Within the Expanscience Group that owns the Mustela brand, people work every day on the changes to make to improve the environmental balance, safety, efficacy, and sensoriality of cosmetic formulas, and better adapt the product offering to consumer expectations… but if there is one thing that has never changed, it is the perfume of the baby cleansing milk. Or at least, this is our impression. Because that is not an absolute truth in the secrecy of the research laboratory!
Talking about the perfume of Mustela’s baby milk evokes Proust’s madeleine, the tenderness and love relationship between a mother and her baby, and the mythical perfume that has remained the same since its creation…
But… has it really stayed the same since the beginning? Has it not changed a bit over time? And what is there behind this highly evocative perfume?
We met Franck Menu and Caroline Baudouin, respectively Cosmetics Innovation & Development Director and Head of Innovation, Research & Development of the Expanscience Group. The idea was to make them reveal the secrets concealed in this perfuming composition. And they did reveal a few! Well, at least one or two…
The perfume of the beginnings…
‘ It is a perfuming composition, a mixture of several ingredients with citrus as the top note, honeysuckle as the middle note, and a powder touch as the back note,’ analyzes Franck Menu. Why were these notes chosen? The reason why they were selected got lost in time, because they were not what seemed decisive at the time.
The Mustela baby milk was created in 1950. And at first, the real innovation was the gesture. Then, Expanscience founders realized there was no alternative to soap for cleansing babies, although its drying and aggressive properties for the skin were already known. As a result, they decided to develop a 2-in-1 product that would be both cleansing and softening: the first cleansing milk specifically designed for babies was born, and it was a revolution for all mothers.
However, if its scent might have seemed only secondary, at least at first, it quickly became THE perfume, the ‘baby-smelling’ perfume… so much so that today, everyone knows and can identify it, and sometimes they cannot even accept any other milk for their last-born.
… adapted to formulas
‘We have had the same perfumer [NB: the Firmenich house] make the fragrance of our cleansing milk since the very beginning,’
Franck Menu adds.
Nevertheless, it is not always the same ingredients that make the formula smell the same when it is applied: in short, there is not only one perfume for the whole current product range, but several fragrances.
‘Our product range has evolved over time,’ explains Franck Menu. ‘We started with a cleansing milk with an adapted perfume, and then we developed new products, creams, oils, soaps, talcs, lotions… and since all these galenic forms are different from that of a milk, we had to adapt the perfume so that the smell perceived by consumers was identical, or at least very similar to that of the cleansing milk.’
What should be known is that the ingredients found in a cosmetic formula can have an impact on its perfume: ‘Vegetable oils, for example, and there are three of them in the cleansing milk (sweet almond, sunflower, and corn), sometimes bear a strong smell that must be concealed or on which we must work to obtain a perfume that will keep the identity of the original scent. As for foaming products, the smell produced is completely different: the shower or the bath are environments where the temperature is relatively high, which makes certain scents emanate much faster than others, in particular top notes. Therefore, the idea is to soften them to recreate the perfume’s identity.’
Obviously, the perfumer plays a role in the formulation, as he has to adapt the concentration of his = ingredients so that consumers can perceive an identity similar to the original perfume.
This is also valid for soaps, whose much more basic pH can degrade certain perfuming molecules, or for the powders that fix them…
And that is how, for the almost sixty Mustela references, there are now eight different perfuming compositions… to eventually create the same perfume!
… and adapted to regulations
However, even these eight compositions may vary! Indeed, formulas can change too, according to regulations, better knowledge of certain ingredients, or Mustela’s will to develop more natural products.
‘Just like the other raw materials, the perfume is an ingredient that must respect our formulation charter’,
explains Franck Menu
, ‘and we have formalized specific terms with particular restrictions. We neither use essential oils as such, nor ethanol, nor terpene derivatives like camphor, menthol, or eucalyptus, nor phthalates…’
All these compounds might trigger undesirable effects on babies (allergies, toxicity…), but scientists were not necessarily aware of it 65 years ago, so they required constant adaptations…
Likewise, allergens (often associated with perfumes) are tracked and limited even beyond what regulations provide for. So, there is an additional safety margin controlled by a measurement performed by Mustela on every single perfume batch sent by the perfumer.
‘Thanks to all this, no allergies to our perfumes have been reported through the cosmetovigilance system when we followed up our products on the market,’ Caroline Baudouin adds .
What if, as it is being discussed right now, regulations on allergens got reinforced in the next few years? [NB: there are ongoing discussions about a classification as allergens subject to a declaration for about 80 additional substances]. ‘Of course, we are working on it’, Franck Menu and Caroline Baudouin exclaim at the same time… for example by sending neutral bases to the perfumer so he can work on his compositions accordingly.
But again, that is overlooking the supply issues of certain perfume components: as an example, the REACH regulation is about to make low-tonnage raw materials ‘disappear’ from the market after 2018, as their registration costs are too high for their suppliers. As a result, companies must anticipate, find substitutes… and again, adapt the formulation! And obviously, this is much more complicated when one needs to keep an identical note than when one creates a new scent…
A sensorial perfume… but maybe not just that
Of course, the textures, the efficacy, and the safety of Mustela products count a lot in the brand’s success. But the perfume of the cleansing milk (sometimes copied, never equalled) has become a real world of its own, as it now generates reminiscences for three generations of consumers.
For mummies, the Mustela perfume*:
And the brand has launched a new approach to this phenomenon with a first pilot study designed to help understand the emotions generated by the perfume on mothers.
For two panels, users of Mustela products on the one hand, non-users on the other, the perfume is always qualified as pleasant and soothing or comforting. ‘The difference between the two panels lies in what it evokes’, Caroline Baudouin specifies . ‘Mother users associated what they felt with their babies, their relationship, the caress, the treatment… while non-users evoked childhood, and their mother…’ These first data demonstrate the importance of the perfume’s impact, even if one does not use the product, so the brand must work on them even further.
Yet, will it ever be possible to assess whether the Mustela perfume has an impact on babies’ balance or serenity?
‘Right now, it is possible to study the interactions between our senses and the child’s development, and how our product might influence this relationship,’ Caroline Baudouin explains . ‘We know the olfactory sense develops quite early, in utero, but for the perfume to remain in the baby’s memories, it must be either associated with other senses like the touch, or with a moment that creates pleasure for the baby, such as a massage or a cuddle in the arms of his mum. It will be difficult to separate these two aspects for babies.’
And we will not get any more than this, at least for now, other than the fact that the Mustela perfume might not have revealed all its secrets yet! And the brand has no intention whatsoever to give up on its mythical olfactory signature.