PARIS, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The European Commission on Thursday proposed tighter regulation of the $31 billion fragrance industry with a series of bans, labelling requirements and research projects aimed at protecting consumers from allergies.
The new rules could force perfume makers to change many of their formulas, incurring extra costs.
It was not yet clear how major perfume brands such Dior and Guerlain, owned by the world's biggest luxury group LVMH , or privately owned Chanel, would be affected by the new regulation. No one at Chanel or LVMH was immediately available for comment on Thursday.
The EU Commission proposed a ban on three molecules contained in popular perfume ingredients, such as oak moss and tree moss, to protect consumers from potential allergies.
The news means the EU executive body is giving its first judicial response to a report on allergies it had commissioned from the advisory Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS), which was published in July 2012.
The report called for drastically reducing the use of many natural ingredients found in perfumes, on the basis that 1 to 3 percent of the EU population may be allergic or may become allergic to them.
The recommendations of the report, if adopted by the Commission, threaten to seriously damage the fragrance industry.
The report recommended restricting the concentration of 12 substances - including citral, found in lemon and tangerine oils; coumarin, found in tropical tonka beans; and eugenol, found in rose oil - to 0.01 percent of the finished product.
It also proposed an outright ban on tree moss and oak moss, which provides distinctive woody base notes in Chanel's No.5 and Dior's Miss Dior.
On Thursday, the EU Commission proposed conducting further research to determine what level of concentration should be used for those 12 ingredients and for another eight. These ingredients represent the spine of about 90 percent of fine fragrances, according to experts.
"We have to find a way of ensuring security of consumers but also avoid causing damage to the industry," said a spokesman for Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for Consumer Safety.
The commission proposed a ban of atranaol and chloroatranol, molecules found in oak moss and tree moss, two of the most commonly used raw materials because of their rich, earthy aroma and ability to 'fix' a perfume to make it last longer.
Juice manufacturers are currently working to make them available without these two molecules and industry sources say major perfume makers have already started modifying their formulas accordingly.
The EU executive also proposed to ban HICC, a synthetic molecule which replicates the lily of the valley aroma and which has also been widely used by perfume makers.
It is also proposing to significantly lengthen the list of molecules and ingredients perfume makers have to label on the packaging of their products to warn potentially sensitive users.
The proposal, which will effectively take the form of an amendment to the Cosmetics Regulation adopted in 2009, will undergo a public consultation period of 12 weeks and could be adopted as early as the end of this year.
"We broadly welcome the proposed measures," said Pierre Sivac, president if the International Fragrance Association, the perfume industry's self-regulatory body.
Since its creation in 1973, IFRA, which is financed by scent makers such as Givaudan, New York-listed International Flavors & Fragrances and Germany's Symrise, has restricted natural ingredients for a range of health reasons, from worries about allergies to cancer concerns.
Many traditional essences that perfume creators consider core to their craft have been blacklisted in recent decades.
Birch tar oil was removed from Guerlain's Shalimar several decades ago because it was thought to be a cancer risk. Clove oil and rose oil, which contain a component called eugenol, and lavender, which contains linalool, may only be used in limited quantities in case of allergies.
IFRA has already introduced restrictions on oak moss and tree moss because of worries about skin sensitivity.