Fragrance-free or unscented? What you need to know about scents and fragrances in your personal care products
When it comes to personal care products, added fragrances are one of the most common causes of allergic reactions or sensitivity. Because of this, many people – especially those with known allergies or sensitivities – try to choose products that do not contain fragrance. But that’s easier said than done.
There is no legal definition or FDA regulation for the label “fragrance-free”
Let’s say that again: the FDA does not regulate the “fragrance-free” label, nor is there a standard legal definition. This means it’s up to the individual product manufacturer to determine whether or not their product is fragrance-free.
What the FDA does require is a complete listing of the ingredients within a product. However, due to the proprietary nature of some fragrance compounds, an added fragrance may simply be listed as “fragrance” or “parfum” – without giving an indication of the individual components of said fragrance. If you tend to be sensitive to fragrances, you may want to avoid these products.
Another problem can occur when companies choose to list individual components of a fragrance. After all, how many people know that Linalool is an allergen commonly found in fragrance? Again, it’s important to research the ingredients in the products you put on and in your body – especially if you have allergies or sensitivities.
“Unscented” does NOT mean no added fragrance
This is particularly confusing if you’re not familiar with how personal care products are formulated and labeled. While some people may gravitate toward unscented products – whether it’s because they have a sensitivity or simply don’t want a scented product – it’s important to know that many products labeled as “unscented” do contain fragrance.
As products are formulated, it’s rare to end up with a finished product that doesn’t have some sort of scent. And in many cases, due to the types of ingredients being blended together, that scent may be strong or unpleasant. In order to counteract an undesirable scent, fragrance is added to neutralize the scent. In this case, the fragrance should be listed in the ingredients, but as we’ve learned, it may not always be noticeable when reading through the ingredients list.
“My product says fragrance-free, but it has a definite scent”
This is another common issue: someone who is sensitive to fragrance buys a product labeled fragrance-free, only to get it home to find it has a definite scent. Again, “fragrance-free” simply means no fragrance was added – it does not mean that nothing in the product has a scent. Essential oils, many plant and fruit extracts, and many antioxidants just naturally have a scent.
Natural fragrances can be irritating too
If you are sensitive to fragrances, it’s most likely due to the allergens within those fragrances. Unfortunately, some of those same allergens can also be found in “natural” scents, such as those in essential oils.
In order to limit your exposure to potential allergens, stick with products that are fragrance-free, but be sure to carefully research the ingredients on the label. And remember that a fragrance-free product may still have a scent – and not all scents are bad.
It may take some trial and error to determine whether or not you have a sensitivity to scents that naturally occur in some products. Most reputable beauty brands will recommend a patch test of their products if they contain any ingredients that are known to cause sensitivity.
Mellisa B Naturally uses no added fragrances in our products, and any scents in our products are naturally-derived from ingredients like pumpkin ferment extract, coconut oil, shea butter, etc. While we make every effort to use ingredients that are non-irritating, we also know that everyone’s skin is different. If you are prone to sensitivity or irritation, we recommend patch testing (testing a product on a small, inconspicuous area of skin) any new product before using it.