As our relationship to skincare keeps evolving, we’re learning more and more about buzzy new ingredients, cutting-edge formulations and the coolest technology out there. But with all the information we have out there, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the soup of ingredients on the back of the bottle. If you scroll through Instagram, Reddit or Facebook, you’re likely to come across arguments, points and counterpoints for a lot of these picks—parabens, phthalates, essential oils, mineral oils, synthetic ingredients. Recently, conversations about fragrances in skincare products have been brought to the focus too. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, fragrance is actually considered the leading cause of allergic reactions on the skin, and a lot of people struggle with redness, peeling skin, eczema and dryness thanks to it. Most times they might not even know the culprit. So why do brands use fragrance in their formulations so often? Is there a way to use a skincare product with fragrance in a safe manner that won’t hurt your skin? This is what we know.
Skincare will never be a one-size-fits-all approach. For some consumers, a floral fragrance or a fresh wake-me-up scent might be the reason they pick a product off the shelf. Fragrances appeal to the olfactory centers in the brain to create an emotional connection to the product, making them enjoyable to use—and keep using. The thing is, skincare is more than just its end result. For a lot of people, it is the routine that grounds them at night or wakes them up in the morning. It is the self-care regimen that calms them down or helps them focus.
Sometimes it’s also a formulation choice. If the original product is rife with raw, earthy ingredients, brands may have to add in a scent to cover it up to make the product palatable. It brings to light the question: if a product is great—with active ingredients that truly work—but smells too terrible to actually use, what would be the point of it?
What kind of fragrances are in the products you use?
A natural fragrance is a composition of raw materials from nature (like a scent made up of actual roses) while a synthetic one is man-made in the lab. The latter is usually longer lasting than the former, but natural fragrances are sometimes more true to the real scent, so most perfumes are a mix of these two. It might seem like natural fragrances are safer and better to formulate with, but that may not always be the case, as they might not always interact with the body in the same way every time. But when it comes to synthetic ingredients, there might not always be a lot of transparency. Brands are allowed to sell products with ‘parfum’ as an ingredient on the back of the bottle, which grandfathers in a lot of ingredients that they might not always have to disclose.
Can you formulate a safe product—with fragrance?
Yes. The EU has a list of fragrances that are believed to cause allergies and reactions in a majority of consumers. We at Foxtale formulated without these, choosing largely certified allergen-free synthetic fragrances in super tiny quantities—so when you decant the Ceramide SuperCream Moisturizer or the Daily Duet Face Wash, you can enjoy the experience without being worried about any ill-effects. But all skin isn’t the same. Even if a product is considered allergy-free, you may not tolerate it as well as other people, so patch testing is important. Apply a new product to your forearm or behind your ear before you use it all over your face to figure out if anything is sensitizing your skin. If it's a specific fragrance listed on the ingredient list, you’ll know it’s that one.