Skin Rash

Fragrance and Sensitive Skin

If you know you have sensitive skin, then as far as skin and personal care products are concerned fragrance-free is a must.

 The smell of gardenia in soap or lavender in your laundry detergent may urge you to buy the product, but if you have sensitive skin a fragrance-free option would be the wiser choice.

If you suffer with sensitive skin reactions, you may be one of the millions of individuals with fragrance sensitivity.  Even if you choose sensitive skin products, fragrance may be an ingredient on the label that you have overlooked.

Sensitive skin is on the rise and dermatologists in America have reported that more than fifty percent of their patients have been diagnosed with some form of sensitive skin.

They also agree that one cause of irritated skin is fragrance. 

What is in Fragrance?

If you ever walked by a perfume shop or had a whiff of an air freshener or any scented product that makes your eyes water and you want to sneeze, it is more than likely you have fragrance sensitivity.

Fragrances are mostly made up of essential oils and aromatic chemicals. They are a concentration of chemicals diluted with ethanol or a mix of ethanol and water. They may also be mixed with coconut oil, acetone, benzyl alcohol, camphor, ethyl acetate, liquid waxes and many other chemicals. The sources of some of the scents can be:-

  • Bark from cinnamon, cascarilla, sassafras and other root barks
  • Flowers and blossoms used to make fragrances include rose, jasmine, narcissus and flower buds from citrus trees, among others.
  • Essential oils, extracts and tinctures derived from flowers, including orchids, vanilla beans, apples, strawberries and rind of citrus fruits. These are blended with ethyl alcohol and water, aged and allowed to stabilise before bottling for retail.
  • Leaves, woods and twigs can also be used for fragrances including sage, violet, rosemary, citrus leaves and lavender. Wood oils from sandalwood, birch, cedar, juniper and pine are commonly used for the base of fragrances.
  • Resins from Balsam of Peru, pine fir and resinous secretions of fossil conifers are common in fragrances and have been used for centuries.
  • Animal sources such as musk for the sac located between the genitals of Himalayan male Musk Deer, honeybees and secretions from whale sperm are also commonly used in fragrances.
  • Other sources include oak moss, synthetic fragrances created to resemble plant scents called salicylates.

Fragrance in Skincare | A Biochemist's Perspective

How Fragrance Irritates Sensitive Skin

There are other chemicals and compounds used for distillation and to remove unpleasant scents from a source. Chemicals are also added to prolong the effect of the fragrance.

It is reported that approximately three thousand chemicals and compounds are used in making fragrances found in every day used products such as cosmetics, skin care, personal care and household cleaning products. 

 Approximately twenty percent of the ingredients used have been found to be toxic or to cause allergic reactions and most of the chemicals have never been safety tested.

The Food and Drug Administration does not require manufacturers to disclose all the ingredients in fragrances.


Balsam of Peru is one such ingredient used in fragrances.  It has been reported to be in the top five allergens list for sensitive skin. Fragrances often contain chemicals found to be toxic i.e., tricylcodecenyl allyl ether added to synthetic fragrances is often used in insect repellent.

Since many thousands of potentially toxic chemicals are used to manufacture fragrances, whether you have sensitive skins or not always choose fragrance-free products for sensitive skin.

Fragrance Free Products

If you do have some form of sensitive skin, you will be familiar with the importance of finding relief.

There are many marketing terms popular brands use to sell to those with sensitive skin. These marketing terms such as “hypoallergenic” or “sensitive skin products” does not mean they are fragrance free, gentle or non-toxic.  To ensure you are buying the right products it is important to read the ingredient list and not just the “key ingredients”.

Natural and Organic Fragrances

It is assumed that if an ingredient is natural that it must be good for you and safe. However, there are many such ‘natural’ products with highly irritating ingredients, including essential oils.  Natural or organic fragrances are made of essential oils and although natural they can sometimes prove irritating especially if you do have sensitive skin.

On a more positive note, if you have sensitive skin there are products out there that are truly natural and organic. Some of them are certified by Ecocert which is one of the biggest organic certification organisations, accredited by French authorities and based in Europe.  It inspects products in eighty countries to ensure they are organically sourced.

Below is a list of perfumes not all of which have the Ecocert label, but they all use one hundred per cent or mostly natural ingredients.  There are trusted brands and lesser-known ones, but they are all natural and organic.

Melvita Roses Sauvages

Made from ingredients that are organically and responsibly sourced, this perfume reaches the criteria of Ecocert.

The lovely floral scent, which is light, feminine and subtle will put a spring in your step. This Eau de Toilette has been made combining three wild roses: Rosa Canica from Drome, Rose Gallica from Vercors and Rose Mosqueta from Chile. Ninety-nine percent of its ingredients are natural, and eighty percent is organic.

Acorelle Tea Green

Each of Acorelle’s certified organic perfumes has a different effect – sensual, calming and enhancing confidence.

 This particular one has been made to enhance alertness and vitality. It contains one hundred percent natural essential oils with refreshing notes of lemon and cedar that give you a burst of energy. It comes in a roll-on bottle, so it is perfect for travelling. It is suitable for vegans and it is certified organic.

Kuumba Made Black Coconut

This sweet, tropical scent will have you yearning for long summer days. Its milky, rich aroma leaves a lingering sweetness throughout the day and you only need a drop to make it last.

It is an oil-based product which mean it lasts longer than alcohol-based fragrances that evaporate quickly.  It can also be used as a massage oil or you can add a few drops to your bath.  All the herbs and plants are grown on certified organic farms or are wild harvested ethically, and animals are never used for testing.

Sharini Perfumes Naturels Ambre Essentiel

This amber potion is earthy and oriental, made from mandarin, bergamot, vanilla, Australian sandalwood and three hundred roses.

Another key ingredient is labdanum which is a sticky resin from the Cistus ladanfer flower, that is responsible for its warm yellow-brown colour. It uses organic corn alcohol and organic rose flower water which are both gentle on the skin and do not cause irritation. It has a warm, earthy fragrance which is suitable for winter with a citrus kick.  This product is Ecocert certified and is suitable for vegans.

Organic Glam Jasmine

The fragrances are one hundred percent natural and eighty-five percent organic. This lovely floral perfume contains no artificial or toxic extracts and has not been tested on animals.

  It is great for spring and has notes of ylang ylang and bergamot, smelling like flowers in bloom.  This particular product is quite expensive, but  it contains exotic ingredients sourced from around the world, like Egyptian jasmine and Sicilian bergamot.

Aveda Stress Fix

Made from French lavender, lavandin and clary sage, this organic perfume is sweet and floral with balsamic undertones.  It aims to relieve stress and be soothing.  It is Ecocert certified organic.

Lush Karma

This is a very popular spicy and citrusy scent which led to Lush creating an entire range of Karma products.  You will smell of patchouli, lemongrass and oranges.  The ingredients are mostly natural and includes two safe synthetics.

So, if you do have sensitive skin you still have choices just remember to do your research and inspect the ingredients in any fragrance you may choose.  If all of the ingredients are not listed ring the company and ask them to ensure you are not choosing something which will irritate your skin.

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