Never have I ever: What it’s like to use only fragrance-free skincare


Going fragrance-free might be the answer to your skin woes.

Most people have a list of accomplishments they struck off during circuit breaker, and, like everyone else, I baked, worked out, and had myriad Netflix parties. But one of the biggest changes I’ve made is transitioning to a fragrance-free skincare routine.

There are many aspects of beauty one could adopt, clean beauty and cruelty-free for instance, and this one is as straightforward as it sounds. Since I started working from home, I developed acne on my cheekbones and jawline that was exacerbated when I introduced a facial scrub into a routine that I’d stuck to for a long time. These products kept my skin plump and hydrated for years. But it was time for a change. 

Frustrated, I turned to Youtube and found Dr Andrea Suarez, who is more famously known as Dr Dray. Dr Dray is a board-certified dermatologist and boy, does she take skincare seriously. There are no over-the-top glittery introductions here. Her vlogs are detailed explanations of specific ingredients, and issues including how to read ingredients lists, and tips for treating textured skin. Word of caution: these can get long, and are so informative that you might need a break in between.

Her channel is a goldmine of education with a grounding philosophy of fragrance-free skincare.

Why fragrance should be avoided

Fragrance is the number one cause of contact dermatitis, which refers to a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction to it. Exposing yourself to allergens (such as fragrance) can make you develop a sensitivity to it, leading to the rash. No ingredient is allergy-proof but keeping your skincare routine minimal can reduce any inflammatory response.

What’s alarming is that fragrance ingredients can increase the risk of you developing an allergy to other ingredients. And while the effects don’t show immediately, they appear silently via minor problems, and bigger ones in the long term. Skin problems caused by fragrance can even accelerate aging. Think hyper pigmentation.

Fragrance ingredients to look out for

Fragrances are mostly made of essential oils and aromatic chemicals. Natural ingredients, such as essential oils, aren’t safe either as they can cause a sensitising reaction.  Note two things when shopping for fragrance-free products. Just because a brand labels itself as fragrance-free, doesn’t mean it is. Likewise, unscented and hypoallergenic does not mean fragrance-free

Arm yourself with a list of typical fragrance ingredients. These include parfum, citronellol, limonene, cinnamal, eugenol, lavender oil, rose flower extract, bergamot oil, ylang ylang, peppermint, eucalyptus and orange. Avoid essential oils as much as possible. While they contain antioxidants, they can also irritate skin.

My experience with using fragrance-free skincare:

As someone who has written about beauty for years, it made my heart ache to give up the products I loved. Many were ones that I swore by for self-care. Using them meant face massages and deep inhalations of the scents. I replaced every product in my routine, from my choice of cleansing oil, cleanser, to exfoliant, serum, moisturiser, retinol, and even sunscreen. Fragrance-free doesn’t have to be a simpler or milder routine as I still continued using actives such as retinol and BHA.

It has been three months now and my skin has consistently stayed hydrated. Despite switching to all-new products, I experienced zero inflammations thanks to formulas that lacked allergens. The bumps on my skin have smoothened out, and while I still do have the occasional pimple, my skin is no longer plagued by redness, and flare-ups.

Click through the gallery for our recommendations for fragrance-free skincare brands:

Main image: Paula’s Choice 

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