A not so brief note on oakmoss, allergic reactions, and personal preferences.

Over at the FromPyrgos blog (frompyrgos.blogspot.com), there is a new post about Wings for Men (an EA formulation, apparently). The author states that:

…Wings is a reference for the value of oakmoss. I’ve grown weary of reading about how irreplaceable oakmoss is, because I wear fragrances that contain it, and find little to no extra benefit in either the overall quality of their scents, or their compositional strength compared to similar non-oakmoss formulas. Oakmoss is not a magic bullet. Brut aftershave contains none, but smells great…

Why does it [Wings] smell awful? Because the design is awful. Comparisons to Aqua Quorum and Cool Water are not very apt. Two of the three use Calone to different effect, and woody spices to vaguely similar effect, while one (Cool Water) bears no relation whatsoever…

Sorry, but to me the “fresh” aroma chemicals in Wings are what is overbearing. I can’t say I smelled the oakmoss in it, because these chemicals were so irritating. Because I may be especially sensitive to these synthetic molecules, Wings smells similar to Cool Water to me, though CW is certainly superior, with notes you can actually detect without feeling ill while you are trying to detect them! As I said in the last post, my major problem with CW now is that it is overloaded with notes, many of which clash with each other. Wings seems to be for the guy who wants a “fresh” scent with incredible potency, and is not bothered by the chemicals and clearly does not have a discerning “nose.” Brut does not smell great to me at all, but plenty of scents without oakmoss do, just as many with strong oakmoess notes do, so I fail to see what purpose it serves to mention this one scent in this context.

The FromPyrgos author also states:

It leaves me with no choice but to declare that oakmoss, as an allergen and a cheap crutch for cheap formulas, needs to be viewed with the rose-colored glasses off for a change…

This is quite amusing to me, as I have never heard of the claim that oakmoss is a “cheap crutch.” Should we all reevaluate Mitsouko? But let me be the first to point out that two scents I find similar,
Memoir Man and Brit for Men, do have a major difference in the bases, and that is that MM contains oakmoss whereas Brit does not. I find the oakmoss in MM to create a clash, though of course not everyone does, and judging by the reviews on the major sites, most don’t even notice the oakmoss. I would guess this is true for most scents with a clear oakmoss note, that is, most people, even those who write online reviews, do not notice it at all !

For me, oakmoss imparts more texture than odor, so to speak, and that provides a “backbone” to many scents (I think Luca Turin used this phrase in this context, so I want to give credit where it is due). However, oakmoss is not like more “solid” base notes, such as vetiver or most woods, and this is what makes it special to me. There is a kind of sponginess to it that no other ingredient, to my knowledge, imparts. It also has a slight bitter quality that can “cut” the sweetness of some scents, which is also a very important role, at least for me. And of course in a rather simple formulation it can impart enough complexity to keep a scent from becoming too boring, especially after an hour or so.

Lastly, I’ll address the allergen issue. I find it rather humorous that in Europe, where smoking is quite common in many places, there is a fear of oakmoss. But beyond my sense of humor, there is simply no way anyone can know for sure what the effects of breathing in a great deal of iso e super over many years will do to an individual’s body. It certainly sets off something in mine that is not pleasant, and from my reading of scientific studies, my conclusion is that a substance that sets off an immune response can be dangerous, even if the substance itself is not doing direct damage!

In just about “men’s” scents (I haven’t checked many “women’s”) linalool is present. What about the safety of this molecule? Have a look at this:

Contact Dermatitis. 2012 Aug 21. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.2012.02134.x. [Epub ahead of print]
“Air-oxidized linalool-a frequent cause of fragrance contact allergy.”

Background. Linalool is a common fragrance terpene that, in pure form, is not allergenic or is a very weak allergen. However, linalool autoxidizes on air exposure, and the oxidation products can cause contact allergy. In a Swedish study, oxidized linalool 6.0% in petrolatum (pet.) gave 5% positive patch test reactions in 2500 dermatitis patients. Objectives. To investigate whether oxidized linalool 6%, with a stable concentration of the main haptens, the linalool hydroperoxides (Lin-OOHs) in pet., could be a useful tool for the detection of contact allergy in an international setting. Methods. Oxidized linalool 6.0% (Lin-OOHs 1%) pet. was tested in 2900 consecutive dermatitis patients in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and Australia. Results. Overall, 6.9% (range 3-13%) of the patients showed positive patch test reactions to oxidized linalool. Doubtful reactions were found in 9.2% of the patients (range 0-36%). Few irritant reactions were seen. Conclusions. In an international setting, oxidized linalool has been shown to be a common allergen. Oxidized linalool 6.0% (Lin-OOHs 1%) pet. is a useful, standardized and stable tool for the detection of contact allergy in dermatitis patients. Many patients showing positive patch test reactions to oxidized linalool would not have been informed of their fragrance allergy if this specific test had not been performed. Many patients showing positive patch test reactions to oxidized linalool would not have been informed of their fragrance allergy if this specific test had not been performed.

And here is evidence (I could cite more) supporting my point about the immune response (which can generate chronic inflammation):

It is known that severe gum disease leads to generalized inflammation and a number of other health complications, but the conditions that we created were moderate and they were mainly localized in the mouth,” he added.

…mild localized inflammation can lead to a more severe systemic inflammation,” he added.


If the author of FromPyrgos has issues with oakmoss then by all means I support his decision to avoid scents that contain large amounts of it, but if he is going to tell everyone else in the world that he knows other substances are just fine, then I have a major issue with this notion (I am not saying this is what he is claiming, as I am not clear about why he brought up his sensitivities in his argument about oakmoss in the context of its compositional benefits, or lack thereof). Back in 2008 I think I experienced a bout of “multiple chemical sensitivity” due to wearing scents, Sung Homme in particular. If you don’t know what MCS is, here is a brief explanation:

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity; in broad terms it means an unusually severe sensitivity or allergy-like reaction to many different kinds of pollutants including solvents, VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), perfumes, petrol, diesel, smoke, “chemicals” in general and often encompasses problems with regard to pollen, house dust mites, and pet fur & dander.


Again, it’s about the reaction, which in some cases hardly anyone else in the world may have to a specific substance. My guess is that molecules like iso e super are causing less severe reactions in many people (“subclinical”), which may only lead to a serious health condition after many years of exposure. This is another reason why I largely avoid top notes, that is, because they seem to really bother me, and as I said, I’m going to “listen to what my body seems to be telling me.” How many medications were we told were safe over the last ten years or so, only for that drug to be withdrawn because a certain percentage of the population experienced severe side effects or were killed? By contrast, oakmoss has been used in scents my mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, etc. wore, apparently with no ill health effects, though if scents with strong oakmoss notes bothered me, I certainly would avoid them (one older relative does seem to develop an immediate coughing response from scents with strong sandalwood notes, for example).

NOTE: I’ve had a strange skin condition for many years, long before I wore scents on a regular basis. Perhaps once every few months an area on one of my hands or lower arm would get red and itchy for a few minutes. The area was usually small, the size of a quarter or two. It would last for a few minutes and then disappear completely. It didn’t happen after I washed my hands or exposed the area to anything. Clearly there was an immune/inflammatory reaction occurring, but what set it off is something I couldn’t even guess at, since these are areas that are not even expose to clothing. I never saw a doctor for it because it lasted for such a short period of time and occurred rarely. Something similar did happen once, in early 2008, when I sprayed Cuba Gold once to the chest, but other than the episode with Sung Homme and what seemed liked MCS (which lasted perhaps 4-5 months), the only other reaction I remember is a strange sensation in my throat soon after spraying on Krizia Uomo. Subsequent wearings, however, were not problematic.

Also, I have never tried Aqua Quorum, and so can’t comment on it.

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Filed under Criticizing the critics.

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