Are perfumes and essential oils the devil?

Perfumes and essential oils are often found in skincare to provide a more pleasant application. I won’t lie to you a light fragrance face cream at the end of the day is so relaxing and make me forget my day for 10 seconds. But in terms of skin benefice, they don’t help much and can trigger a vast area of problems.

Aroma compounds

Olfaction is the sense of smell and is a beautiful faculty that we have. We smell thanks to specialized neurons that are in the top part of our nose, very close to our brain. Odorant molecules have a long travel to reach our olfactive neurons and have to be soluble in lipids in order to bind to our olfactory receptors. In general, odorant molecules are small and can penetrate the epidermis.

Odorants molecules and skin

The most documented side effect of perfumes and essential oils are allergic contact dermatitis. It can manifest as eczema from mild to severe, as small cuts at the corner of the mouth… One important element is that allergic components have to penetrate the epidermis and be « sensed » by Langerhans cells. Langerhans cells are natural sentinel cells in our epidermis that are here to detect pathogens and trigger an immune response to protect our skin. In an allergic reaction Langerhans cells will tease and activate another type of immune cells (Lymphocyte T CD4) that will proliferate and invade the area with the allergen. Keep in mind that some odorant molecules become allergen only after being exposed to UV.

Skin sensitivity

We are not equal with contact allergies some of us will never react to anything and others will. But we now know that some molecules trigger more frequent allergic reactions than others. This could be explained by the fact that some molecules switch on our immune system easier than others. In immunology, we call it the loss of tolerance. We don’t exactly understand how it works.

My point of view

Like I said most of us will not react to perfume and essential oils so why avoid them? First of all, perfumes and some essential oils (like citrus, lavender oils…) triggers frequently an allergic reaction more than other molecules. So we are more susceptible to lose tolerance towards them in the future.

Remember that those compounds have the ability to path through the skin barrier. Even though your immune system doesn’t react who knows if they are not causing inflammation that we don’t see. Keep in mind that you can develop a future allergy to them and they can act as co sensitizer too.

Finally, most fragrant compounds do nothing for skin health. Yes, some essential oils have skin benefices but they are a multitude of other ingredients that can do the job…

In general, I prefer to use fragrance-free and essential oils-free skincare. This being said I recommend some skincare that contains them like sunscreens. It is always important to balance things out between risk and benefits. Even if you are not sensitive to fragrance and essential oils try to keep them at the minimum in your skincare routine, one product maximum.

I prefer safe products for the face especially when you use actives. Actives often trigger inflammation so you do not want co sensitizers.

You can watch my video to know more as always.

Thank you for your time.

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