Lichen Perfume

Oak Moss Lichen, Evernia prunastri. Photo Credit: Björn S…, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Well-known Brands

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.

Scottish Stronghold

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.

Tree Moss Lichen, Pseudevernia furfuracea, was used to a lesser extent than Oak Moss, Evernia prunastri, in fragrances.
Photo credit: Jerzy Opioła, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

References and Further Reading

Copyright Note

Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

© Karen Andrews 2018 onwards. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Andrews and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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