Skin Bliss

Demystifying Skincare

Negative skin reactions caused by fragrances in cosmetics

What other negative reactions can occur due to fragrances?

  • Negative skin reactions caused by fragrances in cosmetics

    Negative skin reactions caused by fragrances in cosmetics


Apart from allergic contact dermatitis, fragranced cosmetic products may also provoke irritant contact dermatitis, immediate contact reactions, pigmented contact dermatitis or photosensitivity. Irritant effects of some individual fragrance ingredients are known if humans are exposed to higher concentrations. Irritant contact dermatitis from perfumes is believed to be common, but there are no existing investigations to substantiate this. Some people complain about intolerance or rashes to perfumes/perfumed products but are shown to not be allergic by testing. This may be due to irritant effects or inadequate diagnostic procedures. Fragrances may cause a dose-related immediate contact reactions of the non-immunological type (‘irritant contact urticaria’).

Pigmented cosmetic dermatitis refers to increased pigmentation, usually on the face/neck, often following sub-clinical contact dermatitis.

Moreover, it is also known that some substances provoke allergic reactions only in the presence of UV-light (‘photo-contact allergy’). Nowadays, several substances of this type have either been banned or maximum use limits have been introduced to avoid photo-allergies in consumers. Hence, photo-allergic contact dermatitis is a relatively uncommon disease.

Fragrances are volatile and therefore, in addition to skin exposure, eyes, nose and the respiratory tract are exposed to the fragrance ingredients. It has been estimated that about 2–4% of the adult population is affected by respiratory or eye symptoms in this way. In addition to potential irritant reactions of the airways, it is known that exposure to fragrances may exacerbate pre-existing asthma.