Is Fragrance in Skincare Really That Bad?

BARE Skincare
3 min readOct 27, 2020

For many of us, indulging ourselves with a deliciously scented moisturizer (grapefruit, anyone?) feels like an essential part of the whole self-care experience. Sometimes, we decide not to buy a product based on the scent alone. Recent skincare launches like Rihanna’s Fenty Skin have sparked a healthy debate around the use of fragrance-is it good or bad?

Much like a lot of other things in the skincare community, there’s no clear cut yes or no answer. A lot of factors come into play such as formulation and skin type or concerns. Ingredients are complex and cannot be simply labeled as good or bad.

Why are some against fragranced products?

Most fragrances give off their scent through a volatile reaction-which almost always makes the skin sensitive. Fragrances in skincare products are considered one of the main causes of sensitive skin and other negative skin reactions-essential oils or natural fragrant ingredients are no exception to this rule.

You might not see the damage immediately but it builds up every day, causing small problems in the short term and worse problems in the long term-similar to sun damage which accumulates as you grow and then pops up years later in various forms.

Then why do brands use them?

The hard truth is that truly non-fragranced products smell like chemicals or other raw ingredients and can often be unpleasant. Adding fragrances either neutralizes or imparts a new scent on the product. Not a lot of people would be willing to tough through an unpleasant smell if there’s another product out there that does the same thing without the smell.

So should I dump my products in the trash?

It’s not the end of the world if you use a fragranced product once in a while but if your entire skincare routine consists of scented products, then there’s a huge chance you’re hurting your skin. When it comes to buying new products, skincare companies can also create formulations that avoid known ingredients that trigger reactions. What’s more, the fragrance percentage in some skincare products is usually less than one percent. Finding such products however will require a lot of transparency from the brand and a lot of education on your part to identify them.

Who should avoid it at all costs?

Those with inflammatory skincare conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne, or rosacea may see their condition worsen due to the irritation that fragrances can cause. For those with darker skin types this can mean having to deal with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or scarring, which can take months to fade.

Are “clean fragrances” better then?

As great as that concept sounds, there isn’t a consistent definition of ‘clean fragrance’. It’s just a label that the skincare industry introduced to convey the idea that the fragrance in the product is free of harmful chemicals. It doesn’t mean that the fragrance isn’t irritating. In reality, there are no standardized or regulatory guidelines to validate “clean fragrance” as an official trustworthy cosmetic label.

Our thoughts?

If possible, cut your skin some slack and swap out that product for a fragrance-free version or get a similar product from a different brand ( the ingredients are what is important after all).