HOW BAD IS FRAGRANCE IN SKINCARE FOR YOUR SKIN?
Updated: May 1
We are so used to fragrances in our skincare products and we tend to gravitate towards products that 'smell nice', am I right? Fragrances can range from synthetic fragrance compounds to natural essential oils. Just because a product is being marketed as synthetic fragrance-free, it does not mean it is completely fragrance free as it may contain essential oils and yes, they are just as bad. In this article, I want to share what I've learned about fragrance in skincare, how it can affect your skin, and some potential benefits that are rarely discussed by other bloggers or influencers.
There are actually over 3000 fragrance compounds used in cosmetics today and over 100 of these have been classified as allergens. On the ingredients list of your skincare product, when it says fragrance/parfum, it usually contains a mix of different chemicals and sif you have sensitive skin, these chemicals can trigger a negative reaction, usually known as contact dermatitis.
What's the purpose of fragrance in skincare?
I'm sure you've guessed it, it is to make a product smell more appealing to customers. But in some cases, we may not detect the presence of fragrances through smell because fragrance is sometimes also used to mask the unpleasant smell of some ingredients. "Unscented" cosmetic products are great examples. Just because they are unscented, it does not mean that they are fragrance-free!
Who should avoid fragrances in skincare?
Fragrance has no skincare benefits, whatsoever. In fact, it gives the nice scent through a volatile reaction, and this can actually disrupt your skin barrier function. It can trigger irritation, allergic reaction, and disrupt skin barrier function . So my advice is to go fragrance-free when you can. This is particularly important if you have dry, sensitive skin or certain skin conditions, like eczema, rosacea, etc.
Is fragrance in skincare bad for all skin types?
You might say well, I've used fragranced skincare products and never developed any reaction. The negative effects of fragrances on your skin might not manifest now. It might emerge years later (e.g. increased skin sensitivity) and to quote from Paula's Choice:
"You might not see the damage on skin’s surface, but it can be silently occurring every day, causing minor problems for your skin in the short term and worse problems in the long term."
I do agree with this to some extent. Think of sunscreen - you may not see the sun damage occurring today, but years of unprotected exposure to the sun can lead to premature aging later in life and perhaps, skin cancer. BUT, the amount of fragrance in skincare is usually below 1% - perhaps too little to induce harmful effects, unless of course, you have sensitive skin. This might explain why many of us can use fragranced products without any issues. Additionally, I have not found convincing scientific evidence on the long-term effects of fragranced skincare products on our skin, especially if you have normal, strong skin.
Potential benefits of fragrance in skincare?
Truthfully, there are benefits of fragrance in skincare. Scent gives a strong neural input and evokes a positive emotion - this is partly why we enjoy applying our skincare products everyday. My philosophy is that skincare routine should nurture our skin, as well as our mind, because a lot skin-related issues are linked to stress. Studies have shown that stress can lead to various skin problems, including acne, eczema, dermatitis, and many others. Intriguingly, neuroscientific data showed that fragrances reduced sebum production through changes in neural activity. Learn more about the mind-skin connection in another blog post here. So if you enjoy the nice scent of your skincare products and as long as your skin does not suffer from irritation or allergic reaction, then go for it. However, bear in mind that if you try out a new product and your skin reacts, fragrance compounds could be the culprit.
Hope you find this article useful.
Stay safe and till next time,
The Skin Press
Tanida et al. (2008). DOI: 10.1016/j.neulet.2007.12.014