Gleams & Notions

Scent Categorization, Computers And Comics Are All in the News

By Harvey M. Fishman, Consultant | December 3, 2013

If you look hard enough, you’ll discover that the general media covers the beauty industry on a regular basis. For example, a recent article in The Los Angeles Times detailed how neuroscientists sorted the complete range of scents that humans can detect into 10 basic categories. The goal was to create olfactory equivalent of the five basic tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (a Japanese word that means a pleasant, savory taste).

They accomplished the task by statistically analyzing 146 words to see how they were related to each other. Some words were almost always used together such as “fruity” and “honey.” Others were never paired like “fecal” and “minty.”

The result was a list of 10 key odor categories. Here’s the list:
  1. Fragrant
  2. Woody/resinous
  3. Minty/peppermint
  4. Sweet
  5. Chemical
  6. Popcorn
  7. Lemon
  8. Fruity (non-citrus)
  9. Pungent
  10. Decayed
As an example of odors that fit in those categories, fragrant would include lavender, soap and cologne, while woody/resinous represents freshly cut grass and mushrooms. Eucalyptus, camphor and tea leaves were considered minty/peppermint.

Sweet odors included vanilla, almond and chocolate. Kerosene and ammonia would be the chemical category. Butter, molasses and fried chicken were in the popcorn group, while oranges and other citrus fruits were lemon odors. Pungent odors would be garlic and sour milk, and decaying smells includes rotten meat and manure.

Of course, many of the these odors would not be considered for a perfume product!

ENIAC for Industry?
An article in Fortune did not concern chemicals, per se, but described how large companies such as General Electric and Procter & Gamble are going to a government-owned facility for help in solving problems—imagine, government helping industry! 
Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee has the fastest supercomputer in the world called the Titan. It can store 40 petabytes of information, which is the equivalent of 227,000 miles of stacked books.  It has 200 cabinets sprawled out in the lab, and can perform more than 27 quadrillion calculations a second.

The government lets private companies use the facilities in the hope that the research will spur innovation and drive economic development that would improve our current economy.

Procter & Gamble uses it to delve deeper into understanding how different compounds react with each other at a molecular level or how human hair and skin absorb these agents. Apparently, the Titan helped P&G stabilize Head & Shoulders shampoo so that it does not separate and remains consistent in the bottle.

Other companies can also access the Titan because they do not have to pay to use it. However, the companies that do so must agree to make public the results of their research.

Hopefully, this government-private industry partnership will be used to develop many new products.

You Sly Dog!
Finally, as I was perusing various publications looking for articles pertaining to the cosmetic industry, I came across the Mother Goose & Grimm comic strip, which details the activities of some strange looking English-speaking dogs and their owner.

The first panel depicts a creature that resembles a woman (Mother Goose) saying to her dog Grimm:

“Grimm, before our walk, I have to spray SPF 50 sunscreen on your sensitive nose.”

Grimm answers as he is being sprayed, “I have the same view of sunscreens as Hugh Hefner has about women…. Anything over 30 is out.”

Harvey M. Fishman

Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm in Wanaque, NJ, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.
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