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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Faux Natural Perfumes. Masked Marauders Be Gone

You know what really grinds my gears?  Perfume lines that tout themselves as natural when they are not.  Big companies trying to capitalize on the green movement.  I've been investigating the proliferation of these "faux natural" perfumes as I like to call them, and I'm agog by how misleading the advertising copy is for many of these lines.  It makes me angry.  Angry enough to reference the t.v. show Family Guy (note episode when Peter becomes a cantankerous opinion news segment host a la Andy Rooney and starts every segment with, "Ya know what really grinds my gears?")  And yes I do live in Rhode Island.

You might wonder why I care so much.  I guess it's the injustice of the situation.  Unfair for the customer and unfair for the natural perfumer.  The customer believes they are buying a natural product.  I myself am a natural perfumer.  Someone who adores perfume, who has worked in the beauty industry for years.  I live, eat, breath, sleep, talk perfume (!) and even I was confused by some fragrances "natural" ad copy.  One needs a doctorate in reading between the lines to figure out if some of the fragrance lines are natural.  Consumers are led to believe through marketing and advertising that these perfumes may be one or all of the following: organic, natural, chemical free, environmentally friendly, etc.  These same consumers may be seeking a fragrance that won't aggravate their asthma, or wish to cut down on the amounts of chemicals and phthalates they apply to their skin.  Maybe they just prefer the idea of buying a natural perfume.  Regardless of their reason, they are being purposely misled.  That's what makes me angry--the capitalizing on the vagaries of labeling.  The purposeful intent to mislead the consumer.

After doing some extensive research on the crop of new "faux natural" perfume lines I've identified some tips for spotting the synthetics lurking among all the advertising copy and pretty flowered boxes.  The following four tips may help you identify a masked marauder.

  1. The perfume is clear, non-colored as in crystal clear.

Most real botanical perfumes are colored.  The beautiful liquid inside the bottle will most likely have a hue.  Plants and flowers rarely release their essences as neat, crystalline liquids.  Botanical essences are often sticky, resinous and darkly colored.  A perfectly clear colored perfume is most likely not a true natural botanical perfume.  Companies recognize that consumers connote clear colored liquids as clean, pure and natural, and hence a clear colored synthetic perfume is created and labelled "natural."

     2The perfume is inexpensive, as in cheap.

If you can purchase a three ounce spray bottle of the perfume for $32.00 then guess what?  It's probably not made completely from natural ingredients.

    3. The perfume box touts it's soy-based inks, 80% recycled paper content, recycled bottles, cruelty-free status, and pledge to offset all company travel by purchasing carbon credits.

 This barrage of eco-friendly bragging is akin to waving something sparkly in one hand so the consumer doesn't notice what's in your other hand: synthetic fragrance chemicals.  I see it as a sort of, "Quick!  Look over here!" type distraction for the potential buyer.  Who wouldn't assume the perfume is all-natural?  

Other misleading marketing tactics I noticed popping up on ingredient lists included: boastful claims of 100% natural corn-based alcohol (ugh, yeah--that's called EVERCLEAR folks), and listing essential and natural oils as ingredients.  This puzzles me.  Wouldn't essential and natural oils be one and the same?  Natural oils is code for SYNTHETICS.  How misleading! 

I mentioned earlier that these fragrance companies that unjustly portray themselves as natural hurt the natural perfumer as well.  Granted, I'm a small niche perfumer who will never compete with a company such as Pacifica for example.  However, I am somewhat directly affected by their claims.  I was recently at a fancy hotel where a  a trunk show was being hosted by a local fashion designer who is a very good friend of mine.  My friend just so happened to have appeared on a reality show recently and I was excited when he asked me to participate in the show by selling my perfume along with a few other clothing and jewelry designers.  I realized quickly that the clientele attending weren't my ideal customers as the crowd seemed evenly split between young gay men intently vying to get their picture taken with my designer friend and fashionistas tottering by on impossibly high heels scouring the clothing racks for the best deals.  

My table was eventually approached by a young woman who asked lots of questions regarding my ingredients and prices.  She eventually told me she thought my prices were too high.  I explained to her that the price of the botanicals I use are very costly and rare, and in comparison to traditional synthetic perfumes my profit margin was quite small.  I really should have remained silent.  She then told me disdainfully that she bought only organic perfume, and that her current scent Ruby Red Guava only cost $20.00.  I recognized the scent and carefully explained to her that the perfume she was wearing was not only NOT organic, it wasn't natural at all.  I told her that the guava scent was actually synthetic.  She frowned at me, and said in the manner of correcting a small child, "Nooo.  That's impossible.  It's sold at WHOLE FOODS."