European Perfume Makers Are Fretting About Proposed Restrictions on AllergensS

If the big, bad EU lawmakers in Brussels — glutted with government-issued waffles and chocolate — have their way, perfumed Europeans might have to wait until they swaddle themselves in a blanket of tree moss during a jaunt in the Dolomites before they realize that they have skin-scourging allergy to tree moss. That's because the EU is preparing to introduce measures that would severely restrict or outright ban ingredients in best-selling, vintage perfumes (tree moss and oakmoss would be on the banned list) such as Chanel's No.5, which has been around since 1921.

Reuters reports that perfume makers are predictably upset that the new regulations will eat into the $25-billion industry's profits, since overhauling the ingredients of venerable old perfumes that blue-haired ladies have been dousing their bichon frises in for half a century might mean forsaking a loyal customer base that has simply learned to cope with itchy neck scales or wrist boils. The proposed law, however, shines some light on a hush-hush secret among perfume makers, which is that they've been tinkering with their formulas for years. Of course, fragrance alchemists would be loathe to admit that today's Chanel No.5 is an entirely different concoction than Depression-era No.5, but it would stand to reason that some advancements have been made over the course of the 20th century.

Until now, perfume makers have largely regulated themselves through the International Fragrance Association (ingredient shortages have also accounted for formula tweaks), since it's always best to have cosmetics companies keep themselves honest by politely agreeing not to put cheap, corrosive chemicals in perfume bottles, or test new fragrances on shaved baboons in "vacant" testing bunkers just beyond Nice's city limits. Brands like Dior, Chanel, and Guerlain will be most affected by the new restrictions, since many of their fragrance make use of ingredients discovered before science started exploring the health risks associated with perfume use.

Frederic Malle, the owner of ritzy perfume company Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, hyperbolically characterized the new law as "an atomic explosion," from which the perfume industry would be unable to "rebuild." The IFRA, however, has been steadily ramping-up perfume regulation since 1973, when people started worrying that some perfumes might be associated with allergic reactions or even cancer. (Birch tar, for instance, was removed from Guerlain's Shalimar many decades ago because it was thought to be a cancer risk.) The corporate hand-wringing that comes with industry regulation shouldn't surprise anyone, and, odds are, perfume makers will figure out a way to stay in the business of dousing people with odiferous little eaus and ointments at least until global warming destroys our planet and we're all forced to live underground, where strong perfume will be banned thanks to the Proximal Decency Act of 2098.

Luxury perfume makers make stink over Europe energy laws [Reuters via NBC]