Perfume in cosmetics: Harmful for the skin?

Representation of various perfume bottles

Fragrance marketing: positive emotions at the touch of a button

The bakery always smells of fresh rolls, the supermarket of ripe oranges, and the gym much fresher than the sweat beads of its members would suggest. This is usually no coincidence, but scent marketing. This is the term used to describe the use of scents for sales purposes. Smells provide us with information, for example whether the food is coming soon on the plane. This works because corresponding scents are recognized by our sensory cells and passed on to the brain via the nerve fibers in the nose. Scents can have a very strong influence on us because they penetrate our emotional world without detours. Of course, perfume can do this as well. Scents lift our mood, awaken memories or attract our attention. The cosmetics industry also makes use of this effect: Most cosmetics are scented with fragrances. Because what smells good sells well. A cream without perfume can be enormously effective thanks to its active ingredients, but it can smell unpleasant. Hops extract is a good example of an active ingredient that brings excellent skin care properties, but does not encourage the nose to do a happy dance.

Apart from that, manufacturers want a certain "fragrance consistency. The products of their own brand should have their own aroma that offers recognition value. This also applies to a single product, which should always smell the same when purchased repeatedly. Especially with natural cosmetics, this is not so easy. Plant extracts such as lavender, rose and others can smell more or less intense, depending on the harvest. The note also varies; it is a natural aroma. That's why perfume is sometimes used heavily in natural cosmetics.

Fragrant but unpleasant: the allergy potential of fragrances

A perfume usually contains many different fragrances - in total, we know about 3,000 fragrances today. Most of these are relatively volatile cycloaliphatic or aromatic hydrocarbons, alcohols, esters, aldehydes or ketones. They are either derived from natural sources such as plant parts or animal secretions. Or they are produced artificially in the laboratory. A particular fragrance is usually a combination of individual substances. A fragrance is not intended to change the appearance and consistency of a skin care product, but merely to provide a pleasant aroma. Incidentally, this can be different in the jar than later on the skin. This is because sweat and sebum on the surface of the skin react with fragrances, and can influence the odor result - just as a perfume smells slightly different on different people.

An enormous disadvantage of fragrances is their high allergy potential. After nickel, they are the second most common trigger of contact allergies, regardless of whether they have a natural or synthetic origin. Unfortunately, nature does not protect against allergy. That's why manufacturers in the European Union are required to list certain fragrances on their packaging. The list currently includes 26 fragrances that can trigger symptoms such as itchy skin redness, weeping blisters, wheals, scaling, itching and even chronic inflammation in allergy sufferers. Headaches, shortness of breath or malaise are also among the symptoms of a fragrance allergy.

Such a contact allergy often occurs only after repeated contact, when the body is sensitized and has classified the actually harmless substance as threatening. Typically, the allergic reaction does not occur immediately, but only hours or even days after contact with the trigger (allergy of the delayed type or late type). The following are known as particularly strong allergens


As always, the dose makes the poison

However, the proportion of fragrances in many skin care products is rather low. In creams and lotions, for example, it averages 0.3 to 0.8 percent. It is higher in soaps with up to 4 percent or bath additives, which contain 4 to 5 percent perfumes. Fortunately, this is usually not enough to cause an allergic reaction - even if there is a fundamental intolerance to a fragrance.

In the case of products such as shampoo or facial cleansers that are washed off again (rinse-off preparations), the allergic risk is even lower because the fragrance is diluted with water in a very short time.

Nevertheless, caution is advised with facial care products, especially those that remain on the skin. The facial skin is often already stressed by external environmental influences, its barrier impaired. For many consumers, however, a pleasant fragrance plays an important role here - after all, the nose is in the face.

Consumer protection with a loophole: The mandatory labeling of fragrances

The mandatory labeling of fragrances in the EU Cosmetics Regulation is an important step in the right direction. However, it has a catch: Only those fragrances that are known for their allergenic potential have to be named. All others are simply summarized in the list of ingredients (INCIs) under the collective term "perfume.

In addition, some potentially allergenic fragrances also have other properties. It can then be found on the packaging under its other function - for example "antibacterial". A product may therefore contain fragrances, even if it is advertised as "fragrance-free". In a review by the state investigation offices, fragrances were detected in around 20 percent of the "fragrance-free" cosmetic products examined - in some cases even in high concentrations.

And what does HighDroxy smell like?

All HighDroxy products are unscented - we do not use perfume. A slight odor can of course still be perceived, because the ingredients used also have their own smell. This can - quite subjectively - be noticeable or not.

For example, the CALM BALM cannot olfactorically deny its skin-soothing active ingredient, the frankincense extract.

The care oil CALM FACE OIL smells slightly of the contained (caring) tangerine oil, as well as the PORIFY CLEANSER.

And in the PORIFY BHA SOLUTION contains its fresh scent from the extract of cucumber, which is moisturizing and cooling.

Image credit: Shutterstock / New Africa