Should You Be Using Fragrance-Free Skin-Care Products?

November 26, 2019
Alanna Martine Kilkeary
By: Alanna Martine Kilkeary | by L'Oréal
Should You Be Using Fragrance-Free Skin-Care Products?

If you have sensitive skin, reading the term “fragrance-free” on the back of a product is pretty much a gift from the skin-care gods. Because fragrances are known to trigger allergies, irritation and even eczema, reaching for a fragrance-free moisturizer, serum or cleanser can help alleviate some concerns for those with an easily affected epidermis. But what does “fragrance-free” actually mean? How do beauty products, which we know are notorious for smelling like something, just start smelling like nothing? And can skin-care products that don’t smell great really be fragrance-free? To answer these queries, we tapped two L’Oréal USA chemists, Roselin Rosario, Associate Principal Chemist, and Mariel Flood, Senior Fragrance Evaluator, to unpack everything you need to know about the claim “fragrance-free.”

What Is a Fragrance-Free Skin-Care Product?

According to Rosario and Flood, fragrance-free skin-care is exactly what it sounds like. A fragranced product contains fragrance within the ingredient list, while a fragrance-free product does not contain fragrance, perfume or masking agents.


Why Are Fragrances Needed or Used in Skin Care Anyway?

A big reason fragranced products are so popular to begin with is because people love the sensorial experience associated with scent. It can make products feel refreshing or luxe at first whiff. Formulators will also oftentimes use a fragrance or masking agent to hide the “unpleasant odor” of certain skin-care ingredients that may be a turnoff to potential customers, says Flood. 


Can Fragrance-Free Products Smell Eventually?

So why, then, do some fragrance-free products develop an odor after a while? According to the chemists, over time, the smell of all skin-care products evolve. “Depending on the ingredients in the product and the environmental conditions to which it’s exposed, this odor shift can be more or less noticeable, and more or less pleasant,” says Flood. Rosario and Flood want you to know, however, that these changes don’t necessarily mean that the product is going bad, per se, but it is important to pay attention to the shelf-life of any makeup or skin-care product when it happens. You can look on the bottle for an expiration date, and if it’s not expired but has a slight change in smell, you’re probably good to continue using it. “In fragrance-free products, this natural shift in odor can be more noticeable because a fragrance is not present to mask any developing odor,” says Flood.


So Should You Use Fragrance-Free Skin-Care Products?

As consumers have become more well-versed in skin care, the interest in fragrance-free products has risen, but it’s important to note that they aren’t the only options for people with sensitive skin. What many people don’t know is that “fragrances can now be designed to be free of known allergens,” says Flood, “and if you do have sensitive skin, you might not need to use fragrance-free products.” When shopping for your next makeup or skin-care purchase, look for labels like “allergy-tested” or “hypoallergenic.” These tags may be better indicators than “fragrance-free” of products that will work for you. When in doubt, look at the back of your product’s package. “L’Oréal brands list fragrance allergens on the pack, so if a consumer is allergic, they can easily identify problematic ingredients that way.”

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