Fragrance in skin care
We all love to smell nice. And we like to be surrounded by nice-smelling things. Think of the smell of roses, or lavender, or even fresh laundry. Those are pleasant scents that can simply make us feel good. It’s why most of us spray on some sort of fragrance each day.
What is fragrance?
The basic definition of fragrance is a sweet or pleasing scent. When discussing a perfume or a scent that’s added to any personal care product, it is usually a blend of aromatics (a plant, drug, or medicine yielding a fragrant aroma). Unfortunately, many aromatics can also be allergens or irritants. And in the US, there is not an exact definition nor labeling regulation for fragrances.
Why are fragrances bad?
Fragrances aren’t all bad. Colognes, perfumes, eau de toilettes have all been around for a long time. Even before perfumes were available commercially, people found ways to blend their own scents.
The problem lies in the way fragrances actually work. Natural fragrances (think lavender, lilacs, and roses) are volatile in their own right – that’s why you can smell them from across the street when the wind blows in your direction. And synthetic fragrances require the addition of chemicals to make the scents dissipate into the air or stay on your skin or clothing. Either way, a fragrance can be highly irritating.
But does that make all fragrance bad? Or course not. The problem again lies in the fact that fragrances are often allergens and irritants – in fact, even when you don’t have a noticeable reaction to them, many fragrances can cause irritation in deeper levels of the skin, causing skin damage without any outward warning signs.
What about natural fragrances?
Even your beloved peppermint oil doesn’t get off so easy. Many natural extracts are allergens and irritants. In fact, research has indicated that fragrances in personal care products are the most common cause of allergic reactions and skin irritation.
This does not mean that your skin care has to be 100% unscented – or that it has to smell unpleasant. There are many natural, safe and effective skin care ingredients that have their own pleasant scents. For example, argan oil, shea butter, and most antioxidants have nice scents that are not overpowering.
It comes down to reading the label
If you purchase your skin care products based on the safety and efficacy of the products contained within, you’re starting off on the right foot. The next step is to research whether the product contains fragrance. “Fragrance-free” doesn’t necessarily mean the product won’t have a scent; it simply means that fragrance hasn’t been added to the formula. On the other hand, “unscented” doesn’t indicate that there is no fragrance added. In fact, in order for a product to be completely unscented, fragrances are often added to cover up the scents of other ingredients.
Always patch test
Any time you try a new skin care product, you should do a small “patch test” in an inconspicuous area to test for sensitivity. This is especially true if you have sensitive skin, or have experienced a reaction to fragrances before.
The bottom line on fragrances in skin care
Yes, we want things to smell good. It’s human nature. But when it come to skin care, fragrance-free is always the better option. And remember that a “naturally-derived” fragrance, even one that’s subtle and pleasant (such as from shea butter) can still be an allergen or irritant. Look for products that don’t contain fragrances in the ingredients, and avoid products with strong scents.