Time was, whenever I was faced with a product targeted at “sensitive skin”, I’d just smile politely and move on. I was convinced (not without reason) that my skin was not sensitive. And to a large extent, there was some truth in that.
Generally speaking, I do not have what is conventionally referred to as “sensitive skin”. My skin does not get irritated easily, and I do not suffer from eczema or most skin problems (for which I am very thankful!). I have older, more matured skin than most of you reading this, I warrant, and I am plagued by the problems associated with age – hyperpigmentation, loss of elasticity, dry skin – and I target those concerns in my skincare regimen.
While I now take the trouble to look at the ingredient list on a skincare product, I’d never quite thought about how fragrance reacts with my skin, despite reading a lot of literature telling me that it can sensitize skin or aggravate sensitive skin. I have friends who tell me they cannot use a certain product that I might enjoy, because the fragrance in the product irritates their skin. I never quite understood it. Sorry guys :P
But recently, I had an experience that drove the point home for me. Fragrance in skincare, in copious amounts in my case, can indeed lead to skin sensitivity! Do you experience the same?
When I started out on my skincare journey at least 20 years ago, I did not have a wide choice of products on my hands. What I could get was whatever could be found in local pharmacies or department store cosmetics counters. I was a long time user of Estee Lauder for a while, before switching around to Lancome, SK-II, dabbling in La Mer for a spell, before going in the opposite direction and using L’Oreal Paris and Olay, to just name a few off the top of my head.
I was used to having a perfumed, floral fragrance in my skincare, as I am sure most of you are. I spoke to someone recently, who told me, quite off-hand, that not having a fragrance in her skincare made it feel like something was missing, or that it was off. I can understand that, because I’ve been there. I’ve enjoyed luxuriating in what I thought, was a luxurious cream, because it smelled good. I also spoke to some brand people over the years, who told me that the reason why most higher-end skincare ranges targeted at older (or, in their words, matured) women are heavily fragranced, is because our sense of smell tends to diminish as we age so they had to made it smell stronger.
I’d kept this little nugget of information tucked away in my mind palace for a while. As I age however, I don’t think that my sense of smell has deteriorated (ask me again when I’m 50 or 60 please LOL! :D ). On the contrary, my nose is now quite sensitive to fragrance in skincare, to the extent that I now shy away from heavily fragranced products. This is primarily an olfactory issue, not a reactionary issue, and I do realise I am in the minority here.
But what drove home the point for me that fragrance in skincare can lead to skin sensitivity was a recent experience I had.
I was testing out a range of skincare products quite recently. I had the whole range, which was unusually generous, so I decided to see how they would work, when used as a whole range, instead of just picking out one or two items. This was a luxury department store brand, and the products were quite heavily fragranced with a floral perfume. I noted this, when first introduced, but (as always happens) was told that the fragrance was specially formulated to smell good, and to calm the senses. It was pleasant, but noticeable.
I was on the range for about 3 weeks, day and night, before I started noticing that my skin was reacting to the products. My skin was taking on a blotchy appearance, especially on my cheeks. This was noticeable after I washed my face in the morning. Usually, my skin looks its best first thing in the morning when I wake up. This time, it was red and patchy, and my skin looked dull. I did not experience itchiness nor bumpy skin. It was just red and patchy and it was odd for me, as I’d not experienced something like this before. Usually, if I react to a product, I break out. Not end up with blotchy skin.
I stopped using the products thereafter, and went back to my normal skincare routine, mixing and matching products that I know works for me, and calms my skin (a combination of skin calming products like the REN Evercalm mask and Melvita Apiscoma Soothing cream helped). My skin went back to normal thereafter – no more redness nor blotchiness.
I attributed this heightened sensitivity in my skin to the heavy fragrance used in the products. While using all the products from the same brand and range, I was effectively layering them one over another, and because they were all fragranced, I was layering the fragrance on top of each other. This, I believe, ended up being too much for my skin. A point to note here, is that my reference to “fragrance” is “synthetic fragrance”, usually added to make the cream or product smell better, and often listed on the ingredients list towards the end as “fragrance”.
I’ve since added back one or two of the products into my routine and have not experienced anything of a similar nature, which adds to my belief, that this is a fragrance issue.
I believe that the reason my skin reacted to the fragrance in this skincare range, is because I no longer use heavily fragranced skincare. Or perhaps, to be more exact, heavy synthethically fragranced skincare. Some skincare I use do have fragrance, some of which come from essential oils, some of which may be synthetic. But I do not pile them on, so it does not build up enough to irritate my skin.
Now, lest you think I avoid fragrance in my skincare altogether, I’ll have to dissuade you of that thought. It just never crossed my mind. However, when I was looking for products to photograph for this post, I realised that many products I use either do not have a fragrance, or do not have artificial fragrance added. There are the odd few that have them, but the majority do not. It was not conscious on my part, but I think it is to do with the fact that my nose detects that floral fragrance in most skincare and automatically rejects them. So, I’ve slowly pared out heavily fragranced skincare from my arsenal, but there is the odd item in there that is fragranced.
For this reason, I believe, that when my skin was suddenly bombarded with layers upon layers of artificial fragrance, it just had a breakdown. But this also brought home to me, how important it is for us to pay attention to our skin, so we know when something isn’t right.
I wanted to share my experience with you, so you could have a little think about your skincare and how it reacts on your skin. If you find that your skin is often red and blotchy, perhaps consider that it might be your skincare doing more harm than good, and perhaps, it could just be your skin reacting to the artificial fragrance in your skincare.
While I enjoy a pleasant smelling skincare product, I also realise that often, the fragrance element in there doesn’t serve a purpose for our skin. It could just be in there to mask the smell of the other ingredients, or because people like you and I expect to have a pleasant smelling product. The first thing everyone does when testing a skincare product, is to hold it to their noses – I challenge you to tell me you don’t! :D But do note that most skincare ranges that are targeted for sensitive skin usually boast a fragrance-free label.
I am in the minority here, in that I do not mind a product that does not smell of flowers. In fact, I welcome it. I don’t mind products that smell herbal or earthy or green. I don’t mind if they don’t smell of anything. And I believe that it is for this reason, my skin has lost its tolerance for fragrance – which, if you ask me, isn’t a bad thing at all! :D I’d like for my perfume to linger on my skin, but not on my face.
Does your skin react to fragrance in skincare?
Many of you have noticed that I do not use many conventional department stores brands in my routines, whenever I share them. This is primarily due to my quest for experimentation, as well as my lower tolerance for fragrance and now silicones in skincare which I often find in department store brands. I’ll tell you about silicones another day. But that boils down to a sensory issue not a reactionary one :) Now, tell me. Does fragrance in skincare bother you? I’d like to hear your thoughts or experiences! :D