In the online skincare community, populated with beauty hacks, there appears to be a great divide. Scroll through the comments and you’ll find hard stances on what’s ethical and unethical, prudent or faddish. One such ongoing tussle is the one between advocates and adversaries of fragrance-free beauty. In fact, many advocates credit the switch for their improved skin health, and claim that it leads to lesser breakouts, especially when experimenting with newer products.
Now, reading these arguments in support of fragrance-free beauty products can inspire you to make a switch, too. And while it might work for some, is it a necessity?
What’s in a fragrance?
Let’s start off with a simple truth: Fragrances are not inherently harmful. They are, however, quite complex.
Not everyone is sensitive to fragrances in skincare products. In fact, a report by the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology shows that only 1.7% to 4.1% of the general population is sensitised to fragrance mixes in cosmetic products. Moreover, your potential irritation factor will depend on the types and amounts of fragrance added in the product. Unfortunately, the caveat here is that while there are regulatory bodies that advise brands on safe levels of fragrance use in products, there are no strict regulations around it.
Many also see switching to ‘clean’ beauty as an easy solution to this problem, but that’s not always the case. Many ‘clean’ brands end up using essential oils or other natural scents in their products to replace fragrances, which can cause a whole new set of concerns for some skin types. Moreover, there is no standardised definition of the word ‘clean’ in the world of beauty, so there’s a chance that fragrances can be added to these products under other, broader labels as well.
A scent- perspective
With all these points in mind, you may be wondering why brands don’t just... stop using fragrance in skincare?
Well, the most important reason is the experience. Unscented beauty products that use certain actives can often have an unpleasant scent. Also, the right scent can boost your mood (zesty fragrances, anyone?) and make your skincare routine feel more luxurious. And finally, fragrance plays an important role in creating the mental and emotional associations we make with brands—the right notes can immediately send signals to your brain which help you recognise the products you love.
To switch or not to switch?
If you’re still unsure if the fragrance-free switch is right for you, a good rule of thumb to follow is that if you have inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, or acne, you should be mindful of fragrances in your products. Keep an eye out for words like ‘fragrance’ and ‘parfum’ on your skincare labels. Also, not all fragranced products will cause break outs, so check what works for your skin and what doesn’t. You can develop an allergy or sensitivity to an ingredient at any time, so it’s best to always patch test your new products.
To get you started, here are some of our favourite fragrance-free skincare products that will be kind to your skin.
Remember that while it’s always a great idea to look up new ingredients and access the abundant skincare knowledge available online, it’s also easy to get intimidated and even more confused by the end of your search. So, it’s best to always listen to the experts, and most importantly, listen to your skin and understand what it really needs.