Interview: Miguel Matos on Perfume Sustainability

Garbags went to interview Miguel Matos, who is editor and columnist since 2013 for Fragrantica. His work has been recognized by the Fragrance Foundation and the Perfumed Plume Awards several times and won the Art and Olfaction Award in 2019.

Before perfumes, Miguel was an art critic for several magazines, editor for Time Out magazine as well as director and editor for Umbigo Magazine. He has a list of olfactory art exhibitions, including Making the Body Thinkat the Institute for Art and Olfaction in Los Angeles. He wrote the book O Zodíaco Perfumado and launched his own line of fragrances, Miguel Matos Olfactory Art. His perfumer portfolio includes fragrances made for Bruno Acampora, Nishaneand Sarah Baker.

Question: You have a solid career as perfume critic and a developing career as a perfumer. From your experience, is the perfume industry more sensitive to the rising questions of sustainability and cruelty-free products?

The perfume industry is becoming more aware of sustainability questions, especially since consumers are becoming more demanding and searching for products that have this concern. Being so, we see now an increasing number of perfume brands that invest in “cleaner practices”. This translates in less polluting packaging, cruelty-free products (animal perfumery products are almost never used these days) but also in the harvest of materials from nature. When I visited the World Perfumery Congress in 2018 in Nice, I saw a large number of rawmaterial producers coming up with more and more materials that came from sustainable plantations and less polluting ways of extraction.

Question: The industry is using synthetic ingredients much more nowadays, isn’t it? But are they really less damaging to our planet than natural ingredients?

Producing synthetics demands less natural resources. It’s as simple as that. We have the example of Mysore Sandalwood that is endangered and almost became extinct after many years of aggressive harvest for perfume making. Nowadays, there are some sustainable Sandalwood farms and this tree is growing in numbers again. However, it’s still not out of danger. So yes, synthetics can be more planet-friendly and even less alergenic. But they also lack the depth, richness and quality of naturals.

Question: Regarding the packages, it seems all perfumes need to have a paper package with plastic all around it for you to end up with a tiny bottle of perfume. Do you think that perfume brands (most of them also produce  cosmetics) are already trying to decrease the terrible amount of waste produced by packages?

No. While we see an increasing number of brands reducing the use of plastic (Guerlain is a good example of that), the majority still uses unnecessary materials in the name of having a more opulent look and to make the product seem more than it is. Consumers also tend to believe that is a box is wrapped in plastic, that means it has not been opened or tampered, which is not always the case. So plastic is still around for the worst reasons and we have both brands and consumers to blame. The case of plastic wrapping is something consumers are not considering when they are looking for a more sustainable product.

Question: Which brands do you consider more sustainable and cruelty free but still have good perfumes?

Guerlain might be an example, even if their perfumes are not as good as they used to be. Lolita Lempicka is also a brand that is changing everything inside and out in order to make everything Vegan.

Question: How can we, as buyers, know that we are buying sustainable and cruelty-free perfumes since perfumes don’t have INCI (as the cosmetics do) written in the bottles?

As a regular consumer, we don’t. This subject is not easy to explore and the truth is not always out there.

Question: This is one of the main issues, isn’t it? A perfume’s ingredient is a secret like a special family recipe, so it is difficult to know which kind of product we are buying. Is this going to change? Is there some organism responsible for inspection?

There is an organism called IFRA – International Fragrance Association that investigates and recommends as to what is safe for our health in terms of fragrance ingredients. But brands don’t disclose formulas or ingredients.

Question: How do you think it will be the future of perfume industry regarding sustainable policies?

I think it will be impossible to escape the subject and we will see more brands developing sustainable policies. In the raw-materials sourcing and extraction it’s already a big concern. As for packaging, it’s only starting.