The New F-Word: Fragrance! Exclusive Interview Ft. Inkling Scents
A fragrance can include anything from a dash of a honeysuckle essence to dozens of parabens and phthalates, even if the packaging says it’s phthalate-free.
Now, this doesn’t mean every single brand is attempting to trick you into consuming unethical and toxic ingredients. The average clean brand uses fragrance to solely keep their fragrance blend of synthetic and natural oils a trade secret—how it was intended.
So, how did fragrance become a dirty word in the beauty industry?
“In the US, the fragrance regulations are ridiculously loose. It’s all considered [to be] trade secrets, so most perfumers aren't required to list their ingredients. They get away with a lot and we don’t need to do that,” said Tiffany Hardman, the founder of clean fragrance brand Inkling Scents.
Like many clean beauty brand founders, Hardman discovered the hole in the industry by way of trying to solve a problem for a family member.
“My niece had terrible eczema, but I had other members of my family that had sensitive skin and were reactive to products,” Hardman said. “We started digging around and we came across a naturopath chemist. Talking to him, the conversation [pivoted] to fragrances.” She quickly learned that both luxury and drugstore fragrances were incredibly dangerous and a big part of the reason why her family had skin ailments.
“Eau de Parfums are 80% alcohol, but consumers are getting 93% alcohol in most fragrances. The high-end brands are exactly the same as the drugstore brands as they are primarily chemicals—filled with sulfates, phthalates—and they are only adding three to five percent pure oil. [Customers] are getting ripped off by buying those. That’s what I wish people knew, that the US standards are so very different that they can’t trust what they’re being sold through the department stores and from the bigger name brands. It’s a chemical bomb and it’s damaging your largest organ. You don’t need to do it that way; the natural oils work brilliantly.”
After resolving the ailments in her family, Hardman decided to experiment with launching her own fragrances on Etsy to test the demand for clean fragrances. Turns out, there was a huge demand.
“We stuck our toes in the pond and we launched on Etsy first, and pretty soon our own website, and within the first year, we were in Forbes and Women’s Health. It skyrocketed," she said.
Instead of a typical fragrance line that is only a portion of an overall cosmetics brand, Inkling Scents is a standalone fragrance company. Every fragrance blend is alcohol-free and made with only fragrance oils and essential oils. They are also a small, family-run business that grows their own organic ingredients from their on-site garden at their company headquarters. As Hardman said, “We pull our product from right outside our door!”
Inkling Scents is also an original for its inclusivity and simplicity, offering scents for all genders, all bottled in roll-on containers for easy travel.
The fragrance blends are developed based off of the team’s personal preferences, customer requests, and popular formulations. “I was surprised by how I could combine essential oils and make it smell like a department store fragrance, but without a chemical sting," says Hardman. "A lot of our scents are based off of name brand formulas that we’ve made into clean oil recipes. We experiment a lot, and a lot goes into the bin, but some of them hit a home run.”
A lot of Hardman’s best customers are those who have been burned, sometimes literally, by the beauty industry. These customers have trouble using the majority of name brand skincare and cosmetics, they get migraines from ordinary room and cosmetic fragrances, and they overall feel left out from all of the fun and necessity of self-care. Inkling Scents changed the game for them in the fragrance category.
“Multiple times a week, we get emails from customers around the world saying they haven’t been able to wear a fragrance for 30 years. They can again feel the magic from a fragrance and smelling beautiful and feeling sexy. That is so exciting to hear," she says.
While many people can happily walk through a department store and smell fragrance after fragrance and can go about their day with no worries, the fragrance-sensitive crowd can get migraines or skin reactions at the drop of the hat from a toxic product. They cannot bypass an aisle of home cleaners or laundry soaps without plugging their nose, they leave their hot yoga class early after someone starts sweating off their fragrance, they avoid taking crowded elevator rides and hugging family members drenched in perfume for fear of taking it home with them and having to run a load of laundry immediately, and they may even ask to move seats in a restaurant or cafe after a fragrance-soaked person nonchalantly sits next to them without a care in the world that their veggie burger doesn’t need to come with a Lancôme Trésor aioli.
The number-one rule when it comes to fragrance is that only those within your personal bubble should smell your fragrance for a moment, and your scent should not linger on other’s clothing or in a room.
Inkling Scents allows you to not only enjoy your fragrances even more, but also be kinder to those in your circles. Just because you want to wear Sultry, doesn’t mean your mailman and your father should have to.
Originally, Hardman thought the customer base for Inkling Scents was going to be a niche crowd—eco-conscious women in their 30s and 40s who wanted cruelty-free fragrances. It has since grown to a much wider audience. “Our customers range from eco-conscious teenagers, to older women with fragrance sensitivities, even men,” Hardman said. “For various reasons, Inkling Scents has a broad appeal now and that makes marketing a little more challenging. Customers are waking up and they want a better quality product.”
What’s wonderful is that their customers shop in a variety of ways. Some have become diehard fans of a single scent and order them every season like clockwork. Others love trying new scents in the form of sample packs and order a new full-size fragrance every season. Regardless of the customer’s shopping style, there are a few fragrances that seem to break free from the pack.
“Sultry is our top seller. We still have customers come back all these years later! The Earth Notes line [is also popular as it] has suspended elements in them, such as lavender or citrus rinds in the bottle. My favorite from this line is A Touch of Rose. It’s gorgeous, feminine, and lovely. Forest Whispers is our cult classic. I got a lot of people who are diehards for that. It smells like pine and it’s earthy.”
The clean beauty industry has certainly come a long way in a short time. We now have a handful of clean beauty items in major drugstores and stores like Sephora and Target now have their own clean beauty section. But even as the shelves start to embrace cleaner brands, Hardman says there’s a lot of room for improvement.
“There needs to be transparency with their ingredients," she explained. "Brands should also go straight to nature and use the cleanest product they can because the science is easy to get."
Until then, what can we all do as consumers? “By backing indie companies, it’s starting to make quite a dent in the mainstream industries and they’re starting to feel that. The big names are tweaking to keep their customer base. Money talks.”
Kinder Beauty subscribers can try Inkling Scents in both April boxes—Embody in the Embody box and Tigress in the Encompass box. To try more scents by Inkling Scents, visit Inklingscents.com and use the code "kinder2021" to get 15% off everything. You can follow them on Instagram at @inklingscents.