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Fragrance in Hair Products: Are They Good or Bad?

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Fragrance has long been intertwined with our personal care routines, evoking fond memories and enhancing our sense of well-being. The alluring world of scents plays a particularly significant role in hair care products, where the right fragrance can elevate our mood, boost self-confidence, and leave a lasting impression.

As we embark on an olfactory exploration of fragrance in hair products, we’ll address the burning question: is the enchanting aroma friend or foe to our delicate scalp tissues? Our mission is to delve deep into the world of fragrances in hair care, examining their safety, compatibility, and impact on our overall hair health.

So, join us as we unravel the mysteries of scent and provide you with the knowledge to make informed decisions when selecting your next aromatic hair care companion.

So, is fragrance in hair care products truly indispensable or merely a marketing ploy to lure us in with tantalizing aromas?

Identifying Fragrances in Hair Products

Fragrance is an essential ingredient that is added to almost all hair care products. When you open a bottle or a jar, one of the first things you notice is its smell. A product with a pleasant and attractive scent is considered to be of high quality and is more widely accepted by consumers.

The fragrance is added to the formulation to achieve the following objectives:

  • To improve the sense of smell and create a pleasing scent.
  • To hide the unpleasant scent of the ingredients used in cosmetics.

Hair care products may contain fragrances that are either natural, derived from nature, or made in a laboratory synthetically.

To clarify, a fragrance is a mixture of several various organic volatile molecules blended in a carrier solvent to make it easy to add to liquid or semi-solid hair care products.

The volatile organic molecules fall into the functional groups of alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, and esters. A specific ratio of these molecules is combined to create a desired aroma or tone for the perfume.

The dosage levels of fragrances vary based on the type of product they are used in. However, there are concerns about the safety and toxicity of these volatile organic molecules.

Cosmetic scientists are focusing on preventing skin sensitization and ensuring scalp comfort, and there has been increased awareness about this issue lately.

Fragrance in Hair Products: Should They Be Allowed?

There is an ongoing discussion among both consumers and hair care scientists about whether fragrance should be included in hair care products.

It is important to note that fragrance scientists are highly trained professionals and manufacturing companies adhere to international regulatory bodies and industrial groups.

For example, in the USA, The Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) conducts thorough research to screen fragrance raw materials, in addition to the FDA.

A database has been created that contains information on the chemicals used in fragrance production, including their safety and toxicity levels.

Likewise, The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) has created industry standards for hair care products to guarantee that the fragrance materials used are safe and of good quality for household, skincare, and hair care products. 23

This means that having fragrance in hair care products is not dangerous or harmful. However, individuals with different dermatological conditions need to test a product before using it, especially if it contains synthetic or natural fragrances.

Before using a hair care product, it is important to carefully screen for allergens in synthetic fragrances, as multiple investigations have reported such allergens being present.4 

What Distinguishes a Fragrance That Could Cause Harm from One that is Less Concerning?

Hair care products contain two distinct categories of fragrance liquids: synthetic and natural aromatic essential oils.

Synthetic fragrances comprise several individual chemicals mixed in a carrier solvent. They are more likely to cause discomfort, induce an adverse effect, or cause skin sensitization. 

On the contrary, natural essential oils are different from fragrance oils. They are extracted from various parts of plants like flowers, leaves, bark, etc., and are pure and derived from nature. They are highly effective and only require a low dosage. Natural essential oils have multiple functions and provide various benefits to skin, scalp, and hair fibers.56 

It is recommended to opt for natural essential oils instead of synthetic fragrances for hair care products. Ultimately, it’s your choice as a consumer to make an informed decision.

How to Know if There Are Harmful Fragrance in Hair Products

It is hard to claim that a fragrance is unsafe for consumers since the majority of fragrances in use today are safe and meet international standards as well as regulatory requirements.

The best way forward is to generate more awareness among consumers and familiarize them with the chemical names of commonly used fragrance components.

If a hair care product displays the following chemicals below on its label, it means that the product contains synthetic fragrance:

  • Limonene
  • Citral
  • Linalool
  • Farnesol
  • Eugenol

The fragrance of a product is made up of many different chemical compounds, which are all listed on the back of the package under the INCI listing.

Does Fragrance Pose a Risk to the Scalp? Common Signs

As ardent beauty aficionados, it’s crucial that we address the less glamorous side of the hair care world – the potential risks of using fragrance-based products on our delicate scalps.

While these scented concoctions might leave our tresses smelling divine, they may also lead to itching, dryness, and flakiness – an unwelcome trio of discomfort. These symptoms could stem from irritation caused by synthetic fragrances or even allergic reactions to specific ingredients.

Compromised Scalp

Using hair care products with fragrance, whether synthetic or natural, may not have negative effects for everyone.

People with sensitive scalps are at a higher risk of experiencing negative reactions when using certain hair care products.

Experiencing symptoms such as dandruff, redness, itchiness, severe dryness, and scales on your scalp may exacerbate your condition and lead to other adverse reactions.

Here are some examples:

  • Instant redness – scalp surface appears red
  • Sensation
  • Burning (feeling hot)
  • Soreness
  • Severe itchy
  • Severe conditions can cause wounds on the scalp that may itch or bleed when rubbed.

Potential Adverse Impacts of Fragrance? Types of Reaction 

If you constantly experience an itchy sensation on your scalp, it could be a sign of a dermatological disorder or disease.

Skin sensitization can lead to the development of contact dermatitis at first and later on, it may progress to a severe scalp disorder.

A scalp surface that has been compromised and sensitized can attract the growth of microorganisms, which can make the problem worse and more severe.

Here is a list of frequently observed scalp reactions:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Folliculitis
  • Cradle cap
  • Ringworm
  • Lichen planus

How to Know If You Are Sensitive to Fragrances

To determine if a hair care product is compatible with your scalp, it’s best to do a test application before using it.

It is recommended that users test a small amount of the product on a small section of hair, typically in the back area, before applying it to their entire head or scalp. This is especially important for chemical treatments that may contain alkaline hydrogen peroxide, sodium hydroxide, or guanidine hydroxide.

Similarly, before using a new shampoo or conditioner, you should perform a patch test before applying it to your entire scalp. This will help you avoid allergic reactions or unpleasant sensations on the skin.

Natural Alternatives to Fragrances

Plants produce essential oils, which are made up of several organic molecules and are volatile. These oils have powerful aromas that are unique to each type.

It is worth noting that humans have been using these oils since ancient times for a variety of purposes, including personal beautification, grooming, and therapeutic applications.

These natural essential oils are natural alternatives to synthetic fragrances, and with growing awareness for sustainable and skin-friendly materials, consumers and formulators eagerly seek to include them in hair care products.

Here is a list of commonly used essential oils, along with their INCI names:

Essential OilINCI Name
Rose Oil Rosa Damascena Flower Oil
Jasmin OilJasminum grandiflorum Linn
Lavender OilLavandula Angustifolia
Clove OilEugenia Caryophyllus Bud
Peppermint OilMentha Piperita Oil
Spearmint OilMentha Spicata Herb Oil
Eucalyptus OilEucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil
Sandalwood OilSantalum Austrocaledonicum Wood Oil
Lemon OilCitrus Limon Peel Oil
Orange Peel OilCitrus Aurantium Dulcis Peel Oil
Bergamot OilCitrus Bergamia Oil
Musk OilRosa Canina Fruit Oil
Rosemary OilRosmarinus Officinalis Leaf Oil
Tea Tree OilMelaleuca Alternafolia Leaf Oil

Sage Oil
Salvia Officinalis Oil
Chamomile OilChamomilla Recutita Oil

Every type has its own distinct fragrance and provides specific medicinal, therapeutic, and aesthetic advantages to both the scalp and hair strands.


Fragrance is a crucial ingredient in hair care products. Usually, synthetic fragrances are utilized to hide any unpleasant smell and provide a pleasing scent. These fragrances meet the guidelines specified by regulatory bodies and industry organizations.

While most people can use these fragrances without any issue, those with sensitive scalps may experience negative effects. It is recommended that users perform a patch test before trying a new product.


1. Mitsui, T., New cosmetic science. Elsevier: 1997.

2. The International Fragrance Association.

3. Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM).

4. Nardelli, A.; Drieghe, J.; Claes, L.; Boey, L.; Goossens, A., Fragrance allergens in ‘specific’cosmetic products. Contact Dermatitis 2011, 64 (4), 212-219.

5. Abelan, U. S.; de Oliveira, A. C.; Cacoci, É. S. P.; Martins, T. E. A.; Giacon, V. M.; Velasco, M. V. R.; Lima, C. R. R. d. C., Potential use of essential oils in cosmetic and dermatological hair products: A review. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 2022, 21 (4), 1407-1418.

6. Sharmeen, J. B.; Mahomoodally, F. M.; Zengin, G.; Maggi, F., Essential oils as natural sources of fragrance compounds for cosmetics and cosmeceuticals. Molecules 2021, 26 (3), 666.


I’m just a girl who transformed her severely damaged hair into healthy hair. I adore the simplicity of a simple hair care routine, the richness of diverse textures, and the joy of sharing my journey from the comfort of my space.

My mission? To empower others with the tools to restore, and maintain healthy hair, and celebrate the hair they were born with!

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