Is Fragrance Really That Bad? What You Need to Know


Fragrances can be found in a wide range of products, from perfumes and colognes to cleaning products and personal care items. While they may smell pleasant, fragrances can be harmful to our health and the environment. In this blog post, we'll explore the dangers of fragrance and why you should avoid it.

What is Fragrance?

Fragrance is a catch-all term used to describe a mixture of synthetic and natural chemicals that are added to products to give them a specific scent. Fragrances are found in a wide range of products, including perfumes, colognes, deodorants, soaps, shampoos, and cleaning products.

The composition of fragrances is a well-kept secret in the industry, with many thousands of different compounds in use. This means that often, a product will simply be labeled as having fragrance, an umbrella term that can cover thousands of toxic chemicals.

75 percent of people who were tested for contact dermatitis had no idea that fragrance was the culprit. This is because people often don't realize they have been exposed to fragrances, as the immune system needs to be sensitized to the compound before a reaction can occur.

The mechanism behind fragrance allergy is the same as that behind poison ivy allergy - the immune system becomes sensitized to the compound after exposure. Although most fragrance compounds are moderate to weak sensitizers, they can become more potent sensitizers after undergoing a chemical transformation, such as in the presence of air or light.

Some common fragrance compounds, such as linoleum, limonene, and linole acetate, can become even more potent sensitizers after undergoing auto-oxidation. These hydroperoxides are not often included in allergy testing.

Why Should You Avoid Fragrance?

There are several reasons why you should avoid fragrance in products:

Worsening of skin conditions:

Fragrance has been linked to the worsening of several skin conditions. Contact dermatitis, for example, is a type of skin inflammation that can be triggered by fragrance ingredients. People with underlying skin conditions, such as eczema, are at greater risk of developing contact dermatitis to fragrance, and it may exacerbate their condition.

Other skin conditions that can be worsened by fragrance include rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. If you have sensitive skin or a skin condition, it's best to avoid fragrance altogether. There are alternative options available that are free of fragrance and other irritating ingredients. Thebeautydoctrine.com is a great resource for finding cleaner and less toxic fragrance options than mainstream products, and skincare products that are fragrance-free.

Allergic reactions

Allergic reactions to fragrances are a significant concern, affecting many individuals worldwide. Fragrances contain hundreds of chemical compounds, and even small amounts of these compounds can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Studies have shown that fragrances are one of the most common causes of allergic reactions, with up to 10% of the population being affected. These reactions can range from mild symptoms, such as itching and redness, to more severe symptoms, such as hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing.

One of the most common types of allergic reactions to fragrances is contact dermatitis. This condition occurs when the skin comes into contact with an irritant or allergen, resulting in redness, itching, and sometimes blistering. Contact dermatitis is a common skin condition, affecting up to 20% of the population, and fragrances are one of the most common triggers. In fact, a study conducted in Sweden found that fragrance was the most frequent cause of contact dermatitis in both men and women.

According to the American Contact Dermatitis Society, allergic contact dermatitis to fragrance is the most common cause of allergic contact dermatitis

There are several triggers of contact dermatitis from fragrances, including essential oils, synthetic fragrances, and natural extracts. Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that are often used in aromatherapy and natural skin care products. While these oils can have therapeutic benefits, they can also cause allergic reactions in some individuals.

Synthetic fragrances, on the other hand, are chemical compounds that are designed to mimic the scent of natural fragrances. These compounds can also cause allergic reactions, and studies have shown that some synthetic fragrances are more likely to cause contact dermatitis than others. Finally, natural extracts, such as lavender and tea tree oil, can also cause allergic reactions, even in individuals who are not typically sensitive to fragrances.

It is important to note that the severity and frequency of allergic reactions to fragrances can vary widely among individuals. Some individuals may experience only mild symptoms, while others may experience severe reactions that require medical attention. In addition, the severity of the reaction can depend on several factors, including the concentration of the fragrance, the frequency of exposure, and the individual's overall health.


Photodermatitis is a type of skin reaction that occurs when certain substances found in fragrances, called photosensitizers, come into contact with the skin and are subsequently exposed to sunlight. This reaction can result in a range of symptoms, including redness, itching, and blistering of the skin. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, fragrance ingredients such as bergamot, lime, and other citrus oils, as well as musk, sandalwood, and oakmoss, have been identified as common photosensitizers in fragrances.

These ingredients can lead to photodermatitis and other types of skin reactions, particularly when used in combination with other photosensitizing substances, such as certain medications and some types of cosmetics. It is important to note that not all individuals are equally sensitive to photosensitizing substances, and the severity of the reaction can vary depending on the individual's skin type and the amount of exposure to sunlight.

Pigmented Dermatitis

Pigmented contact dermatitis is a rare and poorly understood form of contact dermatitis that is characterized by the development of brownish pigmentation at the site of contact with the allergen.

A study published in the Journal of Cutaneous Pathology found that fragrance was the second most common cause of pigmented contact dermatitis, with musk fragrances being the most common culprit. The study also noted that pigmented contact dermatitis caused by fragrance tends to occur more frequently in women and in older individuals. The mechanism by which fragrance causes pigmented contact dermatitis is not well understood, but it is thought to involve the activation of melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in the skin.

It is important to note that pigmented contact dermatitis can be difficult to diagnose, as it can mimic other conditions such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. If you notice any changes in your skin color or texture after using fragranced products, it is important to seek medical attention.

Respiratory issues

Fragrances can also lead to respiratory issues, especially in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma. Fragrances contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can irritate the respiratory tract and cause symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Studies have found that exposure to fragrances can trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals and increase the risk of developing asthma in children.

A study conducted in Sweden found that exposure to perfumes and other scented products increased the prevalence of asthma symptoms among adults. Another study found that fragrance exposure increased airway inflammation and oxidative stress in people with asthma. Moreover, fragrance chemicals can also contribute to indoor air pollution, which can cause respiratory problems. Therefore, it is recommended that individuals with respiratory conditions avoid using fragranced products. [5][6][7]

Hormonal Disruption

Fragrances have also been linked to hormonal disruption, which can have various effects on the body. Synthetic fragrances contain chemicals such as phthalates, which have been found to disrupt the endocrine system and affect hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

Studies have linked exposure to phthalates with adverse effects on reproductive health, including decreased sperm quality and quantity in men and early onset of puberty in girls. Some studies have also linked fragrance exposure to increased risk of breast cancer.

Symptoms of hormonal disruption can vary widely and may include menstrual irregularities, infertility, mood changes, weight gain, and decreased libido. While more research is needed to fully understand the extent of the effects of fragrances on the endocrine system, it's clear that they can have significant implications for our health.

Environmental Pollution

The use of fragrance has also been linked to environmental pollution, which can have significant ramifications for both the planet and human health. Synthetic fragrances are a major source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to indoor and outdoor air pollution.

These VOCs can react with other pollutants in the air to form secondary pollutants, such as ozone and formaldehyde, which can have detrimental effects on the environment and human health. In addition, fragrance ingredients have been found in waterways, soil, and wildlife, leading to concerns about the long-term impact on ecosystems.

Studies have shown that certain fragrance ingredients, such as musk compounds and phthalates, are persistent in the environment and can bioaccumulate in wildlife, potentially disrupting the endocrine system and causing other adverse effects. Therefore, the use of fragrance should be minimized to reduce the impact on the environment and human health. [8][9][10]

How to Avoid Fragrance and what to Look for on your Label?

When it comes to reducing exposure to fragrance and indoor pollution, it's important to read product labels carefully. Look for products that are fragrance-free or labeled as "unscented," as some products may contain masking fragrances to hide the scent. It's also helpful to choose products that have fewer ingredients and avoid products with harsh chemicals such as phthalates and parabens.

Additionally, opening windows for ventilation and using air purifiers can help reduce indoor pollution. Choosing natural, non-toxic cleaning products and reducing the use of aerosol sprays can also contribute to a healthier indoor environment. By taking these steps, we can reduce our exposure to harmful fragrance chemicals and improve our overall health and well-being.

Some helpful resources for identifying fragrance chemicals and safer products include the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database, which rates the safety of personal care products and cosmetics based on the ingredients they contain, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which provides information on toxic chemicals in personal care products and offers safer alternatives.



The use of fragrance in personal care and household products has been linked to various health concerns. Allergic reactions, photodermatitis, pigmented dermatitis, respiratory issues, hormonal disruption, and environmental pollution are some of the problems associated with fragrance use.

Scientific studies have shown that fragrance can contain numerous harmful chemicals that can have negative impacts on human health and the environment. It is important to read product labels and avoid products that contain fragrance, especially those labeled as "fragrance" or "parfum". Using natural alternatives and reducing indoor pollution through proper ventilation and air filtration systems can also promote better health. It is time to take action and choose safer and healthier options for ourselves and our planet.

Be well. be safe. Be beautiful!

Please note: I make a small commission when you use my links to shop. Please do so if you like my recommendations. This helps support the hundreds of ours my team and I invest in research and finding the healthiest beauty and wellness options for consumers. We appreciate your support!



  1. Steinemann, A. (2016). Fragranced consumer products: exposures and effects from emissions. Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health, 9(8), 861-866.

  2. Calafat, A. M., Wong, L. Y., Ye, X., Reidy, J. A., & Needham, L. L. (2008). Exposure of the US population to bisphenol A and 4-tertiary-octylphenol: 2003-2004. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(1), 39-44.

  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2017). Endocrine Disruptors. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/endocrine-disruption

  4. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2018). Endocrine Disruptors. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm

  5. Steinemann, A. (2019). Fragranced consumer products: effects on asthmatic Australians. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 12(6), 673-679.

  6. Larsson, M., Hägerhed-Engman, L., Kolarik, B., James, P., Lundin, F., & Janson, S. (2019). Exposure determinants of airway irritation symptoms in adults: a cross-sectional Swedish population-based study. Environmental Health, 18(1), 1-12.

  7. Nazaroff, W. W., & Weschler, C. J. (2004). Cleaning products and air fresheners: exposure to primary and secondary air pollutants. Atmospheric Environment, 38(18), 2841-2865.

  8. Steinemann, A. Fragranced consumer products: exposures and effects from emissions. Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health. 2015;8(3):273-281.
  9. Liu Y, et al. The occurrence and distribution of phthalate esters in the environment of China. Science of the Total Environment. 2012; 421-422: 216-226.
  10. Rimkus GG, et al. Synthetic musk fragrances in the environment. Handb Environ Chem. 2010; 5:47-77.
  11. Dodson, R. E., et al. (2012). "Endocrine Disruptors and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Consumer Products." Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(7), 935-943. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104052

  12. Kwa, M. S. G., et al. (2002). "Fragrance Allergy in People Patch Tested in The Netherlands." Contact Dermatitis, 46(5), 278-281. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0536.2002.460504.x

  13. Rehfeld, A., et al. (2018). "A Systematic Review of Phthalates and Bisphenol A Exposure and Risk of Obesity and Overweight." Environmental International, 114, 81-93. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.02.002

  14. Smith, T. J., et al. (2012). "Volatile Organic Compounds in Personal Care Products and Perfumes." Journal of Environmental Quality, 41(4), 1054-1061. doi: 10.2134/jeq2011.0331

  15. Steinemann, A. (2017). "Fragranced Consumer Products and Undisclosed Ingredients." Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 63, 1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.eiar.2016.06.001


As a blogger, my content may include affiliate links from advertisers. I may earn a small commission from actions readers take on these links such as a purchase, or subscribe. All my recommendations are based on my own research and personal trust in the products that I share. I am not a doctor or nutritionist. Please consult with your practitioner prior to using any products recommended.
Previous post
Next post

0 comments. Write a comment

Empty content. Please select category to preview