Allergic Reactions to Fragrances in Cosmetics

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Are you one of those people who sneeze every time they get a whiff of a scent? Chances are you might be allergic to fragrances. A study conducted by the University of West Georgia [1] found that 30.5% of the general population in the U.S. finds fragrances irritating. These include fragrances found in air fresheners, perfumes, deodorants, antiperspirants, makeup, and skincare products.

If you are part of this statistic, this blog is just for you! Let us take you through the reasons behind fragrance allergies and give you tips on what to look out for when buying beauty products.

Happy reading!


Do You Have a Fragrance Allergy?

If your body undergoes a physical reaction after being exposed to a fragrance or perfume, you most likely have a fragrance allergy. People with existing respiratory conditions like asthma are more prone to allergic reactions from fragrances.
If you experience an allergic reaction due to fragrances in cosmetics and face symptoms like skin irritation, nausea, breathing problems, or itchy and watery eyes, you should get a fragrance allergy test done immediately.


There are two types of fragrance allergy tests:

1. Patch Test

During a patch test, the allergist places the suspected fragrance allergen onto a patch and then puts the patch on the patient's back for some time. Results can show up in a few hours but might also take a few days. Avoid applying products and excessive activity that can cause sweating until the patch is removed.

2. Blood Test
A patch test is not suitable for people who have skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. If you have a skin condition, an allergist will ask you to get a blood test done to test for fragrance allergies.

Why Do Fragrances Cause Allergies?

Fragrances are complex substances. They are usually combinations of natural and human-made ingredients used to give a unique smell to a beauty product. Manufacturers use fragrances to mask any foul odors caused by other ingredients in the product or to motivate more people to buy the product.

However, fragrances are sensitizing ingredients, regardless of the type of skin they are being used on. [2] A fragrance allergy can cause a volatile reaction that might not show up immediately. However, this does not mean that the damage is not being done. Fragrances can react adversely to the skin, just like UV radiation, and the results can show up years later in the form of fine lines, age spots, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles, etc.

Some common skin conditions caused by fragrances in cosmetics are dermatitis [3] and photosensitivity. [4]

Types of Fragrances Used in Cosmetics

1. Natural Fragrances
As the name suggests, natural fragrances are those that are extracted from elements in nature like trees, plants, flowers, and fruits. Most floral and musky scents that you love like teakwood, sandalwood, and rose are natural. However, they do not last very long and are not very efficient.
Natural fragrances can also cause allergic reactions. Vanilla and rosemary are some natural fragrances that seem harmless but can cause allergic reactions in people that are hypersensitive.

2. Synthetic Fragrances
Synthetic fragrances in cosmetics are the real culprits. They are created in laboratories and try to replicate aromas found in nature. They do not harm the environment and have a longer shelf life. However, the chemicals used in synthetic fragrances, like petroleum and phthalates, are known to cause allergic reactions, respiratory diseases, and even skin cancer.


How to Avoid Buying Cosmetics with Fragrances

Read the label! There is no easy way to put this. Most companies will mention direct terms like "fragrance," "parfum," "perfume," "essential oils," and "aroma." This means that the product contains fragrances— synthetic, natural, or a blend of both.

If you are allergic to synthetic fragrances, try buying products that explicitly state “natural fragrance.” If you are allergic to fragrances but do not know which type, it is best to purchase products that come with an "unscented" label.

However, some manufacturers mention some fragrance ingredients on cosmetic labels using terms that most people don’t know much about, such as "geraniol," "limonene," and "linalool."

• Geraniol is a pleasant-smelling alcohol compound with a rosy scent that increases the sensitivity of the skin.
• Limonene is a colorless liquid that is used to add a citrusy smell to cosmetic products. Cosmetics containing limonene must be avoided as they can oxidize and sensitize the skin.
• Linalool is a compound made from naturally-occurring alcohol found in many spice plants like coriander and lavender sand flowers. Though it calms the body, it can damage the cells that are responsible for producing collagen.


While it is possible to detect most allergic reactions in one way or another, many people do not show allergy symptoms at all. That does not mean that the fragrances in cosmetics are not doing any harm. The best thing you can do for your body is to use unscented products. It’s okay to be conservative. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry!


[1] AC, Caress SM;Steinemann. “Prevalence of Fragrance Sensitivity in the American Population.” Journal of Environmental Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine,

[2] Why Fragrance-Free Products are Best for Everyone. (n.d.). Retrieved December 26, 2020, from website.

[3] Larsen, W. G. (1985). Perfume dermatitis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology12(1 Pt 1), 1–9.

[4] Addo, H. A., Ferguson, J., Johnson, B. E., & Frain-Bell, W. (1982). The relationship between exposure to fragrance materials and persistent light reaction in the photosensitivity dermatitis with actinic reticuloid syndrome. The British Journal of Dermatology107(3), 261–274.

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