With our sense of smell being the most powerful of all, it’s no wonder why we are obsessed with a pleasant olfactory experience. This is especially true for skincare. Luxuriating oneself in a menagerie of sweetly scented serums and creams and oils, or cleaning your skin with a zesty cleanser, can jumpstart a full-on sensory pleasure cruise, lift your spirits, and simply feel like the purest form of self-love. However, despite how influential it can be, fragrance in skincare can be a confounding and controversial subject. In this article, we’ll discuss fragrances in skincare, and what fragrances you should avoid in skincare.
IN A NUTSHELL
Main Takeaways: Not all skincare fragrances deserve a thumbs-down, but some frequent fliers can actually be downright harmful. Stick with naturally scented products to reap all the benefits that botanical ingredients can have on your skin, while protecting yourself from nasties.
Good to Know: You may feel safer sticking with unscented or fragrance-free products, but unfortunately these often contain fragrance neutralizers that can be as equally harmful as scent-promoting ingredients.
Recommended Products: Deluxe Set.
Types of Fragrance
When it comes to skincare, not all fragrances are created equal. There are various ways a product can be scented (or unscented, as the case may be), and the associated implications may surprise you.
Natural fragrances include any scents that are naturally derived, often from things like the extracts or essences of fruits, herbs, and other plant matter. Natural scents tend to be less intense; and while they don’t last as long as other forms of fragrance, they help you avoid the sometimes-debilitating side effects of other forms of fragrance, while offering the body and mind some amazing benefits. Natural fragrance ingredients can be full of nutrients and impart healing biological and emotional effects. They can brighten and revive the skin, as well as enhance and stabilize mood.
This of course comes at a price, with natural fragrances often being the most costly option for skincare companies; however, when it comes to your overall health, botanically-derived scents offer the most benefits.
A synthetic fragrance is one that’s created in a lab by combining various compounds, concocted in part by human hands. More often than not, synthetic fragrances are made to mimic notes found in nature, but the chemicals used to create them can in fact have undesirable effects, such as rashes, redness, dryness, and itchiness. They can also cause other non-skin related issues like migraines, sinusitis, nausea, and respiratory issues. While all of this is a total downer, its crumbs compared the potential harm some particular synthetic fragrance-related ingredients can do.
Though many fragrance companies will argue that synthetic fragrances “aren’t all bad” and are often just human-modified natural derivatives, many of them are full of compounds that originate from petroleum, containing toxins that have been correlated to the development of disease, birth defects, allergies, and even central nervous system disorders.
Other ingredients often used in the scenting of skin care products are called phthalates. These molecules are used to enhance the flexibility of plastics, but over the years have found their way into fragrance chemicals – the same that are used to scent skincare products. Phthalates have been linked to some serious health problems. Primarily, they are thought to be endocrine disruptors, which means they can dysregulate your hormones and consequently mess with one’s reproductive system. They’ve also been clinically linked to neurodevelopmental disorders in children and respiratory dysfunction.
Considering that it is often literally impossible for the average consumer to decode a synthetic fragrance’s laundry list of ingredients (the average synthetic scent can easily contain hundreds of individual human-made chemical ingredients), there is really no actionable way to distinguish the potentially harmful synthetic fragrances from those that “aren’t all bad.”
Unscented or Fragrance-Free
It may come as a total surprise, but products labeled as “unscented” or even “fragrance-free” more often than not contain fragrance ingredients. Products with these little labels often don’t have obvious scents; in other words, no ingredients have been added to make the product smell like something (e.g., vanilla or citrus). However, literally every ingredient that could ever be used to formulate a skincare product will have some sort of inherent scent, and they are not always pleasant. Some ingredients, though they may do wonders for your skin, can smell down-right funky. In cases like these, fragrance ingredients may be added to neutralize the odor of the product, then claim to be “unscented” or “fragrance-free.”
Studies show that the vast majority of products labeled as fragrance-free still contain fragrance ingredients, so buyer beware. Further, the chemicals used to un-scent something (as they are almost always synthetic chemicals, rather than something like a natural extract) can lead to irritation and sometimes exacerbate any conditions that the product itself may be trying to remedy.
How to Avoid Fragrances in Skincare?
This is tough. The truth is you likely can’t. If even unscented or fragrance-free products include fragrance ingredients – and scented products definitely do – it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure all skincare has some sort of fragrance. Staunchly avoiding fragrances in skincare products would leave you with little options beyond plain old water. So, stress less about avoiding fragrances and simply reach for skincare products that include only those that are naturally derived.
The entire Fleur and Bee line contains a carefully curated fleet of natural, completely vegan scents from sources you can actually pronounce and recognize – things like lavender and grapefruit peel oil. These elements not only smell amazing, but they are also functional, offering your skin a wide range of nutrients, vitamins, and therapeutic effects. If you are wondering where to start, give our 5-Step Deluxe Skincare Set a try; it includes everything you need to start a clean skincare routine that is free of synthetic fragrances.