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Understanding Fragrance in Personal Care

By: Wen Schroeder
Posted: March 3, 2010, from the March 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Scent is also one of the key factors in shaping individuals’ conscious and/or unconscious perceptions of the environment. Savvy marketers have long known to create a pleasant service or retailing environment via strategically manipulating ambient conditions such as music, fragrance and color schemes to stimulate a more positive customer response and behavior.7, 8 For instance, a 1995 study indicated that a congruent, ambient scent in a retail environment could lead to more favorable purchase decision-making, an increased amount of time spent shopping, and an extension of variety-seeking behavior.9

A paper published in 2003 suggests that scents can be used to enhance brand memory.10 Hotel chains have been utilizing signature fragrance in their public spaces with a twofold purpose: to provide a pleasant and relaxing environment to help travel weary customers unwind and to create a unique olfactory dimension to solidify its brand recognition. (Additional information is available in “Scent: New Frontiers in Branding,” available on www.GCImagazine.com and in the May 2007 issue of GCI magazine.)

Fragrance in Personal Care

Fragrances are a major driver in consumer purchase decision making in an array of product categories.11 Fragrances often are used in personal care to affect the consumer’s perception of product performance. Most often, they add emotional benefits by implying social or economic prestige associated with use of such a product. (See “1 + 1 = 3” in the September 2009 issue of GCI magazine and available on www.GCImagazine.com.) In 2007, Nicolas Mirzayantz, group president, fragrances, International Flavors & Fragrances, listed the five major emotions associated with fragrance as: feel good, sensualism, addiction, transformation and energy. To increase the consumer’s willingness to purchase, the product must provide additional emotional cues beyond basic functionality. Consumers’ decisions to make product purchases often are based on emotional reasons that transcend their value systems.12

Formulating with Fragrance

When the scent of a product is a key driver in the consumer’s purchasing decision, the formulation and the product design should allow the scent to be among the first sensory cues the consumer experiences with the product. As noted, fragrances produce emotional responses in humans, and product developers must be cognizant of the target audience. A fragrance may lose its original aromatic characteristics when it is incorporated into non-alcoholic formulations such as emulsions. Creating a successful final scent for the finished product involves many complex aromatic chemical interactions. Experienced product formulators know to take factors into account that may affect a change in the original odor character, formulation stability and physicochemical properties of the finished formulation.

A fragrance directly from a perfume bottle or from a hydroalcoholic vehicle will not produce the same smell sensation when it is incorporated into an emulsion. Further, the olfactory result will not be the same after the fragrance in an emulsion is applied onto the skin. It will be affected by the individual’s skin biology—including natural odor, skin microorganisms and skin lipids.