Fragrance-free products, what’s the difference?

By the 03 March 2020

Modifié le 10 June 2020

Few substances convey as contradictory an image as fragrance. It’s a symbol of wellbeing and even of luxury, but on the other hand its absence is often a selling point. ‘fragrance-free‘ skincare products are becoming more and more common. And why? Are they better? Should we steer clear of fragranced cosmetics?


Cosmetic fragrances – what is their purpose?


In perfumes or deoderants, we can understand their use: they deoderise, they camouflage our bodily odours. But why add them into creams or shampoos whose primary functions are not to fragrance?


Well, often they’re used simply because the products smell bad! So the fragrance acts as a masking agent for the scents of some ingredients that aren’t always pleasant, particularly synthetic ingredients. The fragrance also has a role in the product’s marketing: scents have incredible effects on our brains. Closely linked to our emotions, they lead us by the nose. Think about how you would select a cream: one of your first reflexes is to sniff it. Subconsciously, we link certain fragrances to expected effects: citrus notes for an energising product, and rose for anti-aging… It’s a really important part of the buying process! Fragrances have invaded our daily lives to the extent that their absence becomes almost suspicious: with no odour, a skincare product can seem less effective. And, of course, a fragrance can make the application of a product a moment of pleasure, which can even make us addicted. The positive effect of this: if you love the smell of your moisturiser, you won’t forget to hydrate.


Some fragrances come directly from your product’s ingredients, generally natural ones: plant oils, hydrolats and essential oils – even added just for their scent. Patchouli essential oil, widely used for its famous scent, also has powerful anti-inflammatory and regenerative effects. Two birds with one stone!


On the other hand, when it comes to synthetic products, the fragrance is often just an additive: its only function is to smell good, and it brings nothing to the table when it comes to the product’s effectiveness. The simple mention of the word ‘fragrance’ is hiding a whole multitude of molecules. And amongst these, often, substances that are not considered particularly beneficial for our skin…


Fragrances and allergies: who’s concerned? 


The growth in popularity of fragrance-free products comes down to the vast increase in allergies. Perfume is one of the most common causes of allergic reactions in adults. And it’s the most common cause of cosmetic allergies. It’s not always easy to find the source of these reactions: redness, swelling or eczema can all show up even 24 hours later and don’t necessarily appear where the product was applied. Fragrances can also cause simple irritations which are immediate.


Basically, if you have a reaction, look out for any mention of perfume, fragrance or aroma (for lipstick or toothpaste). Pay particular attention to the 26 natural or synthetic fragrance-giving substances that have been identified as especially reactive, and which manufacturers are obliged to list on the packaging. This is important, but it’s not enough: they’re only mentioned if their quantity surpasses a level that is supposed to be potentially allergenic… And in 2012 the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety identified 82  allergens linked to perfume.

Bref en cas de réaction, ayez le réflexe de rechercher la mention Parfum, Fragrance ou Aroma (pour les rouges à lèvres ou dentifrices). Et surtout la présence des 26 substances parfumantes d’origine naturelle ou synthétique, identifiées comme particulièrement allergisantes, dont la mention est obligatoire. Précisions précieuses, certes, mais insuffisantes : elles n’apparaissent qu’au-delà d’un certain seuil qui est supérieur à celui du déclenchement potentiel d’une réaction… Et en 2012 le Comité Scientifique Européen pour la Sécurité des Consommateurs a identifié comme allergènes potentiels 82 substances liées au parfum. On est loin du compte !


This post is also available in french.


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