded (and very worrying) questions; with certain sectors of the beauty industry now falling over themselves to assure you that their particular products are ‘safe’ and even ‘chemical free’ compared to the rest of them which may be termed as ‘toxic.’
Now we’ll put your mind at rest, immediately, here because aside from the fact that everything is chemicals (including you, the air you breathe and that apple you ate earlier) – fragrance, cosmetics and skincare have to adhere to the strictest safety rules there are. And those ‘all natural’ products you found online that someone makes in their bedroom using ‘only essential oils’? Not only are they likely to be illegal if not fully certified, some of the strongest allergic reactions you can have are to essential oils if they are not properly (and scientifically) used.
With this fear and misinformation culture in mind, The Eco Well – a website and podcast ‘to help make accurate information about cosmetics and sustainability in beauty, more accessible to everyone’ – are hosting a free online event with an expert panel…
The Eco Well say: ‘Fragrance – apparently the great skincare debate of 2020. Are fragrances suitable in cosmetic products? We’ll be coming at the topic from a few different vantages. From the perspective of a perfumer and overall fragrance expert, Pia Long, regulatory expert, Marie Dehlinger, 2 dermatologists, Dr Angelo Landriscina and Dr Andrea Suarez, and the consumer and influencer perspective, Hyram Yarbro. Moderated by Jen, who will bring the perspective of a cosmetic product formulator. Should be a lively and insightful conversation! See you there?’
In the current issue of our magazine, The Scented Letter, we take a look at what lies in store for the future of fragrance, and what we’re likely to be spritzing in the years to come.
Of course such crystal-ball-gazing is backed up by experts whose job it is to predict which ingredients – and relies on innovative ways of growing, harvesting, distilling and filtering fragrant natural crops, or even the creation of brand new synthetic aroma molecules… smells that cannot be captured or, perhaps, do not even exist in nature. Can you imagine the excitement if we created a new musical note previously unheard by musicians, or added a new, never before seen colour to the artist’s palette?!
We honestly could have written two volumes of a book with the amount of fascinating information we discovered, so wanted to share with you in a series of scented snapshots, the thoughts of three people we talked to with experise in varying fields of fragrance. What, we asked them, can we expect the future to smell like?
Pia Long is a perfumer and co-founder of Olfiction – a UK-based fragrance consultancy that work with suppliers, contract manufacturers, brands, retailers and fragrance industry organisations. So they can be involved with a brand right from the start, helping them create fragrances and scented products; or aiding existing fragrance houses to shape and better define themselves in the marketplace. And for Pia, education, accessibility and honesty are key factors…
‘Fragrance is currently experiencing a similar breaking down of barriers to access as we’ve seen in other trades – film and television; music. The differences are, though, that we don’t necessarily have the platforms and systems in place to democratise perfumery (though organisations such as The Perfume Society and the Institute for Art and Olfaction are heading the way in acting as a bridge between the trade and general public).
What the public currently understands as perfumery has typically been communicated by brands and marketers, rather than by perfumers and the trade, and therefore the concept of what perfumery even is, remains a little bit unclear in the public’s perception. This, combined with a general greater demand for transparency from consumers, creates an interesting scenario: if perfumers and businesses become fully transparent about how perfumes are made, are consumers ready? Would they understand? Or would the information that lands on a bed of misconceptions, in fact do harm to our trade?
I think for the fragrance trade to continue to thrive, we need to do far more education and allow far more access. This will help everybody. We are already seeing an increase in queries that involve full ingredient traceability, sustainability, and other considerations that touch on the growing, harvesting, supply chain or manufacturing processes.
Specific material predictions are hard to make, but the popularity of naturals as a marketing message, and for their aesthetic beauty is an ever-growing part of the trade, and all major fragrance houses have some systems in place to obtain and supply complete natural materials, as well as their own specialities. Natural materials have always had variation due to location and extraction methods, but I see the strategy of larger manufacturers ensuring ingredient loyalty as being one of creating specialist materials that are unique to that supplier.
In general, with synthetic materials, we’re likely to see more efforts to go back to some of the classic feedstocks like wood (turpentine), versus petrochemicals, and we’ll also see novel ways to replace raw materials that have fallen foul of regulators (if not 1:1 replacements, then certainly ones that can go towards creating similar accords).’
So it seems the future is smelling distinctly woody… and with perfumers looking for ways that we can still enjoy those ingredients that end up on the ‘naughty’ list (due to concerns about allergens and skin irritants), while manufacturers further explore how to make naturals smell unique. And at The Perfume Society we share Pia’s hope that more organisations and fragrance houses will open their doors and let the light in on what continues to be a subject that excites us every day.
There’s absolutely no doubt that fragrance lovers want (and deserve) more information about how their perfumes are made; how and where the materials are being sourced and hearing directly from the perfumer’s themselves. Just ask anyone who’s attended one of our many exciting events – visiting the archives of heritage houses, seeing ingredients distilled in front of them, smelling raw materials, hearing perfumers talk about their scientific and creative process and founders discuss why they bravely – some may say madly – wanted to launch their own fragrance house in the first place.
We think there’s a buzz about perfumery, alongside the developments in technologies and public hunger for reliable information, that’s perhaps where the food industry or wine business was twenty years ago. A widening of the world of ingredients we have access to, and want to know more about – and ultimately, a hunger to smell and wear even more exciting things. Better make room on that scent shelf, then, because we’ve sniffed the future, and it’s shaping up to be fabulous…
Written by Suzy Nightingale, with many thanks to Pia Long of Olfictionfor her insights.
We’ve long known our sense of smell is associated with well-being – from eras we strewed sweet-smelling herbs and flowers to mask foul odours (back when we assumed bad smells spread disease), to now using scented candles and personal fragrances to enhance how we feel. But something the IFRA Fragrance Forum always does so well is delve deeper into current scientific research, bringing together experts from around the world who may never usually meet, but who all share the sense of smell as a common theme of their reserach.
We’re always thrilled to attend the IFRA Fragrance Forum, and last week once again had our minds’ blown by the fascinating lectures we spent all day listening to, this time at the Wellcome Institute, and fittingly for World Mental Health Day, each speaker centered on the importance of smell not just on our emotional responses, but how it might be used to detect, research and even treat many neurodegenerative diseases.
We cannot possibly recount all of their research and statistics here, but urge you to seek out the speakers and read more about what they’re doing. Meanwhile, here’s a mere snapshot of the smell-studies that made our jaws drop to the floor…
The Woman Who Can Smell Parkinson’s Disease
Dr. Tilo KunathTilo Kunath from Edinburgh University talked about the extensive research he’s undertaken into the smell of Parkinson’s disease having met Joy Milne – an incredible woman who was able to detect the difference in her husband’s odour before he was diagnosed. We now know, as she’s been tested, that Joy is a ‘super smeller’ – someone born with a superior sense of smell, comparable to trained sniffer dogs.
Joy spoke so movingly about her journey of discovery, from being dismissed as a ‘a bit of a weirdo’ to finally convincing doctors to take her seriously. Joy had always loved her husband’s natural skin smell, she explained, and one day she realised he smelled completely different: ‘Odd. Sour-smelling… just not his smell.’ It was only when she and her husband (who’d then been diagnosed with PD) attended a conference for Parkinson’s sufferers, she was hit by a wall of that same smell when she first entered the room. Turning to her husband, she remarked ‘Les, they all smell like you…’ And it was at this conference she met Dr Kunath – which then led to his research. We also heard from Professor Perdita Barran from Manchester University whose mass spectrometry unit was an important part of the research.
Alzheimer’s and Smell Dysfunction
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia – something many of us will experience in family members or deal with ourselves in our ageing population. Olfactory dysfunction (mixing up smells) in general and impaired odour identification in particular, have been reported in AD and, importantly, are found to occur at early stages of the disease – so can act as warning signs. Dr Latha Velayudhan, a Senior Clinical Lecturer and Consultant Old Age Psychiatrist working at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscienecs (IoPPN), Kings College London demonstrated how she tests for smell identification dysfunction in people with AD compared to people without and the pattern of smell identification deficits (common smells affected) in individuals with AD.
Professor Keith Wesnes is the Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School, and alsoruns Wesnes Cognition Ltd, a consultancy on the conduct and evaluation of cognitive testing, which provides its proprietary online cognitive test system, CogTrack to clinical trials worldwide. His talk explored the link between olfaction and cognitive function and how large-scale online studies offer highly efficient and cost-effective platforms for scientifically assessing the short and longer term cognitive and mood benefits of fragrances and essential oils in targeted populations.
As part of the same session, Dr Mark Moss, Head of Department of Psychology, Northumbria University then discussed why he thinks certain smells are ‘hard wired’ into our brain and how that then affects our well-being. Dr Moss’ research revolves around our ability to recognise and distinguish between many different plant aromas, and their practical use for the promotion of health and wellbeing – including stimulation and relaxation. Fascinatingly, his research suggests that ylang ylang slows down our reflexes and may help to relex us, while certain breeds of sage aid alertness and recollection. His study shows the species Sage Officinalis, in particular, was most useful for aiding memory function.
There’s a growing use of ambient scent used in everyday experiences – from scenting public spaces to more dramatic uses in art exhibitions and stage performances. Pollution Pods is a touring installation which, in a series of geodesic domes, accurately recreates the terrible air quality of five major cities – through scent, temperature, ozone and humidity, and cleverly using fragrance to make utterly visceral the effects on our physical and mental health of pollution. The artist behind Pollution Pods, Michael Pinsky, and fragrance specialist Lizzie Ostrom, gave us a into the look (and smell!) of the installation, which caused much coughing, though some seemed very fond of the re-created polluted smells – something Lizzie explained was comforting to many visitors, as they’d grown up surrounded by these smells.
Sharing thoughts on where ambient scent and fragrance in public spaces might be heading next, and what the industry could be doing to take advantage of growing interest from brands and institutions, this, along with the weight of fascinating medical research and hopefully leading to clinical advances and medical help available in the future, really left us with much to ponder the pongs of.
All the experts agreed that, past the age of 65, it has been shown that nicotine patches (!) may significantly slow down some symptoms of Alzheimer’s and, in the case of Parkinson’s it seems, prevent it all together. They also suggested the imbibing of wine to aid longterm memory function (however counter-intuitive that may seem), and so perhaps our senior years may at least be spent indulging in vices, as well as lavishing ourselves with fragrance.
Most of all, the day highlighted once again how the sense of smell is so vital – there’s still so much we don’t yet know about it – truly, as Helen Keller once desribed our ability to smell, it’s ‘the fallen angel of the senses…’
Every year, IFRA – the trade association promoting the safe creation, development and enjoyment of fragrance) organise a Fragrance Forum – an utterly fascinating coming together of highly engaging speakers with experts from just about every sector you can imagine – all of whom are linked by their expertise and interest in the sense of smell. We were thrilled to be invited along for their seventh Forum as part of the fragrance press, and so found ourselves learning the power of Medical Detection Dogs, how to make a Mosquito Invisibility Cape, how to smell-map a city, how the Pre-Raphaelites responded to the stench of the river Thames (by linking it to paintings of fallen women, it turns out), the difference between Synaesthesia (one of my favourite subjects ever) and cross-modal correspondences, and font-sniffing (as in: can you smell/taste/hear typefaces? Short story: yes.)
To give you a taste of the breadth and diversity of the subjects covered, here’s a little more about the speakers and the topics they spoke about so passionately. In a Fragrance Forum for which the theme was Scents & Sensibility (a nod to this year marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death), we left with a renewed excitement of the sense that some neglect, but which many of us have built our careers and, indeed, our lives around… Dr Claire Guest – Sniffing it out CEO Medical Detection Dogs
Claire has been involved in the training of dogs for tasks involving scent for over twenty years. Since 2002 she has been professionally involved in training dogs in the detection of human disease through scent. She is now the CEO of Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) the leading charity training dogs, pioneering both medical assistance and disease detection, and is not only a pioneer of the training but committed to carrying out empirical research to improve operations and to inform future medical technologies. Professor James Logan – How to make a mosquito invisibility cloak London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
James has more than 10 years of experience in the laboratory and field – in the UK and overseas – of controlling insects of medical and veterinary importance. He has an award-winning PhD investigating why some people are bitten more than others by mosquitoes and midges. Mosquito-borne diseases affect more than half the world’s population, diseases transmitted by insects account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than one million deaths. By understanding more about mosquitoes and their incredible sense of smell, we can develop better ways to control one of the world’s most formidable forces. One day, we may even be able to make ourselves completely invisible. Key theme: Scent and our surroundings Kate McLean – Programme Director for Graphic Design at Canterbury Christ Church University Dr Daniele Quercia – Bell Labs, Cambridge On the Impossibility of Mapping the Smellscape
Kate McLean is a British artist and designer and mapper of urban smellscapes – the term used to describe the odour landscape around us. She runs smellscape mapping workshops, leads smellwalks around the world and has co-edited a book, Designing with Smell: Practices, Techniques and Challenges (2017). Her talk looked at how interative design research can be used to investigate how the general public perceives and reacts to smells in public spaces.
Daniele Quercia leads the Social Dynamics group at Bell Labs in Cambridge. He has been named one of Fortune magazine’s 2014 Data All-Stars, and spoke about “happy maps” at TED. His research has been focusing in the area of urban informatics, focussing on the fact that, although humans are able to potentially discriminate thousands of different odours, smell is simply hard to measure. SmellyMaps have recently proposed a new way of capturing the entire urban smellscape from social media data (i.e., tags on Flickr pictures or tweets). The SmellyMaps project aims at disrupting the mainly negative view of city odours and being able to celebrate the complex smells of our cities. Dr Christina Bradstreet – Art, Smell and Sanitation The National Gallery
Christina is Courses and Events Programmer at the National Gallery and she has taught 19th-century painting at Birkbeck College as well as guest lectures at Sotheby’s Institute, Royal Holloway College and the Courtauld Institute. So, how did the Pre-Raphaelites respond to the stench of the River Thames, in the summer of 1858? This talk explored how the urban stink influenced artists in Britain and beyond in the nineteenth-century. Key theme: Scent and psychology Dr Clare Jonas – Synaesthesia – a blending of the senses University of East London
Synaesthesia is a fascinating condition in which the senses become entangled so that music might appear to have shapes, or smells have colours. In this talk Clare explored what synaesthesia is and how it relates to mechanisms of multisensory perception in the general population. She also explored visual aspects of art, advertising and packaging and how psychological research links them to taste and smell. Sarah Hyndman – Wake up and smell the fonts! Founder and Director, Type Tasting
Type Tasting founder Sarah Hyndman is a graphic designer, author and public speaker, known for her interest in the psychology of type. Her main area of expertise is multi sensory typography, she works on collaborative research studies with the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the University of Oxford. In her talk Sarah explored how visual language influences all of our senses as it tells the story of a product. The visual translation of luxury, gender or smell creates anticipation, informs our choices and enhances our experiences.
Innovative new research into crossmodal perception is now mapping the typography of smell – understanding this enables us to use visual language to accentuate nuances and nudge behaviour… just one of the many subjects we left wanting to explore in more depth, so stay tuned for our further investigations!
Written by Suzy Nightingale
Are perfumers possessed of magical noses gifted to them at birth – with a heightened sense of smell beyond the reach of mere mortals…?
Well, there’s an argument to made that perhaps some of the ‘noses’ behind our favourite fragrances are somewhat naturally gifted, but my goodness they had to work to get where they are. Perhaps also some of them grew up in perfume-y places – like Grasse – where the culture, history and even the streets themselves are awash with scent. But the truth of the matter is, they had to start somewhere. And those of us lucky enough to have a working sense of smell can undoubtedly go about improving that sense – and thereby enhancing every aspect of our lives.
We couldn’t resist sharing the wonderfully incisive (and undeniably cute) cartoon, below, that does a great job of explaining how important our sense of smell is in everyday life, and the basics of how one might begin mastering the sense of smell.
Apart from simple practice, practice, practice – the most important aspect, we have gleaned by interviewing those famous perfumers over the years; is learning to “fix” a smell in your head by creatively describing it in terms that are absolutely and entirely personal to you. And how on earth do you go about doing that? By attending one of our regular How To Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops…
These fun, informal (but totally informative) sessions are held in groups, some people liking to bring friends along others preferring to sniff solo, and during which you will be taught how to start building your very own volcabulary of scent – pinning those intensely personal memories and emotions that are automatically triggered the second you smell something (good or bad!) and using that to invesitage – and vastly improve – your sense of smell. We’re not pretending you’ll come out as a fully fledged perfumer – and neither is this the reason we set up the workshops. But we can gurantee you’ll not only experience your favourite fragrances in a whole new way – you will appreciate your nose like never before.
So, do you fancy a morning or afternoon of sharing fragrances, laughter and learning to improve your sense of smell – with a fragrant goody bag at the end of it and as many biscuits and tea (or coffee) you can drink in-between? Of course you do!
Come and join us for the next How To Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshop in London on Saturday 4th February. Not a Londoner? Look here to find (or request) your nearest workshop.
How do you join in the fragrance fun? It’s simple:
How To Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops cost £10 for VIP Subscribers – which is 100% redeemable against any box purchase on the day of the workshop
Want to bring a guest? (it’s even more fun with a friend!) £20 for Guests of subscribers or non-VIP Subscribers
Maximise the opportunity by choosing to become a VIP with your booking for £35 to include a one-year VIP subscription to The Perfume Society, £10 of which is redeemable against box purchases on the day of the workshop.
Want to read a review from a happy attendee of a previous workshop? Cosmetic Candy blog waxes lyrical about attending one of our Manchester workshops, and Samantha Grocutt, MD of Essence PR describes her experience, here.
Workshops are generally hosted by Senior Writer of The Perfume Society, Suzy Nightingale within the London area, and co-founder Jo Fairley further afield.
Simply bring along a favourite fragrance – and your nose – and we so look forward to meeting you there. Book your tickets here.
Written by Suzy Nightingale
The special guests for the Christmas edition of Love to Smell are Thomas Dunkley, freelance fragrance consultant and blogger a.k.a ‘The Candy Perfume Boy‘ and… us (well, our Senior Writer Suzy Nightingale) and we couldn’t have been more thrilled to be invited! Scroll down to see the episode right here…
We’ve been watching Love to Smell since it began, hosted by the long-time friends and now business partners Nick Gilbert and Pia Long teaming up to air their views, news and fragrant expertise in a chatty, sometimes (deliberately) silly but overall completely encouraging way. And that was the inspiration, really, behind the whole show – a way to present perfume as friends talking, recommending their favourites and discussing new launches.
Basically, Love to Smell is all about what we believe in: getting people to go and smell more perfumes, to widen their comfort zone of spritzable smellies and not to be afraid of the oft’ confusing lingo of the fragrance world – the very reason The Perfume Society was set up by our co-founders Jo Fairley and Lorna McKay in the first place: bridging the gap between brands and the people actually buying the perfumes, of bringing perfume alive in a (hopefully!) deeply fascinating yet completely accessible manner.
And so of course when Nick and Pia asked if we’d like to be one of the special guests for the festive fragrance extravaganza, we donned tinsel (not usually a hair accessory we favour, but hey, we went with it,) jumped on the train with two of our current favourite perfumes (as requested) and a soft toy we’ve had since childhood (we didn’t refer to these in the the episode, but if you look carefully you can see Suzy’s sadly ragged Rabby Rabbit all crumpled and shabby on the shelf behind) and spent a day as their guests.
We really hope you enjoy the episode – our shopping list certainly grew after we sniffed the fragrances Thomas had chosen – and you can view the whole thing by clicking the link below…
And if that’s whetted your appetite, you can watch all of the back episodes on the Love to Smell YouTube channel, too.
Finally, we hope your scented Santa brings all the perfumes on your list, and wish all our fellow fragrance addicts a very Happy Christmas!
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