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Is Fragrance in Skincare Bad for Your Skin?

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Whether you indulge in Diptyque, Chanel, Le Labo or Dior, everyone has their favourite fragrance that they apply each morning, but did you know there is fragrance in your skincare? Most skincare product have a small amount of fragrance added to them, some scents are so overwhelming that you may be put off from using the product and some are so subtle that you didn’t even know there was fragrance in there.

Fragrance is placed in skincare for a very simple reason, to make the product smell good. As multi-sensory beings, there is a feel-good moment when you smell a ‘good’ smelling product. If there was a product that worked incredibly well for your skin and it smelt bad, you’d probably stop using the product. Fragrance doesn’t add any benefit to your skincare product and is usually added to balance the aroma of certain natural ingredients, as everything in nature doesn’t always smell like roses.

What is Fragrance: Synthetic vs Natural

There are two types of fragrance that are used in skincare products, synthetic and natural. Synthetic fragrances are made in a lab and last a lot longer than natural fragrances in your products. Natural fragrances are extracted from their natural source, usually in the form of an oil.

There has been some negativity around the use of synthetic fragrances in skincare. Critics have suggested that synthetic fragrances are more sensitising than natural fragrances, however this isn’t the case. Synthetic fragrances are made using chemicals whilst natural fragrances are made using the essential oil of a plant. Both types of fragrance contain allergens that can trigger allergic reactions for those with sensitive skin however essential oils can be extremely sensitising.

Think about all the things in nature that can cause skin irritations, you wouldn’t go rub poison ivy or stinging nettle all over your skin. Some of the most skin irritating ingredients in skincare products are natural ingredients like, lemon, pine, peppermint, and chamomile. More than half of the allergic compounds that need to be listed in an INCI list are natural fragrances, so they are more sensitising than their synthetic counterparts.

Not only do synthetic fragrances last longer in your products compared to natural fragrance, but they are a more sustainable option, helping our environment last longer. The aroma of a plant can be replicated in a lab without having to cut down millions of plants to extract and harvest the essential oil to product a natural fragrance.

Do All Fragrances Irritate Skin?

The confusing answer is both yes and no. If the skincare product has the recommended concentration, fragrances are generally safe and unlikely to cause irritation. However, if you experience sensitive skin, certain ingredients and fragrance can irritate your skin.

What’s the Difference Between ‘Fragrance-Free’ and ‘Unscented’ Skincare?

Products that are labelled ‘fragrance free’ do not contain any added fragrance but this doesn’t mean it’s scent free. If the product contains chemicals and plant-based ingredients, it’s possible for the product to have a unique smell of those ingredients. For example, if cucumber water is added to the formulation, the product may smell of cucumber even though no cucumber fragrance (natural or synthetic) was added.

If you typically avoid perfume, candles, and other scented items (like me who runs through the perfume section of a department store) you may want to avoid heavily fragranced skincare and opt for products that have little or no fragrance.

Unscented skincare is quite different to fragrance free, unscented products mean the product does not have an obvious aroma but doesn’t mean the product is free of fragrance chemicals. Chemicals could have been added to balance or enhance an aroma or make it odourless.   

Just because a skincare product is fragrance-free it doesn’t make it better than ones that contain fragrance. If you use skincare with no issues, then you are probably not intolerant of either synthetic or natural fragrance. If you have sensitive skin, look for products that have small amounts of fragrance or no fragrance at all.

Just keep in mind that when it comes to fragrance, natural is not always better.

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