Advisory on Fragrances and Perfumes in Personal Care Products


Why are fragrances and perfumes of concern?

Almost 20% of the general population is sensitized to at least one allergen and fragrance is one of the most frequently cited substances causing reactions. Fragrance sensitivity is now seen in 1-4% of the general population, and 8-15% of people with contact dermatitis. Fragrances are the ingredients most likely to cause allergic contact dermatitis. They account for 30-45% of reactions in cosmetic products.†

What are fragrances and perfumes?

A compound (a combination of two or more elements) made of volatile (evaporates at room temperature) chemicals that create an odor. Fragrances and perfumes are typically comprised of dozens or even hundreds of synthetic chemical compounds.

How are fragrances and perfumes different from other ingredients in products?

The manufacturers of fragrances and perfumes typically do not disclose the total composition of the fragrance for competitive reasons. The compounds in fragrances are typically of plant or animal origin. Without knowing the exact composition, it is impossible for a consumer to know if a product with fragrance contains an allergen of concern for them.

What is the difference between scent and fragrance?

Scent is merely the presence of an aroma or smell. Fragrances and perfumes are chemical compounds that have a distinct smell or aroma.

What about “natural” ingredients that have a scent?

Natural ingredients that have a scent such as Bisabolol (German Chamomille) or Anthemis Nobilis (Roman Chamomile) are not true fragrances. However, some people may be sensitized to these ingredients, and since they are clearly labeled they can be avoided.

What are masking fragrances?

Personal care products that are labeled “unscented” or “fragrance free” may still contain fragrance components, sometimes called masking fragrances. The purpose of masking fragrance is to cover up offensive odors that may naturally occur in a product. Some personal care products such as lotions and soaps are marketed as being “unscented” or “fragrance free” yet they contain herbal ingredients or oils from botanicals. These products may contain allergens such as rose oil, vanilla, and sweet almond oil.

When considering products listed in the NEA Seal of Acceptance product directory please note any ingredients that may be of concern.
† “Fragrance most common cause of cosmetic allergic contact dermatitis.” Dermatology Times Jan 2007