ALGAE may not be the first ingredient that springs to mind for perfume. But algae are among obscure ingredients to which perfume makers are turning to preserve the scent of their fragrances in the face of new EU anti-allergy restrictions.

The global high end perfume industry, generating US$25 billion in annual sales, is readying itself for EU regulations that will come into force in early 2015.

These will ban widely-used ingredients such as oak moss, a natural substance, that was found in the original versions of best-sellers, including Chanel’s No.5 and MissDior.

Perfume creators say they love oak moss for its woody, earthy notes which give it depth and help make scent last longer. But on the grounds that between one and three percent of the EU population could suffer an allergic reaction — such as dermatitis —Brussels is banning two of its core molecules, atranol and chloroatranol.

Perfume makers will only be allowed to use oak moss from which these two molecules have been removed. The makers say this results in a much lighter and less vigorous scent.

“I am crazy about oak moss, it is one of my favourite ingredients,” saysMarc-Antoine Corticchiato, perfume creator or “nose” at his niche Parfum d’Empire brand. A 100ml bottle of scent costs 120 euros.

Corticchiato, like many other “noses”, is anxious about the new wave of potentially costly rules emanating fromBrussels.

The fragrance industry that supplies perfume makers like Corticchiato already has its own self regulation body — theInternational Fragrance Association (IFRA) — financed by providers such as Givaudan,New York-listed International Flavors & Fragrances, andGermany’s Symrise.

It has imposed restrictions on a growing list of ingredients over the years for various health reasons.

In addition, perfume makers do a lot of their own in-house and post-market surveillance and do their own testing, which can cost several hundred thousands euros a year, depending on the number of products and ingredients involved.

Leading brands such as Chanel,Dior and Hermes have “noses” and their own research laboratories.

They do not publish figures for the costs associated with them but industry experts estimate them to be in the order of several million euros a year.

A touch of algae

One solution for oak moss, Corticchiato says, is to add a touch of algae as its wet, iodized smell coupled with other ingredients, can help recreate oak moss’ mouldy character.

TheEuropean Commission is also banning a synthetic molecule called HICC, or lyral, which replicates the smell of lily of the valley. It too can cause dermatitis in allergy sufferers.

L’Oreal, which makes Lancome and Armani perfumes, said it was looking for alternatives. It declined to say which of its perfumes contained lyral.

Perfume makers say they understand that their products need to be safe and recognise how damaging to their reputation any serious allergic reaction would be.

But some say the industry is being unfairly targeted. Up until now, they say, there have only been minor cases of allergies manifested by skin irritations or eczema.

“I thinkBrussels’ focus is a little exaggerated specially compared to alcohol and cigarettes which are sold freely and do more harm than perfume,” saysPatricia de Nicolaï, who created the French Nicolaï perfume brand with her husband 25 years ago.

She says she has never received a complaint about allergy, but has reformulated some of her best sellers such asNew York andEau d’Ete because they used oak moss and lyral respectively.

TheEuropean Union denies targeting perfume any more than any other industry and says its new regulation seeks to address scientists’ and doctors’ concerns about the health hazards related to the use of perfume.

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