Perfume and after shave are popular Christmas gifts. Are you aware of the traditional role that lichen played in perfume-making? The two main ingredients were Evernia prunastri, Oak Moss and Pseudevernia furfuracea, Tree Moss. Despite having the word Moss in their names, they are lichen. Concerns about contact allergies meant that lichen had to be removed as ingredients from perfumes and aftershaves to meet EU regulations. This seems to be good news for lichen conservation too.
The perfume industry had been using Oak Moss extracts for nearly two centuries as a fixative. The lichen was prized for its strong, earthy, woody and light smoky fragrance. Some well-known scents for both men and women contained Oak Moss – including Coty’s Chypre, Dior’s Miss Dior, Guerlain’s Mitsouko, Eau de Rochas by Rochas, Calèche by Hermès, Cerruti’s pour Homme, Ralph Lauren’s Polo, Dior’s Eau Sauvage, Burberry’s London for Men and Christian Dior’s Gris Dior.
Lichens generally thrive in less populated areas, away from the pollution of big cities. They are often described as an indicator of good air quality. The lichen material was collected in both winter and spring. To make 1 kg of Oak Moss absolute required at least 100 kg of lichen.
The European Union became concerned that up to 3% of the population experienced severe contact reactions to Oak Moss in fragrances. It had long been recognised as an issue in forestry. The allergens are identified as atranol and chlortatranol. On 2 August 2017, the EU published a regulation prohibiting their use in cosmetic products. Perfume manufacturers were given time to adapt their products, with phased dates to the full ban on the European market.
The ban does not just come as a relief for allergy-sufferers. It has potentially positive consequences for the conservation of lichen. Lichens grow slowly. They are mini-ecosystems. They consist of at least two organisms: a mycobiont (fungus) and a photobiont (photosynthetic partner). The latter may be a green alga or a cyanobacterium. It takes time to replace a lichen community. A recent report highlighted Scotland’s importance as a stronghold for lichen and mosses. The air is traditionally less polluted. However, pollution travels far beyond its original source and places even healthy environments under threat. There are also concerns about damage from nitrogen deposition and acid rain.
Successful conservation of a healthy lichen community is a positive sign for the air that we all breathe and the environment in which we live. The perfume industry has worked on Oak Moss substitutes for your favourite fragrances.
References and Further Reading
- Bougès, Hélène & Manchot, André & Antoniotti, Sylvain (2018): Enzyme-Catalysed Conversion of Atranol and Derivatives into Dimeric Hydrosoluble Materials: Application to the Preparation of a Low-Atranol Oakmoss Absolute. Cosmetics 2018, 5(4), 69; https://doi.org/10.3390/cosmetics5040069
- British Lichen Society (2020): Lichens & perfume The perfume industry in France is troubled. The lichen Evernia prunastri & to a lesser extent, Pseudevernia furfuracea, known collectively as ‘oakmoss’ are the cause. 3% of population are allergic to 2 compounds in oakmoss & it is set to be banned. #lichenstory. Twitter Thread. 22 September 2020.
- European Chemicals Agency (ECHA): Evernia prunastri, ext. Substance Infocard.
- European Commission (2000): Opinion concerning Oakmoss/Treemoss extracts and appropriate Consumer Information adopted by the SCCNFP during the 14th Plenary Meeting of 24 October 2000. Scientific Committees. Opinion 1997-2004. Archive.
- James Hutton Institute, The (2020): Scotland’s Natural Habitats at risk due to intolerable nitrogen levels. 10 December 2020.
- Jouliana, Daniel & Tabacchi, Raphaël (2008): Lichen extracts as raw materials in perfumery. Part 1: oak moss. Flavour and Fragrance Journal 2009, 24, 49–61. 15 November 2008.
- Joulaina, Daniel & Tabacchi, Raphaël (2009): Lichen extracts as raw materials in perfumery. Part 2: treemoss. Flavour and Fragrance Journal 24, issue 3, 105-116, 2009.
- Lafirgo (2018): Three fragrance allergens banned. 7 February 2018.
- Le Parisien (2020): Tout savoir sur les fragrances de parfum: mousse de chêne.
- Moellhausen (2018): IFRA & EU: Main Features of the Fragrance Regulatory Environment. 21 February 2018
- Olfastory (?): Mousse de chêne en parfumerie.
- Purvis, William (2000): Lichens. Natural History Museum.
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