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avoid fragrance sensitive skin

Why You Need to Avoid Fragrance If You Have Sensitive Skin

If you're a regular reader of mine, you'll know that I'm always saying that you should avoid fragrances and perfumes. Skincare products, cleaning products, air fresheners - if it's not scented with essential oils, I think you should skip it. And even then, I believe that baby products should be free from all but a few essential oils.

What’s my problem with fragrance?

Manufacturers don’t have to disclose what’s in their fragrance formula. Fragrance is considered to be proprietary and commercially sensitive. I understand this. Smells can be powerfully evocative. Getting a waft of Opium takes me instantly back to my childhood, and memories of my mum getting dressed up to go out for the evening. Manufacturers understandably want to keep these fragrance formulas secret, so that they’re exclusive. The problem is that if you have sensitive skin, fragrance can be an irritant and an allergen. Dermatologists say that perfumes are responsible for 30 to 45% of allergic contact dermatitis cases. Here’s where it’s tricky. Fragrance isn’t a chemical. It’s a group of ingredients that are combined to make the scent. Fragrances can be made up of any of over 3,000 different ingredients. And in amongst this 3,000 chemicals are some that are fine, and others that are suspected allergens and sensitisers, phthalates, neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters.

Don't essential oils contain irritants?

Chemists argue that essential oils contain many of the irritants that perfumes do. As a result of a report by the EU a few years back, there were some 26 fragrance allergens that must now be labelled on cosmetics. These include linalool, geraniol and citral. All 26 of these fragrance allergens are also present in essential oils. So why aren’t I saying that you should avoid essential oils? If the essential oils are listed in the ingredients, you know if you have a problem with any of them. If you are sensitive to lavender oil, and it's there in the ingredients list, you don't buy that product. I suggest that you avoid products with fragrances, because if you do have sensitive skin, you don’t know what’s in there. For example, I can’t wear perfume, and if I walk into a room where someone has just sprayed perfume or aftershave, I become wheezy and can’t breathe. This doesn’t happen to me with essential oil based perfumes, so there’s something else in perfume or aftershave that’s causing me problems. It’s the same with skincare products that are scented. My skin becomes irritated and inflamed when I use scented products. Not all of them, and there may be other factors at play, but without knowing which ingredients are in the particular fragrance that’s in a product, I don’t know what’s causing me problems, so I skip them all.
avoid fragrance sensitive skin perfume bottles
Image: DepositPhotos

Should fragrance be banned?

Am I arguing that fragrances should be banned? No, because clearly this isn’t an issue for everyone. And I’m also not arguing that manufacturers should have to disclose all the ingredients in their perfume formulas. But I am saying that I will choose not to buy products that contain synthetic fragrances, and that if you have sensitive skin, or want to know exactly what is in the products that you are applying to your body, that you should avoid them, too. I will continue to buy products with essential oil based fragrances. If it’s an essential oil based fragrance, I’m happy if I see a list of the essential oils that make up the fragrance. I know which essential oils I’m sensitive to. If I see perfume based on essential oils, I’ll make the call based on whether I know that company and trust them. For example, Weleda and Lavera. I know that their products are formulated to NaTrue standards, and I don’t have any issues with any of their scented products. Or I’ll look for products with EcoCert or Australian Certified Organic certifications, because I know and trust those certifications. If you have super sensitive skin, you may want to skip even essential oil based fragrances. And that’s entirely up to you.

How do you avoid fragrance?

Synthetic fragrances are the problem, so if you do want to use products with a scent, choose ones that use essential oils, especially organic essential oils. If you choose unscented products, be aware that unscented doesn’t mean no phthalates. Read the ingredients, and if you're not sure, ask of the manufacturer. If they won’t tell you, shop elsewhere. Or check our Cheat Sheets to find good products. Be wary of 'fragrance free' or 'unscented' products. The product may have no discernible scent, but may still have fragrances added to mask the smell of other ingredients. Read the ingredients on the back of the product's label. If there's no fragrance in the ingredients, you should be okay. At Hello Charlie, we don't stock any products with synthetic fragrances. But we do stock products that are scented with essential oils. We also have a large range of fragrance free products, including cleaning products.
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