How an unlikely TikTok trend signaled a shift in fragrance industry

There are plenty of classic fragrances, like Chanel No. 5, Le Labo Santal 33 and Dior Sauvage. But some TikTok users are turning to “vabbing” to unlock a more signature scent.

The unexpected vabbing trend is TikTokers’ unusual take on wearing a custom perfume scent. The act of vabbing consists of taking one’s vaginal secretion and placing it on pulse points around the body. People who “vab” claim the pheromones work to attract people. That theory has been debunked and proven to be placebo. However, the fragrance trend does point to a larger shift in the fragrance industry. 

While vabbing will most likely be short-lived, the search for the perfect custom scent will carry on. Robin Mason, president of fine fragrance at North America Firmenich, said the desire to enhance one’s natural scent has gained popularity in recent years. Influencers, celebrities and consumers wanting to showcase their individuality have fueled the trend, in part, by launching their own scents. TikTok fragrance influencer @PaulReacts released his own scent through OlFactory NYC in May 2022. Celebrities like Billie Eilish and Hayley Kiyoko have also launched fragrances since 2021. “Everyone wants to memorialize and celebrate themselves in some way. Why not perfume?” said Dawn Goldworm, the co-founder of “nose” of Scent for Good. 

“The desire to have scent more personalized could be driving this phenomenon. The clean and natural movement we’re experiencing could also lend itself to more ‘skin-type’ scents. Musk is often used in these fragrances to accomplish the smell of this second skin — which is attractive, because it’s your scent, just enhanced,” Mason said. 

According to North America Firmenich, the pandemic may have contributed to growing consumers’ interest in nostalgic or familiar scents. The company found that people lean on fragrances to provide comfort and peace of mind in difficult times. Since early 2020, the demand for fragrances has risen by 63%, Firmenich found. 

TikTok’s fragrance “auntie” and creator of Exalte perfume, Funmi Monet, saw firsthand on social media that people were resorting to familiar and nostalgic scents throughout Covid. “Makeup and beauty became a lot more natural and streamlined,” she said. “And what makes fragrance different [from other beauty categories] is that you, most likely, wear it every day.” Because of this, access to fragrance is important, she said — which could explain the vabbing trend.

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