Fragrance Is Coming for Your Children

Beauty

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Growing up, I have very clear memories of my mother dabbing Agua de Colonia behind each of my ears. At the ripe age of five, I felt like the fanciest girl in kindergarten and looked forward to my mother scenting me every morning before boarding the school bus. As a Mexican child, wearing perfume aligned with our Latin culture, but it wasn’t yet part of my American classmates’ elementary school beauty routine.

We know that beauty traditions differ from culture to culture—take South Asian ayurvedic practices as a prime example—but globalization and social media have begun to blur the lines, as people learn about different approaches to beauty and adapt them into their lives. So, it should come as no surprise that the way American adults perceive fragrance is also shifting, but not necessarily for themselves. Beyond spritzing on the latest fragrance en vogue, they’re now spritzing their children with them, too.

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The recent launch of Dior’s Bonne Étoile baby perfume suggests a nod toward this movement and a shift in culture. It comes decades after discontinuing its original Baby Dior cologne from the late 60s, which perfumer Francis Kurkjian revived. He tells ELLE.com this was something he wanted to do since arriving at the fashion house in 2004. He recomposed the original scent to align with his vision for Baby Dior: a water-based perfume with soft notes of pear, wild rose, and white musks.

Kurkdjian has previous experience in this space. In 2009, the perfumer introduced his scented bubbles, Les Bulles d’Agathe. for children under the umbrella of his namesake brand, creating an elevated olfactory experience for the playful child. “Perfume is the rediscovered childhood with its simplicity, its truth, and of course, its innocence,” he says of his affinity for designing fragrances for younger consumers. “I like creating simple and straight-to-the-point accords that reflect this state of mind.”

Of course, he’s not the only one to believe children and babies deserve to smell nice.

In the US, parents have a few fragrance options if they want their children to stand out in daycare. In 2022, Hermès launched Cabriole eau de senteur with notes of Osmanthus and honeysuckle that aim to evoke the apricot-like scent of a child’s cheek; it’s recommended for children three years and older. Bvlgari’s Petits et Mamans is a floral yet powdery scent with notes of peach and vanilla, and also recommended for children over three. Zara has an expansive line of fragrances for children, with scents inspired by Disney’s Elsa to Marvel’s Captain America, that it sells worldwide. Even baby brand Mustela sells a fragrance called Musti Eau de Soin, which is a subtle citrus scent with added notes of honey and chamomile to nourish infant skin.

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In other countries, the options widen. Across Latin American countries, TOUS Baby eau de cologne offers infants a fresh, citrusy scent that’s pH friendly and comes packaged in a teddy bear-shaped bottle. In France, Lolita Lempicka offers Mon Petit, a fresh floral scent designed with nectar and Aniseed marshmallow. Across Europe, Bonpoint’s signature Eau de Senteur scented water is designed for babies older than three months old and is reminiscent of citrus bouquets, white florals, and musk. In Mexico, Perfumerica’s Baby offers a sulfate, dye, and paraben-free fragrance for babies with notes of honey, amber, and bergamot. In the EU and Canada, Klorane’s Petit Brin offers newborns a chance to mask diaper-changing odors with a fresh and fruity scent.

Latin America and Europe are two regions that have historically been fragrance enthusiasts, so it makes sense that this affinity would be passed down and habits created within these cultures. This idea of generational fragrance enthusiasts partially inspired Petit Guerlain and sold in select Guerlain boutiques in the U.S. and France. Perfumer Dephine Jelk explains that grandparents, parents, and children have their Guerlain pieces, so the idea with this fragrance was to extend the Maison’s scents to the kids through gentle notes of orange blossom, acacia honey, and musk.

1970s smiling african american woman and little girl outdoors near spring flowers daughter giving yellow flower to mother photo by photo mediaclassicstockgetty images

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In the U.S., consumers are more hesitant to spritz their children. This is due, in part, to the alcohol in beauty formulations (primarily in skincare), with platforms such as TikTok acting as a springboard for misinformation and fear-mongering. The belief is that alcohol triggers irritation and isn’t safe for use, but studies that looked into hand sanitizers with 60 percent alcohol, applied up to 100 times a day found no statistically significant changes occurred when compared to water application. Furthermore, companies need to formulate in compliance with safety regulations. Unless somebody has very reactive and/or sensitive skin, there shouldn’t be a problem if abiding by recommended use. However, while many traditional fragrances are safe for adults to use everyday, they may not necessarily be appropriate for children and babies who are in key development periods.

Kenya Maria Parks, MD, the medical director for Mount Sinai’s Pediatric School Based Health Program says fragrances can potentially irritate an infant’s delicate skin or respiratory tract and potentially cause an allergic reaction. “The other concern would be the potential long-term effects of chemicals in these fragrances,” she adds, noting the potential inclusion of hormone-disrupting agents, which a 2023 study from the University of Chieti in Italy shows may increase the risk of childhood diseases.

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However, while it’s widely accepted that one should not use essential oils and alcohol-based perfumes on babies and children, most fragrances that target this super-young audience use water-based formulas and steer clear of essential oils, endocrine disruptors, and any potential irritants and allergens. Perfumes categorized as “eau de senteur,” or scented water, don’t contain any alcohol and instead use solvents with scented concentrates to better suit infant skin. According to Hermés, eau de senteurs such as Cabriole are suitable for children under the age of three.

The reason it’s important to formulate differently for younger audiences lies in our anatomy—particularly, in how our skin ages and develops. Dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, explains that babies have a thinner stratum corneum (the upper layer of skin) than adults and that their natural capacity to retain and attract moisture isn’t fully developed yet. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you feel comfortable spritzing children with perfume, Jelk has an easy alternative: “I recommend applying the fragrance on clothes rather than directly on the children’s skin.”

In the U.S. alone, the baby care industry is forecasted to increase revenue between 2023 and 2028 by 89 million (+15.5%). What’s more, there’s a growing trend toward premium baby care.

Dr. Barbara Sturm offers a Baby & Kids Essentials Kit for $210, including five hair and skin care products and two bathing mitts designed to look like zoo animals. Christofle offers a $450 baby hair brush made with 100% sterling silver. Leonor Greyl has a baby wash that retails for $42 with delicate notes of orange blossom and wild pansy extract. Bonpoint’s $95 body cream will keep babies’ skin soft and supple — and moms can use it too. In tandem with its Bonne Étoile launch, Dior also launched a $115 Hydrating Milk, a $95 Foaming Cleanser, and $95 Cleansing Water.

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The premiumization of the baby industry should come as no surprise. In the last few years, technology has evolved to offer mothers and fathers an easier parenting experience. At a price. The $1700 Snoo—a smart bassinet that detects a baby’s cry and gently cradles it back to sleep—has been acclaimed by celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jessica Biel and, as such, has influenced a slew of soon-to-be parents to purchase them as well in hopes of achieving a full night’s sleep. There are more than a handful of strollers that retail for thousands of dollars. See: Glüxkind’s Self-Driving Stroller as a prime example. Owlet’s FDA-cleared smart Dream Sock baby monitor goes for $299 and gives parents access to their baby’s heart rate, oxygen levels, movement, and current sleep state.

Growing up, I didn’t have Dior bubble bath for bath time with my sister, but every time I smell Mr. Bubble’s original formula, I’m reminded of cherished childhood memories. This is partly because scent is strongly linked to memory. Scents are directly linked to the brain’s limbic system, which is tied to the areas related to emotions and memories. Just one whiff of its iconic sweet fragrance immediately takes me back to bubble bath memories with my sister when we created different hairstyles and beards with bubbles. Furthermore, one sniff of Agua de Colonia transports me to a scene of my mother applying a dab behind each ear after doing my hair for a birthday party later that day. These are memories I may not have retained had it not been for fragrance, which is another reason I’m grateful my parents filled my life with nice-smelling things, and why some parents may consider doing the same for their kids as a way to encourage early childhood memories.

pia velasco and her sister as children

Courtesy of Pia Velasco

Writer Pia Velasco and her sister as children.

Now, considering that fragrance sales have grown exponentially over the past few years and the industry as a whole is expected to generate $67.4 billion by 2028, it’s only logical that baby and kid perfumes will grow as well. Speaking from experience, I think it’s something children will enjoy incorporating into their lives and will look back on with fondness when they grow older.

Headshot of Pia Velasco

Pia is a beauty and fashion editor with a decade of experience at publications including Hello Giggles, InStyle, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Prevention, People en Español and HELLO!/HOLA! She has also written for People, Elite Daily and Bustle. She received a B.A. in creative writing from NYU and a Master of Science at Columbia’s journalism school. She is based in New York City.  

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