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There’s a real allure to slathering your skin in a gorgeous smell; it feels like a real luxury. For many of us, using scented beauty products, from moisturiser and cleanser to shampoo and shower gel, is an integral part of our daily routine.
But what happens when you just don’t react well to heavily scented products? If you struggle with skin that’s prone to sensitivity and irritation, using fragranced products might not be in the best interest of your skin.
If you know that products containing certain ingredients don’t work well for you, you try to avoid them. But the issue comes with a lack of clarity regarding which products are suitable for sensitive skin and which contain fragrances that could potentially cause issues.
When it comes to ‘fragrance free’ and ‘unscented’ beauty products, there’s still somewhat of a grey area, with many brands using these terms interchangeably, which can be rather confusing.
Below, we’ve spoken to a dermatologist about the ins and outs of products for sensitive types and how fragrance and aromas can impact your skin health, to help guide you through the process.
What you really need to know about ‘fragrance-free’ beauty
If you’re going to overhaul your beauty bag for your sensitive skin, you’ll need to know how to determine if a product has added fragrance. The simple test is a sniff one: if you can smell a scent, the product has some kind of fragrance.
However, just because a product is dubbed as ‘fragrance free’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s free from any scent. A fragrance free or unscented product usually doesn’t have any obvious scent, but it may have a fragrance that naturally occurs as a result of the formula ingredients.
Often, the cause of a skin reaction is added fragrance – either synthetic or natural or even an essential oil. For anyone with sensitive skin, any added fragrance can cause skin irritation and reaction. However, it’s synthetic fragrances that are one of the leading causes of irritation.
Dr T Amuthalingam, who runs the Dr.Derme skin clinic and is an associate non-executive director of the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust explains.
“If you are sensitive to fragrances you may have what we call allergic contact dermatitis to the ingredients the fragrances contain,” says Dr Amuthalingam, adding that this affects up to 1% of adults
“Essential oils are common ingredients in perfumes as they are hard to mimic. If you have specific allergies it is best to avoid the particular ingredient. The chemical you are allergic to can be confirmed by patch testing although it is difficult to avoid every product that may contain it.”
Dr Amuthalingam adds: “Allergies happen when you are exposed to the chemicals and your skin reacts as the first form of defence, known as sensitisation. Every time you are exposed to that ingredient again you will develop a reaction within hours to days.”
How to choose products that won’t cause a skin reaction
When it comes to sourcing products that don’t cause sensitive and allergy-prone skin to react, it’s best to look for ones that have been formulated or approved by dermatologists.
Dr Amuthalingam says: check the label. “You should look out for fragrance-free and dermatologically tested labels on the products,” he recommends.
Of course, it can be hard to determine why your skin reacts to one fragrance and not another; it can also be tricky to determine which aroma (or chemical) is causing the reaction.
This is why, when buying a new product, he advises testing the formula on a small area of skin before using it for the first time. A patch test will determine whether your skin reacts to the product and will help you reduce the risk of a larger scale reaction.
In terms of good products to use, he says: “Cera Ve has an extensive range of products that I recommend to my patients with all kinds of skin conditions as they have very few additives and are tolerated well by most. Cetaphil has a fragrance free range which may also be suitable.”
We’ve put together a guide to all of the best dermatologist recommended products, from skincare to haircare, for sensitive and allergy-prone skin.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.