By Astrid Wendlandt and Pascale Denis
PARIS, May 23 (Reuters) - The $31 billion-a-year perfume industry is bracing itself for tighter EU regulations to be adopted by the end of the year that will include ingredient bans and labelling requirements aimed at protecting consumers from allergies.
The rules will force perfume makers to reformulate many of their scents and change the packaging of their products, leading to extra costs that will be more painful to meet for small, niche perfume makers than big players such as Chanel.
They will not however, as feared, drastically reduce authorised concentrations of key natural ingredients on the basis that 1-3 percent of the population could be allergic.
In 2012, an advisory report had recommended severely limiting the use of 12 ingredients, regarded as the pillars of the luxury perfume industry - such as citral, found in lemon and tangerine oils; coumarin, found in tropical tonka beans; and eugenol, found in rose oil.
"We understand that drastic reductions in the authorised concentrations of these ingredients would have created major disruptions to the industry," said David Hudson, spokesman for consumer policy at the European Commission.
But the new regulations will ban three of those 12 ingredients and will investigate what levels of concentrations can be considered safe - protecting consumers from developing allergies to them over time - for the remaining nine others.
"If we ban citral from perfumes, of which certain elements are allergens, we should ban orange juice. It is absurd. We should not ban nature, only learn how to live with it," said Frederic Malle, who founded the French luxury perfume company Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.
The Commission is planning to ban, in its original form, oak moss and tree moss, two of the most widely used base notes which give perfumes depth and help make the scents last.
Such mosses could be found in Chanel's No.5 and Dior's Miss Dior but the brands have been working on using altered versions, stripped of the molecules atranol and chloroatranol, regarded as potential allergens by the EU.
"Adapting is a challenge but it is precisely the talent of our "nose" to be able to preserve the qualities and olfactive (scent) identity of our perfumes while also taking into account new regulatory constraints," Chanel said in an e-mailed statement.
The EU is also planning on banning HICC, a popular synthetic molecule which replicates the lily of the valley smell.
Hermes as well as Dior and Guerlain - both owned by LVMH - have also been preparing themselves for the new rules by progressively changing their formulas.
"The European Commission approach guarantees the security of consumers and preserves Europe's olfactive heritage," LVMH said in an e-mailed statement. Hermes, Dior and Guerlain declined to comment.
Frederic Malle said he was forced to reformulate about a quarter of his scents due to the upcoming EU regulations, leading to extra costs - but costs which he found difficult to quantify as they also represented time invested to rework the formulas.
"It can take more than six months to reformulate a perfume, and a minimum of some 30 tests ... and this is precious time that cannot be spent on creating new perfumes. So to protect a small portion of the population, we are making the rest suffer," he said.
The new rules, which will effectively take the form of an amendment to the Cosmetics Regulation adopted in 2009, have undergone a 12-week public consultation that ended on May 14, the results of which are expected to be published by early July.
The consultation triggered more than 200 responses from industry players, consumers' associations and researchers, which the EU said was a relatively high number.
"This has stirred quite a lot of passion," said Hudson of the European Commission.
A draft proposal could be given to EU member states by August and by the following month a final version sent for scrutiny by the European Council and Parliament, which have three months to oppose it.
The regulations will also require perfume makers to inform consumers about potential allergens contained in their products but it has not yet decided how this will work in practice and how many of them should be labelled.
It has raised the number of ingredients that must be labelled from 26 to more than 80 and is looking at ways to allow perfume makers to provide information about them on the Internet or through smartphone scans to avoid having to cram them on the package.
"Informing citizens is essential and we must find a durable solution. For the long term, we advocate making this information available through the most appropriate digital channels," LVMH said.
(Editing by Pravin Char)
- EU regulations