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Fragrances and why they are bad for you

April 5, 2021

Fragrances and why they are bad for you

There’s been a lot of buzz in the world of skincare around fragrances and how they affect our skin health.

Personally, it took me a while to make the connection between artificially scented products like body washes and perfumes, and the hives, itching, redness, and dry skin I would get on the reg—but once I discovered the culprits, and switched to natural and unscented products, my skin health improved tenfold.

So what’s the big deal? Are fragrances truly bad for our skin? Let’s break it down with a little Q&A. 

How does fragrance irritate the skin?

Synthetic fragrances are a known irritant and can cause negative and adverse reactions for the skin. ‘Fragrance,’ as listed in the ingredient list on products, is typically comprised of “up to 4,000 undisclosed ingredients.” Yikes. This includes toxins such as phthalates, which are known with resounding confidence to have myriad negative health effects. (More on that later.)

Fragrances are “known as one of the leading causes of allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) and can also cause other skin conditions such as irritant contact dermatitis, contact urticaria (hives from application of an allergen such as cinnamic aldehyde, menthol, balsam of Peru, cinnamates), photo-allergic reaction, [and] phototoxic reaction.” 

Basically, artificial fragrances are often toxic—and for those of us with sensitive skin, can cause irritation, itchiness, and rashes, and these reactions can get even worse with exposure to the sun. 

Is fragrance bad for acne?

Due to the irritating nature of these synthetic fragrances, products that contain them can cause “unwanted reactions, itching, swelling, redness, peeling, and breakouts” according to dermatologist Dr. Dhingra. So, while these products may not directly cause acne breakouts, they worsen the appearance of the skin due to inflammation. They can also cause further irritation—making acne more difficult to manage and treat. 

Dermatologist Dr. King also notes that there are some “comedogenic fragrances”—fragrance ingredients that clog the pores—that can directly cause or worsen acne. 

How do I know if the fragrance in my skincare routine is irritating? 

Not all skin is created equal. What might be irritating for one person, won’t cause a reaction in the other. The only real way to know whether or not your skincare routine is irritating your skin is to observe—after using a product, if you notice any negative reaction from your skin, check out the ingredient list and take note as to what it contains that may be causing any kind of rash, itchiness, inflammation, or irritation.

If you do start to notice products that cause these —it might be time to swap them out. The good news? There are many amazing products that do not contain toxic additives or ingredients such as the ones that are typically included in ‘fragrance’. Look for an alternative that doesn’t contain ‘fragrance’ and see if that does the trick.

What ingredients should I avoid in skincare products?

Fragrance can go by many pseudonyms in product ingredient lists, making it difficult to spot. Be on the lookout for these names when you’re scanning the back of your products:

  • Fragrance
  • Parfum/Perfume/Aroma
  • Linalool
  • Citronellol
  • Cinnamal
  • Limonene
  • Geraniol
  • Eugenol
  • In addition to this list of irritating fragrance ingredients, also be on the lookout for any phthalates that are commonly used in scented products. The most common forms of this ingredient you should look out for in your skincare and cosmetic products are: diethyl phthalate (DEP), dimethyl phthalate (DMP), and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). 

    In addition to being irritating, recent research has shown that phthalates have been linked to “asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity, type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues”. Woosh! 

    Here is a more comprehensive list of the specific phthalates that have been shown to have negative health effects: 

    butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), dibutyl phthalate (DnBP), di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), di-butyl phthalate (DBP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP), diisononyl phthalate (DiNP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), dipentyl phthalate (DPP), di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), di-isohexyl phthalate, dicyclohexyl phthalate (DcHP), and di-isoheptyl phthalate.

    An easy rule of thumb—if you see any ingredient that ends with “phthalate,” it is best to steer away. 

    Are ‘clean’ fragrances a safer option?

    So are all fragrances bad? 

    No! There are naturally derived fragrances that are not irritating for the skin, and in fact, can be incredibly beneficial to skin health. 

    At Busy Co., our products are made only from fragrances that are botanically derived, and come directly from the earth. We use essential oils from plants that are grown, extracted, processed, produced, and handled to organic standards. 

    To get a little into the deets (if you’re a plant nerd like me!)—our essential oils are produced with the traditional cold water method of extraction. This gentle, green process takes a little longer than other methods, but the benefits are that it does not damage the plant elements through exposure to heat. 

    In addition to not being irritating and toxic af, botanical extracts often have ample benefits for the skin! For example, the chamomile extract in our Glow Feminine Wipe works to reduce redness and irritation, *and* works to heal the underlying cause of the redness (umm, magic!) Chamomile is also an antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic, meaning it works to cleanse, soothe, and heal the skin. While the flavonoids work to reduce redness, chamomile also improves blood flow, which makes for brighter, healthier skin overall. 

    The calendula in our Refresh Face Wipe has anti-inflammatory properties, which helps to calm “breakouts, rosacea, eczema, sensitivity, or even a breakdown of collagen.” The lineoleic acid in calendula also is an essential fatty acid that provides deep moisturization. Its antioxidants can also aid in protecting collagen and elastin in your skin, meaning it helps to slow the process of aging. Count me in!

    Not all fragrances are built the same. Be wary of products that are chalk full of synthetic chemical scents, but rest easy knowing that there are products with botanically derived fragrances, and they are actually GREAT for your skin! 

    To sum it up…

    At Busy Co., we never use aggravating or inflammatory ingredients, and never will. We are too in love with all of the amazing natural, botanical fragrances that Mama Earth has to offer! 

    We care about making our products safe for your skin and for the earth, and that means that we pay close attention to the scientific evidence with regard to the safety of skincare ingredients.