9 fragrance-free products that won’t irritate sensitive skin

Fragrance-free skincare is becoming a bigger area in the skincare market, but why should you add these products to your routine? Here, a consultant dermatologist explains all.

Fragrance-free skincare. It’s a phrase we’re seeing crop up more and more in skincare products but why is it often touted as something that is a positive?

According to Mintel’s Women’s Facial Skincare report, 32% of British women described their skin type as sensitive, with the number increasing in older age groups. While it’s not the same for everyone, some may find that fragrance in their products can lead to irritation or, in some cases, even allergies.

Here, Dr Aikaterini Charakida, consultant dermatologist & dermato-surgeon at EF Medispa explains all you need to know about fragrance-free skincare.

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What are fragrances in skincare?

“Fragrances are found in all sorts of cosmetics from skin and hair care to make-up and perfume. They can either be synthetic or come from natural essential oils. In some skincare products, there are molecules of scent that give a product its unique smell. On the label, fragrance looks like it’s one ingredient however it’s usually a blend of many ingredients, or scent molecules. So in one product, for example, any number of fragrance molecules can be used, which can make it more problematic to work out which ones you’re allergic to.”

Is fragrance-free skincare better for your skin? And why?

“It’s not that fragrance-free products are better for the skin, because usually the rest of the ingredients are the same. It’s more that fragrance-free skincare is less likely to cause irritation or a reaction.

“Research suggests that both natural and synthetic fragrances can cause sensitising in all skin types. The balance in essential oils has to be carefully considered in order for natural skincare to be suitable for sensitive skincare types. If you have problems with sensitive skin, it’s advisable to use products that don’t contain irritating ingredients such as fragrances.”

How does skin react to fragrance?

“Everyone’s skin is different and so we react to fragrances in different ways. Whilst fragrance can be perfectly fine for some skins, on others it can wreak havoc, causing contact dermatitis, red and itchy rashes, and other allergic reactions like asthma and headaches. In fact, according to the America Academy of Dermatology, fragrance is the biggest cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis.”

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Can fragrance in skincare be really bad for sensitive skin?

“Fragrance in skincare can be very damaging to sensitive skin. It can cause dermatitis, red and itchy rashes, as well as other allergic reactions. What makes it difficult to navigate is that a lot of seemingly fragrance-free skincare products actually have a fragrance added to mask the smell of the ingredients that don’t smell very good. So you can’t always trust your nose to tell you if something is fragranced or not.

“Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that just because your skin doesn’t show signs of being aggravated by the fragrance, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t. This is because skin can mask an aggravation and not show the damage immediately, similar to sun damage on skin which can cause problems days, weeks and years later. Nowadays, we are fortunate that there are more and more fragrance-free products available.”

How can somebody test a skincare product to avoid a reaction?

“I recommend using a clear patch of skin that’s easily accessible but also an area that you can leave alone for 24 hours – such as the crook of your elbow. Wash the area first and apply a small amount of the product to the skin then cover it with a plaster. Wait 24 hours to see if a reaction has occurred. When you remove the plaster there may be some redness from the plaster itself but that should fade. If the redness doesn’t fade or you had a rash this shows a reaction.”

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Best fragrance-free skincare products, picked by the Stylist team

  • Best fragrance-free balm cleanser: Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm

    This balm-to-oil cleanser is makes removing even the most stubborn make-up a breeze. Plus, the formula gives a nice slip on skin, allowing you to indulge in a mini facial massage each night. Use it at night as the first step to a double cleanse for clean but – not stripped – skin.

    Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm, £25

    buy now

  • Best fragrance-free cream cleanser: CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

    CeraVe’s cult cleansers are packed with three essential ceramides to cleanse skin but also strengthen the skin’s important moisture barrier. Use this mornings and/or as the second step to a double cleanse.

    CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, £7.10

    buy now

  • Best fragrance-free soothing serum: Paula’s Choice Calm Repairing Serum

    Praised for its ability to soothe signs of redness, this serum has antioxidant ingredients to protect your skin against environmental aggressors, while ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid keep it hydrated and soothed.

    Paula’s Choice Calm Repairing Serum, £33

    buy now

  • Best fragrance-free vitamin C serum: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

    Thanks to its effective brightening and skin-protecting benefits, Drunk Elephant’s vitamin C is a cult product in the beauty industry. It’s also free of drying alcohols, silicones and essential oils.

    Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, £67

    buy now

  • Best fragrance-free bakuchiol serum: Herbivore Bakuchiol Smoothing Serum

    If your skin finds retinol too irritating, it’s worth checking out bakuchiol. A plant-based alternative, bakuchiol has similar benefits by delivering gentle exfoliation for an even complexion.

    Herbivore Bakuchiol Smoothing Serum, £45

    buy now

  • Best fragrance-free lip balm: Weleda Skin Food Lip Balm

    Much like the iconic Skin Food for face, this intensely nourishing formula relieves dry, cracked lips providing hydration and protects the delicate skin on your lips against environmental aggressors.

    Weleda Skin Food Lip Balm, £6.95

    buy now

  • Best fragrance-free eye cream: Vichy Minéral 89 Eyes Hyaluronic Acid + Caffeine

    Developed following the success of Vichy’s cult 89 Serum, this eye cream contains hyaluronic acid and caffeine to leave your under eye area brighter, plumper and smoother.

    Vichy Minéral 89 Eyes Hyaluronic Acid + Caffeine, £20

    buy now

  • Best fragrance-free shower gel: Green People Scent-Free Shower/Bath Gel

    This SLS-free formula contains aloe vera and marshmallow, making it incredibly gentle on skin and ideal for people with eczema or psoriasis.

    Green People Scent-Free Shower/Bath Gel, £12.50

    buy now

  • Best fragrance-free body scrub: First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub with 10% AHA

    Some body scrubs can feel a bit harsh on skin, but not this one. It’s infused with 10% alpha hydroxy acid to exfoliate skin and remove dead skin but doesn’t irritate skin.

    First Aid Beauty KP Bump Eraser Body Scrub with 10% AHA, £22

    buy now

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