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Facts About Fragrance and Allergy

6 November 2012

You may have read reports in the media that some fragrance ingredients have been shown to cause allergy and may therefore be restricted or banned. Scientific experts advising the European regulators have looked at a large number of fragrance ingredients – some from natural sources, such as essential oils, and some man-made. It has been suggested that some should be labelled separately in the list of ingredient names as well as having the term ‘parfum’, while a few fragrance ingredients should be either restricted or possibly banned.

The Importance of Fragrance

Fragrances do more than make a product smell nice: they can help to enhance our moods and make an important contribution to how we feel about ourselves. The way a product smells may be one of the most important factors in helping us choose which cosmetics we buy. However some people may choose unfragranced products. The cosmetics industry provides an array of different products to suit all people’s tastes and needs – including fragranced and unfragranced products. The key is to check the label and the Ingredients list.


All cosmetic products sold in the European Union, and many other places around the world, must display a complete ingredients list. This helps users to identify products with ingredients to which they know they are sensitive. All cosmetics that contain any fragrances will have the word ‘parfum’ in that ingredients list and 26 fragrance ingredients, that are considered more likely to cause reactions in susceptible people, will be named separately in the ingredients list if present in the product. This is to help people to make informed choices about what they buy, particularly if they have a diagnosed allergy to a specific fragrance ingredient.

What should you do if you think you are allergic?

Always contact the manufacturer (careline or helpline numbers are provided on the pack) so that they are aware that someone has experienced a reaction to their product. They will then be able to advise you further on what action to take next. If the reaction persists or recurs or you are otherwise concerned you should consult your GP.

Your GP may refer you to a skin specialist, such as a dermatologist. A dermatologist will be able to diagnose the cause of the problem, advise on how to treat it and help you to avoid further reactions in future. In particular, they will advise on the ingredient(s) that you should avoid.

Why not ban all ingredients that can cause allergy?

Almost any substance, natural or man-made, has the potential to produce an allergic reaction in someone, somewhere. Each person is different and someone might find themselves allergic to a substance that others use or consume without any problems. For example, many people eat peanuts or shellfish and yet some cannot. Whilst pollen makes summer miserable for hay fever sufferers, the majority have no such problems.

It is not possible to avoid all substances in cosmetics that might cause a rare allergic reaction in someone, any more than we could avoid all foods to which someone might be allergic. Importantly, you may not know you are sensitive to an ingredient until you try out a product and have an adverse reaction.

Confidence in our cosmetics

We can feel confident that all cosmetic products, including fragrances, are safe for two reasons: first, because each one must undergo a rigorous safety assessment by an appropriately qualified scientist. The safety assessment takes account of all the ingredients used in the product, irrespective of their source. Secondly, stringent European laws require all cosmetic products to be safe.