What does the presence of perfume in a product ingredients list really mean? Should we avoid using such products? Read all about it in this blog post!
We all know the word “perfume”. It usually creates in our mind an image of a nice smelling fragrance.
The dictionary says the following about that word:
- a substance, extract, or preparation for diffusing or imparting an agreeable or attractive smell, especially a fluid containing fragrant natural oils extracted from flowers, woods, etc., or similar synthetic oils.
- the scent, odor, or volatile particles emitted by substances that smell agreeable.
verb (used with object):
- (of substances, flowers, etc.) to impart a pleasant fragrance to.
- to impregnate with a sweet odor; scent.
When we think about perfumes, we usually think of something synthetic. But did you know that natural perfumes, like essential oils, also fall under this name? Many people don’t know this and that’s the reason why we felt like diving into this topic in a blog post.
The word “perfume” by itself is nothing specific. It’s not a thing that you can just add to something. Perfume is actually a collective name for fragrances. Fragrances can contain 26 allergens. These fragrance allergens are the reason why people sometimes would rather avoid perfume.
Here comes something confusing!
When you see the word “perfume” written on a product it means: This product contains synthetics and known fragrance allergens. You will see the name of the raw ingredient written and after it a list of the fragrance allergens that it is contains.
BUT, a natural product, like an essential oil, can have the same fragrance allergens as the synthetic ones! However, in this case, the word “perfume” will not be written. The fact that it is not written is the only difference!
To take it even further: The molecule in allergens that causes skin problems is the same molecule whether it is natural or synthetic. The body cannot make a difference between the two!
There are some benefits in both though. The advantage of synthetic fragrance allergens is that these allergens are stable. An advantage of essential oils can be that the oils also claim to have skin/health improving substances beside the fragrance allergens in them.
You will very often see that natural products that contain essential oils are wrongly labelled under “perfume free”.
This is sort of wrong and can be very confusing because now we know that essential oils can contain the same fragrance allergens as synthetic perfumes. The cause of this mistake lies in the fact that “perfume free” is not a protected title and therefore anybody can use it.
Sentences on packaging like “perfume from natural essential oils” are not correct! Also “natural perfumes are better for your skin than synthetic ones and more easily accepted by your skin” is not correct!
It’s good that every cosmetic product is obligated to have INCI-names and known allergens on its label. INCI-names are the official Latin or English names for substances. INCI is the acronym of “International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients”, also known as the systemic names for waxes, oils, pigments, chemicals, and other ingredients of soaps, cosmetics etc., based on scientific names.
But sadly, not every producer writes the INCI-names on their labels.
Having a detailed label is very important. Indeed, if a product contains the essential oil of Rose Otto and only “Rose Otto” is written on the label, it wouldn’t tell you anything about the fragrance allergens it contains. The INCI-name of “Rose Otto” for example could be (I write “could be” because this can differ per Rose Otto): Rosa Damascena Flower Oil, *Citral, *Citronellol, *Eugenol, *Farnesol, *Geraniol, *Linalool.
Rosa Damascena is the raw material with written after it the identified substances. Everything that has a * before it is a known fragrance allergen.
There are 26 allergens that should be reported according to the European law:
Amyl cinnamal, Benzyl alcohol, Cinnamyl alcohol, Citral, Eugenol, Hydroxy-citronellal, Isoeugenol, Amylcin-namyl alcohol, Benzyl salicylate, Cinnamal, Coumarin, Geraniol, Hydroxy-methylpentylcyclohexenecarboxaldehyd, Anisyl alcohol, Benzyl cinnamate, Farnesol, 2-(4-tert-Butylbenzyl) propionald-hyd, Linalool, Benzyl benzoate, Citronellol, Hexyl cinnam-aldehyd, d-Limonene, Methyl heptin carbonate, 3-Methyl-4-(2,6,6-tri-methyl-2-cyclohexen-1-yl)-3-buten-2-one, Oak moss and treemoss extract, Treemoss extract.
The INCI information is especially helpful for people who have an allergy for one of multiple fragrance allergens. They can immediately see if the product contains an allergen that they don’t respond well to.
You can recognise an allergy to a fragrance allergen by the following symptoms: You get a skin reaction after using a fragranced product; Often you will notice redness on the skin, little bumps and an itchy feeling; You may also notice that you’ve had this reaction before, when you used another perfumed product.
If you think you’ve got a fragrance allergen allergy, the best thing to do is to talk it through with your doctor. Your doctor will probably redirect you to the hospital for a sticker allergy test. The stickers contain different fragrance allergens that they will stick on your skin. By doing so, the doctors can tell what fragrance allergens you are allergic to or not.
That’s why its always wise when you want to use a new product to patch test: Apply a small amount of the product on the inside of your arm (usually the inside of your elbow) and leave the product on for 24h without washing it off. If you don’t respond to the product then it’s likely that you can use it by following the directions on the label. But if you do respond to the product, rinse it off immediately and do not use it again.
Is perfume, natural or synthetic, something you should then avoid in skincare products? On average 2% of the people have a certain form of a fragrance allergen allergy. This group of people obviously should avoid products that contain these allergens. Also, people with a (very) sensitive skin and who know have not responded well to fragrances in the past should be extra careful.