Reformulation is not the end of the world

There are various reasons for reformulation of a perfume: production cost, market preference, availability of raw materials, or environmental and health issues. It is no surprise that companies cut corners by reformulating the original recipe to increase profits. Also to drive sales, they attune their products to consumers’ taste for stronger fragrances with powerful synthetics. But, more often than not, reformulation is inevitable because certain raw materials are no longer available, limited in distribution, or of a very different quality. For example, if synthetic musks did not replace their natural counterparts, the ravenous demand for perfumes would probably drive the musk deer to extinction. And, in the case of ambergris, the amount harvested from the shores of New Zealand alone cannot sustain such a demand. With tuberose, the characteristic richness from enfleurage extract cannot be maintained due to the prohibitive cost of the laborious method, and only the greener solvent-extracted absolute is available to fill the gap. More importantly, however, modern technology has informed us of the potential health risks of these raw materials that necessitate the reformulation of our favourite perfumes.

musky deer

Musk pods (left) and Siberian musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) (right)




Simple enfleurage of tubersoe flowers (Polianthes tuberosa)

Regardless of the actual reason for reformulation, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), which provides the safety guideline, often comes under fire for its lists of restricted materials. Whilst such changes can render your favourite compositions mediocre, I do not think it is fair to lambaste the IFRA. They are not there to destroy the future of perfumery; in fact, they even safeguard it by ensuring that we do not develop rashes or sun burns and begin suing fragrance companies for such cases. The craft of perfumery will not be lost simply because one door is closed. I sincerely believe, as my late mentor in science often said whenever I was stuck with an inexplicable result, that ‘one finds a way around it’. It is the creativity and passion that drives perfumery and keeps it alive. And, such challenges actually open a new door. A blessing in disguise, perhaps?

Sources:,,, Luckyscent, Dabney Rose


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