Free Delivery on All UK Orders

Cosmetic product fragrance sensitivity and allergy symptoms

Posted by on

Quite a mouthful of a blog post title that one and one of our longer pieces. But it’s an important issue, increasingly common and as an allergy brand something that we really understand. If you have or think you have a fragrance allergy you’ll want to read on.

EU research estimates that between 1-3% of the general population and around 16% of eczema sufferers could be affected by contact allergy to fragrance ingredients, other reports show it to be even higher. Interestingly, some studies indicate that the risk of reacting to a fragrance ingredient in a cosmetic product may increase with age.

Adverse reactions to fragranced cosmetic products includes allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, photosensitivity, immediate contact reactions (contact urticaria), and pigmented contact dermatitis. Ingredients such as citral have been known to be involved in the rash type symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis that some people experience when they use perfumed products.

People who are have a contact allergy caused by fragrance ingredients can often be aware of the product types and the names of cosmetic products which trigger a reaction. However understanding which specific cosmetic ingredients are playing a part in the trigger can be more difficult, it’s a bit of a minefield.

Under EU legislation all cosmetic products sold in the EU must display a complete ingredients list which names the ingredients in a standard way to help consumers identify those to which they may be sensitive. Known as International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI) it’s these rules that see water listed as ‘aqua’ on your moisturiser.

It may seem harder to read but it means it’s consistent across all product, so once you’ve identified your trigger ingredient you can easily find it on any label. Consumers with sensitised skin can sometimes suffer from an allergic reaction to fragrance ingredients when using some cosmetic products.

Immune cells in the immune system recognise and react to the allergen in question and allergic contact dermatitis (eczema) can develop. This can often involve an outbreak of eczema on the face or hands or in the area where the cosmetic product has been applied. This causes increased distress for the person affected and can lead to other issues such as cracked skin and infection. In some cases things may develop into a chronic condition and may even affect fitness for work and the quality of life of the individual.

Which chemicals should sensitive skin suffers avoid?

Now for the science bit!

There are 26 fragrance allergens which have been recognised as having the potential to cause allergies . It is a requirement that information on these ingredients is provided to consumers in the labelling of cosmetic products so that they can be avoided if necessary. An EU study by Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) found 82 substances which can be classified as established contact allergens in humans.

These are further broken down into established fragrance allergens, likely fragrance allergens and possible fragrance allergens. One in particular was highlighted due to its frequency of involvement in allergy cases - hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde HICC allergy.

There are also a number of known and potential fragrance substances that can act as prehaptens or prohaptens which can form stronger allergens as a result of air oxidation and/or metabolic activation, for example limonene, linalool, geraniol, linalyl acetate (Linalool and linalyl acetate are the main components of lavender oil).

The SCCS concluded that those fragrance allergens which have been found to pose a high risk of sensitisation to consumers should be present in no more than a level of 0.01% in rinse-off cosmetic products and 0.001% for leave-on cosmetic products. However it also noted that "no levels that could be considered safe for the majority of contact allergic consumers".

It also concluded that it was not possible to provide a safe threshold for natural extracts which are known or have potential involvement in contact allergies. Not all ingredients need to be listed.

In addition it is only these 26 fragrance ingredients which have to be listed on ingredients labels and does not prevent other ingredients which could be allergy triggers for some being listed under a catch all term "perfume", "parfum" or "aroma".

It is estimated that some "perfume" compounds may consist of between 10 to 300 basic components selected from around 2,500 materials.

That may all sound rather complicated. It just means that the best option for those with sensitive skin is to avoid products which include these ingredients, normally fragrance free is a good place to start or seek out products specifically formulated for those with allergic or sensitive skin.

Myroo skincare products are specially formulated for those with sensitive or allergic skin. There are fragrance free versions of each Myroo skincare product which do not contain any of the 14 identified food allergens or the 26 known cosmetic allergens. And remember we are always here to answer your questions, we love to chat.

If you want to know more now then some more detailed information follows below or check out these resources;

British Association of Dermatologists 

The Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA) consumer site

Cosmetic Ingredient Database 



Below is a list of the fragrance chemicals that are most frequently reported and well-recognised consumer allergens.

Common name and CAS (Chemical Abstract Service) number

Amyl cinnamal 122-40-7

Amylcinnamyl alcohol 101-85-9

Benzyl alcohol 100-51-6

Benzyl salicylate 118-58-1

Cinnamyl alcohol 104-54-1

Cinnamal 104-55-2

Citral 5392-40-5

Coumarin 91-64-5

Eugenol 97-53-0

Geraniol 106-24-1

Hydroxycitronellal 107-75-5

Hydroxymethylpentyl-cyclohexenecarboxaldehyde 31906-04-4

Isoeugenol 97-54-1

Fragrance chemicals less frequently reported as consumer allergens.

Common name and CAS (Chemical Abstract Service) number

Anisyl alcohol 105-13-5

Benzyl benzoate 120-51-4

Benzyl cinnamate 103-41-3

Citronellol 106-22-9

Farnesol 4602-84-0

Hexyl cinnamaldehyde 101-86-0

Lilial 80-54-6

d-Limonene 5989-27-5

Linalool 78-70-6

Methyl heptine carbonate 111-12-6

3-Methyl-4-(2,6,6-trimethyl-2-cyclohexen-1-yl)-3-buten-2-one 127-51-5

Oak moss 90028-68-5

Tree moss 90028-67-4

Scale of potential reactions to fragrances in cosmetic products

Skin patch tests can be used in allergy testing to help identify allergens in sensitised individuals. In skin patch tests between 6% to 14% of those tested for suspected allergic contact dermatitis react to a standard indicator of fragrance allergy - Fragrance Mix I. Of these in the region of between 50% to 65% of all positive patch test reactions to the mix are relevant to the allergy trigger of that individual.

Fragrance allergy may be a relevant problem in patients with hand eczema. For those people who display hand eczema, common contact allergies can be caused by metals, elements of the Fragrance Mix 1 patch test, Myroxylon pereirae, and colophonium. Ingredients such as cinnamal, cinnamic alcohol, menthol,benzaldehyde, vanillin, Myroxylon pereirae can cause contact urticaria (nettle rash).

Fragranced cosmetic product ingredients can also affect the eyes and naso-respiratory tract. It is estimated that between 2% to 4% of the adult population can be affected in this way. In addition studies show that there can also be an association between respiratory complaints related to fragrances and contact allergy to fragrance ingredients.

The CosIng database lists 2587 ingredients used for perfuming. A mixture of seven fragrance chemicals and one natural extract which have historically been identified as major fragrance allergens are used in skin patch tests for diagnosing contact allergy to fragrance ingredients. This mixture is called the Fragrance Mix (FM I) and contains the most common allergens in Europe.

Ingredients of Fragrance Mix I used in skin patch tests for investigating allergies

Amyl cinnamal (alpha-amyl cinnamal) Cinnamyl alcohol (cinnamic alcohol) Cinnamal (cinnamic aldehyde) Eugenol Geraniol Hydroxycitronellal Isoeugenol Oak moss absolute (a natural extract; INCI: Evernia prunastri) Sorbitan sesquioleate (added as an emulsifier) Ingredients of Fragrance Mix II used in skin patch tests for investigating allergies Citronellol Citral Coumarin Hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde (HICC) Farnesol Alpha-hexyl-cinnamal

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published