Understanding The Difference Between The Terms "Of Compound" and "In Concentrate," and Why Aftershaves Often Smell Cheap

Recently, a fragrance blogger who is given to disliking Terre d'Hermès made an embarrassing error regarding the usage of Iso E Super in the fragrance. He wrote the following on Fragrantica:
"From the Wikipedia iso e super page: 'The very popular Terre D'Hermes (Hermes, 2006) contains 55% Iso E Super (of the perfume compound).' But now: 'IFRA restricted to 21.4% in concentrate for perfume use.' That is from the evocativeperfumes site. When they use percentages it always means the fragrance portion, and does not include the perfumer's alcohol content, from what I understand . . . in any case, from what I've read about safety testing on iso e super I would not use the original TdH even if I preferred it to the latest formulation!"
Reading this would lead one to believe that the EDT now contains up to 21.4% Iso E Super, where once it was 55%. However, he misunderstands what he wrote. He cited percentages in two categories: "Of Compound" and "In Concentrate." There is an obvious difference between them, which was pointed out by another member, who calls himself "blonc":
"In order to help avoid confusion, I'm going to correct the review below by Bigsly, who doesn't understand the numbers he was discussing. From the Wikipedia iso e super page: 'The very popular Terre D'Hermes (Hermes, 2006) contains 55% Iso E Super (of the perfume compound).'

It's important to understand the phrase in parenthesis above: Of The Perfume Compound. That refers to the combination of ingredients before being diluted in alcohol to bring the final product down to eau de toilette strength (an EdT is usually 12% to 15% perfume compound and 85% to 87% alcohol).

But now: 'IFRA restricted to 21.4% in concentrate for perfume use.' That 21.4% represents the final perfume including the alcohol. In other words, the formula Terre d'Hermes is 55% Iso E Super, but that's before being diluted. The final product, after being diluted down to EdT strength, is more like 7% Iso E Super, which is far below the 21.4% allowed by IFRA (55% of the formula, diluted down to 13.5% strength). Hopefully that helps clear up any confusion. I mean, come on now, if TdH was 55% Iso E Super after being diluted in alcohol... holy moly, it would be at least twice as strong as the strongest EdP. It'd be an attar! And it would be unwearable."
There was never any doubt that the formula (at least at one time) contained 55% Iso E Super. Whether it still does is up for debate, but I never thought the EDT (or EDP) contained that much! "Of Compound" refers to the aroma chemicals combined in a formula before the addition of alcohol. "In Concentrate" refers to the concentration of the fragrance in alcohol as the final product: EDC, EDT, EDP, etc. Division by dilution is necessary. When you consider that the average EDT is roughly 87% alcohol to 13% formula, and you further consider what percentage of the formula contains one specific aroma chemical, the result is likely around 5% for Iso E in TdH. Put another way, with TdH EDT, almost 100% of what you smell is not Iso E Super.

When you consider that aftershaves are 96% - 99% alcohol, you realize just how little of the fragrance formula is available. I suspect there's a drop of Iso E Super in Clubman Classic Vanilla, along with roughly one hundred other conventional aroma chemicals, but I would be lucky to detect less than 1% of any chemical, its fragrance is so vague and, compared to most EDTs, relatively cheap (and Classic Vanilla's formula by no means smells cheap). Unfortunately, the percentage of alcohol in most alcohol-based aftershaves is so high that the alcohol itself becomes a note. With the average EDT, the concentration of the formula is meant to be just high enough to mask the alcohol, and sometimes it doesn't even do that adequately.

This is interesting when considering how people complain about being overwhelmed by Iso E Super. They pretend to smell huge amounts of it in fragrances like TdH, when in reality they're not smelling it at all. They're "Feelers," not "Tasters." They "feel" that something is true, even though it isn't. Instead of actually using their noses to gradually analyze, they chronically sample and make snap judgments. The result is chronic disinformation about fragrance materials and their effects.

I wish I could use magic to dispel the disinformation campaign waged against Iso E and other materials, like Ambroxan, but alas, I left my wand in my other pants. I guess the old reality-based mainstays of logic and simple math will have to do instead.

Update 1/23/18:
The blogger in question has published a rebuttal to my post in which he states the following:
"I certainly wouldn't be the one to applaud more restrictions on Iso E Super (because I seem to be one of the people who have become hypersensitized to it), but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be an issue with IFRA at the moment . . . I still don't understand why it's necessary to talk in terms of 'in concentrate' and 'in compound' when we know the alcohol content is going to be so high, and we also know that of course it's been diluted into the alcohol, or else it would smell differently when we sprayed it!"
His article basically admits that I'm right, and I'll answer his question here: we need to talk in these terms because they're distinctions. Without these distinctions the percentages lack specificity, and therefore lack meaning. If someone says 55% of Iso E is in a fragrance, I need them to clarify whether he is referring to the formula prior to dilution in alcohol, or if he is referring to an attar from Saudi Arabia. Generally the percentages aren't that high, so it's more likely I'd hear something like, "There's 8% Iso E Super in this frag." Again, is that the formula, or is that the final fragrance, where there's probably something like .8% ies?

Another humorous issue with this person's blog post is this snippet:
"As to claims that some people are imagining ies content, we only have to turn to the Wikipedia page on this aroma chemical to see the reality there."
Unfortunately the Wikipedia page misleads the blogger into thinking that Iso E Super causes olfactory hypersensitivity, when in fact it only says that it causes topical hypersensitivity, otherwise known as a "rash," and this is only proven via animal testing on mice. Thus far there is little to no information regarding olfactory sensitivity on the Wikipedia page, which only says:
"Iso E Super may cause allergic reactions detectable by patch tests in humans, and chronic exposure to Iso E Super from perfumes may result in permanent hypersensitivity."
"Hypersensitivity" has its own Wikipedia page, which states that these are a set of undesirable reactions produced by the normal immune system, "including allergies and autoimmunity." Since "patch tests" are skin tests, and because "hypersensitivity" is another word for "allergies," one can only conclude that the blogger has either misunderstood the material he has cited, or hopes that his readers will. I can say that any suggestion that miniscule amounts of Iso E Super in commercial fragrances will cause strong negative reactions to one's sense of smell are unsupported by my friend's "patch test" argument.

Getting out ahead of his Creed Viking post, he will argue that when Creed UK claims that Viking is "80% natural," they're referring to the alcohol in the EDP bottle. I have asked Creed if that is true. Their very brief response was that the percentage they cited refers only to the compound, or perfume portion of the fragrance, which rules out the alcohol. Thus one can easily infer that their percentage refers to the number of natural ingredients in the formula, and not the volume of natural materials in the bottle purchased. Technically Viking could be 80% natural in that, as an easy example, one ingredient could be synthetic and comprise 90% of the volume in the formula, while the remaining 10% could be broken up into four natural ingredients in 2.5% increments, a relatively low volume for each. Given that Creeds smell very strange compared to other frags, this seems likely, and my example is simplified - there are probably close to a thousand materials in Viking.


"Barbershop Fragrance" As A Traditional Concept: Defining The Phrase

Not Really Cheap, Not Really Cheerful.

I want to thank reader and fellow blogger Bibi Maizon for providing this link as a historical anecdote about Osage Rub. It reveals a brief but enlightening historical blurb on the product, which I tried and failed to uncover myself. I'm glad Bibi did this; the information solidified my theory regarding "survivor products" like Osage Rub.

This stuff is more of a survivor than I thought. According to the site, a man named Merton E. Waite registered "Osage Rub" as a trademark hair tonic as far back as 1903, and he had been selling it since 1901! That makes it 117 years old. You can still buy a bottle for $4 at barber supply stores (which is how I found mine), sold in cheap plastic, but in the 1900s it was packaged handsomely in glass, its label framed in gold flake, its manufacturer, the Bonheur Company, proudly broadcasting itself in bold typeface under the slogan: "Makes the Old Head feel like New." A eucalyptus plant is appropriately illustrated next to the name, and there is no doubt that the bottle's contents were meant to be mass produced.

What communities like Fragrantica and basenotes fail to emphasize is the importance of the early twentieth century barbershop in Western culture. This was the world from which current megahits like Dior Homme and Bleu de Chanel are cast. In the 1900s, the average gentleman wasn't interested in perfuming his body, but he was interested in being clean, and perhaps (if he was wealthy) in scenting the handkerchief in his breast pocket. The "being clean" part is central to understanding the upbringing of the masculine fragrance industry. It wasn't Paul Parquet who reached the guys. It was Merton E. Waite, and his competitors. By landing hair tonics and grooming lotions on barbers' shelves, these pioneers of archetypical modern masculinity shaped the behaviors of the luxury brands that followed.

Perfume was certainly interesting in those early days, but it wasn't as connected to the mainstream. Osage Rub, however, was very connected. Its ads stated that "All barbers get ten cents per application," evidence that this product, and its congeners, was instrumental to the proliferation and growth of its own incentivized, free market-driven industry. Civil War Lilac Waters and Old World European colognes informed New World perfumers in their pursuit of synthetics, and without delving too deeply into the cultural weave of capitalists like Waite and perfumers like Parquet, I'll get right to the endgame: the synthetics of perfumery supplanted the naturals of barbershop tonics, thus making these tonics the original gendered perfumes.

Looking beyond Osage Rub, the question remains, what is a barbershop fragrance? Every genre has connective tissue which conjoins its examplars. I have deduced, from a careful perusal of William Andrews' interesting 1904 book, At The Sign Of The Barber's Pole: Studies In Hirsute History, that barbershop fragrances are derived from sweetness and powder. The sweetness stems from 18th century floral waters, while the powder references hair powder, commonly used from ancient times to the late 18th century. Hair powder was made of various materials, but most commonly of flour. Eventually shortages in flour spelled the end of its use for anything other than cooking and baking, but the scent of perfumed powder persisted as a barbershop staple, leading to the amiable powdery aftershave fragrances of today.

When I look at the majority of my aftershaves, which includes classics like Tabac, Old Spice, Skin Bracer, Aqua Velva, Clubman, Brut, and Canoe, I find that they are all incredibly similar. They're all sweet, herbal, spicy, fresh, and very powdery. My collection also includes the Lustray line (pictured above), and each one checks these boxes as well. When exploring fine fragrances from designer brands, I encounter a variety of perfumes entirely unrelated to barbershop scents, but every so often an oriental or fougere that typifies the genre comes along, like Lagerfeld Classic, Drakkar Noir, Rive Gauche Pour Homme, Bleu de Chanel, and more recently, Dior Sauvage. What sets these examples apart is their nod to barbershop traditions, i.e., clean powder. It is this tradition that defines masculinity in perfumery.

Are their outliers to the theme? Perhaps. One can argue convincingly that Azzaro's Chrome Legend, an aldehydic tea floral with a massive green apple note, is a 21st century mutation of the archetypical barbershop. Its aldehydes and floral notes are excessively dry, like an olfactory crystallization of brightness; its fruity quality is strangely diffuse and nearly ambery, not unlike coumarin, and its notes interact in a simple way. Compare CL to Old Spice, and on its face the fragrance couldn't be more different, but consider the general qualities it shares with the classic oriental (aldehydes, dry florals, sweet powder), and odd similarities are found.

I find that when reviewers express confusion about the phrase "barbershop scent," they say things like, "This doesn't smell like any barbershop I've been to." This is a fundamental misinterpretation of the phrase. To say that Drakkar Noir smells like a barbershop scent isn't to imply that Drakkar Noir is used by barbers. Drakkar Noir employs notes and accords that resemble products used for shaving: its lavender and dry-herbal qualities are similar to the scents of common shaving soaps. The phrase extrapolates from a variety of shaving and haircutting products that have been traditionally used, ranging from talcum powders to shaving creams, to even Barbacide and other disinfecting astringents. Barbershop fragrances are typically subjective, based on the barber's region of practice.

Why is this true? Barbershops smell quite different depending on what part of the world you live in. I consider Z-14 a barbershop scent, but not a conventional American barbershop scent. I think of it as an Italian barbershop scent, not unlike the majority of classic masculine colognes from midcentury Italy, stuff like Silvestre by Victor and Pino Silvestre, and even Spanish oldies like Agua Lavanda and Agua Brava. Z-14 capitalizes on dry mosses, zesty citrus, and rich herbal tones, which were all mainstream Meditteranean themes. American barbers are more staid, relying on talcum powder and subtle floral tones. Pinaud Clubman is the American reference, and Clubman and Z-14 couldn't be more different.

Once you become familiar with the themes, you begin to smell the similarities between the different regions. Sure, Clubman and Z-14 are different, but when you parse their respective territories you find they inhabit a well defined space. Canoe, Brut, and Tabac are all pretty clearly in Clubman's ballpark; Silvestre, Pino Silvestre, and the cypress-heavy earlier versions of Z-14 are in their own league. All resemble aftershaves and hair tonics from their respective regions. If you investigate designer fragrances, you find that Dior Homme's lipstick iris has powdery American aftershave qualities, Bleu de Chanel smells like Aqua Velva with a huge budget, and Sauvage is a citrusy leather, a direct descendent of stuff like English Leather Lime (or even just the original English Leather).

At the end of the day, the best approach to the barbershop genre is to consider your associations, and see what fits. Maybe Skin Bracer doesn't really make sense in the context of your personal experience at a barbershop, but Clubman's powdery talc scent might ring some serious bells. Traditional barbershops, manned by old men in white coats, are becoming a thing of the past. Fortunately, the tonics and lotions they used are still with us, and this year I will be exploring a few of them for you, a pursuit I will enjoy immensely.


Osage Rub: Classic Coolness

I really wish I knew how old Osage Rub is. I haven't been able to find a history of the stuff. Judging from vintage bottles and advertisements, it seems to date back to at least the 1940s, when it was apparently used as a medicinal hair tonic. It definitely harkens back to a time when straight razor shaving necessitated the use of something infallibly soothing afterward. Men weren't concerned with smelling good in the forties. They were concerned with feeling good. The Depression was over, and the insanities of the War made life's little luxuries all the more important. Some genius barber realized that Osage Rub made even bad shaves feel nice, and ran with it.

Consider this: Osage Rub has existed for decades not to be an alluring fragrance, not to impress people as a trendy styling accessory, and not to compete with other hair tonics. Osage Rub has existed for decades to refresh and "invigorate," and has thus become a wetshaving icon. I've used my fair share of mentholated aftershaves, but I have never experienced anything like Osage Rub. This stuff is more than just cold - it is downright freezing. It's just a guess, but I'd say there's somewhere around 20% menthol in the formula.

Upon first slapping it on there's a brisk alcohol bite, coupled with a natural eucalyptus note, which makes sense because there's real eucalyptus leaf oil in the ingredients. Fragrance-wise, Osage Rub is a simple one note eucalyptus scent. Personally I'd be happier with a mint scent (I dislike eucalyptus), but what follows makes its smell inconsequential. Out of nowhere comes a blast of frigidity so otherworldly in its coldness that any fear of redness after a shave is instantly eradicated. You could trim your whiskers with hedge clippers and it wouldn't matter; Osage Rub's medicinal properties are super concentrated and unerringly effective. This is a functional product. Razor burn? Problem solved.

It isn't just about skin irritation, though. Hot summer day? Splash a palmful on your face and rub it through your hair. The icy tingle is weirdly calming and satisfying. Just need to wake up after a rough night? Splash it like water and you'll be running rings around your boss. The chill is so intense that it actually makes my eyes water, it's that cold. Speaking of colds, the eucalyptus vapors hang around long enough to clear your sinuses. Osage Rub has survived the years because it makes men feel physically well, either after a shave or just at the end of a long day. It is the best mentholated aftershave lotion in existence - nothing else comes close, not even Barbasol Brisk. And I suppose men don't mind smelling like eucalyptus because eucalyptus has been soothing men for thousands of years. Men evolved embracing its mystical properties. It is classic coolness incarnate.