The link between artificial fragrance and skin aging

June 25, 2018

The link between artificial fragrance and skin aging

We are all aware of the health implications associated with artificial fragrance. From asthma and allergies to rashes and inflammation, mounting evidence suggests that it is best to avoid synthetic fragrance. Now, there is another reason you may want to consider breaking up with fragrance: it may be making your skin look older.

How artificial fragrance ages your skin - here's how it works~

Fragrance + sun = brown spots

Photosensitivity is when a reaction between the sun and a particular ingredient causes inflammation.  According to New York City medical practice Advanced Dermatology Associates, fragrance contains compounds that are often photosensitive, causing "...brown spots on your skin when it combines with the sun on your skin. The solution: spray perfume on your clothes instead of directly on your skin...Your favorite perfume or cologne is likely to contain alcohol, which when applied to your exposed skin during daylight hours, causes it to become photosensitive to sunlight. This means your skin is more likely to suffer from sunburn, leading to wrinkles, pigmentation and possibly even skin cancer."

Fragrance is quite volatile and when applied to the skin, it can impact skin’s ability to protect itself against harmful UV damage. The result? Hyperpigmentation spots and loss of firmness.

Fragrance + reaction = inflammation --> wrinkles

Inflammation is bad. We have discussed the sun and aging. We know that UV damage is the #1 cause of skin aging. Not far behind is inflammation. 

When you experience an inflammatory response, it impacts your body at the cellular level. How? Inflammation triggers the release of free radicals. Free radicals damage the tissues and lead to fine lines and wrinkles.

There are many ingredients that make up "fragrance" that are linked to inflammation, including phthalates. Not only that, but if you happen to be one of the millions of people who are sensitive to fragrance and experience redness or irritation, that inflammatory response stresses skin cells.

Says dermatologist Dr. Joel Cohen, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Colorado, “The skin gets damaged and that sends a signal to the body to release inflammatory cells to the area.”

Those inflammatory cells ultimately lead to fine lines and wrinkles.


Did you know that many anti-aging creams still use artificial fragrance? Let's check a few out~

Given the growing research on fragrance and skin aging, why risk applying "anti-aging" creams that may actually be damaging your skin? While more brands are beginning to catch on and are starting to add fragrance free products to their line-ups, many mainstream brands continue to formulate with fragrance.

For example, Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream is a face moisturizer with hyaluronic acid and niacinamide. Here are the ingredients:

Water, Glycerin, Isohexadecane, Niacinamide, Isopropyl Isostearate, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Nylon-12, Dimethicone, Panthenol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Palmitoyl Pentapeptide-4, Sodium Peg-7 Olive Oil Carboxylate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Ceratonia Siliqua (Carob) Fruit Extract, Stearyl Alcohol, Polyethylene, Cetyl Alcohol, Behenyl Alcohol, Sodium Acrylates Copolymer, Titanium Dioxide, Benzyl Alcohol, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Dimethiconol, Polyacrylamide, Fragrance, Peg-100 Stearate, Propylparaben, Cetearyl Glucoside, Cetearyl Alcohol, C13-14 Isoparaffin, Disodium Edta, Citric Acid, Stearic Acid, Palmitic Acid, C12-13 Pareth-3, Laureth-7, Sodium Hydroxide, Mica

In addition the many questionable ingredients, including parabens, PEG ingredients, and lye, this cream contains fragrance.

Another popular cream on the market with fragrance is one that is marketed as a natural product, the Aveda Botanical Kinetics Intense Hydrating Soft Creme:

Ingredients: Water\Aqua\Eau, Heptyl Undecylenate, Glycerin, Propanediol, Theobroma Grandiflorum Seed Butter, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis (Palm) Oil, Algae Extract, Chlorella Vulgaris Extract, Salicornia Herbacea Extract, Caffeine, Cholesterol, Sea Salt\Maris Sal\Sel Marin, Lauroyl Lysine, Salicylic Acid, Hydrolyzed Algin, Sodium Hyaluronate, Tocopherol, Dimethicone, Polyglyceryl-10 Pentastearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Glyceryl Stearate, Sodium PCA, PEG-100 Stearate, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Behenyl Alcohol, Xanthan Gum, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Hydroxide, Fragrance (Parfum), Farnesol, Linalool, Citronellol, Citral, Limonene, Benzyl Benzoate, Geraniol, Sodium Citrate, Phenoxyethanol 

As with the Olay above, the Aveda product contains artificial fragrance.

Lush Skin's Shangri La is an anti-aging face cream that is marketed as natural. Here are the ingredients:

Queen of Hungary's Water (Water, Vodka & Rosmarinus Officinalis Leaf) Almond Oil (Prunus Dulcis) Cold Pressed Organic Jojoba Oil (Simmondsia Chinensis) Fresh Wheatgrass Juice (Triticum Vulgare) Bladderwrack Seaweed (Fucus Vesiculosus) Extract Organic Aloe Vera Gel (Aloe Barbadensis) Glycerine Stearic Acid Cocoa Butter (Theobroma Cacao) Cetearyl Alcohol Cold Pressed Organic Evening Primrose Oil (Oenothera biennis) Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (Cocos Nucifera) Cold Pressed Organic Wheatgerm Oil (Triticum Vulgare) Lanolin Triethanolamine Beeswax (Cera Alba) Vanilla Absolute (Vanilla Planifolia) Violet Leaf Absolute (Viola Odorata) *Benzyl Salicylate *Geraniol *Benzyl Benzoate *Farnesol *Linalool Fragrance Methylparaben Propylparaben

Not only are the multiple parabens in this formula from Lush, but the product contains artificial fragrance. 

Let's compare to Seed Extra Moisturizing Face Cream:

Fragrance free anti-aging face cream for younger brighter skin

Aqua (Water), Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Ewax (vegetable based), Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (Coconut Oil), Phoenix Dactylifera (Date) Seed Extract, Behenyl Alcohol, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Crambe Abyssinica Seed Oil, Sodium Benzoate, Gluconolactone, Hydrolyzed lupine protein, Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C) Ester, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Tocopherol, Xanthan Gum, Hyaluronic Acid.


At Seed, everything we formulate is available in 100% fragrance free options. For those who prefer a bit of an aroma, we offer 100% pure essential oil options. After all, why use an anti-aging facial cream is it contains ingredients that may actually make your skin look older?


Millqvist E, Lowhagen O. (1996) Placebo-controlled challenges with perfume in patients with asthma-like symptoms. Allergy 51, 434-439.

Aging, March 2012, pages 166-175

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