• The enticing fragrances used in cosmetics, skincare, haircare, or personal care products can be powerful propellers of product success. Accordingly, the process of fragrance selection extends far beyond simply identifying a 'pleasant enough' scent. Rather, it can be thought of as a strategic process driven primarily by both marketing principles and technical considerations.

  • Fragrances of beauty and personal care products carry out diverse functions. Not only do they mask the base odor of the formula, they also help spark the user's imagination, inspire fun or seductive moods, induce psychological or emotional effects, and can even boost the functional and quality perception of a product.

  • From a marketing point of view, a successful fragrance is one that positively reflects on the brand and caters perfectly to the target consumer. The selected fragrance should cohesively work with all other branding and marketing elements, including the product name, marketing claims, packaging design, and other products housed under the brand name.

  • From a technical point of view, successful fragrance selection relates to its ability to demonstrate stability with the formulation and packaging materials used. Commonly experienced problems that may need to be overcome include color discoloration or degradation due to heat, time, humidity, light exposure, and other environmental elements.




Deciding on an ideal fragrance for your cosmetic or personal care creations can be one of the most powerful things impacting product and brand success. Apart from pricing, consumers are eager to judge by sensory qualities; this can include the shape of the product packaging (visual), the color of the formulation (visual) or its viscosity (tactile), as well as how it smells (olfactory). The fragrance is no doubt one of the most important elements making up the sensorial experience of your product, and can account for up to 75% of its signal attributes. This means that no matter how beautiful or high-performing a cleansing soap or moisturizing lotion is, if it has an unpleasant scent or one that is not quite up to par, it can negatively influence quality perception and chase away potential customers. On the other hand, an alluring fragrance can become the single motivator behind purchasing a product, especially when it comes to certain personal care products such as soaps, shampoos, or deodorants.

In this article, we will break down the various factors that any cosmetic, skincare, or personal care brand may have to take into account in order to succeed in the process of fragrance selection and ultimately drive successful product launches as well as longevity in sales.




The fragrance of a cosmetic or personal care product is more than just a pleasing smell. It can operate in multi-faceted ways, bringing together the product's brand, performance, benefits, user experience, reliability, and reputation in one single whiff. Scents are powerful because they directly activate the most primitive structures of the brain, also known as the limbic system. In this way, they can create perceptions that occur rapidly and subliminally, such that the consumer may not even be aware that he or she is making those judgments!

At a basic level, all fragrances aim to mask (or add on) to the product's natural existing scent as well as disguise potentially unappealing ingredients in a formulation. They are primarily used to elevate the user's sensory experience and perhaps evoke a particular mood or sensation, such as that of cleanliness, romance, or youth. Many fragrances can also carry an accompanying mental or psychological effect as well. The enchanting aroma of Lavender is well-known for its deeply relaxing qualities, while the exotic woodsy scent of Sandalwood can fuel desire and is a known aphrodisiac. Fruity scents such as Orange or Grapefruit are known to be energetic and psychologically uplifting. These effects, if chosen appropriately, can add further value that complements the product.

Due to their ability to invoke associated memories, sensations, and images, the fragrance of beauty and personal care products can also influence one's perception of product performance. For example, the scent of Lime or an equally invigorating citrus can conjure up images of the cleansing or brightening the skin, while the scent of Vanilla or Rose Water can stir up skin soothing or comforting benefits. A strong 'medicinal' smell, which might not actually be pleasant at all, can nevertheless signal a product that is highly therapeutic and help ultimately create a positive perception.

The longevity of sales can also be impacted by product fragrance. If the scent does not meet the consumer's expectations, repeat purchases of the product can decline. Examples include if a product is marketed as having a 'fresh' scent but does not deliver on this promise, a 'sensitive skin-friendly' product that exudes an overwhelming scent, or a fragrance deemed to be long-lasting that fades away too quickly once applied. In order to achieve product success and build brand trust and loyalty, these consumer demands and expectations should be matched by brands as closely as possible.




A fragrance can be defined as a complex mixture of various volatile compounds such as alcohols, esters, terpenes, ketones, aldehydes, and oxides. They may be entirely naturally sourced, contain a mixture of natural and synthetic aromatics, or be entirely synthetic in composition. Materials that may be used for fragrancing include:

Essential Oils

Derived from oil-rich plant components of aromatic botanicals such as flowers, leaves, roots, wood, or fruit peels, Essential Oils are 100% natural and prized in aromatherapy and natural cosmetics. Pure Essential Oils can add tremendous value because in addition to their pleasing aromas, they also have varied therapeutic properties that contribute to product performance. However, availability, quality, and pricing can be contingent on factors such as rainfall or seasonal weather, which can affect the oil yield or cause slight variations in the resulting aroma.


Extracted from waxy concretes through the use of Ethanol, Absolutes are liquids of thick consistency and are highly fragrant. They present the advantage of capturing the aromas of botanicals that cannot be subjected to steam distillation. Commonly used Absolutes include Jasmine, Rose, Tuberose, and Lotus.

Fragrance Oils

These are complex blends of various aroma chemicals and other aromatic compounds carefully designed by perfumers to release dedicated scents. They are highly popular due to their low cost, consistency, and vast selections. Fragrance Oils can mimic the scent of a fresh, ripe mango, decadent chocolate, or the scent of a summer rain shower, which may be impossible to capture in a natural sense.

Nature Identical Essential Oils

A cost-effective alternative to their naturally occurring counterparts, Nature Identical Essential Oils are expert blends of natural constituents and synthetic aroma chemicals. Apart from being a more economical option for fragrancing, these Nature Identical oils offer consistency and are often deemed to have superior aromas due to their partly natural composition. However, they do not carry any therapeutic qualities and cannot be used in aromatherapy.

Other Naturally Fragrant Raw Materials

Other aromatic Raw Materials can be used to imbue formulations with natural appealing scents. Examples include Plum Kernel Oil, which exudes a sweet, marzipan-like aroma, Chamomile Butter, which has a gentle, calming, and sweet aroma, Coffee Butter, and Fruit Butters.




The selection of a successful fragrance can be thought of as largely a two-tiered process. One involves consideration from a marketing standpoint: the brand fit, consumer needs and preferences, niche requirements, fragrance trends, and so on. The other involves considerations from a technical standpoint: choosing a fragrancing option that is suitable for the formulation and will not cause any potential issues in terms of stability or safety.

Marketing Considerations

Some of the most popular beauty and personal care brands are known to create alluring signature fragrances for their products. Such signature fragrances not only signal prestige and desirability, but they also quickly create brand differentiation. Any selected fragrance should have an excellent brand fit and also fit in expertly with existing product lines. For example, if a brand has already released a line of rose or floral-scented body moisturizers, launching a range of soaps with a similar floral odor profile will pair nicely and will help achieve cohesive branding. Similarly, if your brand is all about catering to those with sensitive or problematic skin, synthetic fragrances may not be a good choice. Customers of such a brand may be expecting fragrance-free and non-irritant formulations, so the formulator or cosmetic chemist in this case will need to dedicate herself to come up with creative fragrance solutions using natural aromatic raw materials that are beneficial for sensitive skin.

Indulging in market research will allow you to focus on the target customer and what their needs, demands, and preferences are. This research should align with other marketing aspects of the product such as the product color, name, or packaging design. A well-conducted market research will help uncover potential gaps in the market and gain insight into popular existing or upcoming fragrance trends. They also provide valuable insight about competitors, what kind of fragrances may already be profitable in various types of products, and how your brand could differentiate itself from others.

Some of the factors that need to be examined in terms of the ideal customer include gender, age group, country, income, academic background, as well as likes and preferences. This will help identify which fragrance choices may work particularly well for a certain market. For instance, market analysis has shown that when it comes to bath and shower products, men enjoy a good, long-lasting scent, but women go beyond this to consider the product's impact on their skin and body*. Likewise, the target age group should be taken into account; it has been shown that younger age groups tend to attribute more importance to fragrance when it comes to making a purchasing decision about personal care products**.

Understanding the latest global or regional fragrance trends can provide valuable insight for any cosmetic brand. Certain fragrance families may be popular in specific types of cosmetic products and therefore form consumer expectations and preferences. Beyond this, shifting personal, moral, and ethical values, the demands placed on corporate entities, and consumer trends in other markets may all influence and shape what customers like, and perhaps even more importantly, what they dislike. Natural scents are definitely trending, but synthetic fragrances in cosmetics are also emerging at the same time due to continuous innovation in scent quality and delivery. Markets with younger demographics may also place huge importance on the ethics of fragrance usage such as eco-friendliness and label transparency. The global trend of personalized products, reflected most prominently in the technology industry, is also carrying into the world of cosmetics and fragrances. There are now many successful businesses that create soaps, perfumes, shampoos, and other skincare products with perfectly curated and individualized scent options.

*SOURCE: Mintel Reports - Soap, Bath and Shower Products - US - (February 2018)

**SOURCE: Mintel Reports - Personal Care Consumer - US (April 2017)

Technical Considerations

Alongside marketing, it is important to identify the technical requirements of an ideal fragrance. Fragrances are complex in composition and could potentially interact with the product ingredients, resulting in problems such as discoloration or unpleasant changes in the aroma. Complications can also arise once the product goes into storage; temperature fluctuations, humidity, or sunlight exposure can all result in unpredictable changes. Apart from potentially modifying the formulation or fragrance in an unappealing way, stability is also tied into safety, as such changes may also trigger side effects or allergies. Successful fragrance selection, therefore, involves taking into account the chemistry of the formulation and skilfully choosing a fragrance that will be safe, compatible, and stable throughout the product's lifespan.

The pH of the formula can be one important factor affecting fragrance stability. A fragrance that behaves optimally in a neutral to the marginally alkaline environment may degrade within a highly acidic or highly alkaline formulation. Soap products are inherently basic, with a pH level of about 6-10.5. Creams, moisturizers, and shampoos tend to have a pH that leans more from slightly acidic to neutral, close to the natural pH of the skin and scalp (about 5.5-7). The use of certain actives such as Aluminum salts in deodorant and antiperspirant products create acidic environments that can often cause problems with fragrances.

Fragrances can have inherent colors that can interfere with the base color of the formula. Often, these qualities can be exploited to imbue formulations with elegant colors without the use of additional colorants. However, if the goal of the product is to have a certain fixed color (purple, red, or green, for example), then the original color of the fragrance can become an obstacle. A classic case of fragrances interacting with the formulation is Vanillin discoloration in soapmaking, where the amount of Vanillin in the oil naturally results in a browning of the final product.

Another point that may be useful to consider is the fragrance's flashpoint. As a general guideline, the temperature of the recipe at which the fragrance is added (whether that is a Fragrance Oil or an Essential Oil) should not exceed its flashpoint. At higher temperatures, the fragrance will simply evaporate instead of being fully incorporated within the formulation.

The packaging material can also cause issues, directly or indirectly, and therefore needs to be taken into account during fragrance selection. For instance, formulations using essential oils for fragrancing should generally avoid certain types of plastic packaging due to paneling. Paneling is when the essential oil reacts with the walls of the plastic over time, causing them to 'give in' and create a hollow or distorted look. Thicker plastic packaging can be an option to override this effect. Clear packaging materials, while attractive, can expose contents to UV light and potentially degrade the formula, along with the fragrance. Frosted colored packaging options provide some protection from photodegradation and can offer a good balance between having some UV protection and using attractive semi-see through the packaging material.

Once a fragrance is selected, it is vital to conduct a trial test with a small batch to be certain that there are no issues with stability or performance. Cosmetic and personal care manufacturers typically subject the product to numerous testing conditions and monitor the outcome in order to come to a firm conclusion. The formulation may be exposed to a range of temperatures, including high temperatures (40°C - 50°C/104°F - 122°F) for a specified period of time. Confirmed stability at high temperatures can be used to predict stability in lower temperatures for a longer time. Photostability testing and temperature cycle testing, where the product is subjected to continuous alternating conditions (e.g. hot, cold, hot, cold), is also typically conducted. A comprehensive testing protocol ensures brands can have full confidence in their chosen fragrance's compatibility with their product.

Other Considerations: Cost, Safety, and Sustainability

Due to the number of resources required for production, natural fragrance options such as Essential Oils will always much more costly than synthetically derived or nature identical options. Indeed, there are some who believe that synthetics can never measure up to the exquisitely complex and full-bodied aromas as well as therapeutic properties of 100% natural Essential Oils and are therefore a worthwhile investment. On the flip side, however, synthetic fragrances are much easier to regulate, more cost-effective, and can be reproduced with excellent consistency from batch to batch. They also allow exciting fragrances to be created that can never be extracted naturally or should be not extracted from natural sources (such as animal glands for Musk notes) due to ethical or sustainability issues.

Brands who prefer to align their fragrance ingredients with their core values of sustainability, ethical sourcing, and eco-friendliness may find ECOCERT-verified, Fair-Trade certified, and USDA Organic certified fragrance materials to be ideal. Investing in such fragrance products that carry internationally recognized certifications demonstrate a deep commitment to being a part of a global movement that emphasizes social responsibility, human health, and environmentally-friendly solutions for the long-term, and portray the brand's devotion to trust and transparency for their customers.

Although fragrances often make up only a minuscule percentage of the full formulation, guidelines for usage rates should never be ignored. Certain Essential Oils, although natural, are extremely concentrated and have the potential to cause skin irritations and other sensitivities if maximum usage rates and other safety information is not respected. Keep in mind that fragrance allergies and sensitivities are experienced by a small percentage of the population, and is considered to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis, causing the skin to be inflamed, itchy, or irritated. For Fragrance Oils, the IFRA certificate should be consulted, which lists the maximum usage rates for each product category. Rates can vary depending on the area of application (e.g. a body lotion vs. a facial cream) and the length of exposure (e.g. rinse-off vs. leave-on applications).




Read our in-depth article on successful cosmetic packaging for beauty and personal care brands here.


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