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Post in Clean Beauty

When is Fragrance Bad?

Hi Everyone,


My skincare philosophy involves seeking products free from Alcohol an fragrances that have a drying affect. I want to keep my lipid layer as plump and hydrated for years to come. Is there anyone with formal knowledge of this topic that can speak to this concern? 


Ingredients like Geraniol, Linalool, Limonene, and Citral all seem like they should be avoided, but maybe they are actually EOs.


Thank You!


Re: When is Fragrance Bad?

I don’t have the list of harmful scents in front of me but the fragrance industry,  at least in America,  is self regulated.  They could be putting ANYthing in their products to make them smell good.


if you’re able,  check out and .  Both sites have a lot of good info about fragrances,  safer sunscreens,  laundry products as well as air fresheners.  Great info for any ladies who might be pregnant,  too.

Re: When is Fragrance Bad?

@TracyThalo And here's some good info on EO:

What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are the volatile essences of plants that create unique, wafting fragrances. They can be extracted from any plant’s flowers, bark, stem, leaves, roots, and sometimes its fruits. No matter the source, these oils are complex mixtures, often containing up to 60 different substances—some good for skin, others not so good.

The volatile fragrant portion of plants is what makes essential oil for skin problematic—but these compounds can be beneficial, too. This duality makes things confusing for people because the truth is that although the oils smell wonderful, what’s good for your nose is rarely good for your skin.

Many companies who sell products that contain these oils brag that they’ve been used for aromatherapy for thousands of years. But modern science has revealed the truth about how fragrant oils cause problems for skin: What’s ancient isn’t always good! Regrettably, the simple truth in beauty is there isn’t a best essential oil for skin.

How Essential Oils Can Hurt Skin

Some components of these oils are indeed beneficial for skin. For example, many of them are rich sources of potent antioxidants like caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid (among many others). Others contain antibacterial ingredients that protect against visible skin problems related to fungi, yeast, and other topical troublemakers.

Sounds good, right? But in the long run it’s not good for skin, because most of those compounds can also significantly irritate and damage skin. Common examples include fragrance ingredients like limonene, citronellol, eugenol, and linalool, all present in many fragrant plant oils. The positives just don’t outweigh the negatives.

Some essential oils for acne-prone skin such as rosemary, lemongrass, thyme, cinnamon, citronella, and tea tree oils do have research showing them to be helpful. But they also cause significant irritation and haven’t proven to be as effective as the gold standard active ingredient for acne, benzoyl peroxide (which research shows can even reduce redness!).

In terms of essential oils for aging skin, none can successfully deal with the appearance of wrinkles, brown spots, loss of firmness, or address the need to exfoliate skin, especially in comparison to the hundreds of beneficial, non-fragrant plant extracts and vitamins that have no risk of causing irritation.

The Best Essential Oils for Skin

Unfortunately, as you now know, there isn’t a best essential oil for skin. We wish that wasn’t the case, but to one degree or another, all of them pose risks when applied to skin.

You can find research showing that certain amounts (such as 0.1%) of these oils  are non-irritating, but this research doesn’t take into account the fact that lots of skincare products contain more than one essential oil, or far more than 0.1%. It also misses that some people use multiple fragranced skincare products, which adds up to a higher risk of irritation than what research has shown is acceptable.

Another really important fact: Skin is very good at hiding when it’s being irritated. So, even if you don’t see a reaction, the damage is still occurring beneath skin’s surface, cumulatively leading to problems you will see later on. Irritation is pro-aging, the opposite of what most adults want from skincare.

Fragrant Oils to Avoid

As we mentioned above, using essential oils for skin care is a bad idea because so many of them hurt skin more than they help. All of the citrus oils, including lemon, lime, tangerine, grapefruit, mandarin, and bergamot, are a big problem for all skin types. Also extremely problematic are mint oils such as peppermint, wintergreen, pennyroyal, and balm mint. In a similar vein, avoid camphor oil, which is a potent irritant.

Despite their reputation for being soothing (and they are if you inhale them rather than put them on your skin), flower-derived oils like lavender and rose are also problematic. Ironically, both of these oils contain skin-calming substances, but those are present along with the problematic fragrant substances—you can’t get one without the other.

Here’s a brief list of other oils to avoid. These show up in a surprising number of skincare products, including those that contain essential oils for aging skin and essential oils for dry skin:

  • clary sage oil
  • eucalyptus oil
  • geranium oil
  • ginger oil
  • jasmine oil
  • lemongrass oil
  • neroli oil
  • oregano oil
  • patchouli oil
  • rosemary oil
  • sage oil
  • sandalwood oil
  • ylang ylang oil

What to Use Instead

There are many wonderful, gentle, and proven non-fragrant­ oils and plant extracts to consider for various skin types and concerns. Natural ingredients can be great for skin if you avoid products that also contain natural fragrant ingredients—exactly the approach Paula’s Choice Skincare takes with each and every one of our products. Our RESIST Omega + Complex and Moisture Renewal Booster are two examples of non-fragrant, non-irritating products loaded with natural ingredients research has shown are good for skin.

There are too many beneficial natural oils and plant extracts to list here—this article would go on for pages and pages! Instead, our advice is to avoid any skincare products that contain fragrant plant oils and extracts. This is relatively easy to do by simply shopping with your nose (paying attention to lack of aroma) and double checking the ingredient list for anything fragrant. You can also look to brands like Paula’s Choice Skincare, which does the detective work for you!

In the end, the best essential oils for skin are the ones you don’t use on your skin—but you can enjoy their aromatherapeutic benefits in other ways, such as from scented candles, sachets, or burning oils in a diffuser. This approach will make your nose and your skin happy!

Re: When is Fragrance Bad?


Chemical constituent of many natural fragrant ingredients, notably citrus oils such as lemon (d-limonene) and pine trees or species of the mint family (l-limonene). 

Topically, limonene can cause sensitivity and is best avoided. Also, because of its penetration-enhancing effects on skin, it’s particularly important to avoid products that contain limonene plus other skin sensitizers like denatured alcohol.

Like most volatile fragrance components, limonene also has strong antioxidant benefits and has also been shown to calm skin; however, when exposed to air these highly volatile antioxidant compounds oxidize and become capable of sensitizing skin.



Fragrant component of lavender and coriander that can be a potent skin sensitizer.



A volatile fragrance ingredient extracted from geranium, geraniol is capable of causing sensitivity when applied to skin. However, the risk of such reaction has to do with depth of penetration into skin, and geraniol doesn’t penetrate skin easily. As such, although it’s not a great ingredient to see on a label if you have sensitive skin, it isn’t among the most troublesome fragrance ingredients when used in low concentrations. Despite the lesser concern, research has shown that, like many fragrant oil components, geraniol can oxidize in the presence of air, causing damage when appied to skin's surface.


@TracyThalo I got this from the Paula's Choice Ingredient Dictionary.  Citral wasn't listed.

Re: When is Fragrance Bad?

You're right @TracyThalo, the vast majority of perfumes are alcohol based. Since you only spritz it on lightly, I don't think dehydration is a serious concern. But if you are worried, more and more oil-based perfumes are becoming available. There's also the option of spritzing one's hair (what I prefer to do) or clothes (as long as the perfume doesn't stain) which also has the effect of prolonging the duration of the scent.


The ingredients you list are chemicals found in essential oils, but EOs are far more complex and contain many different chemicals. Of course, not all EOs are safe to apply to the skin. I'd research any EOs before applying directly to skin, especially if you're not diluting them in a carrier oil - they can be irritating, or make your skin photosensitive, etc.

Re: When is Fragrance Bad?

Awesome, I was asking in regards to skincare ingredients not perfume! So they will sit on the surface of the skin for hours and since I avoid alcohol it sounds like continuing to avoid fragrance is prudent too! 

Re: When is Fragrance Bad?

Ah, please excuse my misunderstanding @TracyThalo! I hope the information about chemicals like linalool helped 🙂

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