The truth about fragrance

With so much ‘natural’ products out there, I’ve got used to seeing different types of oils in the products, especially those claiming that the aroma comes from ‘naturally-derived’ oils. But I’ve only recently found out that fragrance oils are different from essential oils.


Photo credit:

Photo credit:


A little sketch of what this post is about

Let’s go through the basics first before we dive into the common misconceptions: (but if you’ve read my IG post on fragrance, this part is a repetition, so you can click here to jump to the next part!)




Fragrance is what gives a product its aroma, or helps to mask the not-so-pleasant smell of a product. It can be naturally-derived, or from synthetic chemicals. Found everywhere from shampoo, face creams, to deodorants, fragrance can be naturally derived or by combining a cocktail of chemicals.

That perfume (or fragrance) fades quickly does not mean it only evaporates. Most of the fragrances today contains Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that readily evaporates into the air, but this doesn’t mean the chemicals won’t be ingested, absorbed into your skin. 🙅  Harmful VOCs are not immediately toxic, but they can have long-term compounding effects. [1]

Fragrance chemicals can be shit, but ‘natural’ ingredients that are added to give fragrance, are not problem-free either. E.g. Bergamot Oil is classified as a strong skin sensitizer (if product contains more than 2% of it). So it’s important to know what exactly the fragrance is made of, which we will NEVER know because of trade secret laws.[2]

Thanks to trade secret laws, manufacturers do not have to declare what chemicals (natural or synthetic) are used to create the scent. So there can be more than 100 ingredients in the perfume, but they never tell you! [3]

The tricky thing is: it is not that manufacturers of your body lotion or deodorant want to poison you, the thing is, they might not know much about what is in the fragrance, because they just buy it from fragrance houses which are protected by trade secret laws. [See important distinction between fragrance house vs fragrance brand - 4] Safety guidelines are there, but they are only adhered to on voluntary basis.



(1) Stay away from artificial fragrance or anything called ‘parfum’ or ‘perfume’ on the ingredient list.

(2) What I am saying is, having fragrance to a product is most of the time ⚡️UNNECESSARY⚡️. While there are industry guidelines for manufacturers, there are obvious loopholes. You won’t die immediately from these chemicals, but why expose yourself to unknown risks?

(3) If you really enjoy lovely scents in your products, normally ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ products contain fewer ingredients (no promise that they are absolutely safe, but at least you tried😅 lol) and normally comes with ingredients that contain inherent fragrance.



  • Even products that claim to be 'unscented' can contain fragrance. This is because "the manufacturer may add just enough fragrance to mask the unpleasant smell of other ingredients, without giving the product a noticeable scent." [5]
  • ❗️❗️❗️❗️Essential oils are different from fragrance oils - essential oils are plant-derived, whereas fragrance oils (or aroma oils, aromatic oils, flavour oils, etc.) are synthetic or essential oils diluted in a carrier like propylene glycol/vegetable oil/mineral oil. [6]
  • Just because essential oils are natural doesn't mean they are good in quality. I can write another post soon on how natural & organic are different. Just an example - a natural product can contain pesticides!
  • Just because essential oils are derived from plants doesn’t mean they are safe. Many plants contain materials that are toxic, irritating, or likely to cause allergic reactions when applied to the skin. For example, cumin oil is safe in food, but can cause the skin to blister. Certain citrus oils used safely in food can also be harmful in cosmetics, particularly when applied to skin exposed to the sun. [5] Some essential oils are known to be dermal irritants, and, consequently, should not be used in skin care, include white camphor, cedarwood, cajeput, and clove. Peppermint, lemon, and eucalyptus essential oils are commonly found in skincare products, but they can also cause skin irritation and should be used with caution. Furthermore, there are essential oils that are phototoxic and should be avoided in skin care (topically); these oils include citrus oils, bergamot, St. John’s wort, ginger, and verbena. [7]
  • Essential oil doesn't necessarily smell good, just as plants can smell weird...
  • The dosage of essential oils is important, as essential oils in its pure / 'neat' form should not be directly applied to the skin.  Some oils can be dermal irritants, dermal sensitizers, photosensitizers, mucous membrane irritants, etc. or to be avoided during pregnancy [I am no expert in this so I'm attempting to list what I find here, for more, see [8 & 9]. Too much can be lethal [9].
  • Don’t use essential oils directly on skin if you’re ill-advised. Essential oils should always be used with a carrier oil, such as jojoba, safflower, or grapeseed. There are only a few that can be used neat (directly on the skin); these oils include lavender, tea tree, ylang ylang, and sandalwood. However, it is a good idea to use a carrier oil with all essential oils in topical application. [7]



So when it comes to using essential oils, you must consult or buy products from well-trained aromatherapists.


sincerely, kammie.png