The role that fragrance plays in skin care is undeniable. It enhances products, transforming skin care regimens into aesthetically pleasing rituals. Fragrance also plays an important role in branding, as scent is key to consumers’ ability to identify a product type. An antiaging product, for example, should be fragranced in a way that suggests its purpose. For all these benefits, fragrance in skin care products is not without its critics. Concerns have been raised over skin irritation and allergic reactions caused by fragrance, and the trend for fragrance-free naturals continues to gain momentum.
GCI magazine spoke with Art Rich, president, A. Rich Development; Pierre-Constantin Gueros, perfumer, drom fragrances international; and Laureen Schroeder, director of skin care marketing, SkinMilk, and asked them to provide perspective on fragrance in skin care.
GCI: What role does fragrance play in skin care products, beyond simply providing a pleasant aesthetic?
Art Rich: The fragrance is used to reinforce the product concept and its intended function for the consumer. It requires a sophisticated sensory approach to marry the fragrance to the product and its functionality. As an example, it would be more difficult for a consumer to believe that an antiwrinkle cream is effective if the fragrance has a floral or bubble gum character to it.
Pierre-Constantin Gueros: The fragrance has to respect the identity of the brand. People who use many products of the same brand look for common elements from the skin cream, body lotion and antiaging night serum.
GCI: Does the fragrance help define a skin care brand?
P-C G: Respecting the spirit of the brand often means going back and referring to the most popular product in the brand line or the first historical success of a brand and its olfactive elements. An example is Nivea Cream. The original in the blue pot had a big influence on all the perfumes of the Nivea brand line. Fragrances were adapted to the different bases. Perfumes launched by a brand on the fine fragrance market, as another example, may be translated for line extensions and reflect the degree of sophistication that the brand wants to convey in these products.
Laureen Schroeder: Fragrance plays a pivotal role in the brand connection we develop with our consumers on all our skin care brands. The sensory experience that fragrance provides consumers is the most powerful nonvisual indicator of our brand essence. We call it emotional branding. Particularly in our SkinMilk bath and body products, the signature soft vanilla cream scent provides our consumers with a positive, luxurious sensory experience, and has helped us develop the consumer loyalty that we seek in (this) highly fragmented category.
GCI: What are the trends in fragrances for skin care?
P-C G: There are two main trends for cosmetic products in general: high-tech products and exotic and natural products.
There are more and more products with a high technological base, almost medical, developed through involved research. In these types of products, the perfume has to translate the high degree of technology using some abstract notes—water, oxygen, ions. A lot of studies on that subject show that the efficacy of skin care products is reflected in their scent. Aquatic or green notes are antiaging; warm vanilla notes are smoothening and nourishing.
On the other hand, more and more brands want to incorporate new, exotic and natural extracts into their skin care lines—from rice bran to algae to Brazilian nuts and cocoa extract. For these products, the perfume will describe what the customer expects the ingredients to smell like—a nice warm chocolate smell for a product with cocoa extract, for example.
But for some technical reasons and also to refer to a classical cosmetic scent, perfumes in skin care very often share a basic and common structure: rosy, powdery, musky; often with a fresh fruity or green floral aspect on the top note.
LS: In our product innovation process, we look at overall lifestyle trends in the marketplace, evolving consumer attitudes, color trends and partner with our fragrance house to look at the trends in the fragrance arena. We synthesize all this information with our brand essence and strategy early in the process with the goal to elevate the consumer/brand connection through fragrance. Of course, fragrance is part of a mix of elements that communicate the overall brand essence.
We are seeing consumers attracted to a more sophisticated fragrance blend. A great example of evolving consumer fragrance choices is in the female teen target. In the past, these consumers wanted a very sweet fragrance, and now we are seeing a desire for a softer, more high-end fragrance.
The upcoming fragrance trends that I believe will continue to be strong in skin care are the gourmand trend and the florals and aromatics for the natural-based skin care product lines.
GCI: With prevailing consumer interest in naturals, is there a growing and general notion that fragrance-free skin care products are superior to those with fragrances?
AR: There is a concern that fragrance can contribute to an irritant response in some individuals. Whether this population is significant in size is still open to debate. However, there are product lines and product types within a line that are more successful when developed as “fragrance-free.” An eye cream may be developed with a fragrance-free approach due to the more delicate nature of the tissue on which it is applied while other products in the line carry a fragrance.
P-C G: The amount of perfume in skin care product is very often under 0.5% of the total formulation of the product, but usually gives the identity and supports the efficacy of the product in a subjective way.
GCI: It has been suggested that products designated as fragrance-free should contain no fragrance chemicals. Is this realistic? What do consumers, in general, seek in skin care as related to fragrance?
AR: While many consumers would prefer a fragrance-free product, the notes of the base that often come through make it difficult for them to use the product. Many will, in my opinion, return to a fragranced product. Those consumers who perceive their skin to be sensitive may or may not react poorly to fragranced products.
Flooding the market with a plethora of unfragranced product will cause uproar from consumers. They will look to the product supplier to provide a fragrance that supports the product concept. The ability to reduce the odor in the base is difficult, especially with the growing number of natural ingredients being promoted. These naturals have their own characteristic (and not always pleasant) odor. Those who have experienced a reaction to fragranced products will use unfragranced (or hypoallergenic) products regardless of the product’s base notes.
P-C G: To perfume a cosmetic product is not an easy job. Aside from dealing with technically complex bases that are hard to mask (the natural smell of some active ingredients is very fishy or fat-nutty), stability issues (sun products) or even color change, the fragrance in a cosmetic is also an olfactive challenge.
Making the right perfume for skin care means understanding the target—men/women, elderly consumers or young skin with acne problems; enhancing the active ingredients within the products—a cucumber fragrance for a cucumber extract, a fresh fruity smell for a cream with fruit acids; and translating the efficacy of the product. It has to smell good and be a pleasure product, but has to be efficacious in the first place.