Why Fragrance in Beauty and Skincare Products Is BAD For Your Skin

Feature | Woman putting perfume in her hand | Why Fragrance in Beauty and Skincare Products Is BAD For Your Skin

There are many chemicals in fragrance products that can harm your skin.

In this article:

  1. What is Fragrance?
  2. How does Fragrance Affect the Product?
  3. Where do You Find the Ingredient Fragrance?
  4. Who Regulates the Chemicals in Fragrances?
  5. When to Call Your Doctor and Report a Scented Product?
  6. What You Need to Know About Fragrance in Cosmetics


What is Fragrance?

Perfume Bottles Display | Toxic Soap Ingredients You Need To Watch Out

The FDA defines the ingredient fragrance or perfume as any combination of ingredients that formulate the product’s distinct scent. It’s often a long list of chemicals that are added to mask the scent of the other ingredients.

These chemicals can range from essential oils and aroma compounds to toxic ingredients to act as UV-absorbers, stabilizers, preservatives, dyes, and solvents. Some companies have in-house labs that develop their own fragrances but there are also specialty fragrance houses that formulate these scents for other cosmetic brands.

How does Fragrance Affect the Product?

Perfume is a common ingredient in almost all cosmetic products for a variety of reasons but the main reason is for customers to buy them. The rest of the synthetic ingredients in the product can have a nasty odor and most fragrances act as a more desirable scent to mask it.

Scents can also make products a lot more appealing. For example, when you buy cosmetics with flavor, the scent that’s similar to that flavor will excite more of your senses and urge you to buy the product.

This is especially true for body wash products. Adding fragrances can help you feel more relaxed or invigorated when using the product in the shower or bathtub.

Where do You Find the Ingredient Fragrance?

Woman buying beauty product package and testing Cosmetic plastic bottle | Why Fragrance in Beauty and Skincare Products Is BAD For Your Skin

Any product with the label “scented” or “fragrance” that has perfume or fragrance in its ingredients list can contain a number of chemicals. Most of the products you’ll find scented are:

  • body wash
  • shampoo
  • deodorant
  • body lotion
  • facial creams
  • aftershave
  • serums
  • soap
  • sunscreen
  • makeup
  • exfoliating scrubs
  • perfume

The most complicated thing about products with fragrance in their ingredients list is that it’s considered a trade secret. Under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, any complex mixture that’s unique to the product or company is a trade secret and can be kept hidden to avoid being replicated.

This means manufacturers can legally refuse to disclose every chemical used in the formulation of that scent. This lack of transparency puts the buyers at risk of being exposed to harmful chemicals and creates the need for better regulation.

RELATED: Toxic Ingredients On Makeup Product Labels and How To Spot Them

Who Regulates the Chemicals in Fragrances?

In the U.S., the FDA has no regulations for companies to disclose fragrance ingredients. There is only a guideline that the formulation must be safe for regular use but essentially the product doesn’t need FDA approval before it can enter the market.

The FDA also doesn’t have any authority to require companies to label their products as possible allergens. Their recommendation is for people with allergic sensitivities to avoid scented products altogether.

International regulations regarding fragrances and cosmetic ingredients are a lot more strict. The European Union has banned over a thousand harmful cosmetic chemicals including musk which was found to contain 26 allergens.

The Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) and International Fragrance Association (IFRA) are other international bodies that provide safety standards for chemicals which can be used to make a fragrance. Their regulations are often followed by Europe, Canada, and the U.S. but in the end, these are only a voluntary set of standards.

Why is Fragrance Bad For You?

The IFRA has a list of 3,059 ingredients used in fragrance, along with evidence of linking these ingredients to health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, sensitivities, and allergies. Some of these harmful ingredients include:

  • Acetaldehyde: This is a carcinogen that can also affect the kidneys, reproduction, respiration, and the nervous system.
  • Benzophenone: This chemical and its derivatives are carcinogenic that has been linked to tumors. It can disrupt the endocrine system and cause organ system toxicity.
  •  DEP: Diethyl phthalate is added to make the scent last longer but it’s also one of the worst endocrine disruptors used in cosmetic production.

Most of the chemicals used in perfume are cheap and toxic because they’re in everyday products. Regular exposure to these chemicals can also lead to other health problems:

  • headaches and migraines
  • runny eyes and nose
  • irritation
  • nausea
  • skin problems (psoriasis, eczema, hives)
  • hormone imbalance
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • neurotoxicity
  • cardiovascular problems

Products with fragrance can be especially dangerous for asthmatic patients. It can trigger an attack, exacerbate asthma, or even lead to the development of asthma in children.

These chemicals ingredients are also bad for the environment when they are thrown away or washed off. They often build up in the ocean and enter the fatty tissue of aquatic animals.

When to Call Your Doctor and Report a Scented Product?

Doctor Checking her Patient | Why Fragrance in Beauty and Skincare Products Is BAD For Your Skin

If a scented product enters your eye, you need to wash it out immediately and call your doctor if it continues to be irritated or turns red. You should also meet with your doctor if you ingest any of these products.

Consult with your dermatologist in case you experience any breakouts or sudden onset of eczema or psoriasis. Stop using the product if you experience any irritation or allergic reaction. Perfumed products are harsh allergens.

What You Need to Know About Fragrance in Cosmetics

After consulting with your doctor, take the time to report the product to the FDA. Since the FDA doesn’t regulate the product before it enters the market, they take consumer reports as evidence to take action against the product’s company.

You can report a product in different ways:

  • Call 1-800-FDA-1088.
  • File a voluntary report online on their website.
  • Report to the Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your area.
  • Contact MedWatch (FDA’s Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program).

Research shows fragrances in skin-care products are among the most common cause of allergic reactions. Check this video, to get advice from Christopher Crosby courtesy of Skin Resource.MD™:

Most cosmetics don’t need synthetic scents to smell appealing. A lot of organic products have their own scent from the natural ingredients they are made from. Essential oils can have a potent scent and topically applying these oils can result in a number of health benefits.

Do you have more questions about the toxic chemicals in fragrance and its effects on your health? Mention them in the comments section below!

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