I insist on fragrance-free products (moisturizers, soap, laundry detergent) for my patients with eczema because fragrance is one of the most common sources of allergic contact dermatitis to which they are predisposed. There is a second reason to avoid fragranced products: they may contain hidden phthalates, which are in the category of endocrine disruptors. Phthalates are a common solvents for fragrance that are restricted in Europe but are freely used in the United States. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interrupt your body’s normal hormonal cascade. Many of these chemicals, including phthalates, are actively being research because they are implicated in infertility (for both men and women), obesity, and hormonally sensitive cancers. The scary thing for consumers is that ingredients in “fragrance” are considered proprietary, so fall into the black hole of the unknown. Note that when avoiding fragrance, you should ensure that your products are labelled as fragrance free. Unscented products may contain a “masking fragrance” to ensure something smells neutral.
Once you start looking, it may seem impossible to eliminate fragranced products, but do not despair. If you have eczema, a known sensitivity to fragrance, or other medical condition that precludes the use of fragrance, please always stick to fragrance free products. If you do not fall into this category, I would recommend limiting fragranced products to the following:
- Special occasion i.e. cologne/perfume or scented body lotion only when going out
- Products used on a small surface area of your skin. The converse is also true; I would avoid using fragranced products that are applied to a large area of your body i.e. your daily body lotion.
- Products used only infrequently i.e. a shampoo that you use once weekly and gets washed off
If you’re interested in checking the safety of your products, download the Think Dirty app and/or the Healthy Living app from the Environmental Working Group, which allow you to scan a barcode or search products by name.