Synthetic fragrance is added to products ranging from laundry detergent, household cleaners, and air fresheners to personal care products that come in contact with your skin and hair. Whether you’re bothered by a fragrance sensitivity or you just don’t want to announce your presence to everyone’s nose, you can find sustainable brands that carry fragrance-free personal care products.
On average, women use 12 personal care products daily, adding up to 168 chemical ingredients. Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies, and it may absorb the ingredients in products we put on it. Yet the ingredients in personal care products are largely unregulated even though they come into close contact with our bodies.
Many people are experiencing sensitivities to personal care products, resulting in symptoms like headaches, nausea, and skin irritation. Fragrances are one of the common culprits. In fact, fragrances are found in the vast majority of personal care products, including shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, balm, and deodorant.
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What Are the Issues With Synthetic Fragrances?
Some people merely don’t want to walk around smelling like a spring morning, fresh dew, or a vanilla pod. But many people are concerned about the toxic ingredients in many synthetic fragrances. Contrary to popular belief, many fragrances are made in laboratories and not from essential oils with natural ingredients.
Sadly, they can contain anything from endocrine disruptors to carcinogens. Many people have allergic reactions or eczema flare-ups from synthetic fragrances, and fragrances can be an asthma trigger in some individuals.
Whenever possible, it is best to avoid synthetic fragrances, but unfortunately, they are not typically listed on the label. In the United States and Canada, personal care product manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients in fragrances because they are considered a trade secret. So, it can take a bit of detective work to know if they are there.
What Is the Difference Between “Unscented” and “Fragrance-free”?
“Fragrance-free” means that the product contains no synthetic or natural fragrances. However, “unscented” doesn’t mean the same thing. In fact, products labeled “unscented” can contain fragrances, which is very counterintuitive. Often, other ingredients have odors, and manufacturers use fragrances to mask or neutralize these odors. Typically, “unscented” products don’t have an obvious fragrance except for a more sensitive nose.
Because the ingredients themselves have an odor to them, it is difficult for personal care products to have no scent at all. For example, olive oil is an ingredient in many natural products, but it does have a detectable scent, even if it isn’t used as a fragrance.
Are Products Labeled “All-natural” Safer?
Unfortunately, “Natural” is an unregulated term by the Food and Drug Administration. Thus, companies commonly use this term for greenwashing products to make them seem greener than they actually are.
Often, a more helpful approach is to read product labels to determine what they don’t contain. For example, look for products that say things like “no phthalates,” “non-GMO,” “cruelty-free,” and “no parabens.” Although deciphering an ingredients list can be difficult for most of us, parabens are easier to identify because they commonly contain “paraben” in their name.
Also, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep database scores 10,000 personal care products on a scale from 1 to 10, based on if the product contains toxic or hazardous ingredients.
Another helpful approach is to find trusted brands with high standards and then stick to them for a variety of products. Please refer to the list of personal care brands below for guidance.
If you want to take things a step further, it’s also relatively easy to make many personal care products for women, men, and children with ingredients like jojoba oil, unscented castile soap, and olive oil. This is the easiest way to know exactly what you are putting on your skin or hair.
Are Unscented Products Better for Babies?
In general, it is best to minimize the use of colognes, perfumes, and fragrances with babies and toddlers to avoid possible skin irritation and harmful health effects. However, many baby products do contain some synthetic fragrances. Because many “unscented” products do contain fragrances, it’s best to seek natural baby products without fragrances, such as Dr. Bronner’s line of fragrance-free baby products.
Natural Fragrance-free and Unscented Personal Care Products
These are some of the best natural and fragrance-free products on the market today. Most take actions to reduce packaging waste, prevent animal cruelty, and use plant-based ingredients.
Attitude’s personal care products are EWG-verified, which means they are free from EWG’s chemicals of concern. The company produces unscented body lotion, baby wipes, conditioner, shampoo, hand soap, deodorant, mineral sunscreen, body wash, and moisturizer. These products are vegan, cruelty-free, and ideal for sensitive skin.
Dr. Bronners is known for its highly versatile Castile soup with its 18 uses. Several of its products, including the liquid castile soap, bar soap, magic balm, 4-in-1 organic sugar soap, shaving soap, and “naked” scent lip balm are available unscented and contain no fragrances. The company uses only pure, non-GMO ingredients, many of which are certified organic, and uses 100% post-consumer recycled packaging. Its products aren’t tested on animals and the company is a Certified B Corporation.
Ethique has a variety of fragrance-free products including shampoo, conditioner, face moisturizer, deodorant, body cleanser, and body wash. To minimize packaging waste, it offers solid shampoo and cleanser bars, as well as concentrated shampoos, conditioners, and moisturizers that you simply mix with boiling water to create a liquid. Ethique uses compostable packaging, carbon-neutral products, and plants a tree for every order.
The Honest Company
The Honest Company produces a line of fragrance-free products, including bubble bath, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and baby wipes. It is a Certified B Corporation, does not test on animals, and its products are EWG-verified, meaning the organization considers it free of chemicals of concern and meets high standards for health.
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Long Wknd has a line of fragrance-free products, including deodorant, shampoo bars, conditioner bars, body wash bars, and lip balm, all in plastic-free, compostable packaging. They feature toxin-free ingredients, make small batches, and do not test on animals.
Nurture My Body
Nurture My Body‘s fragrance-free products include shampoo, sunscreen, lotion, moisturizers, bar soap, and cleansers. It uses only plant-based, organic, and vegan ingredients.
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Plaine Products produces a line of unscented shampoos, conditioners, body wash, and lotions. As a Certified B Corporation, Plaine Products meets certain environmental and social standards and even provides carbon-neutral shipping. The products come in aluminum bottles that you can send back to the company to be refilled and reused — here’s how it works.
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Originally published on January 4, 2022, this article was updated in August 2022.