Friday, 30 October 2015

Synthetic fragrance vs Natural fragrance


Fragrance in products causes a lot of concern among some of the beauty buying public. Most often in people with sensitive skins, but it is becoming more and more of a contentious issue across the board.

Having heard the words 'cell death' and 'cell toxicity' one too many times in scare-mongering marketing, and especially through websites like goop,  I approached three experts across various fields in the industry for their opinions on using much-maligned synthetic fragrance vs 'cell-death' essential oils when used in skincare - facial skincare in particular. It is by no means a clear issue, but their answers may surprise you, and make you rethink your future purchases.

From Dr Marko Lens, founder of Zelens:
'Synthetic fragrances contain chemicals that are not of a natural origin while natural fragrances contain ingredients only from a natural origin- basically a mixture of essential oils. Not all synthetic fragrances are bad and many of them contain essential oils. There has been a lot of negative publicity given to parabens, phthalates and synthetic musks used in synthetic fragrances. However, you can make a synthetic fragrance without these ingredients.
It is important to mention that synthetic fragrance does not necessarily cause more allergic reactions than natural fragrance. Both of them contain ingredients called allergens - substances that cause allergies. Almost all essential oils contain allergens and in my clinical practice I see more allergies due to the use of the mixtures of various essential oils than with the use of products containing synthetic fragrances.
Regarding fragrance and cytotoxicity (cell death): both synthetic and natural fragrances can be cytotoxic. However, I would be very careful when interpreting results from these tests since they are done in the lab using different types of human cells in vitro. For example, the product may be cytotoxic for human liver cells, but that does not mean it is the same for human dermal cells. Also, results of in vitro tests (petri dishes) ideally should be validated in vivo (on people).'

Lorna McKay - co-founder of The Perfume Society and a consultant to leading fragrance houses:
'It is not that one is better than the other, rather the "combination " often allows the perfumer to create longer lasting and more complex smells. Some of the great masterpieces e.g. Chanel No 5 and CK one would not exist without synthetic ingredients. In some instances we are "helping save the planet" by using synthetics.
Essential oils can be potent and should be used with care. Some need to be diluted and some react if not used carefully. e.g.  citrus oils in the sun can cause a reaction. Some essential oils are dangerous for pregnant women and babies. I believe essential oils have fantastic qualities but should be used with knowledge and caution. Just because it is natural it is not always good!'

Sam Farmer -founder of the Sam Farmer brand and a trained Cosmetic Scientist, Sam approached his group of friends at the SCS (Society of Cosmetic Scientists) who came back unanimously in favour of synthetic fragrance or a combination of synthetic/essential oil mix.
'Naturals are far higher in allergenic compounds such as limonene, citral, cinnamyl alcohol, geraniol and eugenol just to mention a few. In fact, more than half of the allergens that need to be listed in the INCI list are naturals.
Using synthetics allows for a wider number of fragrance components so, you can argue, they are better as the risk is spread, so to speak.
Also, from a sustainability angle, fragrance from rare or protected raw materials, such as Sandalwood, can be reproduced without the risk of extinction!
As an aside, the SCS also stated unequivocally that it would be 'impossible' to create all of the top fragrances in the world without synthetics.

Bottom line? If you use skincare with no issues then you are probably not intolerant of either synthetic or natural fragrance. Crack on. If however, you know you have sensitivities, or you're overly worried about fragrance in your skincare look for fragrance-free, if you do not already do so.
I flag up the presence of synthetic fragrance and essential oils in reviews for your information as a purchasing customer, not to instil fear. Synthetic fragrance goes through stringent testing, despite what certain websites would have you believe.

Do bear in mind, natural is not always better.

Further reading if you are interested:

Dweck Data - www.dweckdata.com

Society of Cosmetic Scientists - www.scs.org.uk

Whatever you do, for the love of sanity, don't listen to goop and take the EWG with a pinch of salt.










22 comments:

  1. Thank you for a sensible article on the subject, I do have sensitive skin but don't seem to react to fragrance, only things like silicones or carmine. However (slightly off-topic), sometimes a synthetic based perfume will trigger a migraine, so I do prefer more 'natural' perfumes.

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  2. This is such an interesting read. I am constantly having allergic reactions and trying to get to the root of them. I have made the decision to only use natural products, but maybe that wasn't such a sensible idea

    Lauren x | www.laurenapowers.blogspot.com

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  3. Very interesting read, it really is a mindfield this skincare malarkey. Enjoying learning more and building up a big wishlist of things to buy and try. I am one of those who has spent her life, I'm now 37, buying the wrong creams and potions for my (what I now know - thanks to you and this blog is) dehydrated and hormonally spotty skin, then given up being disillusioned that good skin was beyond me , I thank you. I've even, and I'm almost scared to admit this lest you come find me and smack my hand, used the shampoo or body wash to wash my face, I know, what a div!

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  4. Robert Tisserand has excellent overviews of essential oils, backed up by science and rationality, and helped me make my mind up when I was questioning lavender essential oil. Definitely worth a look http://roberttisserand.com/

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  5. The musk deer thank you for making this point! They like their glands where they are.

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  6. Kind of shallow to admit but It was seriously life changing for me to discover i am allergic to lavender and other essential oils. Since eliminating most essential oils and salicylic acid from my skincare regime I've had clear skin with no tiny red bumps i thought my whole life was pimples but really just an allergic reaction. Lavender is in soooo many things, lots of foundations, primers, etc. Thank you Caroline for drawing this to my attention, i owe you for clearing up my skin! xo

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  7. I believe that regardless of synthetic or natural, that fragrance should be kept to an absolute minimum in skincare. Allergens aside, but looking at it from an irritation side of things and sensitising the skin over time. IMO skin care is supposed to treat skin, the smell is irrelevant. I get that some ingredients smell funky so need something to mask / neutralise the scent and obviously to get the majority of people to be compliant and actually use it, then it has to smell ok but it bugs the shit out of me when it's the main reason someone would buy an item. Buy a perfume instead!

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    1. it's funny watching youtube beauty gurus explaining how wonderful a face serum/moisturizer/oil/toner/,etc smells. "it doesn't smell like cheap roses, smells like real roses - not your typical granny roses, citrussy but not like dish washing liquid citrussy, etc". it i would also gush about a product's scent if i am gifted a product for free & paid to review it, but, if i am going to purchase a skincare item with my hard earned money, it better be worth it and not because it smells like plants. well to each his own.

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    2. Agree with you wholeheartedly, Andy.

      I have recently come to realise that certain fragrance ingredients are irritating my skin in an invisible or delayed manner, for example worsening or contributing to rosacea flushes much later in the day. This is uite different to the obvious contact dermatitis I used to get to some products, but that largely ceased when I stopped most exfoliating and using foaming cleansers.

      However avoiding all or most fragrance is incredibly limiting, leaving you with mineral oil, petroleum jelly and the like as the occlusive component. Finding fragrance free oil-based cleansers (inc. balms and melting gels) is particularly difficult. Pretty much Clinique or nothing! :/

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    3. Yes! I was recently patch tested due to increasing painful eczema and discovered I am allergic to Balsam of Peru (mainly appearing as Sodium Benzoate) and 'Fragrances' - gutted doesn't cover it. So many wonderful products I now can't use. It must say Fragrance Free and not just 'no added fragrance', and natural products are often the worst.
      I agree FireFox, I haven't found anything so far other than Take the day off cleansing balm ... I'm currently using virgin coconut oil which thankfully is ok for me. I believe pure Argan oil is also a good bet.

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    4. Oh and also ... this is a recent thing, I have developed these allergies ... although I had eczema as a child, I grew out of it, and now for some reason I am allergic to things which were once ok! This will never revert ... and the reason is probably over exposure to chemicals/fragrances/preservatives ... something or some combination has irritated the balance my skin can tolerate. I find that the alarming part, we are surrounded by fragrance, my situation is hardly likely to be unique.

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  8. This post came at a perfect time. I have been getting into korean skin care. I have been reading an overwhelming amount of positive reviews for the Dr.Jart Ceramidin Cream and how amazing it is for all skin types, including sensitive. However, it does have essential oils in it. I noticed upon reading many korean ingredient lists, that they all have multiple essential oils or botanical ingredients. What is interesting though is that Korean people have such beautiful, flawless skin. Yet the skin care they use...has many controversial essential oils. I would love to hear your opinion on this Caroline. It would be great if you could also review the Dr.Jart Ceramidin line as the reviews are almost all positive. Love your daily vlogs. Xoxo from Canada.

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    1. I was going to try my first korean beauty product (dr jaart sleep mask) but now you've got me scared of the essential oils! My skin is acne prone and sensitive. Hopefully Ms. Hirons will advise :)

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  9. If it's going on my face, I am going with no fragrance at all. I agree with Andy Millward, I've read too much that it's bad for the skin over time.

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  10. I know that this is off-topic, and I apologize. I'm experiencing a flare-up of sore, red, flaky patches around my eyes that I think might be seborrheic dermatitis, from what I'm reading online. It seems worse in the morning after sleep (my eyes water overnight and this seems to irritate it) and after a shower (not putting my face in, but it still seems redder and more irritated). I've read through your posts on perioral dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp, which luckily I don't have, but do you have any recommendations for a non-antibiotic treatment for this condition that's safe for around my eyes?

    I had this once before, YEARS ago, and it seems to be connected to harsh winter weather, but I've recently moved to California and the weather here is anything but harsh, so it must be something else causing it.

    Thank you, Caroline!

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    1. Could it be blepharitis? Washing the flaky areas with baby shampoo can help a lot, I have suffered from it as well. You will have to do this twice a day to get rid of it then from time to time to keep it at bay. Get the doc to confirm if it is blepharitis first though.

      I suffer from seb derm too sometimes, keeping my skin well hydrated helps a lot, as well as using oils. And micellar waters are a no-no for me x

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    2. MOA the green balm is my dermatitis saviour :) xx

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    3. Thanks for both of the recs, ladies! I hadn't considered blepharitis. I'll look into that. Don't currently have a derm, but it sounds like I might need to find one.

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  11. The scientific truth is often complicated and different case-by-case. Words like "always" or "never" do not exist in biological sciences because it is all about probability! But at the same time I think it is human nature to like generalization and clear-cut answers. I think the problem is when these people also have loud mouths and decide to spread their over-generalized inaccurate information, for example "Never use paraben because it gives you cancer!" "Natural is always good for you!" "Never use essential oils and synthetics because they are always toxic!" Sigh... In that matter, I respect you so much Caroline that you try so hard to constantly educate us instead of just giving up. By the way, I love that you put Neil deGrasse Tyson in this post! Haha totally respect him too :)

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  12. I personally prefer natural fragrances but it has nothing to do with sensitivity. It is purely a personal preference because I find them stronger and I love that kind of smell. However, my skin isn't sensitive at all and in fact, if it was, I would prefer a product with a synthetic fragrance from a brand geared towards sensitive skin. I'd never ever recommend a product with lots of natural fragrances to a friend with sensitive skin.

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  13. Given that I have to inject myself weekly with a cytotoxic med I'm not going to lose any sleep over using fragrance in my skincare. I can't bear lavender as a scent but I do like some kind of fragrance in my products. I can't imagine only using totally un-perfumed skincare. Thanks for a well balanced post though Caroline as always.

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  14. My skin is slightly sensitive but the only thing I have reacted badly to was a cleanser containing a particular essential oil so I find as long as it doesn't make me itch or break out, I am quite relaxed about fragrance and whether or not it is natural or synthetic

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