Why You Should Avoid Fragrances in Skincare Products

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Today, fragrances are everywhere, and most people assume they are safe. But fragrances are also the number one cause of contact dermatitis and can cause a variety of health risks ranging from mild and benign to severely harmful. Learn why and how to avoid fragrances in skincare products!

Fragrances are everywhere, from scented soaps, and lotions to laundry detergents, hand sanitizers, and even feminine products. The average American woman is said to use 12-16 personal products per day, many of which contain fragrances.

Yet, finding truly fragrance-free products can be surprisingly hard. Some companies disguise fragrance ingredients with creative marketing, while others simply replace fragrances with other “natural” ingredients that still may cause health issues.

Fortunately, I’m here to guide you and teach you why you should avoid fragrances in skincare products and how to spot and avoid fragrances in everyday products. But first, a little backstory about fragrances and why you should avoid fragrances in your skincare products.

What is fragrance?

When you see the words “fragrance” or “perfume” on a product label, you might assume it’s just one ingredient, and that’s exactly what the manufacturers and marketers want you to believe.

However, fragrances are a combination of chemicals, and there are actually over 4,000 different fragrance chemicals currently used in products today. For example, just one scented skincare product can contain a cocktail of anywhere between 50 to 300 chemicals. That’s enough reason to avoid fragrances in skincare.

Why choose fragrance-free skincare products?

Perfumes smell wonderful, and many people use scented products as part of their personal care routine with no immediate negative consequences. However, many people are unaware that perfume allergies and other health problems can develop slowly over time.

The problem is that fragranced products can contain anywhere from a handful to several hundred ingredients. And currently, more than 1,200 fragrance chemicals have been flagged as potential or known “chemicals of concern” according to a 2018 report from WVE. This is why you want to avoid fragrances in skincare.

Consumers will never know what a fragranced product actually contains due to U.S. regulations and manufacturers’ failure to fully disclose ingredient information on product labels. That’s despite the fact that some of the common chemicals used for making fragrances have been shown to cause allergies, headaches, itchiness, rashes, and runny noses. Some have even been shown to cause severe adverse health effects such as breathing problems, hormonal imbalances, and even cancer.

The bottom line? Avoid fragrances in skincare. In fact, avoid fragrances whenever possible!

Learn how to avoid fragrances in skincare products

Fragrance-free products are increasingly popular as more people are becoming more informed and aware of the toxic nature of fragrances. That means that more fragrance-free products are hitting the shelves. But as we’ve written about many times before, numerous manufacturers label their products as “hypoallergenic,” “fragrance-free,” and “unscented” even though they contain fragrances.

So it will probably come as a surprise to many that the FDA doesn’t regulate these terms. And because there is no regulatory definition of the terms, these words printed on a product label can mean whatever the manufacturer wants them to mean. That makes it hard to avoid fragrances in skincare!

There is no regulation for the use of terms such as fragrance-free, unscented, and hypoallergenic, or even labels like safe for sensitive skin or dermatologist approved.

Confused? Let’s go through what the skincare product labels (generally) mean to help you avoid fragrances in skincare:
  • Fragrance-free: this usually means that no chemical fragrances or masking scents have been added. However, a product labeled fragrance-free can be a bit misleading because it can still contain natural ingredients that have a scent (for example, fruit extracts or botanical ingredients), which can cause a reaction to some people’s skin.
  • Unscented: “Unscented” doesn’t mean “fragrance-free”. Rather, a product labeled unscented is considered unscented because it has no obvious scent. However, an unscented product most likely contains chemicals that neutralize or mask the odors of other ingredients. And unfortunately, these scent-masking chemicals can be just as harmful and irritating for the skin as regular fragrance types.
  • Dermatologist recommended: this might come as a surprise to you, but it really has little meaning when a product boasts itself of being dermatologist-recommended or dermatologist-approved. Again, there is no legal definition of the term in the United States, which means that a manufacturer can put on a dermatologist-recommended label merely if one random dermatologist tests a product and likes it.
  • Hypoallergenic: the term means that a product contains fewer allergens than other “conventional” products. Still, a product labeled hypoallergenic can still have fragrance in it. And this term, too, is completely unregulated and it’s up to the manufacturer to use it however they please.

3 tips on how to avoid fragrances in skincare products

How to avoid fragrance in skincare - a consumer guide.
Pexels/Castorly Stock

If you want to avoid fragrances in skincare products and want a truly fragrance-free product, then follow these tips:

  • Go for fragrance-free products as opposed to unscented products.
  • Carefully read the label. Tip: if it doesn’t say it’s free of something on the label, then assume it’s in it.
  • Another good piece of advice: if you want to avoid fragrances in products, make sure it has certification from a third party such as the National Eczema Association. They award their seal of approval to fragrance-free products that are formulated with ingredients that are suitable for people with sensitive skin and eczema.

I hope you feel more certain about avoiding fragrance in skincare products. Feeling inspired? Then read my guide on how to live life without fragrance, and if you’re looking for fragrance-free products, head on to my recommendation for the 5 best fragrance-free skincare brands.


At withoutfragrance.com, we have extensive experience researching, reviewing, and writing about fragrance-free products within beauty, personal care, and household products. Our experience is based on years of working with fragrance-free products and with some of the best experts in the field, including dermatologist and leading researchers.

We spend countless hours searching for fragrance-free products, and we are committed to finding the best fragrance-free products on the market. By reading our advice, guides, and product reviews, we hope you will save time and be able to live better fragrance-free.

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