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Scent Sleuth: Natural Fragrances—Creating Balance

By: Nancy C. Hayden
Posted: April 7, 2009

“On a woman, a natural flower scent smells artificial. Perhaps, a natural perfume must be created artificially.”—Coco Chanel

With all of the focus on the environment these days, consumers are looking for ways to reduce exposure to chemicals—including those in personal care products. This emphasis on a return to nature begs the question: Can we improve on Mother Nature?

The natural fragrance trend itself is a marketer’s dream, and, therefore, a positive answer to the question above would be a boon. However, “natural” is a confusing term in the labeling of products. There are no official government definitions, and numerous organizations are in the midst of a battle to position their guidelines as the most appropriate and apt for labeling. But even the nomenclature is baffling. How can a consensus on nomenclature for what is natural and what is not be achieved when there are so many divergent motives and opinions? Further, organizational certification seals meant to guide consumers tend to add an additional layer of confusion—they tend to be just another aspect of the label consumers don’t really understand.

One thing, though, is clear—consumers, right or wrong, tend to believe anything termed natural or plant derived is better for them. Even when the nature-based ingredients on the label are at such minimal percentages as to have little benefits or, in reality, afford the product no natural merit, the claims still sway.

In fragrances, the natural label creates a very difficult quandary for the brand owner. Developing a natural line of personal care products that includes legitimately natural fragrances is an incredible challenge. In addition to being from a natural source and not derived from a petroleum stock, there are clear limits in the types of pleasant scents that can also achieve natural labeling goals.