Fragrances are considered to be trade secrets, so their ingredients are mysteries to consumers, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Fragrances might contain allergens and sensitizers, phthalates, neurotoxins and synthetic musks, according to SafeCosmetics.org
The potential concerns around chemical fragrances are easy to address if patients are willing to use fragrance-free products. But consumers like products with fragrance, according to Diane Foster, a consultant in the skincare industry, who works with leading skincare companies.
“A lot of times, companies are forced to include fragrance, because when they test the product, people come back to them and say they want fragrances,” Ms. Foster says. “However, good substantial, well-known companies have a panel of (chemical) fragrances that they have tested in the most sensitive skin known to mankind and found them not to be irritants.”
And some companies, including Johnson & Johnson, are eliminating perceived harmful ingredients in their fragrances.
Another option in fragrances: essential oils, says Mr. Bekas.
“Essential oils come from the actual fruit. We use a lot of citrus oils, like orange essential oils, grapefruit essential oils. They’re a lot more expensive [because] they pretty much come from crushing a bunch of oranges down and making it a fine oil as opposed to a synthetic oil … that comes from the lab,” Mr. Bekas says.
Mary P. Lupo, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology, Tulane University, New Orleans, says she prefers products with natural oils, such as lavender, for a light fragrance because those give patients few problems.
But even natural fragrances are not irritant-free. And the term “unscented” can be misleading, as a masking fragrance might be used in a product, according to Dr. Lupo.
“We tend to like to see ‘non-comedogenic,’ and ‘fragrance-free’ to help guide our patients,” Dr. Lupo says.