Beauty Trends

How Perfumers Are Using Artificial Intelligence to Create Fragrance

For Yves Saint Laurent Libre Intense, lavender essential oil is fractionated with carbon dioxide until it smells like the freshest, brightest lavender you could pick in Provence (real lavender is often eschewed because its herbal and woody hints give perfumes a cologne-y quality). And Calvin Klein’s CK Everyone is the brand’s first fragrance to contain 77 percent “naturally derived” ingredients (ones that contain raw materials that have been tweaked in a lab). 

But what about the sustainability question? You can’t over-harvest geranyl acetate, but you can over-harvest its muse, the rose. “The challenge is having enough of the natural material to produce perfumes,” says organic chemist (and founder of the fragrance blog Colognoisseur) Mark Behnke. “One of the most famous sandalwoods, mysore, was sold in India. It got harvested into oblivion.”

But innovative materials are offering a more sustainable way forward. Bioengineers are designing yeast strains that can be fermented into a handful of notes, including peach, mango, apricot, coconut, and rose. And botanical waste is being repurposed to create essential oils, such as using apple pulp that would otherwise be disposed of at food processing plants, says Stephen Nilsen, senior perfumer at Givaudan.

At IFF, discarded turmeric leaves are distilled into oil with hints of pepper and citrus (the ingredient was developed this spring, so you can expect to see it in fragrances next year), and oakwood extract is taken from wood harvested for wine and liquor barrels. While creating CK Everyone, perfumer Alberto Morillas balanced notes for their smell and eco-footprint, earning the fragrance a Silver Material Health Cradle to Cradle environmental certification.

For a sustainable fragrance event last year, “our perfumers created 100 percent natural perfumes that were also 100 percent traceable and organic. The future of fragrance is in environmental and social respect,” says Judith Gross, vice president of creation and design, branding and marketing fragrances at IFF. 

The real innovations on the horizon are the ones that will make more botanicals available in ways that have a smaller impact on the environment. It will take time — not every flower will be available at once — “but even a small diamond on a ring makes a difference,” says Behnke.

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