Why You Should Avoid Fragrances in Skincare
By: Melissa Mae
There seems to be a never-ending debate as to whether or not you should continue investing in fragranced skincare. On the one hand, fragrances are responsible for making you smell good daily (always a plus point!), but on the other hand, is it really worth the prolonged sensitization of your skin? We think not!
Read on as we spill the tea on this harmful ingredient and disclose why we refuse to use it in our products.
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What are fragrances?
You’ve probably been exposed to fragranced products growing up (cue flashback of us freshening up after gym classes) and are probably still investing in some now. But did you know that fragrances have links to psychology and human emotions?
According to experts, odors can affect psychological function, from the way we perceive things to the way we feel and behave. Two fascinating examples of this? Sweet aromas or fragrances increase pain tolerance, and ordinary detergent perfume invokes spontaneous urges to clean. Wild, isn’t it?
Because of this, fragrances have made a global impact on the way people rely on them. The industry remains considerably large, with sales rising from $12.9 billion to $22 billion from 1999 to 2010. They’re also an important factor in customer buying decisions; customers rank scented products as one of the top five decision making factors for personal care. Thus, affecting the formulation processes for beauty brands.
The word ‘fragrance’ functions as an umbrella term to conceal five to 500 undisclosed compounds within it. This means that there may be more than meets the eye when it comes to the kind of ingredients you’re putting on your face! A report by the National Academy of Sciences also found that a whopping 95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic petrochemicals derived from petroleum. Yeah, you heard us!
Categories of Fragrances
Fragrances typically come in three categories—natural, naturally derived, and synthetic. And before you go on to say, “but aren’t natural fragrances good for you?” Hear us out. There is a common misconception that natural ingredients and fragrances are non-allergenic, but that’s simply not the case. In fact, some of the most potent come from nature!
Let’s break it down. Extracted from essential oils and aromatic materials obtained directly from nature, natural fragrances contain a mixture of compounds isolated by distillation and extraction without chemical modifications. Naturally derived fragrances are a tad different, produced with the additional chemical reactions of natural fragrances. Au contraire, synthetic fragrances (the most popular form of perfumery today) tend to derive from petroleum and include chemicals such as benzene derivatives and aldehydes.
What cosmetics contain fragrances?
As expected, fragrances play a significant role in that of personal care products. Here’s a ballpark figure to help you visualize it better—out of 276 moisturizers analyzed, fragrances were found in 67.7% of them, making it the most common allergen. Natural fragrances (like essential oils) were also found in 44.6% of them.
Fragrances can often be found in:
- Body wash
- Body lotions
- Facial creams
- Exfoliating scrubs
If you can’t find it listed on your ingredients list, you might want to try one of its alter-egos instead:
- Lavender oil (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Rose flower extract (Rosa damascena)
- Bergamot oil (citrus bergamia)
- Ylang-ylang oil (Cananga odorata)
- Lemon (Citrus limon)
- Lime (Citrus aurantifolia or citrus medica)
- Orange (Citrus sinensis)
- Tangerine (Citrus tangerine)
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
- Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
- Cinnamon (Cinnamomum)
What are the effects of fragrances on skin?
As good as they smell, these perfumed concoctions can create chaos in their wake, especially for those of you with skin on the sensitive side (rosacea, eczema, you know—the works). Along with preservatives, fragrances are one of the leading causes of contact allergies and allergic contact dermatitis on skin, leading to over 5.7 million physician visits every year to treat it.
If you think about it, the figures don’t sound out of the ordinary. We’ve been exposed to fragrances throughout our lives and use these scented products often as well. Any harmful chemical could enter our bodies via deposition on the surface of our skin, inhalation, or long-term dermal exposure. Statistically, more than 20% of work-related allergic contact dermatitis incidents were attributed to fragrances.
Additionally, there are plenty of unlisted chemicals mixed within common fragranced products, with a quarter of them linked to cancer and respiratory, developmental, and reproductive problems. Out of all the possible health effects of fragrances, two stand out—skin irritation and skin allergens.
Skin irritation caused by fragrances sees skin flare-ups, redness, itchiness, and occasional hives. People suffering from dry skin are more susceptible to more extreme irritations than those with other skin types.
Skin allergens refer to the sensitization of skin. One in 50 people may be sensitized to fragrances, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe, including rashes, redness, asthma, or anaphylactic shock. The scariest part? Once you’re sensitized, you will probably remain so for the rest of your life.
Besides skin irritation and allergies, fragrances can have other adverse health effects such as:
- Reduced lung function
- Respiratory irritation
- Increased asthma
- Allergic reactions
- Birth defects
- Mucosal symptoms
- Migraines and headaches
- Skin problems
- Cognitive problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
How are fragrances regulated?
Fragrances are mostly regulated through ingredient labeling. In Europe, the European Cosmetics Directive was implemented to safeguard public health and introduce mandatory labeling for consumers and dermatologists to trace potential allergens in scented products. More recently, the Cosmetics Directive has implemented labeling for 26 fragrance ingredients in cosmetics if their concentrations exceed either 0.001% in leave-on products or 0.01% in rinse-off products.
In the United States, however, brands get away with using fragrances scot-free. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows companies to sell these on shelves without disclosing what exactly is in the mix. This, coupled with the fact that fragrances already contain many other compounds, guarantees that we’ll never know what exactly goes into our skin. For all we know, we could be applying synthetics, preservatives, or allergens that can unintentionally worsen our skin conditions.
What are the alternatives to fragrances?
With something so ingrained in our lives, how is it possible to totally rid ourselves of fragrances? It won’t be easy, but once you go fragrance-free, you won’t go back. Plus, your skin will thank you.
We’d like to bring up first and foremost the perception of ‘unscented’ products. Fun fact, unscented products do not mean they’re fragrance-free. They often contain masking fragrances used to produce a neutral scent to conceal the smell of odorous raw materials. Feel thrown off? Don’t worry; we were too when we found out.
The best alternative to fragrances is most definitely fragrance-free products. Such products often contain natural ingredients that give off a pleasant scent and cause no irritations whatsoever. These ingredients include melon, vanilla, cucumber, shea butter, almond, and many more.
Like regular skincare products, fragrance-free products work exactly the same and provide the same efficacy without the repercussions. All you have to do is do your research and actively look out for brands that offer such alternatives.
We, at IRÉN Skin, are proud to be one of the brands partaking in fragrance-free skincare. We only wish to treat your skin right and thus, have rid our products of any harmful fragrances that could potentially harm it.
If you have eczema, psoriasis, acne, rosacea, or just sensitive skin in general (we say this in your best interest), avoid, avoid, avoid! Your condition may get worse, which means itching, bumps, and increased skin sensitivity.
For those of you with darker skin types, it’s time for you to stop using fragrances too! You might have to deal with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or scarring that may take ages to fade.
Or even if you have normal skin, fragrance-free is the way to go for healthy skin in the future.
Want to find out more about IRÉN Skin's 6 other no-no ingredients? You can read all about them here: