Fragrance in cosmetics: Why It’s Bad News For Your Skin

by beautifulwithbrains
avoid fragrance in skincare products: why it's bad for skin

I have a weird skincare rule: if it smells good, I don’t put it on my face.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m a perfumista. Me loves myself some Chanel N.5. But that doesn’t mean I want to bathe in perfume. I may be ok with a couple of spritzes on my wrists, but on my face? No way.

Thing is, fragrance is bad news for your skin. Here’s why:

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What Is A Fragrance?

That little thing that makes you smell oh-so-good.

But, you know lawmakers. They always have to complicate stuff. Those who make the rules in the beauty world gave fragrance two meanings:

  1. A scent, made of a mixture of essential oils and aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents that you wear on your body to make it smell good.
  2. A scent added to a beauty product to neutralize the nasty odours of its ingredients (yes, chemicals smell, too).

Why Do Skincare Products Have Fragrance?

To get you to buy them. 

Because, that bottle of Skinceuticals CE Ferulic may do wonders for your skin, but its funky smell will send you looking for a dupe faster than you can say “I do” (if the price hasn’t done that already, that is).

No one wants to use something that stinks. That’s why even people who get skincare, like derm Marko Lens, founder of Zelens, sneaks in the tiniest amount of fragrance in their products to mask the stink of their ingredients.

There’s a sneakier reason, too.

Fragrances tug on your heartstrings. When you smell that Bath & Body Works Apple Pie Body Wash, you instantly think of your grannie’s delicious homemade apple pie. And off in your cart the body wash goes.

The right scent can also make you relax. Or invigorate you. Or put you in a cheerful mood.

A scented cream is more than a cream. It’s an experience.

Related: My Fave Dupe For Skinceuticals CE Ferulic

Why You Should Avoid Scented & Fragranced Skincare Products

It’s also an experience your skin – especially if it’s sensitive or suffers from eczema and psoriasis – would rather avoid.

Fragrance is one of the most irritating and allergenic ingredients in your lotions and potions. It can trigger:

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • eczema
  • headaches
  • hives
  • irritations
  • nausea
  • psoriasis

Btw, it doesn’t matter if the scent is natural. All scents are made of literally hundreds of substances. Even essential oils. Lavender or rose are made of hundreds of substances too, some of them good and others, not so good (just think of the toxins plants release to protect themselves from predators).

Related: What To Do When You Get A Negative Reaction From A Skincare Product

But, Aren’t Fragrances Regulated?

Yes and no. Fragrance formulas are considered trade secrets, so brands don’t have to disclose what’s in there. Otherwise, everyone would be able to exactly replicate Chanel n.5 and sell it at knock off prices. That’s why you’ll only find “Perfume” on the ingredient label.

But, here in Europe, brands DO have to disclose known-allergens. Like linalool. That’s why you always find it at the ends of labels. It’s not there to moisturize your skin or fight your wrinkles. It’s part of the cream’s fragrance. The nasty one that could give you a rash.

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BTW, Fragrance-Free Skincare Products Smell Too

I don’t think I’ve ever come across an odourless cream. As you already know, every ingredient has its own scent, so your nose is bound to detect a few fragranced whiffs.

So, how can brands get away with labelling their creams “fragrance-free” or “unscented”?

Well, remember the second definition of fragrance: something that was added to mask the smell of the ingredients? Well, if you don’t add an artificial scent, you can label your products “fragrance-free”.

If you have sensitive skin, stick to those only. 

The Bottom Line

Fragrance is irritating as hell. For the love of your skin, avoid it like the plague.

Do you use skincare that smells good?

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Dao September 29, 2008 - 1:10 pm

Great post! I personally prefer the fragrance free version as my skin is sensitive.

Nikki September 29, 2008 - 1:24 pm

I enjoyed reading this, THANKS!

jojobs September 29, 2008 - 3:32 pm

I am bookmarking this post. it’s really a great read. i prefer all things without fragrance if possible.

beautifulwithbrains September 30, 2008 - 1:22 pm

Dao: thanks. I prefer fragrance-free products too.

Nikki: you’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

jojobs: I’m glad you like the post. I prefer fragrance-free products too although I find it hard to find them here.


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