Fragrances are a well known trigger for skin allergies and eczema symptoms. Because of this, the chemical blends used to add scent to skincare formulas and household products are being closely scrutinized by dermatologists and allergists. Over the past several years, new information has come to light about how chemical interactions can boost the allergic properties of a number of substances commonly used in fragrances.
Do a Lot of People Have Fragrance Allergies?
Fragrances are among the most common causes of contact skin allergies – second only to metals such as nickel and cobalt. Only a small percentage of the population is apparently allergic to commercial fragrances. However, these chemical compounds are found in so many products that the overall number of individuals who suffer a negative response to fragrances is quite significant. For example, researchers in Sweden estimate that about 2% of that country’s citizens are allergic to a fragrance ingredient called linalool. This percentage rises to 5-7% for individuals who have eczema. Linalool is present in 60-80% of detergents and other scented household products in Sweden, making it difficult for allergic individuals to avoid this substance.
Oxidation Increases Problem
Researchers are now discovering that fragrance ingredients such as geraniol that were previously thought to cause only a weak allergic response become much more potent upon oxidation. In other words, when the chemical scent interacts with air or with enzymes in the skin, it becomes acidic. Then, it has a much higher probability of causing an adverse reaction. If a skin patch test is done with a non-oxidized version of an ingredient, it may return a negative result that doesn’t reflect a patient’s response in a real world setting. Although some manufacturers include ingredients in their products to slow auto-oxidation, this may not be effective for protecting sensitized individuals.
Natural Ingredients Not Always Safer
People with a tendency toward skin allergies aren’t always better off choosing natural fragrances. The antioxidants found in some essential oils don’t necessarily provide protection against the oxidation process that helps create powerful allergens. Lavender oil is an example of a popular natural fragrance that has been shown to oxidize just as synthetic substances do.
Does this mean all individuals with eczema or other contact allergy symptoms must avoid all scents? Usually not since no patient is allergic to every fragrance. Allergy testing can provide some information about what products to avoid, but there is still some trial and error involved in finding ingredients that don’t cause a negative reaction. New allergies can develop over time, so avoiding overuse of fragrances in general is usually advisable for sensitive patients.