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Tracy Pepe

Scent Designer,

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Some North Americans think a scented space(used for marketing - home staging or commercial reasons) as negative - So Why the Scent Fear?

Luca Turnin - has an incredible TED video on" What's the science behind a sublime perfume? With charm and precision, biophysicist Luca Turin explains the molecular makeup -- and the art -- of a scent." My question is, some North Americans think a scented space(used for marketing - home staging or commercial reasons) as negative - So Why the Scent Fear? Is the fear based on the lack of knowledge between synthetic & natural aromatic chemicals - that somehow the belief is that naturals are better for the world? OR is the fear driven from the molecular makeup of the aromatic chemicals that we smell every day and our inability to identify what we are smelling or to understand the scent itself is creating a subconscious fear?

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    Mar 22 2011: The answer is fairly mundane. As more and more people encounter more and more scents and chemicals over the course of their lifetimes, many are developing chemical sensitivities. In fact almost all hospitals in Canada are now supposed to be scent free. This includes not only the products that are bought by the hospitals but also the products that staff and visitors wear on their persons.
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    Mar 28 2011: Harald: Yes as they say in Alice in Wonderland - "OFF with her head!" That is why I am independent - respect the Wizard but I do not live in OZ.

    My point - everything has an aroma of some type - some natural - synthetic - combined - created from chemistry, biology, really it is so simple. I take it further there is no such thing as a good or bad aroma - aromas are tools.

    The argument of scent free is impossible and I support the P&Gs, Unilevers and L'Oreals, and yes their perfumers would understand the technical definition - however tomaote vs. tomato.

    In the end, I know the testing that is conducted both by the fragrance house & the firm. As I originally said I would trust a cosmetic house more than some pharmaceutical firms. I think we agree - however it is my conclusion, is is the vague nature of the definition of what is a scent - odour or aromas that indirectly causes fear and misunderstanding to the majority when it comes to the word FRAGRANCE.
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      Mar 29 2011: I think it depends to whom you talk and in what context. If talking to a perfumist in a cosmtic company then, when talking about scent, he most likely means the fragrance he is going to add to either mask odors that are not appealing or add value through the odor.
      Only shows once again, proper definition is key to understanding ;-)

      Question: if you want to scent a public place, how do you do that ? I mean, different odors mean different things to different people. How do you find a consense ?
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    Mar 25 2011: I guess my point is everything has an odour or scent - scent free cannot occur, good and bad is a poor way of describing a smell, North Americans in general seem to have this obsessive nature to "scent free". In all the other countries in the world - I never come across this accept in USA & Canada. Since the perfumers world does not really have a great and accurate language that we can all agree to-that itself creates the misunderstanding of scent free.
    Fear in fragrance back to my question.

    I have been researching the perceptions of colour and scent for my next talk, clearly the research indicates that when a scent is lighter in character many individuals are more acceptable in nature. they also connect softer colours to that aroma. Colours and aromas need to be evaluated with out names for the chemical names in nature create fear — or resistance - lavender is so romantic and yet lilionel acetate is not as pretty.

    The fear I experience is - when I read articles in the paper or on the web that discuss new scent marketing or that a mall is scented or the unveil of this industry - if I may - the comments I read how scents will kill us. Or we breath in "fresh air "and adding fragrance will call respiratory problems , etc. Everything can create issues, but the companies I know who create these fragrances for the mass public have exceptional regulatory and I trust a cosmetic company or fragrance house more so than many pharmaceutical firms. It is the perception of fear - I once did an interview on National TV - they asked an individual who did not agree with fragrance to join us - she walked out with a gas mask.

    I normally do not defend such conversations for as a perfumer - I love all aromas - odours - smells. I will look for you on linked in as well. Cheers
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      Mar 25 2011: Ok, I can agree with that, almost everything has a scent. Even water. So, in this sense, scent free probably doesn't exist. But I think, when people talk about scent free they actually mean, no fragrance added.
      I think this fear issue that you are seeing might be a bit exaggerated, because if you look around all the big producers of detergents and cosmetics have (most) of their products scented. True, there are some fragrance free on the market, but that's a tiny segment compared to scented products.
      Take for example Victoria Secret (not that it would be a leading brand). The products have awful fragrances, still, especially Americans, seem to love those products.
      About chemical names in fragrances: FDA requires the disclosure of all ingredients in a cosmetic product on the product label, however, fragrances are never disclosed with their chemical compositions, but simply as fragrance xxxxx. Hence, the normal consumer never gets to know what components make up a particular fragrances. Not even as cosmetic chemists do we know what's in the fragrance. In most cases, that's a secret of the fragrance company. In other words, while I agree that the name of a chemical component instead of just saying lavender oil might scare people, it's not an issue for all practical purpose.
      It also should be noted that our noses are very sensitive. So in order to perceive a scent, one needs very little material and there is virtually no risk associated with scents in the air.
      In addition, if we look at personal care products, fragrances are added in tiny amounts (far less than 1 %). Still, some people might be sensitive to fragrance components, but that also might be the case for other ingredients in the formulation.
  • Mar 23 2011: So many air fresheners, fabric softeners, scented candles, incense are sold that I don't think people in North America fear scented spaces; in fact, they seem to embrace it more than ever. However certain people might be uncomfortable or mistrustful of scents they do not choose or control themselves. They understand that a scent can transport them into the past or into a mood in a very sensual direct way; and even if it's subtle, they may not like the feeling.
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    Mar 23 2011: Debra - I can appreciate your comments I am Canadian - BUT I scent hospitals. I have scented them for seventeen years. I think your referring to asking clients not to wear perfume that are alcohol compounds. Not all aromas are alcohol compounds.

    So this is the misunderstanding that we - perfumers face.

    Scent is an aromatic molecule created from a synthetic compound or from a natural source. Many natural sources are not allowed for they are not safe compared to synththetic origins. There are no allergens in the scent molecule itself and as one goes for allergy testing - the procedure never requires someone to smell something. The sensitivity is correct however that is created from the Limbic system an area in our brain (proven by the winner of The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2004 - Linda Buck) that the reaction is triggered by emotion. Emotion is created by a subconscious connection to a scent once discovered or to Harold's point intensity. This is why scent brings back a memory.

    As a perfumer I know many spaces are scented, in fact more than most people are aware. When we do not tell the patron, the aroma (done properly) is usually described with adjectives such as comfort, fresh, bright. The scent improves the space adding dimension. Many offices & buildings globally - theme parks this is not new. However when we inform patrons that the space is scented - most people respond such as Debra (sorry) - thus the fear. My question - what will it take to remove the fear and misunderstanding? Thank you for sharing, it is helpful.
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      Mar 23 2011: Hi Tracy,
      I work with different hospitals everyday and it is very interesting that you say you 'scent' hospitals. Can you elaborate on what you mean by that, please?
      You are certainly right that not all compounds are alcohols and I am definately not referring to just the client perfume. All infection prevention products which enter a hospital in Canada are required to be scent free. If any product is used in a hospital Health and Safety must approve and the only scented products which are permitted are the necessary ones without alternatives.
      I am very interested in your perspective and expertise so please do not percieve my questions as anything more than curiousity.
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        Mar 24 2011: To scent a space we add aromas with in the environment to change the scent of a space. Many hospitals and long term care units have aromas that represent negative associations and the smell of "death" is common in some. Older buildings limit air flow and proper ventilation so to change the environment to support healing — adding scents are an effective tool. As well a scent can be the least expensive way to improve a space - some call it aromatherapy so it is welcomed by boards or governing bodied. (They will claim natural - this is another discussion in itself.) I cannot disclose which buildings — but in Toronto my longest project was 13 years, the ward scented was to help dementia and Alzheimer's patients. We never actually conducted clinical trials for it was not necessary but we noticed a huge difference in the quality of the care with patients.

        I am scenting a space in Chicago this April connecting the color of fragrance how it impacts moods and creativity.

        There is no such thing as a scent free product. Under current legislation a masking agent that is used to cover up the aroma of a raw material (some raw materials have awful odors)— such as a scent free detergent is still a fragrance compound. The industry knows how to create scent free aromas — it is very clinical and proven. Sorry - everything has a fragrance — perfumers know how to use aromas to change the outcome to create a new scent that is our talent. Some of my friends — who specialize in perception of scent — can change the aroma molecules from the worst smelling compound into something pretty — this is still a fragrance. Under Canadian & FDA legislation — there is a little difference from fragrance free - scent free & unscented - but technically they mean the same thing - marketing.
        I appreciate your questions - it my passion to educate. Thank you both for this chance!
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          Mar 24 2011: Well, I have to disagree partly here. As a chemist working almost all my life in the cosmetic industry, I know for sure that there are products w/o any added fragrance.
          However, that doesn't mean the product is totally odorless. It usually still has a scent that comes from the whole range of raw materials used in formulating the product, but that's rather a side effect.
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        Mar 25 2011: Yes, BUT the majority of cosmetics, health and beauty that claim "scent free" are not truly scent free. We both know a base added with less than .02% essential oils as a raw material may technically be fragrance free BUt it is scented.

        Most consumers think scent free detergent means there are no additional "perfumes" added - and yet the quat system used for the detergents has been completely changed by a perfumer to create a neutral base smelling ingredient.

        I respect your industry but most do not understand chemistry.
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          Mar 25 2011: Hahahaha, tell that the P&Gs, Unilevers and L'Oreals out there. They will quickly ask for your head.

          I assume, and correct me if I'm wrong, that according to your definition, everything that smells is a scent.
          If so, then, although a product might be free of a fragrance, it can be still scented because many raw materials used in cosmetics and household products are not odorless.
          Also ingredients can interfere with fragrance components (since you mentioned quats, they could interact due to their positive electric charge). Therefore, cosmetics as well as detergent companies go through a lot of testing until they really have the odor they actually want in a product.
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      Mar 23 2011: Hi Tracy, I'm getting a bit confused here. You are talking about a "scent molecule". What do you mean with that ? As I pointed out in my other post, fragrances, at least in most cases, are complex blends of many different compounds.
      About allergenic risks: Potentially, one can be allergic against almost anything, including fragrances, although the risk is obviously higher when in direct contact (such as in a fragrance) than in an air freshener.
      In any case, this topic is very interesting. Can you point me to literature that talks about space scenting and it's impact on people frequenting those spaces ?
      About fear: I never heard anybody talking about fear when it comes to scents. What is this fear assumption based upon ?
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        Mar 24 2011: Hi Harald - Yes a fragrance is based on compounds - but a compounds is composed is created from of hundreds of molecules derived from a fragrant raw material. From all the research from the FDA - Canada - relating to allergies - fragrance molecules do not actually have an allergen - you can have a sensitivity but under the "diagnosis" of an allergy — you cannot be allergic to a fragrance. Please do not confuse wording, a perfume or something that has a fragrance in a mixture is not necessarily a fragrance molecule - I am talking about a single scent molecule that floats among us each and every day - the 10 000 scents. I am breaking your compound down further. Any way....

        Scenting Spaces - so much literature — start with The Scent Marketing Institute - Monell Chemical Institute, on Linked in I have a group called the olfactive Group we often post research papers from around the world.

        Fear - so much fear. I have been in a situation when I tell people what I do as a perfumer and the assumption is awful. Or I have been in lectures — and the questions and comments about fragrances or scents clearly demonstrate this fear. MCS (multiple Chemical Sensitivity) is based on this fear , when I researched this topic for my book ten years ago it was clear that fear is associated with certain aromas with individuals. They smell a note — and they jump to a conclusion for what might happen.
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          Mar 24 2011: ok, I see already, we use different language. You are using the perfumer language and I'm talking as a chemist.
          Cool.I'm on LinkedIn. I'll add your group.
          Explain a bit more this issue of fear. I never encountered any fear related to scents, that's why I'm so surprised that this should be any issue.
          How does this fear articulate itself ? Fear of what ? Any particular scent ? Any particular environment ? Any particular type/group of people ? Fear of unidentifiable scents ?
          As to your last sentence: I can understand that. Let's assume you smell rotting meat ? Wouldn't you come to some sort of conclusion (a dead animal, forgot something to store in the fridge, etc).
          Or the scent of cinnamon: You could conclude that somebody is baking cookies or maybe using a scented candle, or maybe it's a cinnamon factory after all ??
          I think it's virtually unavoidable not to make conclusion when encountering a scent as long as it is a known one.
          Perhaps people might experience fear (still sounds too strong to me) if encountering an unknown scent, especially if it is one that's not agreeable to the nose.
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    Mar 22 2011: I don't know if people really consider a scented room as negative, however, the fact is that tastes vary a lot and what might be a appealing scent to one might be repulsive to another. This might be true for the scent itself but also for its intensity.
    For example, I wouldn't appreciate a room of some sweet and heavy scent, but would have no problem with something musky, wooden or herbal (if not too intensive).
    It also depends on the environment. I wouldn't like any foreign odors to intrude on my nose when having dinner in a good restaurant, but wouldn't want to miss some sort of aromatic scent when having a massage.
    Another reason might be on what Debra touched on. Fragrances are extremely complex compounds with up to 200 or more components, some of which might have high allergenic potential (e.g. aldehydes, alcohols,...).
    Although I can't speak for other people, I prefer scents that combine with the environment and the occasion and that are not overwhelming in nature.
    Overall, I don't think it has anything to do with fear, conscious or unconscious.