Why it might be time to start using fragrance-free skin care

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The simple change that can transform your skin

Whether it’s housed in your daily cleanser, powerhouse serum or go-to moisturiser, a product’s fragrance has the ability to boost your mood, soothe the senses or simply make applying your favourite products each day and night more enjoyable. The problem, however, is that products formulated with added perfumes have the ability to cause sensitivity and irritation. To find out more about how added fragrances can cause skin issues and why so many products are formulated with them regardless, we spoke to founder of Votary Skin Care, Arabella Preston and founder of Paula’s Choice Skin Care, Paula Begoun. 

How added fragrances cause skin sensitivity

According to a report released by Women’s Voice for the Earth, almost 20 per cent of the general population is sensitised to at least one allergen, with fragrance noted as one of the most frequently identified substances causing allergic reactions.

Both Preston and Begoun note that fragrances often cause skin to have an allergic reaction, and for some, that reaction will manifest in redness, irritation and breakouts. However, for others, their skin might not show signs of inflammation. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. “Even if your skin doesn’t show signs of an allergy, the damage is still taking place, but often won’t appear on the surface of the skin until years later,” explains Preston. The most common form of that damage involves the breakdown of collagen and the skin barrier. Below the surface of your skin, irritating fragrances can cause collagen degradation, which limits the skin’s ability to fight environmental damage and effectively heal itself. Begoun adds that the best way to think of it is like smoking cigarettes: “Back in the day, smoking was supposed to be relaxing, but you couldn’t look at your lungs and see that tar and cancer cells were developing. Skin inflammation and irritation follows the same idea. Just because you don’t see the damage on the surface doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.” 

Why so many products contain added fragrances

Preston explains that added fragrances “don’t really provide any efficacy, they’re added to cosmetics and skin care for a sense of luxury and indulgence”. So why are they in so many of your formulas? “Without beautiful luscious fragrances, it’s hard to mask the clinical or nasty odours from the natural ingredients and actives that make up the body of the product,” says Preston.

So unscented is the way to go?

Not quite. Just because a product is labelled as ‘unscented’ doesn’t mean it’s not fragranced. In fact, many fragrances are added to a formula to make it smell neutral or appear as if it doesn’t have a smell at all. What you need to reach for is fragrance-free products, rather than unscented ones. If you’re not sure whether your skin care products are fragranced or not, Preston’s rule of thumb is to always look at the first five ingredients as these make up about 80 per cent of the product. “If you see ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ on the label, you know it’s not fragrance-free.” Begoun also suggests looking for common fragrance ingredients such as linalool, citronellol, cinnamal, limonene, geraniol and eugenol. “While there are many more fragrant ingredients that show up in skin care production, knowing these ones will make shopping easier.” 

Do both natural and synthetic fragrances cause sensitivity?

According to both Begoun and Preston, just because a product has natural fragrances doesn’t mean it won’t cause sensitivity and irritation. And while Preston believes you probably shouldn’t be using any kind of fragrance on your skin if you are suffering from redness, dryness or irritation, Begoun would rather we *all* avoided products formulated with any type of added fragrances in order to avoid irritation and inflammation in both the short and long-term.

Looking for more skin care tips and tricks? Then discover the retinol alternative making waves in the skin care world and find out everything you need to know about chemical peels.

Have you made the switch to fragrance-free skin care? Share your favourite products with us in the comments below.

Main image credit: Getty

Kate has worked for BEAUTYcrew since early 2016, first as a contributor, before being named Beauty Writer in 2017. She loves picking the brains of the industry's top experts to get to the bottom of beauty's toughest questions. Bronze eyeshadow palettes are her weakness and she's forever on the hunt for the perfect nude nail polish to suit her fair skin. Her words can also be found in Men's Health magazine.