Fragrance-free, why does it matter?

No doubt if you have dealt with fussy skin, the idea of going fragrance-free isn’t new. However, if you’ve never given it much thought before, here’s the 411:

Why do beauty products contain fragrance?

There’s a very simple reason as to why a lot of beauty products, makeup or skincare, include fragrance: user experience. They’re used to mask medicinal or even unpleasant smells from the ingredients in the product, so that what you buy at the store and put on your face and body is enjoyable to use. 

What kind of fragrances are in them?

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of fragrances: natural and synthetic. Natural fragrances are those naturally found in the ingredients or derived as essential oils. Synthetic fragrances are obviously their synthetic counterparts, taking inspiration from the original scent but in a completely manufactured way. 

How do I know if I’m affected by fragrances in my products?

Basically, your skin will not be happy. One way this may present is if the fragrance irritates the outer layer of the skin, causing disruption to the skin barrier. This impaired barrier may look like dryness, redness, tight skin or even stinging. Another way is through an allergic contact dermatitis response. Essentially, it’s when your skin recognises something as a foreign molecule and activates an immune response, as if it were an unwelcome bacteria. This reaction may develop over a few days and is more likely to be itchy or look like a rash. 

Both of these are why it’s recommended to patch test a product first - the inner elbow or behind the ears are both good areas to give something a trial run first. Treat it the same as any other new ingredient you might be trying for the first time, like an exfoliating acid or other active.

So, what does this all mean? 

Fragrance in your product doesn’t make it inherently bad or irritating. If you’ve had a reaction in the past or have delicate skin, then it can definitely help to avoid them. As a general rule, check the ingredients list on your products and make sure that if fragrance is on there, it’s right down the bottom of the list, meaning it’s in a low enough concentration to minimise irritation. 

If you’re interested in avoiding fragrances altogether, the good news is that plenty of brands are now formulating without them, so you don’t have to compromise. For example, GunkOff has ensured our gorgeous Cleansing Balm is fragrance free, so that wherever you sit on the sensitivity spectrum, you can enjoy the balm without fear of reaction. 

The important thing to remember is that everyone is different, so what works for you might not work for someone else. There’s no blanket way to approach something like skincare, but it can help to err on the side of caution.