Difference Between Fragrance-Free & Unscented

Fragrance-free and unscented seem to be buzz words on many labels of personal care products, specially if you look for sensitive skin care. Many people believe 'fragrance-free' and 'unscented' terms to be interchangeable, but there are huge differences between the two.

If you have allergies, you understand how uncomfortable using scented products can be. It's not unusual to develop migraine headaches and respiratory and other health problems after using skin care, cosmetics or hair products containing fragrances. Some people react just by walking next to a store in malls selling only lotions and creams containing fragrances and scents. Fragrances and scents are also added to laundry detergents, dish soap and other household cleaning products. We all want to smell nice, but at what price?

Are these wonderfully pleasant fragrances and scents really harmful, and should you only go for fragrance-free products? You may be wondering what the difference is between fragrance-free and unscented products. It's important to note that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate personal care products or cosmetics and that goes for fragrances as well.


Fragrances are obviously added to products to make you or the product smell better. Fragrances are concoctions of many ingredients. The terms on the label may indicate: fragrance, perfume, parfum, essential oil, aroma.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 3,000 chemical combinations are available for formulating fragrances. These can be synthetic or natural and do not have to be individually listed, but only under the umbrella name "fragrance".

Many of the chemicals have not been tested for safety, according to Environmental Working Group (EWG), the consumer non-profit consumer organization. You might have the notion that if it smells like fresh spring flowers, it's likely made of spring flowers. You couldn't be further from the truth.

The American Academy of Dermatology reports that fragrance allergy is the number one cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis in the U.S. They also indicate studies show there is a trend of increasing sensitization to fragrances worldwide. The non-profit consumer website, Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists some of the more problematic ingredients, even potentially toxic, used in fragrance:

  • Phthalates, which are solvents that can damage liver, kidneys and lungs
  • Endocrine disruptors such as benzophenone
  • Essential oils that are typically extracted from plants; can have medicinal side effects
  • Harsh preservatives
  • Dyes
  • Musk derived from secretions of male musk deer gland
  • Acetylcedrene
  • Camphor
  • Anisyl alcohol
  • Menthol
  • Salicylates
  • Formaldehyde
  • Eugenol
  • Linalool
  • Citral
  • Acetone
  • 1,4-dichlorobenzene (in air fresheners) have been evaluated to be carcinogenic
  • Balsam of Peru, and many others

Fragrance-free means none of these ingredients are included in your personal care, skin care or cosmetics your choosing to buy.


Some raw ingredients may have a scent, which may be pleasant, and some not be pleasant but have a chemical smell to it. The term unscented may be used to mean a fragrance may have been used to mask an odor that is a natural part of the raw ingredient.

Raw ingredients that may have a natural scent and do not include fragrance chemicals, may include shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, most herbs, olive oil, almond oil, honey, beeswax, and others. These types of raw materials or ingredients may not bother most people, but may be very annoying to others.


If you are chemically sensitive, you no doubt already know that there are certain things that can cause unpleasant reactions on your skin and in your body, and fragrances can be a huge culprit. You are not alone. There are millions of people all over the globe who are chemically sensitive and have experienced serious reactions to scented products.

Since the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate skin care and personal care products, many dubious claims may be made on the label without any real substantiation in the form of testing.

Fragrances may exacerbate symptoms if you have asthma, allergies, or other health-related issues like upper respiratory problems or lung disease These reasons are exactly why you should choose fragrance-free products.

At Cleure, we have developed a line of skin care and makeup products that are formulated for sensitive skin that are fragrance free, and safe to use if you suffer from allergies or want to prevent sensitive skin from developing. Do your homework, find a reputable brand that offer only fragrance-free products, such as Cleure, that doesn't cause skin issues for you and stick with it.

If you suffer with many chemical sensitivities, it's always best to either have your dermatologist or allergist give you a list or do your own self-patch test. We offer simple steps to follow to do your own by visiting our page for self-patch test.

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1 comment

Excellent information!!

Rune Scott May 11, 2022

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