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There’s a real allure to slathering your skin in a gorgeous smell; it feels like a real luxury. For many of us, using scented beauty products, from moisturiser and cleanser to shampoo and shower gel, is an integral part of our daily routine.
But what happens when you just don’t react well to heavily scented products? If you struggle with skin that’s prone to sensitivity and irritation, using fragranced products might not be in the best interest of your skin.
If you know that products containing certain ingredients don’t work well for you, you try to avoid them. But the issue comes with a lack of clarity regarding which products are suitable for sensitive skin and which contain fragrances that could potentially cause issues.
When it comes to ‘fragrance free’ and ‘unscented’ beauty products, there’s still somewhat of a grey area, with many brands using these terms interchangeably, which can be rather confusing.
Below, we’ve spoken to a dermatologist about the ins and outs of products for sensitive types and how fragrance and aromas can impact your skin health, to help guide you through the process.
What you really need to know about ‘fragrance-free’ beauty
If you’re going to overhaul your beauty bag for your sensitive skin, you’ll need to know how to determine if a product has added fragrance. The simple test is a sniff one: if you can smell a scent, the product has some kind of fragrance.
However, just because a product is dubbed as ‘fragrance free’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s free from any scent. A fragrance free or unscented product usually doesn’t have any obvious scent, but it may have a fragrance that naturally occurs as a result of the formula ingredients.
Often, the cause of a skin reaction is added fragrance – either synthetic or natural or even an essential oil. For anyone with sensitive skin, any added fragrance can cause skin irritation and reaction. However, it’s synthetic fragrances that are one of the leading causes of irritation.
Dr T Amuthalingam, who runs the Dr.Derme skin clinic and is an associate non-executive director of the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust explains.
“If you are sensitive to fragrances you may have what we call allergic contact dermatitis to the ingredients the fragrances contain,” says Dr Amuthalingam, adding that this affects up to 1% of adults
“Essential oils are common ingredients in perfumes as they are hard to mimic. If you have specific allergies it is best to avoid the particular ingredient. The chemical you are allergic to can be confirmed by patch testing although it is difficult to avoid every product that may contain it.”
Dr Amuthalingam adds: “Allergies happen when you are exposed to the chemicals and your skin reacts as the first form of defence, known as sensitisation. Every time you are exposed to that ingredient again you will develop a reaction within hours to days.”
How to choose products that won’t cause a skin reaction
When it comes to sourcing products that don’t cause sensitive and allergy-prone skin to react, it’s best to look for ones that have been formulated or approved by dermatologists.
Dr Amuthalingam says: check the label. “You should look out for fragrance-free and dermatologically tested labels on the products,” he recommends.
Of course, it can be hard to determine why your skin reacts to one fragrance and not another; it can also be tricky to determine which aroma (or chemical) is causing the reaction.
This is why, when buying a new product, he advises testing the formula on a small area of skin before using it for the first time. A patch test will determine whether your skin reacts to the product and will help you reduce the risk of a larger scale reaction.
In terms of good products to use, he says: “Cera Ve has an extensive range of products that I recommend to my patients with all kinds of skin conditions as they have very few additives and are tolerated well by most. Cetaphil has a fragrance free range which may also be suitable.”
We’ve put together a guide to all of the best dermatologist recommended products, from skincare to haircare, for sensitive and allergy-prone skin.
Elemis Pro-Collagen Naked Cleansing Balm
This fragrance-free version of the award-winning Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm has been created to offer a ‘naked’ version of the brand’s cult cleanser, and boy is it good. Formulated with sensitive skin in mind, it's free from fragrance and irritants, but works just as effectively as the original. When applied to skin, the balm melts into an oil which can be used to effectively wipe away dirt and makeup, leaving skin fresh, clean and clear. Get it for £44 from Look Fantastic
Cetaphil Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser Face Wash
Exfoliating your skin should be a part of your skincare routine, but for anyone with sensitive skin, exfoliating can cause soreness, redness and irritation. Enter, this dermatologist-approved exfoliating cleanser face wash. This light scrub gently removes dead and dry skin cells, while also unclogging pores. Get it for £7.19 (was £11.99) from Amazon
CeraVe Moisturising Cream
For an ultra gentle face cream, CeraVe Moisturising Cream is a great option. It's both hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, and has been developed with dermatologists. The rich but non-greasy formula is designed to help protect the skin’s natural barrier, providing instant and longer lasting hydration, keeping skin healthy and hydrated. Get it for £13 from Amazon
Burt's Bees Sensitive Set
This Burt’s Bees Sensitive Set (including Night Cream, Moisturising Cream, and Facial Cleanser) is formulated to be extremely gentle. Each product is free from fragrance, made from 99% natural ingredients, is hypoallergenic, and is allergy and dermatologist tested – what more could your skin want?
Get it for £34.38 (was £44.47) from Amazon
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream Moisturiser with Hyaluronic Acid & Trehalose
This Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel is dermatologically tested, fragrance free, and promised to keep your skin looking supple and feeling smooth. The gel cream offers hydration throughout the day, replenishing the epidermis and protecting the skin barrier. (I'm a big fan of the super lightweight formula for how easily it soaks into skin.)Get it for £11.06 (was £12.99) from Amazon
Philip Kingsley No Scent No Colour Duo - Shampoo & Conditioner
Your scalp can also be sensitive, which is where this haircare duo from Philip Kingsley comes in. Designed with all hair types in mind, this shampoo and conditioner set is scent-free, colour free, and has been formulated to be oh so gentle. The formula gently cleanses and nourishes the scalp and hair, leaving hair feeling fresh and clean. Get it for £32.65 from Look Fantastic
L'Occitane Organic Shea Butter
This is another multipurpose power product. The combo of protective Shea Butter (99.8%) with 0.2% Vitamin E gives it an antioxidant effect. Certified organic, you can use it nourish your body, face or hair – simply melt in the palms of your hands before applying.Get it for £27.78 from Amazon
Dr. PawPaw Multi-Purpose Balm
This super versatile shimmer balm from Dr. PawPaw is fragrance free and suitable for use on lips, skin, hair, cuticles and nails, as well as for ‘beauty finishing’. Created with environmentally friendly iridescent pearls that add a gorgeous glow to lips, cheeks, and skin), this multipurpose balm nourishes, moisturises, and soothes. It’s made from 97% natural ingredients and is also vegan and cruelty free. Get it for £6.95 from Amazon
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Face and Body Wash
This multi-award-winning, dermatologist approved cleanser from Cetaphil (suitable for face and body) is formulated to be ultra gentle and super hydrating – it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. The creamy formula quickly dissolves dirt and oil and effectively removes makeup without stripping the skin or leaving it feeling dry or tight. Get it for £9.19 (was £14.99) from Amazon
L'Occitane Shea Intensive Hand Balm
This isn’t your average hand cream – in fact, it’s not a hand cream at all, it’s a hand balm (think: thicker, creamy, and far more hydrating). It's formulated to offer intense nourishment to skin that’s dry or damaged. This fragrance-free, ultra-rich formula can be used on the daily as a hand cream alternative or twice as week as an intensive hand mask. (I love, love, love how well it cares for my super sensitive and allergy-prone skin.)Get it for £19.20 (was £24) from Amazon
Cetaphil Fragrance Free Daily Facial Moisturiser
This two-in-one moisturiser and SPF 15 from Cetaphil is ideal for protecting sensitive skin from sun damage, while also giving skin a powerful boost. It’s gentle, absorbs quickly, and offers intense hydration for skin. The formula has been clinically tested for sensitive skin and is approved by dermatologists. Get it for £32.31 from Amazon
Aveeno Skin Relief Moisturising Hand Cream
Clinically proven to offer more than 24-hours of hydration while also replenishing the skin’s natural barrier, this gentle hand cream is formulated using finely-milled oats and rich emollients. When applied to skin, the cream absorbs quickly, leaving you with hands that feel soft, smooth, and wonderfully healthy. Get it for £4 (was £5.99) from Amazon
La Roche-Possay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser Face and Eyes Face Milk
This facial cleanser is truly impressive – it's easy to see why it's a cult classic. Formulated for skin that’s sensitive and prone to dryness, the cream-based solution gently removes makeup, while also soothing and comforting skin. It's dermatologically tested, free from preservatives, parabens and fragrance, as well as being from alcohol, colour and lanolin. The formula is also non-comedogenic, and so soft and velvety when applied to skin.Get it for £9.35 (was £10) from Amazon
Green People Scent Free Everyday Hand Cream
This vegan, scent-free hand cream has been formulated to be ultra-gentle and fragrance-free, making it ideal for skin that’s prone to sensitivity. Packed full of natural ingredients, including Omega-3 and 6 (which are great for healthy skin), it leaves hands soft, nourished, and protected from dryness and irritation. (It also works wonders on dry, sore hands because it's so wonderfully rich.)Get it for £13.56 (was £15) from Amazon
Green People Scent Free Facial SPF30 Sun Cream
For anyone with sensitive skin, this broad-spectrum SPF 30 is ideal. It offers protection against UVA and UVB rays and is packed full of antioxidant-rich ingredients; it’s also non comedogenic and is made of up to 78% natural ingredients. The formula is non-greasy and suitable for wearing under makeup – it absorbs quickly and is gentle enough not to sting skin. Get it for £14.80 (was £18) from Amazon
Faith In Nature Natural Fragrance Free Body Wash
Faith In Nature's natural fragrance free body wash is not only hypoallergenic, it’s also vegan and cruelty-free, and contains no SLS or parabens, making it ideal for green queens and anyone with sensitive skin. The formula gently cleanses skin with a rich, creamy lather, and is wonderfully soft and soothing. Get it for £5.50 (was £5.95) from Amazon
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser
This cleanser is super gentle and perfect for skin that's prone to sensitivity. CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser has been developed with dermatologists and is formulated using three essential ceramides that cleanse your skin while protecting its natural moisture barrier. The gentle, non-foaming gel formula is also non-comedogenic – a recurring feature of plenty of our picks here.Get it for £9.49 from Amazon