Fragrance in skincare products has long been known to be sensitizing to skin, regardless of skin types, but yet, fragrance-free products are still a rarity among skincare products. Fragrance in itself is capable of evoking a wide spectrum of positive emotions. A product’s scent can certainly make the experience feel more luxurious, relaxing and sensorial to boot. But, fragrance, which is made up of volatile compounds, isn’t kind to our skin, period. Even if you don’t see an immediate negative skin reaction to it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t damaging to your skin health over the medium to long term.
Fragrance isn’t your skin’s friend at all
Other than scenting cosmetic formulations so they smell nice and fancy, fragrance does not offer any real skin benefits at all. In fact, allergy to fragrance in beauty products is the most common cause of contact dermatitis, which is actually a major clinical problem.
Fragrance can contain up to hundreds or even thousands of different chemicals. Approximately 5,000 fragrance molecules are said to be used in heavy rotation in the formulation of beauty products.
Many of these include things like skin-unfriendly irritants, allergens, preservatives, allergy-triggering substances, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.
Fragrance in ingredient labels
Fragrance may appear as ‘fragrance’, ‘aroma’, or ‘perfume’ on ingredient labels of beauty products. If something in a cosmetic product smells good and you don’t see ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume’ in the ingredient list, the scent is likely from plant essential oils, which can just be as sensitizing to skin as artificial fragrances.
Typical fragrance compounds include Limonene, Linalool, Citronellol, Cinnamal, Geraniol, Eugenol and other fragrant plant oils, which are generally marketed as having natural fragrance.
Both artificial and ‘natural’ fragrances have been known to aggravate skin conditions like contact dermatitis, rashes, as well as respiratory conditions. This is supported by the American Academy of Dermatology which states that ‘fragrance is the biggest cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis’.
For skincare, body care and hair care products containing fragrance, it is extremely difficult to find out what’s exactly in those pretty jars and bottles since manufacturers are not required to disclose their chemical components at all.
Should you avoid fragrance in skincare products?
Yes, you should, if you care more for your skin health than what your nose smells!
Fragrance is the main reason why so many people with sensitive skin often react to fragranced skincare and cosmetic products negatively. You may not even feel any immediate negative effects of fragrance, but that is deceptive as cumulative skin sensitization still occurs.
There are many brands that list every single ingredient without specifying if those are fragrance-related, as well as companies that market themselves as fragrance-free though they may use scent-masking chemicals to mask any potential ‘bad’ chemical smells in their products so they are more acceptable to consumers.
While essential oils may be pleasant to our nose, they aren’t exactly what we want on our face. Many brands use essential oils to fragrance their products instead of synthetic chemicals, so you may want to take note of this as well the next time you look through an ingredient label.
In short, fragrance is not that awesome of an ingredient you would want to put on your skin, especially if it goes onto your face, which tends to be more sensitive than the skin on the rest of your body.