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Scent Sleuth: Bath and Body Au Naturel

By: Nancy C. Hayden
Posted: November 5, 2008, from the November 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

Environmental awareness is well established in bath and body, and the growth rate of natural and sustainable products in the segment is increasing more rapidly than in any other. Trend setters have included Bath and Body Works, The Body Shop, Aveda, Origins and L’Occitane, and many of the cosmetic giants purchased natural boutique lines that demonstrate creativity in using environmentally friendly naturals and botanicals.

Fragrance dominates the bath and body world, and is often the raison d’être for the purchase of the product. The fragrance may also transcend the function of the product, and—as bathing and hygiene become a daily function in underdeveloped countries to create new, booming markets—bath and body products become the medium to dispense the fragrance experience.

This market boom and the well-established trend for naturals, too, are linked. If the base notes of the natural raw materials in a formula are unpleasant, the consumer will experience repulsion rather than a pleasurable experience. Even functional products that claim no fragrance or perfume often contain odor masquants, such as musk fixatives, to cover malodors. It’s useful to remember, in this context, that perfumery sprang up as a side business to the tanning and glove industry in the south of France, and fragrance remains one of the most important tools in selling bath and body products across markets and in accordance with trends.

Fragrance houses are constantly challenged to come up with new raw materials to capture exotic plant materials and serve both the overarching trends and the trends within trends.

The Challenge

Europeans have long used natural essential oils for their healing, soothing and rejuvenating effects. Lavender, chamomile, basil, sage, rosemary and mint all provide aromatic and therapeutic effects, and the phenomenal success possible with natural essential oils is documented. Perfumer Olivier Baussan, who began L’Occitane, wished to capture the aroma of the blooming plants in the south of France. He went into the fields with his homemade extraction device, and filled the head space of his vessel toward recreating the beauty of the natural essences. He was a pioneer in head space technology and capturing the essence of the blooming flower, and his products have the most exquisite refinement both in formulation combinations and in blends of natural essential oils along with synthetics. There may be some products that contain only natural extracts, such as those in the mint and camphor family, but stability and interaction with other base materials can have the unintended effect of creating fragrance degradation.