Why are Fragrances Reformulated?

Fancy bottles and packaging may draw our eye to a fragrance but what actually makes us buy it is the scent. So when a popular scent we know and love suddenly doesn’t seem quite the same anymore it comes as a bit of a surprise.

Image of colognes

Why are fragrances reformulated? Fragrances are reformulated for several reasons such as increased costs or decreased availability of ingredients, ingredients becoming classified as allergens, lowering the cost of producing the fragrance and appealing to a fresh audience. Reformulation can change the scent for the better, but not always.

Some fragrances are reformulated without any obvious changes but with others, the difference is really noticeable. We’ll take an in-depth look at all the reasons for reformulation in a moment. But first:

What is a reformulated fragrance?

A reformulated fragrance is one that’s recreated with a change to the original ingredients which are often referred to as the notes. The individual notes blended in specific quantities give the fragrance its unique aroma. Therefore, a company will only reformulate a fragrance for what it deems to be a necessary reason.

Sometimes ingredients become too rare and expensive, leaving a company with no alternative but to reformulate a fragrance with synthetic alternatives. Many of these synthetic ingredients are indistinguishable from the real thing, such as ambergris, but others do affect the overall scent.

Reformulating a popular fragrance is always a risky move as there’s no way of knowing how the fanbase will receive the changes. Sometimes they love it and sometimes they don’t. Here are a few scenarios and outcomes:

  • The scent is unchanged – everyone’s happy.
  • The scent is subtly altered in a good way – some people are still sad because it no longer smells like their favorite scent, some people embrace the change.
  • The scent is noticeably different and some say it’s an improvement – true fans are distraught, however, new fans are won over by the new fragrance and it becomes their new favorite.
  • The scent is different and not in a good way – no one wants to buy the reformulated scent and mourn the loss of what was a classic fragrance.

Occasionally, even though a reformulation doesn’t alter the scent of a fragrance it does change its projection or longevity on the skin.

Reasons Why Companies Reformulate Popular Fragrances

As touched on earlier there is more than one reason for reformulating a fragrance. Here they are in greater detail:

1. Banned and restricted ingredients

Image of oakmoss

Oakmoss was a key ingredient in some of the most popular and profitable fragrances until industry regulators, the International Fragrance Association (IFA), restricted its use.

Testing showed it to occasionally cause skin complaints such as dermatitis. Perfume makers had to find an alternative to this strong, earthy-mossy aroma. Classis fragrances such as Chanel No 5 and Miss Dior were affected.

Oakmoss is an integral ingredient of all chypre and fougère scents for women and men. Chypre fragrances have citrus top notes and woody base notes of oakmoss and ambergris, while fougère fragrances have lavender top notes and oakmoss and coumarin base notes. 

Other ingredients have been banned or restricted for health or environmental reasons, including substances that have been used for centuries. These include:

  • rose oil
  • jasmine absolute
  • spice extracts
  • bergamot and other citrus oils

The list of banned and restricted ingredients is always under threat of change so there’s is no telling what great fragrances will become endangered by the reformulations this might necessitate in the future.

2. Cost Cutting

Reformulation can occur as a cost-cutting exercise. Companies are first and foremost interested in making a profit. If profit margins reduce they have to look at ways to increase them. Sometimes they lower the concentration of perfume in a fragrance and sometimes they swap expensive ingredients for cheaper ones. This does reduce production costs but, unfortunately, often alters the scent.

3. Keeping up with an everchanging market

The perfume market is ever-changing and sometimes a little reformulation breathes new life into a fragrance – enough to renew its popularity with the up and coming generation of fragrance buyers. If a classic is not selling anymore it has to move with the times or it might disappear altogether.

4. Ingredient shortages

Image of ambergris

Even if ingredients aren’t limited or banned by regulatory bodies, mother nature has her own way of necessitating changes. She sometimes naturally leaves the perfume industry in short supply of crucial ingredients.

Some ingredients are becoming extinct meaning their rarity hikes their prices beyond affordability. Perfume makers are left with no alternative but to replace ingredients that would simply make the fragrance unaffordable.

Ambergris is a classic example of a perfume ingredient that costs the Earth. It is very effective as an agent that fixes fragrance to our skin, making it last longer. Ambergris only forms in the intestines of sperm whales and pygmy sperm whales and then only in a very few of them.

Ambergris’ purpose is to trap indigestible items from the Whale’s diet, such as squid beaks. If and when it is expelled (through their rectum), Ambergris floats around in the ocean, sometimes for years, until it is washed up on to beaches. As it’s so rare, it costs a small fortune – in excess of $10,000 per pound.

When a different aroma isn’t caused by reformulation

Many fragrances contain natural ingredients and the scent of these cannot always be guaranteed to be exactly the same all the time. There will be subtle differences.

When a batch of fragrance is produced and bottled, the scent of every bottle should be the same. However, the next batch may vary ever so slightly because of subtle differences in the aromas of the perfume oils.

Quality control should ensure that perfume from one batch to the next smells virtually the same as, obviously, consistency is expected from its purchasers.

If you are regularly using a fragrance you probably won’t notice any difference from batch to batch but if you stop using it for a couple of years then go back to it you might think it has changed quite a bit and even suspect it has been reformulated.

Famous reformulations

1. Chanel N⁰ 5

Image of Chanel No 5 and box

Chanel N⁰ 5 has been around since 1921. It was reformulated in 2012 as soon as there was talk of banning the use of oakmoss. It has also incorporated changes to appeal to the preferences of a new audience who will hopefully grow with it. Many fragrance wearers today are too young to have experienced the aroma of the original Chanel N⁰ 5. I first tried it in the 1980s and today’s formulation really isn’t that different.

2. Oscar by Oscar de la Renta

Image of Oscar de la Renta

Oscar by Oscar de la Renta came out in 1977. My friend’s mom wore this in the 1980s and I loved it. At the time I didn’t realize it was the combination of lavender, rosemary, and carnation, with sweet, powdery, musky base notes that made it so irresistible. I bought a bottle the moment I could afford it.

Today’s version of Oscar is definitely different from that late 1980s scent I bought but it’s still a beautiful fragrance.

3. L’Eau D’Issey by Issey Miyake

Image of L'Eau D'Issey

L’Eau D’Issey came out in 1992. I first experienced it in 1998. It has since been reformulated and there are mixed reviews from fans. Some say it is not the same and some say it doesn’t last so long on their skin. The bottle pictured above was bought about a year ago by my hubby and we both think its scent is as great as always and it seems to last as long too.

4. Angel by Thierry Mugler

Image of Angel by Thierry Mugler

Thierry Mugler Angel hit the perfume shelves in 1992 and became my mom’s new favorite. We still have a couple of bottles as pictured above. It has undergone a reformulation related to the oakmoss crisis but still smells the same to us.

5. Aramis by Estee Lauder

Image of Aramis

Aramis appeared in 1964 and is still around now. The reformulated version has less clove and the oakmoss has been toned down. It’s still a gorgeous fragrance.


There’s always a reason behind the reformulation of a fragrance but it’s not something a perfume maker usually discloses. Many fragrances have been reformulated over the years without us even knowing.

If your favorite fragrance changes and you don’t like it, move on – there’s not a lot else you can do and there’s definitely no point in sulking about it. The best thing you can do is get over it and have fun deciding on a new one.

Most of the time reformulated fragrances still have great aromas and continue to be as popular as ever.

Jane Pettitt

Hi, I'm Jane. I've had a passion for perfume since the age of 18. Purelyfragrance.com answers popular fragrance-related questions and contains guides to all sorts of perfumes, colognes, and fragrances for men and women. I write at home surrounded by cats (we have 4 at the moment) and also blog about these and other pets on petskb.com.

Recent Posts