Fragrances in Skincare: How to Avoid Them

Fragrances in Skincare: How to Avoid Them

With human beings’ sense of smell being the most powerful of all, it’s no wonder why people are obsessed with a good olfactory experience. This is especially true for skincare. Luxuriating oneself in a menagerie of sweetly scented serums and creams and oils (oh my!), or even just washing your face 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. But despite how influential it can be, fragrance in skincare can be a confounding and controversial subject.

IN A NUTSHELL

Main Takeaways: Not all skincare fragrances deserve a thumbs-down, but some frequent fliers can actually be downright harmful despite their ubiquity. Stick with naturally scented products to reap all the benefits that natural fragrance 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.

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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

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. Often used to do things like brighten and revivify the skin, as well as enhance and stabilize mood, natural fragrance ingredients can be full of nutrients and impart healing biological and emotional effects.

This of course comes at a price, with natural fragrances being a most costly option for skincare companies. But sometimes, you really do get what you pay for. That being said, there are some affordable, quality, naturally scented skincare purveyors out there (ah-hem, F&B).

Synthetic

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 on even normal skin types, like rashes, redness, dryness, and itchiness. They can also cause other non-skin related issues like migraines, sinusitis, nausea, and respiratory issues. And 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 actually used to enhance the flexibility of plastics, but over the years have found their way into fragrance chemicals – the same ones which are then used to scent skincare products. And probably no spoiler alerts here, but phthalates have been linked to some serious health problems. Primarily, phthalates 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.

And 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… what was it again? Oh, right: “aren’t all bad”.

Unscented or Fragrance-Free

This category may be unexpected but must be noted. It may come as a total surprise, but products labeled as “unscented” or even “fragrance-free” more often than not contain fragrance ingredients. SMH; we know. Let’s break this one down a bit…

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 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 make the product smell not like something – to be “unscented” or “fragrance-free”, possessing only a neutral odor.

And if you don’t know, now you know (respect). But you probably “don’t”, because it is totally wild that things marketed as scent-less actually contain fragrance ingredients. With the legal monitoring systems of cosmetics and skincare products being pretty loose, many companies just claim whatever they want, with the assurance that “there’s a [loophole] for that.” Other brands try to make the distinction that unscented is different from fragrance-free, the latter being a safer bet when avoiding nasties. But studies show that the vast majority of products labeled as fragrance-free still contain fragrance ingredients, so there’s honestly no use in differentiating the two. Further, the chemicals used to un-scent something (as they are almost always synthetic chemicals, rather than something like a natural extract) can be super intense, leading to irritation and sometimes even exacerbating 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 your trusty tap. 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! Further, 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 features our highly anticipated H2 Oh Yeah, a silky-smooth nutritious moisturizer with a super gentle floral scent!

So, when your skin is in for some olfactory fun, reach for skincare that’s not only made, but also scented the right way – naturally!