skin allergy


Allergy to Fragrance: Understanding Fragrance Additives and Choosing ProductsFeatured

by Rajani Katta, M.D.

What do you think of when you hear the word “fragrance”? Many of us think about perfume or cologne. If you’re allergic to fragrance, though, it doesn’t stop there.

If you’re allergic to fragrance, you should definitely avoid perfumes. But fragrance is found in MANY other products. In fact, the vast majority of personal care products sold in the United States contains some type of fragrance.

That means that you’ll need to be careful with all sorts of creams, lotions, cosmetics, hair care products, and other skin care products. In other words, you’ll need to be cautious with ALL of your skin care products. 

You’ll also need to read labels. And you’ll need to learn some basic facts about fragrance allergy, because this is a surprisingly complicated area. You can’t just choose a “fragrance-free” or “all-natural” product and be done with it. Fragrance, and fragrance allergy, are complicated. There are actually hundreds of different fragrance additives, and many of them are chemically related to one another.

Fragrance on a Label:

What It Means 

The word “fragrance” on a label can be very misleading. When you’re reading that one word, it sounds like it’s one ingredient. In fact, studies have shown that this one word can indicate the presence of 40 or more different ingredients. That one “fragrance” word on a label should really be “secret mixture of fragrance additives.” 

What is Fragrance?

The term “fragrance” refers to a group of substances. There are hundreds of different substances that can be categorized as fragrance additives. Many of these are all-natural substances, derived from plants. Others are synthetic chemicals. Since many of these ingredients are chemically related to each other, it’s common for patients to react to more than one. 

Labeling Terms Are Not Always Helpful

Even using products labeled “fragrance-free” or “unscented” may not help, as some of these can legally contain fragrance additives. In fact, a recent US study that looked at best-selling body moisturizers found that for products that claimed to be “fragrance free”, 45% of these products actually contained at least 1 fragrance cross-reactor or botanical ingredient. 

That’s why I DON’T just tell my patients to use products labeled as “fragrance-free”. Instead, I recommend a short list of products. These are products for which I’ve personally reviewed the entire ingredient list and can confirm that they are truly fragrance-free.

All-Natural Fragrances Are Just as Concerning

Many of my patients in recent years have turned to essential oils or all-natural products for their sensitive skin.  Some have turned to products that are labeled with the term “no synthetic fragrances”. This particular term may also not be helpful, though — even 100% natural fragrances frequently cause allergic reactions. 

This product advertises its natural ingredients…


…and (correctly) advertises that it contains no synthetic fragrances…

Hidden Fragrance Chemicals

It’s difficult, even if you’re reading labels carefully, to identify all fragrance additives. You should definitely avoid products with “fragrance” or “perfume” or “parfum” in the ingredient list. However, even preservatives such as benzyl alcohol, or moisturizing ingredients such as rose oil, can act as fragrance additives. These ingredients may even be legally used in products that are labeled “fragrance-free”. This post discusses this issue in more detail. 

Other Products That May Contain Fragrance

If you’re allergic to fragrance, you do need to be aware of other types of products and exposures. Be careful with household products, such as floor cleaners, room fresheners, aromatherapy products, and household cleansers. I’ve seen several reactions from essential oil diffusers, so be cautious. Even products worn by your spouse or children can cause problems if they come into contact with your skin.  

The natural fragrances in aromatherapy candles and essential oil diffusers can also trigger allergic reactions.

The Bottom Line

Fragrance allergy is a complex area, and fragrances can be challenging to avoid. Be careful with all skin care products, and ask your dermatologist for product recommendations that are truly fragrance-free.

Dr. Katta is the author of “Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet” and you can read more of her work in her blog.

Reposted with permission. We publish articles by doctors who wish to provide helpful information to their patients and the public at large, or who respond to our requests to use them as professional resources. Doctors may or may not prefer to remain anonymous and we respect this preference. These resource articles do not in any way imply an endorsement by the physician of VMVinSKIN.com or VMV HYPOALLERGENICS® — they are intended for informational purposes only. While written by or with resource professionals, these articles should not be relied on for diagnostic accuracy or applicability to your particular skin, which requires an in-person ocular consultation with a qualified physician and possibly additional diagnostic tests.

Dr. Rajani Katta  is a board-certified dermatologist and recognized expert in allergic contact dermatitis. She has a deep passion for developing well-researched and practical educational resources that help people take action. For at least 17 years, she was a member of the clinical faculty for both the Baylor College of Medicine and the McGovern Medical School. She also serves as a member of the Media Expert Team of the American Academy of Dermatology.

She is the author of numerous medical journal articles and seven published books on the link between skin and diet, as well as allergic reactions of the skin. Her latest book, Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet, provides an evidence-based and practical approach to eating for younger skin.

Dr. Katta is the recipient of multiple awards recognizing her commitment to excellence in patient care, teaching, and research. A few of these awards are the National Merit Scholar, American Medical Women’s Association Scholastic Achievement Award, Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society and Women’s Dermatological Society Mentorship Grant.

She has also been part of the  Texas Super Doctors® list  since 2016. Follow Dr. Katta and find out about the “GLOW” diet when you read her posts on expert tips for health, skin and soul!

Family Blog, Featured, Skin

Watch My Nickel Allergy HappenFeatured

Before delivering my second baby, despite my never having had a drug allergy, the nurses did the standard test to check for penicillin sensitivity and…all good. Back home with my newborn, I developed an infection, for which I was given a standard penicillin-derived antibiotic I’d taken a few times in the past. Boom: head-to-toe urticaria (welts and hives) and burning pain. I was allergic!
This was just as surprising: as a child, I’d had a metal sensitivity (earrings) that went away quickly. Since then, I’d worn all types of jewelry, care free. Now, after months of using a new fitness tracker…nickel sensitivity!
Allergies are complicated: I could have developed a nickel allergy out of the blue; or always had a mild sensitivity so that occasional use was okay but not daily use for months; or, I could have had a subtle irritant reaction for years and then my cells finally decided…nope, we’re going to remember nickel, and you are now allergic. Allergies can come and go. Don’t obsess about the chances, but don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself allergic to something you’ve used your whole life.
Nickel, by the by, is consistently the top-ranked allergen in published allergen lists.


Laura is the CEO of VMV Hypoallergenics and eldest daughter of our founding dermatologist-dermatopathologist. She has two children, Madison and Gavin, and works at VMV with her sister and husband (Madison and Gavin frequently volunteer their “usage testing” services). In addition to saving the world’s skin, Laura is passionate about learning, literature, art, health, science, inclusion, cultural theory, human rights, happiness and goodness.

Featured, Skin, Skinthusiasm

Refrigerate Your Skin Care?Featured

Fan Tip: Chill Your Skin Care! 

Razor burn? Puffy eyes? Got a reaction that needs calming? Or a pimple that needs flattening? Want to tighten your pores…or just a fabulously cool feel when applying your skincare?

“Throw some of your favorite VMV Hypoallergenics products in the fridge, especially in the summer!” – skinthusiast Earl Chad Palacios Estenor‎

Fellow “skintellectual?” Avid “skinthusiast?” Share your tips with our “skinfatuated” community! Tag @VMVHypoallergenics on Facebook or Instagram, or @VMV on Twitter!

Click through the slideshow below to find out the surprising benefits to keeping skincare in the cold!

Featured, Skin

Do You Know It "Oil?"Featured

What do you really know about our cult-fave, ultra-popular, organic, first-cold-pressed virgin coconut oil? 

Up to 4:

Number of coconuts needed to make one large bottle of Know-It-Oil. Other oils that use heat or chemical processing need less coconuts to make a liter. We use traditional methods in a slow, manual, minimal process to maintain the quality of the oil and preserve as many of its phytochemicals and fatty acids as possible.


Days that it takes to produce our virgin coconut oil, from harvest to pressing.

1 Year:

The time it takes a coconut tree to start producing good coconuts again if stressed by a strong storm.


Number of years that a coconut tree needs before it produces coconuts.


Months that a coconut needs to grow to become fully mature — the age needed for oil (coconut water is taken from a young, green nut).


Heat, bleaching, deodorizing, or chemicals …Know-It-Oil is 100% manually pressed.


The cost to other farmers and schools in the area for the education that our farm provides. Our farm also shares food and techniques with neighbors to help alleviate poverty and promote organic farming.


By-product that goes to waste. Leftover coconut meat is used to fertilize the land and is fed to fish in rivers and ponds. The community also uses leftover coconut husk as a cleaning scrub and as coconut coal for cooking.


One of many other organic crops that grow on our farm.

Photo credit: Jess Arnaudin

Featured, Skin

Sunscreen Isn't Just For Summer (And Your Laptop Could Be Causing Your Dark Spots)Featured

Sunscreen isn’t a summer thing.

It’s as daily a must as brushing your teeth: both help you look great and prevent serious damage!

You’re not out frolicking in the sun? It’s important to remember that sun damage is cumulative — every bit of exposure adds up. Your skin doesn’t “reset” when you’re back in the shade (and UVA is present on cloudy days). The little bit of sun you’re exposed to when walking from the arrival terminal to your car, or crossing the street for your morning latte, adds to whatever damage occurred while beach baking last year (it’s why a bad sunburn in childhood can increase the risk of melanoma…the risk doubles, on average, with more than five sunburns). Applying sunscreen every day ensures you’re protected from accidental exposure.