Beauty Insider Fragrance

Fragrance in Skincare: Is It Really BAD for Our Skin?

Fragrance in Skincare: Is It Really BAD for Our Skin?

Original Author: Fira Syafiqah

By now, a lot of people have converted to fragrance-free products. Still, there are a number products out there that are scented and new ones being released without an ending. So, the question is, should fragrance be avoided?

Fragrances, whether from added synthetic perfumes, essential oils and certain plant extracts (e.g. Rose) DO NOT PROVIDE any tangible benefits to the skin.

There are NOT NECESSARILY obvious initial signs or irritation caused by scented facial products. In fact, there are a number of skincare ingredients out there, be it in the synthetic and naturally-derived, that are amazing for your skin. Both type of fragrance need to meet the safety requirement by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being released to consumers.

The biggest misconceptions about fragrances

People are making fuss about these “fragrances aren’t regulated” and “fragrances aren’t safe for topical application”. Both of these statements are untrue. Fragrance components are regularly reviewed by International Fragrance Association (IFRA) these past 1 to 2 years.

You will often come across dermatologists suggesting products that are fragrance-free and the solid reason is because some of these ingredients can cause irritation or allergy, especially in people with sensitive skin. This does not affect the vast population in the world where based on research, around 16% of eczema patients are sensitised and their skincannot tolerate with fragrance and this is approximately 1 to 3% of the general population. Once you become allergic or cannot tolerate to an ingredient, unfortunately it remains so for life. You cannot do nothing much about it because you are the only want who can listen well to your skin needs!

For cosmetics, the allergens also need to be listed on the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) ingredient list if they are present above certain required concentration, for the sake of informing and protecting customers’ right. In the finished product, fragrance is usually in at tiny amounts and in some cases, it tends to be more than 1%. We’ll talk about allergens later.

Debunking the Myth

It is time for some myth-busting again. Not ALL fragrance is BAD. Research shows that consumers often prefer products with a nice fragrance.

They can:

  • increase our enjoyment in using the product
  • create memories
  • create brand loyalty and identity
  • lift the mood

Hence, this is the reason why there are still products out there with fragrance in the formulation. If this fragrance has been proven to be harmful for the skin, the product containing fragrance will be banned in the market so of course, we would not be able to purchase the product in the future.

The Truth about Allergens

A fragrance allergen is the ingredient that been identified as more likely to cause allergy reactions in susceptible people especially those with sensitive skin. Important to know, all fragrance ingredients are tested for assessment on how likely they are to cause skin reactions.

Out of thousands of fragrance ingredients, they do not possess same allergic potential. Currently, according to EU Directive, there are 26 ingredients that have been confirmed and singled out as allergens and they have to be labelled individually on products so that consumers can avoid them if they are known to be allergic for their skin.

If the concentration is above 0.001% in leave-on products (eg. a moisturiser) and 0.01% in rinse-off products (e.g. a cleanser), it needs to be listed on the INCI.

Fragrance Allergies and Sensitivities

Some individuals may be allergic or sensitive to certain ingredients in cosmetics, food, or other products, even if those ingredients are safe for most people. Hence, the word YMMV – Your Mileage May Vary. What works for you may not work for the others and vice versa. Truth to be told, thre are some components of fragrance in a formulation may have a potential to cause allergic reactions or sensitivities for some people. 

Originally, “fragrance-free” term is used to target those with highly sensitive skin types. If you have impaired skin barrier, you are more UNLIKELY to be able to tolerate them. Just in case if you are unsure, it is best to do patch test before including fragrance products in your routine.

If you prefer fragrance-free product, only you know what works for your skin but there is really nothing to be afraid of so do not let the vast amount of fear-mongering on fragrance spread and make you stop using a product you would like to try just because it contains fragrance.

Opt for Low Concentration of Fragrance

The natural fragrance essential oils are generally safe with minimum adverse effects. Please take note, if you do not have any problem with fragrance, you can just go for it. For sensitive skin, low concentration of fragrance and oil diluted with water are most unlikely to be harmful to the skin.

Do not risk yourself into products with 100% concentration of essential oil. For example, 100% Tea Tree Oil. In December 2004, the European Commission’s scientific committee on consumer products published a research on the analysis of the safety of tea tree oil. It was concluded that its use in cosmetics as well as soaps, where its concentration did not exceed 1%, was unlikely to be harmful. At higher than 1%, there was a risk it might cause skin irritation to some people.

Our Repairing and Soothing Facial Serum contains natural fragrance from 0.03% damask rose essential oil and 0.01% tea tree oil. The concentration is very mild and most unlikely to be harmful for sensitive skin.

p/s – Do PATCH TEST to know your skin sensitivity to any new product or ingredient in your skincare routine


What’s your stance on fragrance or scents in skincare? Drop us a comment below!



FDA Regulation About Fragrance

Essential oils used in Aromatherapy: A systemic Review

Allergy to Cosmetics: A Literature Review

Fragrance Allergens

How Are Fragrances Regulated

DR SOMASKIN’S REVIEW: Fragrance in Skincare

Tea Tree Oil Crisis

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