Raise your hand if you’ve ever had this feeling: You’re dutifully slathering on your trusty lotion from your appendages to your fingertips, only to feel dry and itchy hours later. I feel you.
To combat the mysterious issue, I’ve cycled through product after product with the ultimate goal of achieving lasting hydration for my skin (moisture is the essence of beauty, after all)—only to face the same problem. Then I discovered that there’s a culprit lurking in the lotions I’ve been buying, and it’s one that seems innocuous (but it ain’t): fragrance.
“Fragrance in skin care means that a smell is added to the product—it can be either synthetic or natural, and is usually a blend of chemicals to impart a particular scent,” says Purvisha Patel, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare. “Whether natural or synthetic, fragrances can be sensitizers to the skin. Some, if used in higher doses, can cause rashes and irritation, especially in those with sensitive skin.”
Though they may smell lovely, fragrances are actually highly allergenic—which, as you’ve likely gathered, ain’t good. “Fragrances are typically highly allergenic, especially the synthetic kind,” explains Tony Nakhla, MD a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Eighth Day. “Although many natural fragrances can also cause intense allergic reactions to. Fragrances are the most commonly tested allergens at dermatologist offices and can cause severe contact dermatitis (or a red, itchy rash). It can also cause intense skin inflammation, which ages and damages the skin.” Yikes.
All of this drama then leads to dryness—the very opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. “Fragrance can and does sometimes dry out your skin,” says Dr. Nakhla. “It mostly depends on your skin’s sensitivity.” Thankfully, however, there are plenty of lotions on the market that can serve up serious hydration minus the trouble-causing scents.
Shop fragrance-free lotions
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