Is Fragrance Bad for Your Skin? Learn If Fragranced or Fragrance-Free Soap Is Right for You

By Sher Warkentin in Natural Products

Seeing the word fragrance on a soap label can sometimes make you take pause. It might be unclear what that term really means, but is fragrance bad for your skin? In short, no. Understanding where the ingredients come from and how they are processed can help you decide whether a fragrance or fragrance-free soap is best for you.

Is Fragrance Bad for Your Skin?

While some fragrances are compounded using synthetic aromatic compounds, many natural soap products are fragranced with naturally derived ingredients, including plant essential oils, essential oil blends (which contain naturally derived plant isolates) and naturally derived fragrance materials. Choosing a soap made with naturally derived fragrance ingredients gives you the scent you enjoy with ingredients you can feel comfortable using on your skin.

Look for soaps that contain naturally derived fragrance ingredients.

Where Do Fragrance Ingredients Come From?

Naturally derived fragrance used in soap and other personal care products comes from a variety of sources, including fragrant plants and other naturally derived materials. Fragrances are typically a combination of extracts, oils, and other naturally sourced or derived materials. Here are a few examples of naturally derived fragrance ingredients:

  • Citrus limon (lemon) peel oil
  • Eucalyptus globulus leaf oil
  • Lavandula hybrida oil
  • Limonene
  • Mentha piperita (peppermint) oil
  • Orange terpenes
  • Zingiber officinale (ginger) root oil

The process in which the ingredients are extracted from the source is also integral to creating naturally derived or sourced fragrance. These ingredients are obtained by distillation, carbon dioxide extraction, cold pressing, fermentation, or another approved process. If an oil carrier is necessary, then these are also naturally sourced or derived. Fragrances in conventional products are typically carried in propylene glycol and butylene glycol.

Fragrance vs. Fragrance-Free

Even when a fragrance is naturally derived, you may have reasons for wanting to choose products that are fragrance-free. When you wash with a fragranced soap, that scent will often linger on your skin and might be overpowering to those who are sensitive to certain smells. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I'd feel a wave of morning sickness-related nausea in an instant when I smelled certain scents. Because of this, I was temporarily forced to avoid fragranced soaps and other personal care products I once liked.

For some, being sensitive to smells isn't always temporary. Scent sensitivities are reportedly linked to unpleasant physiological and psychological symptoms in some people. While the science has yet to confirm a connection between fragrances and reactions, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal explains that people with scent sensitivities have reported numerous symptoms, including coughing, sneezing, gagging, shortness of breath, rhinitis, asthma attacks, debilitating headaches, anxiety, and dizziness. Personally, I've experienced sneezing and a stuffy nose with the use of certain essential oils, so I try to avoid those same naturally derived ingredients in personal care products to prevent experiencing a similar reaction.

Avoiding fragrance can also simply be a matter of personal preference. Just as there may be certain food flavors you don't like, there can also be some fragrances that you find to be unpleasant for no particular reason. You might even relate a certain scent to an unpleasant memory. For example, long after my daughter was born, I still connected the fragrances that had made me feel ill during pregnancy to an uneasy or anxious feeling, and I continued to avoid them.

If you want to avoid scent try a fragrance-free soap

Keeping Clean Your Way

When it comes to soaps, sometimes we might associate fragrance with cleanliness. That lingering scent can feel like an assurance that a cleanser is working, but the truth is you can keep your skin clean and moisturized without needing any fragrance at all. Whether fragrances make you feel a certain way or remind you of something unpleasant, or if you simply don't like the way they smell, choosing fragrance-free products—such as a natural fragrance-free soap—can help you bypass any scents you are hoping to avoid.

Personal care products should always be a matter of personal choice. Whether you want to ensure that the fragrance ingredients used are naturally derived or you prefer no fragrance at all, choose the soap that is the best fit for you.

Want to learn more about the ingredients that go into making your natural personal care products smell great? Follow the Ingredients from Nature board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

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The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Whether you enjoy the soothing scent of your favorite soap or you prefer to avoid fragrance altogether, choosing soap made with naturally derived or sourced ingredients will give you the cleanser you need in a product you feel comfortable using.