A few IFRA-related notes on massoia bark and oakmoss

I noticed a few IFRA-related things in the news recently that I thought might be of interest.

Hermes is releasing a perfume by Jean-Claude Ellena called Santal Massoia. The notes sound delicious, a milky blend of sandalwood and massoia, which is a lactonic coconut scented oil produced from the bark of the massoia tree. The interesting twist is that oil from massoia bark is prohibited by IFRA because it can cause skin irritation, so the massoia note in this perfume is likely constructed with synthetic lactones, not with natural masssoia bark, unless they’ve come up with a massoia oil that is IFRA-approved. Massoia bark oil is completely prohibited in fragrance rather than limited to a low usage rate, though you see it used sometimes by natural perfumers who choose not to follow IFRA guidelines. Bo Jensen’s great site has an entry for massoia if you’re curious to read more about it.

Another item in the news that brought IFRA to my mind: Basenotes posted a teaser for an upcoming interview with Guerlain’s perfumer Thierry Wasser. Interviewer Marian Bendeth asks Wasser about the difficulties of reformulating to meet ever-changing IFRA regulations, and he mentions that he now has a natural moss that meets IFRA standards. This is true, we have a natural moss that has had nearly all the atranol allergens removed, but even that is restricted to 0.1% in a formula, which is not going to give you vintage Mitsouko. It will be interesting to read the full interview. I have wondered if the industry will come up with a natural moss that IFRA will approve at a higher usage rate, but I’ve not heard of any such product yet (just synthetic reconstitutions). I love the natural low-atranol moss we have but wish we could use it at a higher rate. Combining it with moss-replacing synthetics can help.

A note on scent concentration

Most of my scents have always been parfum concentration even though they come in spray form. Some other brands offer this option and label them as “spray parfum” or “extrait spray” or something along those lines. You’ll sometimes see Chanel spray parfums on ebay in containers that look a bit like lipstick tubes, so you may be familiar with the idea. You need less squirts with concentrated parfum formulations — one spray is enough for me with most of my scents, but I tend to dose lightly so many of you will want a couple of sprays. You don’t want to spray these with wild abandon like a cologne though, lol.

The traditional alcohol-based scent categories are usually given about like this:
Eau de Cologne – 2% to 5% fragrance
Eau de Toilette – 4% to 10% fragrance
Eau de Parfum – 8% to 15% fragrance
Parfum or Extrait – 15% to 25% fragrance

Most of my scents are about 20% fragrance, which puts them solidly in the parfum category. You’ll find some perfume oils (oil based rather than alcohol based) going even higher than 25%, but if you go much higher than 25% in an alcohol-based scent it will seem too oily.

Many times the formula for edp and parfums are different. Parfums often contain more expensive ingredients since they are offered in smaller bottles of more concentrated juice and are meant to be applied more sparingly. The higher costs of parfums are due both to the higher concentration and the more costly materials. I’ve found Chanel, Caron, and Guerlain parfums to be very worthwhile, especially the vintage versions when you can get them.

Feedback from the majority of customers has been in favor of sprays but also in favor of a fairly high concentration, so I’ve made my scents in spray extrait form. It’s hard to find nice spray bottles in 30 ml size or less, so when I chose my new bottles I had to hunt to find anything less than 50 ml. My new bottles will be a nice choice for those who want a more special bottle of a scent they love. The smaller half oz bottles are plainer but have the option of the splash cap for those who prefer to apply scent parfum style.

Because my scents are high concentration for a spray, they may take a couple minutes to dry on your skin rather than drying immediately like an edt/edp. They have more essence oils in them so they’re a bit heavier, but you can control that by the number of squirts you use.

I’ll be adding concentration info to all the scents on my site, but I just thought a note here on the blog would help too.

Back to Bases

People often assume that they must dislike something in the perfume base if they dislike a fragrance; that may be a likely possibility with oil perfumes since the oil base can often contain solvents that may have off odors to a subset of people, but it’s less likely with alcohol perfumes. The base of most alcohol perfumes on the market today is SD 39C alcohol, which is a specially denatured alcohol that has about the least amount of odor for denatured alcohol. If you look on the back of your perfume boxes, you’ll probably see SD 39C on most of them. You may see SD 40B on some, which is denatured with a substance called Bitrex. Neither one is likely to cause people to dislike the scent because any alcohol harshness should dissipate within a few minutes of application. Unless you dislike all perfumes with alcohol, then an alcohol base isn’t a likely culprit. (If you do dislike alcohol perfumes, you can find nice alternatives with natural lines that use oil bases with no solvents added.)

Maybe some lines do add a standard percentage of a particular solvent, like dipropylene glycol, to the alcohol base, but most artisan brands do not. Sometimes solvents are used to add tenacity to blends. You can sample to see what brands work for you and what scents in each line you like. Of course perfumers will have some ingredients they love and use more frequently, so your own feelings towards those ingredients will influence whether you like their general style.

With my alcohol-based scents, unless you dislike standard denatured alcohol, then you need to blame the blend and not the base when a scent doesn’t work for you. I don’t add anything to the base besides the alcohol: no solvents, just a pure alcohol base. There’s no single ingredient common to all my scents other than alcohol, so they will all be different.

I also don’t pre-blend my own accord bases the way some perfumers do. For example, I use a unique blend to create a different amber accord in each scent rather than mixing a generalized amber accord to use in all my scents. That way I can tailor the accords to each scent. I do refer back to my notes and formulas so I don’t have to start from square one each time, but I develop the accords to fit each scent. There’s no right or wrong method, but I prefer to individualize each scent that way.

To complicate matters, a few ingredients already come with solvents as thinners; for example, the musk galoxolide is available neat or in a base of isopropyl myristate, diethyl phthalate, or benzyl benzoate. Various solvents may end up added to the finished perfume at low concentrations along with a few ingredients that go into it, unless the neat forms of these ingredients are used. That means as a consumer you’ll dislike blends with those pre-diluted ingredients if you are super sensitive to the solvent used, but you won’t dislike the whole brand unless they use that ingredient in every scent, which is unlikely. (I don’t currently use galoxolide in anything, btw.)

I’m not fond of the solvents listed above (DEP, IPM, BB) or of dipropylene glycol (DPG). BB has a cardboard smell to me, and DPG sometimes can have a slight plastic smell to me. I’ve found triethyl citrate (TEC) to have the least odor to my nose, but others may feel differently. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using solvents and in fact they are useful for pre-diluting some ingredients and for adding fixation, but they can add very light scents of their own, which is something to consider when you’re formulating.

I think there is some truth to the general feeling people have about bases, but it’s a complex topic. We’ve touched on it here before on this blog and I thought the above might add some more useful information. If you want to read other posts with information on perfume making and ingredients, you can click on the perfume making and ingredients category listed on the right sidebar (near the bottom).