Perfumes in Cosmetic Products Could Irritate Your Skin


Jul 8, 2019


The ingredients used to create perfumes are also skin irritants.

Olfactory nerves aren’t going to like this at all: that fresh, minty lip balm, or lavender lotion, is actually a big risk for skin allergies. Fragrances in cosmetics and skincare can irritate the skin, causing headaches, redness, rashes and even contact dermatitis — a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with an allergenic substance. But, there’s no way to know what irritating ingredients to look for and avoid, as most products list “fragrances” on the ingredient list, rather than the independent ingredients that make up the fragrance.

Fragrances are often added into products to give them an appealing scent, a ‘luxe’ feel, and to mask the odor of other active ingredients in the product. Common examples of such products include lip balms, lipsticks, toners, makeup wipes and more.

However, using products with fragrances could exacerbate the problems that the product is supposed to solve. For example, lip balms containing menthol might cause further irritation to the lips. While the petrolatum or the shea butter in the lip balm helps trap moisture in the lips, the menthol causes inflammation and/or dryness. This results in repeated usage of lip-balm to soothe the problem, without realizing that the cure is also the cause. Sometimes, fragrances are also added to mask the degradation of products packed into jars, which occurs due to active contact with air and germs from dipped fingers.

“Fragrance molecules are small and penetrate the skin, but also then react with the skin’s own proteins to create foreign molecules that the immune system reacts to. Therefore, you need to be very careful about using fragrance around the eyes and lips,” Dr. Tom Mammone, the executive director of skin physiology and pharmacology in Clinique’s (a sensitive skin oriented brand) R&D department, told New York Magazine.

While the Bureau of India Standards has regulations in place for fragrances as an independent entity (perfumes, deodorant sprays, etc.) it does not specify any regulation for fragrances in cosmetics. Therefore, ingredients like lemon, acetaldehyde, benzophenone citronellol, linalool and essential oils like lavender, rose, ylang-ylang and peppermint make their way into cosmetics and other products, like laundry detergent. All of these ingredients are also skin irritants, causing allergies and reactions like hypersensitivity, burns, pain, and tiny blisters.

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Though natural instinct would indicate that fragrance-free would be the best option, there’s a catch. Often, fragrance-free products claim to be so because they don’t use synthetic chemicals and only natural oils or flower extracts — which can also be irritants, causing hives, nasal irritation and phototoxic reactions (post-application and exposure to the sun). Companies also claim their products are fragrance-free when they use scent-masking chemicals to make sure their products smell like nothing. Sometimes, fragrant ingredients are also used as active ingredients in products marked fragrance-free.

However, this doesn’t mean that everyone simply must give up on products that smell divine. Since allergies differ from person to person, the best way to know if a particular product is or isn’t an allergen is to test it on a small, nondescript area of the body before using it. Be cautious with products used on the skin near the eyes and the lips, as they are especially sensitive.

TLDR: Do choose a balm or lotion because it smells positively edible, but also patch test the product before you let your skin devour it — lest it devours you.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.

  1. Steve

    This website should be called the Twaddle, as this article is a load of Twaddle. Badly researched unscientific nonsense, at best.


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