Perfume

More than just skin deep

I’m writing this column from the lap of tropical luxury – a resort in the glorious Maldives where I am consulting to a client. But even as I drink in the scents of this lush paradise, my professional mind needs to think about the problem of clay from half a continent away.

For another client, I am formulating a fragrance for their baby skincare range – and skincare scents demand much from the perfumer’s nose and nous.

Skincare products contain active ingredients that make up the promise of what the product holds, and how it differentiates from others in the market. There are products that are anti-ageing, radiant, for the youth market, baby products, or specifically designed for men.

These formulations are then sent to people like me; perfumers who are tasked to take the lotion, wash or oil – often with dank, earthy notes, or redolent of clay – and turn them into something wondrous for the nose, mind and memory, as well as a wondrous elixir for the skin. This is to make them stand apart from the rest; to persuade the youth to buy, or be masculine enough for men to feel comfortable in trying a preparation.

So much detail goes into composing a fragrance for skincare, starting with the analysis of the product itself, sans scent.

Then the perfumer must consider the message. Should it be light and fun and carefree for the youth? Or woody and resinous for a man? Or candied and gentle for a baby? Do we produce something only for little girls? Do we try to capture the pregnancy market? Once all these questions are asked and clearly defined, then formulation of the scent begins.

The first decision is scent concentration. Not too much for a baby, but an anti-ageing product for a mature woman must be strong. Our sense of smell deteriorates over 60.

Next: How will the product be used. With water? If so, then it will become diluted; it may need to foam; it must wash off too. If it’s a body lotion then it will remain on the biggest organ we have, our skin, for many hours and should be subtle enough not to fatigue the nose.

All of these things have been considered, tested, worked and re-worked long before you, dear client, make your choice from a shelf. The decision underpins your daily ritual.

I will always remember my first Guinot Hydradermie facial treatment – being 21; the small therapist’s room inside Toni&Guy; soft pink towels on the bed.

Every time I experience Hydradermie, no matter in which country, and whatever language the beauty therapist speaks, I recall these youthful feelings fondly.

It is like a dance: the smell of the milky rose cleanser, the citrus spritz of the toner, the iron taste in my mouth of the galvanic gel, and the rich coating of cream. A composer working with a libretto. A conductor leading an orchestra. That is what a good skincare product should be.