Fragrance in Skincare: Is it safe? ABCs of Skin Care: F

We like things that smell good. WE like to smell good.

Think about the the FIRST thing you do when you open up a bottle of milk? How about when you pick up a bottle of lotion? YOU SMELL IT.

woman holding clear glass bottle
Photo by Unsplash

Why? Because our reptilian brain knows that if it smells unpleasant, it will probably make us sick, but a nice smell encourages a second whiff.

Our reptilian brain is directly connected to our limbic system. That face we make smelling rotting food is usually followed by an attempt to throw it away! It’s self preservation at its finest. We KNOW its not safe.

SMELL is vital to our survival. We certainly don’t have the superior sniffers of Mans Best Friend, or the notable nostrils of other big predators, but our basic beaks are still up to snuff (see what I did there?).

Wait…so what does this have to do with skin care again?

Our brains prefer things that smell good and big business counts on it.

We spend more money on things that smell like freshly baked cookies, a field of lavender or a Christmas morning. We want to smell good! Most people aren’t going to plunk down their hard earned cash for a body cream that smells like sweaty gym clothes.

Problem is, skin care ingredients in the raw don’t always smell delightful. Many herbal base ingredients smell like, well, dirt. I personally like the smell of dirt, but I AM an herbalist after all 🙂 Other raw materials just have weird smells, and some just smell blah.

So skin care companies add fragrance to MAKE it smell good.

Fragrance makes people whip out their wallets and say “Take My Money!”

These profitable nose friendly scents may be in the form of essential oils, but they are usually synthetic.

These synthetic smell compounds are proprietary, and because we have laws here in the USA that essentially protect profits and not people, companies don’t have to divulge whats IN these proprietary “fragrances”. Shhh, its a secret…

From the National Eczema Association:

Almost 20% of the general population is sensitized to at least one allergen and fragrance is one of the most frequently cited substances causing reactions.

Fragrance sensitivity is now seen in 1-4% of the general population, and 8-15% of people with contact dermatitis. According the the Dermatology Times, fragrances are most likely to cause allergic contact dermatitis. They account for 30-45% of reactions in cosmetic products.

assorted fragrances
Photo by Trung Do Bao on Unsplash

30% -45% of skin reactions are from fragrance!

OK, we know that fragrance can be irritating to the skin.

Now the second concern comes with what fragrances are made of.

A single fragrance can have thousands of individual chemicals.

They may contain a cocktail of irritants, solvents, allergens, carcinogens, plasticizers, fixatives.. heck they could contain UFO goo and we wouldn’t know. They don’t have to disclose that info. Cuz ya know, $$$$.

“Gee, your hair smells terrific”

“OOh Herbal Essences” are an organic (orgasmic) experience…

“Always feel Just Showered Fresh…”


Fragrance is fleeting. Or at least it should be.

But that doesn’t make money, and it certainly won’t “make your hair smell terrific” so Big Business tries to make the smell last and last… with phthalates.

Phthalates are chemicals used as plasticizers, solvents, fixatives etc.

Phthlates are found in pretty much everything, including many fragrances.

Phthalates make smell LAST.

From the US Library of Medicine:

Phthalates are used in many consumer products, including:

  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Plastic and vinyl toys
  • Shower curtains
  • Miniblinds and wallpaper
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Raincoats
  • Food packaging and wraps 
  • Detergents
  • Adhesives
  • Plastic pipes
  • Medical equipment and devices (yes, in IV tubing that administers chemotherapy!!)
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics

But phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.

Yeah, that. That’s a problem. We can discuss that in another post.

Just because a product has “fragrance” or “parfum” doesn’t mean its toxic sludge. Many companies are now making phthalate free fragrance, or using natural fragrances in skin care. Its a great improvement!

If your skin care product smells like watermelon sangria or tropical beaches, chances are it has synthetic fragrance.

When you apply lotion in the morning and your significant other can smell it on you during a midnight tryst, it definitely has phthalates. But if the smell disappears after an hour or so, its probably safe.

If you are using plug ins, or room sprays, or fabric softener with “fresh burst technology”, you are saturating your home with questionable chemistry. It might smell good, but it comes with real risk. Just saying.

Skip the fragrance, have happier skin and happier health.

If you need help finding effective skincare that’s fragrance free and/or phthalate free, come visit us at Viriditas Beautiful Skin Therapies in Providence RI. We would love to meet you!


  1. on August 5, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    I stay away from all fragrance. Natural or synthetic. Essential oils aren’t great for the skin either.

    • laurieneronha333 on August 5, 2019 at 5:55 pm

      Yes! Essential oils, while they are “natural”, are not naturally occurring in that form. They are concentrated and can be easily misused. Some are quite photosensitizing as well. I love when I see products labeled fragrance free…and there is FRAGRANCE listed in the ingredients!

      • on August 5, 2019 at 6:03 pm

        I reviewed origins mushroom lotion. I’ve never seen so many oils in an ingredient list. It still be the eyes it is so potent. Companies will catch on eventually as the masses become more educated and start to stay away from fragrance skin care. Whenever I see “fragrance free” I just think to myself oh aye so you say ? and then see a list of limonene, citral, mint, menthol, lavender, bergamot…??

  2. laurieneronha333 on August 5, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    lets hope so!

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