Fragrance in your skincare, is that good or bad?

A fragrance in your skin care, some like it, others don’t. In some people, it can even cause allergies. A scent is apparently very personal and also culturally determined. Time to explore what perfume does for your skin and what the facts are.

A fragrance, how is it made?

There are thousands of chemicals that have a scent. More than 2,000 chemical ingredients are used in the perfume industry, of which only 300 to 400 are of natural origin.

A perfume consists of many hundreds of fragrance ingredients and a perfumer carries out a long series of experiments to create the optimal balance. A character of a perfume changes over time, and the volatility of the perfume raw materials plays an important role in this.

Perfume is made up of two things: top notes and the bottom or base.
1. The most volatile ingredients are the top notes. For example, that could be citrus followed by a heart note, which can have a floral, fruity or spicy scent.
2. You can smell the bottom or base the longest and consists of amber, vanilla and woods.

The concentration of perfume in eau de parfume, cologne and toilette varies from 3 to 15%, in skin care from 0.2 to 2% and in lipstick around 1%.

Perfume allergy

An allergy to perfume belongs to the so-called “type IV delayed type hypersensitivity reactions”. It is also referred to as a contact allergy. The skin symptoms arise because the perfume raw materials have caused an immune reaction in the person who is hypersensitive to them. This type IV skin reaction is characterized by redness, itching, scaling, bumps on the affected skin area.

In total, more than 150 fragrances can cause contact allergies. Up to 4.5% of adults are allergic to fragrances, and in suspected perfume allergy sufferers, the frequency may be as high as 20% to 25%.

There are more than 2000 fragrances, but more than 150 substances cause allergies on the skin.

The most common sensitizers are linalool and limonene hydroperoxides, hydroxyisohexyl-3-cyclohexenecarboxaldehyde, tree moss and oak moss, isoeugenol, cinnamon alcohol and cinnamon. Products that cause sensitization are often deodorants, fine fragrances and aftershaves.

How is perfume allergy tested?

Dermatologists use an allergy patch test, usually on the back.

Example Of An Adhesive Test On The Back – 1 Box Corresponds To 1 Fabric

Samples of at least 30 substances (according to the European standard series) that everyone regularly comes into contact with are pasted on the back. Usually the research is extended with an additional series of perfume mixes that are often found in cosmetics. The perfume mixes consist of mix I and II, both mixtures of fragrances.

Perfume mix I consists of the following substances: cinnamyl alcohol, cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, alpha-amyl-cinnamaldehyde, hydroxycitronellal, geraniol, isoeugenol and oak moss absolute.

Perfume mix II consists of: alpha-Hexyl cinnamal aldehyde 5%, Citral 1%, Citronellol 0.5%, Farnesol 2.5%, Coumarin 2.5% and Hydroxymethylpentylcyclohexenecarboxaldehyde 2.5%.

An interesting study investigated over a period of 25 years, the relationship between atopy and perfume mix I. Atopy means a person’s predisposition to produce antibodies, specifically directed against harmless substances in your environment. Just think of tree and grass pollen, house dust mites, dogs and cats. These people often have an atopic predisposition, such as atopic eczema, asthma or hay fever. The conclusion of the study was that there is no relationship between atopy and an allergy to perfume mix I.

Here you will find an extensive list of allergens.


The term hypoallergenic means that a product, skin care cream, shampoo or detergent does not contain any ingredients known to cause an allergic reaction.

A logical thought is that “hypoallergenic” means the same as “no chance of an allergic reaction”. In practice, nothing could be further from the truth. You can actually have an allergic reaction to any ingredient! It is true that a number of ingredients are known to provoke allergic reactions more quickly. The term hypoallergenic is not legally defined and can therefore be used freely.

More about the sensitive skin

The phenomenon of pigmented cosmetic dermatitis (PCD)

PCD is a non-eczematous variant of contact dermatitis. This is characterized by dark spots (hyperpigmentation) with little or no signs of dermatitis. It mainly occurs in people with dark skin and people with skin type fitzpatrick 4 and above.

The hyperpigmentation is located on the cheeks, forehead and sometimes the entire face. PCD consists of diffuse or blotchy brown hyperpigmentation. In severe cases, the pigmentation is even black, purple or blue-black; in mild cases it tends to light brown. Occasionally red spots or papules are visible, indicating mild contact dermatitis. PCD can also lead to itchiness Nowadays it is rare because the cosmetic industry no longer uses strong skin sensitizers in products.

Influence of perfume?

Fragrances have traditionally been used to mask body odors and make the body smell more pleasant. The psychology of fragrance choice, on the other hand, is still in its infancy. Smell studies have suggested an important role for olfactory (olfactory nerve) stimulation and alteration of cognition, mood, and social behavior. That is to say that certain scents can bring back memories or even influence behavior, just think of aromatherapy. People have been using this form of therapy for thousands of years. In China, India and Japan, aromatic plant and flower extracts were processed into resins, balms and oils. These substances were used for medical and religious purposes.

Shopping centers in Japan, the US and even in our own country (the Magna Plaza in Amsterdam) use scents to influence the buying behavior and mood of consumers. One article describes that shoppers spent up to 30% longer in a store when the scent was strong compared to shoppers in an unscented store.

Did you know 1?

Deodorant is more difficult to obtain in East Asia and Korea and is also relatively expensive? That has to do with a gene called ABCC11, which determines whether people produce wet or dry earwax. The loss of this gene function causes dry earwax. People with dry earwax also lack a chemical in their armpits that feeds bacteria and thus causes underarm odor. In short, that means odorless armpits….

Did you know 2?

Does perfume smell differently on dry skin than on normal or oily skin? A perfume is therefore built up in top notes and base scent. The ingredients in top notes are light and quite volatile. They have citrus, spicy and aromatic notes. Perfume on dry skin, the top notes evaporate faster. Which makes you smell relatively more base notes.


Perfume in cosmetics remains a complex subject. . On the one hand, perfume can positively influence mood. On the other hand, there can be an allergic reaction to fragrances. Fragrance allergy occurs in 4.5% of the general population and that increases to 20 to 25% when there is a strong indication for an allergy However, there are thousands of fragrances and several hundred odor contact allergens are known.

A life without smell is like a painting without color

About Francis Wu

“In my dermatology practice, people often ask me about skin-enhancing products. Because I want you as a user to be able to rely on the product you are applying, I have developed my own skincare line: Iconic-Elements. A complete skin care line that stands out because it works (evidence-based)!

Icons Iconic Elements Fruit Acids, Targeted Pigment Serum, Light Skin Peeling
Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
Iconopedia nieuwsbrief


Schrijf je in op onze nieuwsbrief voor meer informatie over huidverzorging en exclusieve voordelen.