Identifying fake perfume from the bottle, not the contents

Researchers in Germany have shown that they can distinguish between genuine and counterfeit perfume bottles using a technique known as laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS).

The team from the University of Hamburg used a combination of LA-ICP-MS and chemometrics to classify glass using genuine perfume bottles (flacons) manufactured at six different production facilities around the world.

They were able to find clear distinctions between the production locations based on the pattern of elements detected using the technique, which involves removing a tiny amount of material from the glass – too small to see with the naked eye – using the laser ablation process.

Crucially, the flacon isn't damaged during the process, which means that a genuine product can be placed back on sale after testing.  They were also able to detect counterfeit flacons without having to open the vials.

A total of 105 flacons from a sampling period of six months from six different factories were analysed.

"Counterfeiters are often scientifically literate and thus can deceptively imitate perfumes," write the scientists in the journal Talanta. They add that the criminals "also know the limitations of modern analytical methods, making detection of fraud difficult to impossible."

"Making a specially adapted glass is disproportionately more difficult than making fake content or appearance."

While there are examples of perfumes being counterfeited by refilling genuine bottles with fake contents, the approach could make it harder for criminals to produce knock-offs in bulk.

There seemed to be no "drift" in the elemental signature of different production locations over time, meaning that the patterns would likely not have to be retested to keep the test process current.

Moreover, while variations between samples from the same location were seen, these "were smaller than the difference in the respective manufacturers, making this method suitable for predicting new samples," according to the researchers.

"Laser ablation coupled to ICP-MS is an ideal instrument combination for this purpose," conclude the scientists.

"This analytical approach can also be used for other areas, e.g. for the authentication of glass panes used for reverse glass paintings or works of art made of glass."

Photo by Ulysse Pointcheval on Unsplash

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