The State of Scent: How the Fragrance Industry Is Changing in 2021

·3-min read
Photo credit: Stocksy
Photo credit: Stocksy


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It goes without saying that the beauty world as we know it has totally shifted this past year. Spending extended time inside and practicing social distancing means we're interacting with products much differently in 2021 than ever before. And while you might think something as specific as fragrance would lose its power during a time when people are going out less and staying in more, the opposite has proven to be true: Thanks to the power of social media, Gen Z and Millennial mindsets, along with a new generation of beauty standards, the fragrance industry has only gotten more relevant in 2021.

According to research from Hearst Magazines and MarketCast where 2,000 fragrance-loving U.S. consumers from ages 16 to 64 were polled, shoppers aren't just focused on a scent itself anymore. Instead, modern consumers are interested in how fragrance relates to the bigger picture, whether that's through current trends or cultural movements.

And the two biggest areas getting major traction in the fragrance world right now? Sustainability and diversity. Ahead, we break down the coolest findings from our data, how fragrance brands are responding to the new state of the industry, and a few of our favorite scents to try right now.

Photo credit: Stocksy
Photo credit: Stocksy

1. Sustainability

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Sustainability isn't just a conversation in the skincare and hair spaces—it's also a driving force in the fragrance world right now. And while the word "sustainability" generally means something a little different for everyone, the consumers we polled want to know if a fragrance is (1) environmentally friendly, and (2) made with natural ingredients. So, how exactly are brands reflecting that in their scents?

Recyclable packaging is a big one (indie brands like By Rosie Jane and Maison Louis Marie are packaged in 100 percent recyclable materials), as is transparent ingredients lists (clean fragrance brand The 7 Virtues prides itself on using fair-trade, natural essential oils and organic sugarcane alcohol in all of its formulas). Now more than ever, consumers are just as concerned with how a fragrance is made and packaged as they are with how it smells and feels.

2. Diversity and inclusion

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

One of the biggest things fragrance consumers care about in 2021? How brands approach diversity and inclusion—especially when it comes to imagery and advertisements. Shoppers want to feel confident that their fragrances are made with everyone in mind, and they're more likely to skip the brands that don't prioritize representation. And along with the more front-facing aspects of fragrance marketing, behind-the-scenes diversity is just as important. Fragrance consumers still love the big mass brands, but have also really started to focus on supporting indie and BIPOC-owned brands (like the picks below!) too.

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What's next?

During a fairly unpredictable time, it will be interesting to see how consumers continue to shift their wants and needs as they relate to fragrance. One thing is for sure though: 2021 marks a major change in the perfume world—and as brands continue to adopt sustainable practices and promote diversity and inclusion, consumers will continue to look to fragrance as a true space for self-expression.

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