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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Perfumes are Strange and Confusing...


My grandmother and I used to have a bimonthly tradition before common sense got the best of her.  We would climb inside our dump truck full of money and drive to the mall to visit our local Belk.  The employees would hold open doors so I could make a couple hassle free trips with a wheelbarrow to the makeup counter and dump the money in a pile at the clerk's feet.  She would then hand my grandmother a thimble full of facial cream, which then she used in demonic rituals to preserve her youth.

Thankfully, grandma has given up Satan these days for a more righteous "bargain brand" path, but I remember rolling that wheelbarrow through Belk one day and seeing a men's cologne titled something like Dark Fantasy and thought out loud that I, a man, would never be caught wearing a cologne named Dark Fantasy.  If I'm going to be wearing a scent, I'd want it to be something that I enjoy.  There are a lot of scents that I like and none of them smell like dark fantasies... They smell like flowers or spices.

Abandoning my duties, I wandered over to examine a bottle of Dark Fantasy and check the ingredients on the back.  As anyone could guess, Dark Fantasy was made from an assortment of unbelievably hard to pronounce chemicals, which for some reason made me hungry.  I asked the clerk about it and she told me that she didn't really know what any of them were either, but many of those ingredients were probably things that came from flowers.

That made sense, but I wasn't sure why they couldn't just say that on the bottle - Dark Fantasy: Made from Lilies and Lilacs.  Since no one was going to tell me, it was time to do some research and find out what those ingredients actually were.  So I did what any self-respecting adult would do.  I snuck into my grandmother's bedroom while she slept and stole from her.  Not really sure what I wanted or where she hid her feminine beauty products, I swiped a couple things from Estee Lauder out of her bathroom.  Both were covered by a thick layer of dust, assuring me that they would not be missed.

One was a teeny-tiny perfume sampler called Estee Lauder Pleasures Bloom.  On the inside of this item's cardboard jacket it stated, "Fresh violet flower and vibrant pink peony sparkle in a field of colorful petals and luscious fruits" in seven different languages.  On the back it said...
"Ingredients: Alcohol denat, Pleasures Bloom Fragrance (Parfum), Water, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citronellol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone, Limonene, Geraniol, Linalool, Citral, Hydroxycitronellal, Eugenol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Alcohol, and Ext. Violet 2"
I smelled it, and it smelled like soap, but it smelled like a really good soap.

The problem with trying to figure out what those ingredients are is that most of them are synthetic.  We all know what water is, right?  Most of the human body and the planet are made out of water, and its make-up is probably the only thing we all still remember from high school science class.

Other ingredients like Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane are a tad harder to figure out.  I know that Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane is also called Avobenzone and is used largely as a sun screen, and I know that it is derived from dibenzoylmethane.  The problem is figuring out where that comes from...  It's never as simple as finding out what plant produces Butylphenyl Methylpropional.

One thing I've read is a large majority of the chemicals used in perfumes come from petroleum, but I want to heavily emphasize that I do not have a particularly flawless source for that information.

Dark Fantasy was probably not delicately extracted from lilies and lilacs.  It was forged atop bunsen burners in boiling beakers and filtering flasks.  The odd sentence on the Pleasures Bloom jacket about violets and peonies has nothing to do with the actual product.

In fact, that sentence intentionally avoids comparing the product to that nature imagery, creating a strange disconnect.  It's as if this company desperately wanted to convince us that there was some nature left in our beauty products, so Pleasures Bloom gave us a pretty idea of what nature would look like.  Others, like that Dark Fantasy, probably avoid it all together.  Then we, the consumer, are left to scratch our neanderthal heads and wonder what the heck "Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone" is supposed to be.