The difference between magical thinking and reasonable assumptions.

Magical Thinking

First, I suggest you read this blog post before reading what is below the link:

In graduate school, I learned to investigate phenomena beyond textbooks.  Basically, you learn about the existing notions, then study the primary sources for yourself or possibly do studies/experiments.  And you have several professors who serve as advisors, formally or informally.  Today, you can do much of this online, but a major problem is that many if not most people don’t appear to be able to distinguish between those who have expertise and those who are pretending to be experts (if they are able to gain access to someone with expertise).  In this online world, though, one can try a different approach (at least with the fragrance industry, that is, if it’s difficult to find experts who are willing to speak “on the record” if at all), which is to go to the relevant “online communities” and ask questions.  If you don’t useful responses (even if that is due to poor explanations rather than lies, misinformation, etc.), you can then present a tentative conclusion of your own.  If it turns out you are incorrect, that’s fine, because you want to learn something, not impress others with your “expertise,” which you don’t possess, at least officially, anyway!

Now as to the subject of claims about how these kinds of olfactory concoctions are being “debased” or otherwise modified significantly in recent years.  Perfumer Chris Bartlett, who has been willing to answer questions at if not elsewhere as well, has stated that traditional chypres are no longer possible if current IFRA guidelines are used, for example.  But this is not only an issue for naturals; there have been complaints about the “restriction” of certain aroma chemicals going back at least about a decade!  And one in particular that comes up every once in a while is Terre d’Hermes; the claim is that the first formulation contained 55% iso e super (ies), but that it contains much less now (along with other ingredients, possibly).  This passage from a blog is often quoted in this context:

Here is a table of Top Ten Fragrances with Regard to Their Content in Iso E Super
No., Fragrance Name (Company, launch year), Iso E Super
[NB. the percentage is in regards to compound, not diluted ready to use product]

1 Molecule 01 (escentric molecules, 2005) 100%
2 Perles de Lalique (Lalique, 2007) 80%
3 Poivre Samarcande (Herme`s, 2004) 71%
4 Escentric 01 (escentric molecules, 2005) 65%
5 Terre d’Hermes (Hermes, 2006) 55%

And here is the kind of concern one might encounter (from nearly five years ago):

A lot of people are anosmic to ISO E Super, (as well as certain musks).

I own Encre Noir and sometimes have a hard time detecting part of it.

It has a lot of ISO E Super in it. Terre d’Hermes does as well and the amount of ISO E Super in that one used to be even more significant until regulations curbed the usage of the chemical somewhat.

Are a lot of people anosmic to it?  I would guess that is the case and would be very surprised if it weren’t the case, but could it just be the amount that is the issue?  Anyway, the key point here is the obvious misinformation, apparently: TdH has not been restricted in terms of at least the ies content.  Most likely, this person saw somewhere that TdH is 55% ies and that ies was now restricted to 21.4%, and so assumed that recent formulations were much weaker.  And one has to question why IFRA bothered to create this new guideline, since if a scent is “100% iso e super,” and it’s 80% alcohol, that means it’s around 20% ies (a bit less due to the water, and possibly preservatives/dyes), still under 21.4%!  What is the purpose of a “restriction” that has no practical use?  It almost seems like it was intended to be misleading.

Before going further with TdH and the ies content, I think it’s worth addressing an area of misunderstanding.  When one looks at a list of ingredients on a typical EdT box of today, which would be something like “alcohol, water/aqua, parfum/fragrance, linalool, citral, eugenol, etc. (possibly a preservative like BHT would be included, towards the end, and dyes are common, such as “yellow 5,” or tartrazine).  This means there is more alcohol than anything else in the liquid (clearly, the glass that comprises the bottle is not relevant here).  Also, sometimes we see “alcohol, parfum/fragrance, water/aqua…” and then the other items.  On the box, we see a number with the percentage symbol next to it, usually somewhere between about 80 and 90 (for EdT and EdPs), which represents the alcohol content.  Thus, we know that everything else listed makes up about 20% or less of the liquid within.

So, why does anyone need to tell us that TdH isn’t or never was 55% ies; why don’t they say that the portion that is “parfum/fragrance” may be 55% ies?  Isn’t that obvious to those who know what “90% vol.” (or whatever amount) means?  But things get worse, for as you can read on the FromPyrgos blog page cited above, some people want to talk in terms of “of compound” and “in concentrate.”  This may be the way perfumers talk to each other, but it is not what consumers have been and are exposed to, and it obviously can be quite misleading!  For example, let’s say you buy some peach ice cream with this list of ingredients: “milk, cream, sugar,  artificial peach flavoring, peaches.”  When you eat it, you see bits of actual peach, but even in parts of the ice cream that have no visible peach bits, it still tastes strongly of peach.  You know that the artificial peach flavoring is responsible or largely responsible, because, being listed in front of peaches, there is more of it in the mix, and it’s not something you would be able to see, unlike the actual peach bits.  Do we need someone to talk of the elements that comprise the ice cream as “of compound” or “in concentrate?”  Wouldn’t that just make things very confusing for many if not most consumers?

Now let’s take a look at a comment by someone who was confused about this about a decade ago:

I was quite scared and angry until I read the comments. I thought it was a ban – I guess I jumped the gun. If comments by Alex (I’m guessing our Alex?) are correct, then the limitation on Iso E Super will be 20% of the final composition. He says that TdH is only 5% Iso E Super in the final product (based on 50% of concentrate, at 10% EdT strength). He says we should worry if the regulation was, say, 10%.

But why does it need to be that complicated?  You can look at the box or label and see what the alcohol content is, and then you know the parfum/fragrance is going to be a percentage of whatever is left over, so if it says “90% vol.,” you know that the parfum/fragrance is less than 10% (since there is also water, probably other things that contribute to the smell – certainly the case with TdH – and possibly dyes and preservatives as well).  But now we need to understand what IFRA restricted, in terms of ies, and that apparently means that it can be used up to 21.4% of the entire content, not just the parfum/fragrance content.  Since TdH was one of the strongest ies scents of all time, “restricting” the ies content to about four times this is not what most people would consider any kind of “restriction” (especially compared to their most recent guidelines on oakmoss!).  Thus we have another area of potential confusion.  Also, if you want to blame someone for a reduction of ies in TdH, it would seem that would be Hermes.  Why not send them an email and ask, as a BN member did with Creed’s “80% natural ingredients in the parfum portion” claim” (to be addressed in my next blog post)?  And do we need to know about “dilution?”  Of course it’s diluted with the alcohol – otherwise when you sprayed it you would never know what you would be getting!  It would be like the peach ice cream, at least in terms of being able to pick out the peach bits and only eat those (if you decanted it and if the undiluted parfum/fragrance portion was visible).

As to claims that some people are imagining ies content, we only have to turn to the Wikipedia page on this aroma chemical to see the reality there:

…chronic exposure to Iso E Super from perfumes may result in permanent hypersensitivity

And as is stated there, it seems to be dangerous as well:

Iso E Super is toxic and bioaccumulative in aquatic organisms and the environment, and is suspected to be bioaccumulative in humans.

So, I certainly would be one to applaud more restrictions of iso e super (because I seem to be one of the people have become hypersensitized to it), but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be an issue with IFRA at the moment.  And now I’ll turn back to the title of this post.  There is no magical thinking on my part, nor has there been, in terms of at least ies.  That is, I have and am still trying to figure out what the reality is here.  For example, I still don’t understand why it’s necessary to talk in terms of “in concentrate” and “of compound” when we know the alcohol content is going to be so high, and we also know that of course it’s been diluted into the alcohol, or else it would smell differently when we sprayed it!

Misunderstanding that is due to experts not being able to explain well or not wanting to divulge “industry secrets” is like a poorly-written textbook that also may contain misinformation.  If that’s the case, you might want to investigate for yourself, and as part of that you might want to put forth a tentative hypothesis, to see what the responses are to it.  One of those responses might lead you to the truth, and so appearing to be “wrong” is a small price to pay.   If I was wrong, that involved making the reasonable assumption that the 21.4% ies “restriction” must refer to the parfum/fragrance portion, since otherwise it’s essentially a meaningless gesture, apparently.  Moreover, it’s often a good idea to continue to press the investigation forward, whereas magical thinking is characterized by a “closed mind.”  Overall, magical thinking seems to involve believing things that are inconsistent with what is known (in some cases including the “laws of nature”), as well as an inability to recognize that one’s  perceptions can vary significantly.  Perhaps worst of all, those who engage in it tend to persist stubbornly in their notions, assuming that what is at best a tentative hypothesis can’t possibly be wrong, which can mislead others too!

NOTE:  You might be asking yourself (as I did), whether certain aroma chemicals that appear on the ingredient list, such as linalool, are part of the parfum/fragrance portion but are just listed separately for some reason.  If so, doesn’t this violate the “rule” for listing ingredients, which is that the one that is most common is listed first and the one that is least common is listed last (and so forth)?  I asked a fragrance chemist whom I met during a swap, and this is the response I got:

They [that is, items like linalool, citral, and eugenol] are considered part of the parfum, but are listed for a number of reasons. The items listed tend to fall into a number of categories:  GRAS (generally recognized as safe), ubiquitous (long tail theory in action) and used primary as blenders/fixatives/stabilizers/preservatives. Listing them started as a way to show some transparency over what is going into their cosmetics while not giving much away at all. The industry was compelled to start the practice of throwing the consumer a bone a few decades past, and once rules get stuck in place they tend to take hold.

Apparently, “transparency” is not the real goal here, at least for those in the industry, but whatever the case may be, unless percentages are listed, we can’t know for sure (a GC/MS study can be useful here but is rarely done AND disclosed to the public) how much of anything is in the liquid, and when a percentage is given, as was the case with the ies content of TdH long ago, one might want to ask the source of the information (or misinformation) whether he/she is referring to all the liquid in the bottle or just the parfum/fragrance portion.



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