Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Rithi Choudhary (Journalist) on 27th Jan 2021

Should you avoid fragrances in your face moisturizer?

avoid fragrances in your face moisturizer?

Why would you be going for a bland smelling moisturizer when you can smell like you're fresh out of a tropical garden?

But is the temporary aroma worth irritated skin and contact allergies later? But how can fragrances, which are supposed to be desirable in a moisturizer, be nasty for the skin? Let's find out. 

Fragrances in Skincare 101 

Fragrance or Perfume is a collective term for a mixture of chemicals used to impart a pleasant aroma or mask the smell of the active ingredients in a cosmetic product. Generally speaking, fragrances have no purpose in a moisturizer except obviously olfactory pleasure. But they sure do not shy away from harming your skin in the long run.

However, most cosmetic formulators use fragrances in their products to increase sales. It's a marketing strategy where they sell a moisturizer based on how good it smells (think rich cocoa or fresh coconut) more than the active ingredients that will perform the real job of moisturizing and repairing the skin. Fragrances aren't regulated by the FDA and similar boards, unlike other ingredients used in cosmetic formulations.

According to the AAD or American Academy of Dermatology, fragrance in skincare is the primary cause of contact dermatitis. Whatever chemicals go into a particular fragrance has the right to remain undisclosed to protect the company's secret formula or uniqueness. But this is where the problem arises.

One cannot know what ingredients are used in the fragrance and responsible for skin allergy or sensitivity. Several nasty and toxic ingredients can sneak into your skincare under the label of fragrance or perfume. 

The negative effects of fragrance on skin

Below is the list of the negative impacts of fragrance on our skin. 

  • Contact Dermatitis: Fragrance is the most common cause of contact dermatitis. Contact Dermatitis is a skin condition marked by red, itchy, dry, patchy, and scaly skin. Ingredients used for fragrances seeps into the bloodstream and causes them to dilate. As a response, the immune system reacts aggressively, and the skin develops rashes or hives. 
  • Skin Sensitivity and Allergy: While it may not cause any allergic reaction right away, prolonged use of fragrances makes the body react to it with long term use. Ingredients used for fragrances are often co-sensitizing, which means your skin can develop an allergy to other ingredients used in a product. This can make life difficult because you would be having an allergic reaction to all the products containing those ingredients. In short, fragrances are an enemy for sensitive skin. 
  • Hyperpigmentation: Fragrance is also responsible for causing or triggering hyperpigmentation. This is linked to its vasodilating effect (dilation of the blood vessels). This is why people with eczema, melasma, rosacea are advised against using cosmetics containing any fragrance
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  • Reproductive Defects: Fragrances often contain phthalates associated with endocrine disruption, developmental toxicity, and congenital disabilities. 
  • Hormone Disruption: Fragrances can pass from the skin into the bloodstream and are also linked with hormone disruption, and are associated with congenital disabilities. 
  • Cancer: Many of the chemicals used to make fragrances are carcinogens. One would not even be able to identify what they are putting on their skin since ingredients used for fragrances are grouped under a single label. 
  • Respiratory Ailments: Fragrances often act as allergens and trigger respiratory diseases such as asthma, sinusitis. 
  • Nervous Ailment: Fragrances are also believed to cause headaches and other neurological conditions such as forgetfulness, loss of coordination, etc., and is also linked with reducing the number of brain cells in animals. 

Should you completely discard products containing fragrances? 

Going completely fragrance-free is easier said than done. Lucky people get away with using fragrances in their cosmetics for years and do not face any issues. This is probably why most people are skeptical about going fragrance-free. However, for those who do wish to go fragrance-free, we understand the struggle is real.

This is why we at Minimalist created the best fragrance-free moisturizer ever with a perfect blend of emollients, humectants, and skin-soothing actives like colloidal oatmeal, panthenol, etc., to smoothen, nourish, hydrate, and repair the skin. 

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Did You Know:

Oats have been used since ancient times to soothe dry, itchy, and irritated skin. In fact, in the West, oat baths are recommended to relieve chickenpox associated skin itching. Colloidal oatmeal is the extract obtained from finely ground oats that are boiled.  

This extract is loaded with vitamin E, flavonoids, beta-glucans (antioxidant), minerals, and replenishing lipids. Not only colloidal oatmeal protects the skin and soothes skin irritation and redness. It also keeps the skin well nourished by holding on to moisture.

While it is highly recommended to go for fragrance-free options in case of leave-on products like serums and moisturizers. Wash-off products like face washes can be an exception, if you are not allergic to fragrances or do not have sensitive skin. This is because it will be washed off after a few seconds anyway.

The same goes for shampoos and body washes, which are very hard to find in fragrance-free variants. However, if you have a sensitive nose and fragrances trigger your migraine, headache, etc., making an extra effort and going completely fragrance-free is advised. 

How can some people do away with using fragrances and not face any issue?  

Like we said before, most people with healthy, normal skin have a good tolerance for fragrances and do not develop an allergic reaction to the chemicals used to concoct fragrances. However, be warned that one may develop contact dermatitis after years of use. So it is always better to stay on the safer side and go fragrance-free. 

Who should go fragrance-free? 

  • People with acne-prone skin should opt for fragrance-free skincare as Fragrance can further irritate the already inflamed skin. 
  • Sensitive skin should steer clear of all things Fragrance as they have the least tolerance and are prone to develop an allergic reaction from Fragrance products. 
  • People with skin conditions such as melasma should avoid Fragrance, and Fragrance is linked to further hyperpigmentation. 
  • Those with skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema should avoid fragrances as some of these chemicals can trigger the above conditions. 

How to identify hidden fragrances in the key list

Now that you have the basic knowledge of fragrances, you can easily identify them on the ingredient list and skip purchasing that product. Fragrance or perfume can also be labeled as linalool, geraniol, limonene, citronellol, ylang-ylang oil, bergamot oil, etc.  

Are essential oils a better alternative to synthetic fragrance? 

The celebrity-endorsed essential oils like lavender, peppermint, rose essential oils, etc., are no exception, and it is something you should avoid in skincare.

But essential oils are plant extracts, so why should you be avoiding them?

Because they are very potent, and one cannot know the means of their extraction. Essential oils are extracted through distillation, where alcohol is used no god for your skin.

Pure, cold-pressed essential oils are expensive and are hard to find. Essential oils come with aromatherapeutic benefits, relax the mind, ease muscle pain, and offer certain skin benefits, but those meager benefits do not outweigh the negatives. Most of the essential oil compounds are irritants and sensitizing, damaging the skin, so essential oils are no better than synthetic fragrances.