Does fragrance really destroy skin?

Hello, I've read from Paula Begoun some scary information that even if I don't prone to allergic reactions "...below the surface, irritating ingredients (fragrance) can cause collagen to breakdown, get in the way of skin's ability to fight environmental damage, and hamper skin's ability to heal. All of this can be taking place in the lower layers of skin without any obvious signs on the surface!" 
Is that really so and it's better to avoid fragrance at all or it could be not dangerous at the end of the ingredient list? 
Thanks in advance for the answer!


  • They say certain fragrance compounds react under influence of sunlight causing skin irritation and pigmentation, especially those that have to be labelled seperately (like geraniol, limonene etc). But to be honest I'm a bit sceptical on the severity, because it also depends on the concentration. Other ingredients might do more harm I think, everyone reacts differently to ingredients. I can't believe ingredients like butylene glycol pentylene glycol, behenoyl pg-trimonium chloride or oxybezone for example are that great for skin, so that may cause invisible irritation as well.
  • Thanks for the answers, so you personally use the cosmetics with fragrance without any fear?
  • I personally would.  I think some of Paula's comments about fragrance are a little extreme.  It's not like they're dumping fragrance in these products.  It's a small amount of it.  Sure, if you have allergy-prone skin, you might want to stick with fragrance free.  But if you don't have that special case, my personal opinion is that there isn't much to fear.
  • Thanks a lot for the answers!
  • Which reminds me.....there was a question about a year ago on whether lavender and the derivatives thereof are bad for your skin (cause cell death) or not. Any hope of a definitive answer on that one?
  • I saw your message on this. I'll see if I can get to the bottom of it. 
  • I would appreciate it. There are a couple of primers I have found that have lavender derivative as an ingredient as possibles. Unfortunately primers with silicones have become an issue for me so I need to find an alternative.
  • edited March 2
    Whether the fragrance in the product is natural or synthetic, it is almost always a problem for skin. The way most fragrance ingredients impart scent is through a volatile
    reaction, which almost always causes irritation and some amount of
    inflammation. Research has established that fragrances in skin-care products are among the most common cause of sensitizing and allergic
  • This may be a place for your to start, Randy.  This question has come up before.
  • Lindygirl, I hadn't remembered the above post when we spoke earlier.
  • I can only say from personal experience, I have super sensitive skin (not allergic, but sensitive) and I use both fragranced and unfragranced products without a problem.  Admittedly, I don't use heavily scented products, but products with a small amount of fragrance do not seem to bother me.  I realize this is just anecdotal evidence, but at least it says that fragrance shouldn't be an automatic rule out just because your skin is sensitive.
  • I agree with you Sarah, it really depends on the individual product. I quite dislike the fragrances in skin care so usually look for fragrance-free anyway. That's what I like about dermatological brands, they usually don't include fragrance or add just a tad. Most luxury brands (e.g. Lancome, Clarins, Biotherm, etc.) heavily fragrance their products and, if you look at the ingredients, fragrance is usually quite far from the bottom.
  • doozymail could you give some scientific confirmation that volatile 
    reaction, which almost always causes irritation and some amount of 
    inflammation? Any link or articles? I really can't find that (
  • Or, also, just because I'm not scientists it difficult to make correct conclusion about this brief: "Since the middle ages, essential oils have been widely used for bactericidal, virucidal, fungicidal, antiparasitical, insecticidal, medicinal and cosmetic applications, especially nowadays in pharmaceutical, sanitary, cosmetic, agricultural and food industries. Because of the mode of extraction, mostly by distillation from aromatic plants, they contain a variety of volatile molecules such as terpenes and terpenoids, phenol-derived aromatic components and aliphatic components. In vitro physicochemical assays characterise most of them as antioxidants. However, recent work shows that in eukaryotic cells, essential oils can act as prooxidants affecting inner cell membranes and organelles such as mitochondria. Depending on type and concentration, they exhibit cytotoxic effects on living cells but are usually non-genotoxic. In some cases, changes in intracellular redox potential and mitochondrial dysfunction induced by essential oils can be associated with their capacity to exert antigenotoxic effects. These findings suggest that, at least in part, the encountered beneficial effects of essential oils are due to prooxidant effects on the cellular level."

    So, fragrance can cause cytotoxic (kill cells) effect in vitro on out skin cells? 
  • That's from an in vitro test where eukaryotic cells are directly exposed to fragrance compounds. That doesn't happen when you apply fragrance to your skin.  
  • Hi, I want to say thank you to Tanya for her question, and I'm enjoying the discussion. I have a few ideas and I would like to know what commenters think. First, regarding the question of does fragrance cause skin damage. Skin can get dosed with UV rays every day for decades, and show no signs of damage, but then the accumulated damage reaches some kind of tipping point and suddenly you've got brown spots and changes in skin texture. In a similar way, could damaging effects such as Paula is referring to be undetectable for years? Then, when damage does become apparent, who would think to blame it on fragrance, which one has been using for years with no problems?

    But I also think of how many people, like my mom, wear perfume every day for decades, always applying to the same areas on the wrist and neck, but never develop skin changes particular to those areas.

    My second thought is that essential oils such as lavender could have multiple effects on skin, both beneficial and harmful. So, those who promote essential oils for their skin  benefits, and those who warn about harm, could both be correct. In such a case, the discussion could be weighing risk vs benefit, and if the benefits could be obtained from some other substance that is less harmful.
  • Interesting comparison to UV exposure. But eventually the long terms effects of UV on skin become apparent. That doesn't seem to be the case with fragrance.  
  • I would like to remember "fragrance" is an extremely embracing word. There are thousands of components that are used as fragrance - and each one can offer a different effect.
  • pma  thanks for you opinion and attention to my question. Anyway I still can't decide what to do with the fragrance — there are so few good fragrance-free brands... Also I love good fragrance! What you use personally?

    RandyS — you said that doesn't happen with the skincells in vivo, could you explain why?
  • Because in in vitro testing, high concentration of the fragrance is applied DIRECTLY to the living cells. 

    In real life, low concentration of fragrance is applied to the top of skin which is covered by a protective barrier of dead skin cells.  
  • Thanks for the answer!
  • Use fragrances that are made from natural ingredients such as essential oils and absolutes.  
  • Some natural fragrance ingredients are highly irritating or sensitizing (some citrus oils, for example.) You have to consider the chemical composition of the ingredient not its source.
  • Really essential oils could be a problem. I've decided for now to use fragrance-free products and products with fragrance at the end of the ingredient list for leave-on products, and for rinse-off products - not pay attention to fragrance, let it be, it won't do any harm during that seconds when it is on my face, I think so. The other thing is that I can't underastand why is violate reaction is irritating? And even if it is so - it happens on the surface of the skin, on the dead cells, how could it be?
  • I think, there are some perfume fragrances that can cause skin allergy. This will also depend on a person's skin type. Like my friend, she is easily affected by the perfume and her skin is easily irritated. Perhaps, it is caused by fragrance ingredients.  I found out that if a person is suffering from an allergy like contact dermatitis, it is possible that she will be irritated by the chemical content of a perfume.
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