Is Fragrance in Skincare Bad For Your Skin? Covey Investigates

Clean beauty ingredients and formulas are having a moment, but that makes it confusing to know exactly what your skin will (and won’t) tolerate. When it comes to fragrance in skincare, it’s often one of the most divisive elements of a product. 

If you read the reviews on any scented skincare, you’ll likely see a litany of comments about the scent. Some people love it; others will hate whatever the fragrance is on principle.

Basically, fragrance in skincare is kinda like cilantro — to some, cilantro tastes like soap, while others can’t get enough of the stuff. 

But is fragrance bad for your skin? How and when should you look into a fragrance free skincare routine? Let’s get into it. 

Why is Fragrance Used in Skincare Products? 

While unscented skincare (like the entire Covey routine) is certainly growing in popularity, there are reasons why formulators lean on fragrance in products. Sometimes a calming essential oil blend might fit into the brand’s aesthetic and ethos. Put simply, some people really love scented skincare and prefer it to an unscented product. 

Another reason brands use a synthetic scent is to mask the scent of two ingredients mixing together. 

Take, for example, how many Vitamin C serums on the market have that hot dog water smell. “I feel like I have tried almost EVERY vitamin C serum on the market, from the $166 hot dog water smelling brands to the drugstore options,” said Covey routine user Lydia. For people like Lydia, using a Vitamin C serum that doesn’t have a scent is a huge selling point.

So Is Fragrance Bad for Your Skin?

The short answer? It depends. Some people have highly sensitive skin that’s easily affected by certain ingredients or scents. You might have certain allergies that the ingredients in fragrance could exacerbate. 

For those with eczema or rosacea, a fragrance-free or unscented routine may be a better option to avoid any potential inflammatory side effects from fragrance. And if you have sensitive skin or a broken skin barrier, it’s best to go back to basics and avoid scented products. 

Basically, if you’re hypersensitive to someone’s perfume or cologne on the subway, or dread walking past the perfumery in the mall…you might want to consider a fragrance-free routine. 

If you want to try out scented products for the face and neck, do a patch test on another part of the body to see how your skin might react. Once you’ve determined you’re not allergic (no bumps, redness, inflammation, or itchiness in the hours after application), you can test on facial skin. 

How to Build a Fragrance-Free Skincare Routine

Note these important tips when you’re trying to eliminate fragrance from your skincare routine: 

  1. Inspect the ingredient list closely. Ingredients like essential oils, benzyl alcohol, or “natural fragrances” are giveaways that a product will be scented. 
  2. Don’t assume “clean” = fragrance free in all cases. Do your research before buying!
  3. Allergists and derms are your friend. You might be sensitive to more than just fragrance, so if you have a reaction to your product, visit your dermatologist. Better yet — consult your derm before embarking on any huge departures in your routine. 
  4. Know your own preferences. Hate lavender or patchuli? Overwhelmed by essential oils? That’s reason enough to switch to a scent-free skincare routine. Just because other people looooove scented products doesn’t mean you have to.

Looking for a fragrance-free, minimalist skincare routine? Covey's got you covered. Shop the OG Covey Routine for daily maintenance or the Level Up Routine for anti-aging benefits. 

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