Fragrance in skincare - it is a very complicated subject, and there is SO much to uncover.  It’s a highly unregulated area of the skincare industry, and this is often at the cost of the consumer’s well-being.  Though this is the case, there is a lot you can do to educate yourself about what is best for you and your skin. In this article we are going to break down everything from what is fragrance in skincare, to synthetic versus natural fragrance, and fragrance sensitivities. We’re going to go through some of the things to look out for when you are searching for a new product, and which chemicals should be on your “absolutely not” list.
What is Fragrance in Skincare?
Fragrance in skincare  is often added to add a pleasant smell or to cover up any not-so pleasant smells that may occur naturally by the combination of ingredients used to create the product.  Fragrance in skincare is not necessarily bad for you, but you want to lean towards natural fragrances as much as possible (like from natural oils for example) Even in this case, you are going to want to make sure that the oils that are producing the fragrance come from an organic, high quality source.  Reaching out to the brand’s customer service team should clear up any questions here if the information isn’t readily available on the brand’s website. It’s also possible that your skin is sensitive to fragrance, and this could cause you to break out.  This could happen with either natural or synthetic fragrances - so to avoid any breakouts we always recommend doing a ‘patch test’ or trying out a new product on a smaller patch of skin to see how your skin is going to react.
Synthetic Fragrance
A lot of time synthetic fragrances are created to imitate natural fragrance.  Most natural fragrances are not very long-lasting, so they are recreated with man-made chemicals.  This also allows a consistent result for the brand using them.  Most synthetic fragrances in skincare products are petroleum based, and can be harmful to your health if you use them over extended periods of time. Synthetic fragrances can be full of other harmful man-made chemicals that can disrupt your endocrine system, cause dermatitis, and a plethora of other unwanted skin and health conditions. “Perfume”, “Fragrance”, and “Fragrance Oil” are all ubiquitous terms for a chemical substance that can be full of hundreds of undisclosed ingredients.  If you are someone with already sensitive skin, it’s very likely that synthetic fragrance in a product will cause you to break out or get a rash of some sort. For someone who does not have sensitive skin, the chemicals in synthetic skin care can cause you to become sensitive over time.  For all skin types, man-made chemicals are very likely to strip your skin barrier and cause more harm than good. Outside of your personal health, synthetic fragrances are also harmful to animals and the environment.

Natural Fragrance

Natural fragrance can be tough to identify, because today almost every product on the market boasts “natural” on its label.  For the purpose of this article we are going to define “natural fragrance in skincare” as scents created from nature - for example trees, plants, and flowers.  Though they are better for your overall health, they are not completely innocent.  The process of harvesting scents from around the world can contribute to deforestation and therefore climate change.  A common way to get natural fragrance into a product is via essential oils.  Essential oils are extracted from plants, and are used in things like aroma therapy. They are highly concentrated extracts from a plant, and usually need to be combined with a “carrier oil” so they do not irritate the skin.  For an essential oil to be completely natural, it not only needs to come from an organic source, but also needs to be extracted without chemicals used in the process.

Should You Avoid Skincare in Fragrance?

The answer to the question is a bit complicated, because there is a lack of regulation in the fragrance arena.  BRands don’t have to disclose what the fragrance in their products is composed of, but can just list “fragrance” as one of the ingredients.  A certain amount of fragrance could cause a rash or breakout in one person but not on someone else.  The IFRA (International Fragrance Association) has guidelines for the levels of fragrance in a product, but it is just a guideline, and therefore is not checked or regulated.  Your best option will be to go for organic, plant-based botanical ingredients and fragrances.  Though this information may not always be disclosed on the packaging, you should be able to get an answer from a brand’s customer service team. This is what will cause the least confusion. The best quality brands will use a fragrance that is paraben free, and vegan/cruelty free.   Avoiding synthetic fragrances will be your best option in the long run, for your skin and your overall health.

Fragrance Sensitivity

Do you get headaches, nausea, skin allergies, dermatitis, or itching and burning from certain products or scents?  You might have a fragrance sensitivity! This is a very real problem that is unfortunately not talked about that much.  The sensitivity could be caused from irritation to either the respiratory system or to the skin itself.  It is possible to have a sensitivity or an allergy to a fragrance, and it might be with only specific scents.  Usually a person with a fragrance sensitivity can experience symptoms within a few minutes of a product being applied to the skin.  They could be experiencing a rash, dermatitis, itchiness, or all of the above.  Though this will usually go away, and can be soothed with over the counter hydrocortisone cream, or even a cold compress (depending on the severity of the reaction).  You can also experience difficulty breathing, which will come from inhaling certain scents.  If this is the case, you can be treated with allergy medication and sometimes an inhaler.  The most common substances that could cause a fragrance sensitivity or allergy are a-pinene, limonene, linalool, and eugenol.  These are all chemicals that are irritating to both the skin and respiratory system, and can be found in perfumes, soaps, powders, air fresheners, detergents and cleaning products. The best think you can do is avoid the products and fragrances that cause unpleasant systems.
We really hope this article shed some light on fragrance in skincare, and what to look out for when choosing your products.  Any brand that focuses on the customer’s health and wellness will know what their fragrance is made of and will be open about it with their customer when asked.  Do not be afraid to reach out to your favorite brand and ask questions about the fragrance making up their products. Fragrance for skincare is a very complicated process, and most brands will have spent a long time with their factory formulating a pleasant fragrance.  Here at The Feelist, we use only the highest quality, plant- powered botanicals in the fragrance composition of our products.  We develop everything with sensitive skin in mind, and stay away from harmful man-made chemicals and ingredients.  That being said, if you ever have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to  We love to chat!
We also have other articles about clean beauty and its importance linked here.  If you would like to try some of our plant-powered botanical products, (which smell amazing, if we do say so ourselves!) We recommend starting with The Fully Charged Set, formulated with a unique natural fragrance blend formulated to uplift and recenter the mind.

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