Unscented vs. Fragrance Free vs. Essential Oil Free Skincare: What’s the Difference?

Unscented vs. Fragrance Free vs. Essential Oil Free Skincare: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to skincare, ingredient labels are confusing enough as it is. On top of that, there’s a whole WORLD to explore when it comes to fragrances and scents used in the products. What we’re going to cover today is actually just the tip of the iceberg. But, let’s talk about some basic terminology and help give you a better understanding of those ingredient labels!


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What this post covers:

What’s the Matter with Fragrance Anyway?

There are many reasons someone might choose to avoid scents in their products: sensitive skin, allergies, can’t handle strong smells, or even something as simple as wanting a unisex option (I can attest that my husband doesn’t want to use skincare products that smell like roses 🤪)

In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, fragrance is the biggest cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis (skin irritation such as a rash, itch, or dry patches). And about 2.5 million Americans have fragrance allergies. Whoa!

This is why you’ll often see fragrance free products marketed as hypoallergenic or for babies and people with sensitive skin.

Personally, I am fine with natural scents and essential oils, but choose to avoid synthetic fragrance because of the lack of regulation in the fragrance industry. The term alone can hide a combination of over 3,000+ chemicals and endocrine-disrupting ingredients. It’s kind of a trade secret type of thing; a lot of brands will also use the term “fragrance” to keep their blends proprietary. There’s soooooo much that goes on behind the scenes with fragrance! 👃

Some other terms you might see on a label that indicates a fragrance blend:

  • Aroma
  • Cologne
  • Eau de parfum
  • Eau de toilette
  • Parfum
  • Perfume
  • Musk

Unscented vs. Fragrance Free vs. Essential Oil Free Skincare

Now let’s take a look at the various terminology used on product labels and how they differ!

Unscented vs. Fragrance Free vs. Essential Oil Free Skincare Comparison Chart

Unscented

Think of this one as “scent free.” If you sniff it, it won’t really smell like anything. However, this means it can still contain fragrances and masking agents which have compounds that cover up or neutralize the scent of the ingredients (some ingredients simply don’t smell good!). The masking agents are not usually listed as “fragrance” either. Sneaky!

If there is absolutely NO detectable odor at all, it could mean that chemicals were added to mask the scent, so check for fragrance or suspicious ingredients on the label. In my opinion, something that is unscented should still have a *very faint* smell to it because the ingredients naturally have a scent. For example, an unscented lotion might contain aloe which doesn’t have a strong smell, but is still somewhat detectable if you really stick your nose in it.

The good news is that generally, clean beauty products don’t contain synthetic fragrances or masking agents, so unscented is usually a safe bet there!

Fragrance Free

Pretty simple: this means it has no added fragrance chemicals or masking agents. But, it might still have a smell from the raw materials or contain essential oils and plant/fruit extracts.

There is no federal legal definition for this, by the way. So keep in mind that the term is not really regulated. The EPA does have a Fragrance Free Certification but I’ve never really seen that used anywhere!

Essential Oil Free

This one is the most straightforward! It just means no essential oils are used in the formula, but it might still have a smell because of the other ingredients used. It also could still contain synthetic fragrances. I personally use products that contain pure essential oils, but they can be too powerful for some people with sensitive skin.

Related post: “Why This Essential Oil Free Brand is a Game Changer for Sensitive Skin

…What about hypoallergenic?

Similar to fragrance, the term hypoallergenic on a label is not regulated. The FDA even states on its website that “there are no federal standards or definitions that govern the use of the term ‘hypoallergenic.’ The term means whatever a particular company wants it to mean.”

Overall, when something is labeled hypoallergenic, that commonly signifies that the ingredients used are known to produce fewer allergic reactions. But there’s no guarantee because it’s simply impossible to claim that something won’t cause a reaction. Hypoallergenic products can still use fragrances, too. The more you know!


Your Guide to 11+ Natural Brands that are Unscented, Fragrance Free, or Essential Oil Free!

Okay, so ALL of the products I recommend on this blog are free of synthetic fragrances. But let’s take this one step further and check out some clean beauty brands that are #OrganicallyBeccaApproved and have options for these specific categories as well.

ALAFFIA

Unscented, essential oil free, fragrance free (select products)

Alaffia

If you’re on a budget or prefer to shop in stores like Whole Foods or Target, this might interest you! Alaffia has an entire Unscented collection with shampoo, body wash, bubble bath, baby products…lots of stuff! There are some that contain ingredients such as phenoxyethanol, which I personally try to avoid if I can, but other than that, this seems like a good affordable option!

Shop Alaffia Here

Related post: “Top 20 Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics [Free Printable Pocket Guide!]

CLEO + COCO DEODORANTS

Unscented, essential oil free, fragrance free (select products)

Cleo + Coco

Cleo + Coco has a Free to Be deodorant that is scent free and essential oil free. Their deodorants work really well for me! They contain no aluminum and have options for a zero waste bar or a twist-up stick. And you can get baking soda free if that typically irritates you. Highly recommend!

Shop Cleo + Coco Here

COCOKIND

Unscented, essential oil free, fragrance free (select products)

cocokind

Cocokind is another natural skincare line that’s more on the affordable side and can be found at places like Target and Whole Foods. Here is a list of their products that DO contain essential oils, and each product page gives a percentage of oils used. A lot of them are minimal and unscented.

Shop cocokind Here

KOSMATOLOGY

Unscented, essential oil free, fragrance free (select products)

Kosmatology

Kosmatology was founded by Dr. Janis Covey, a pharmacist and mom who began making products gentle enough for her daughter’s eczema-prone skin. Everything is MADE SAFE™ certified and uses clean, organic ingredients. There are two products that Kosmatology makes that have an unscented, essential oil free option: the Free & Clear Body Lotion Bar and Body Wash. The lotion bar is a stick that’s so easy to apply; I do it on damp skin after showering. Use code ORGANICALLYBECCA for a discount on your order!

Shop Kosmatology Here

KOSSMA BEAUTY

Essential oil free, fragrance free (entire line)

Kossma

I have not tried anything from this line, but everything is free of essential oils, and a lot of my readers recommended them! They also do not contain any PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) which some people try to avoid. Kossma makes balms, serums, oils, cleansers, and basic skincare items!

Shop Kossma Beauty Here

MARIE VERONIQUE

Essential oil free, fragrance free (select products)

Marie Veronique

I’ve yet to try Marie Veronique products! They do use low concentrations of essential oils in some of the skincare, but the entire Kristina Holey collection is free of essential oils. They also have a men’s line, Louis Pierre, which is essential oil free.

Shop Marie Veronique Here

OSEA MALIBU

Unscented, essential oil free, fragrance free (select products)

Osea

Osea is an amazing skincare brand! A couple of their products are essential oil and fragrance free and don’t really have a smell such as the Seabiotic Water Cream, Hyaluronic Sea Serum, and the Ocean Body Lotion. The Water Cream is really hydrating and moisturizes surprisingly well for a lotion! And the Sea Serum is one of my favorite hyaluronic acid serums. Use code BECCA10 for a discount on your order!

Shop Osea Here

PLAINE PRODUCTS HAIR & BODY CARE

Unscented, essential oil free, fragrance free (select products)

Plaine Products

Plaine Products does use essential oils and natural fragrances in some of their products, so make sure you choose from the UNSCENTED line which omits them. They have shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, face wash, and a moisturizer. Their company is cool because everything comes in a refillable aluminum bottle and you can subscribe for recurring shipments. Use code ORGANICALLYBECCA for a discount on your order!

“At Plaine Products we take customer service seriously, so we paid attention when people started asking for unscented versions of our products. Some requests were due to allergies, others were scent restrictions at work, and skin sensitivities also played a role.” -Lindsey McCoy, Plaine Products CEO

Shop Plaine Products Here

Related post: “Refill, Reuse, Rejoice with Plaine Products Eco-Friendly Body Care

SCHAF SKINCARE

Unscented, essential oil free, fragrance free (entire line)

Schaf

Schaf is a minimalist Canadian skincare brand that makes unisex products such as a cleanser, moisturizer, serum, and mask. I have tried both the Shave Cream and Age Repair Cream (nighttime eye treatment). I enjoy both and my husband especially likes the shaving cream! If you want sort of a no frills line, then I think you’d enjoy them. Use code ORGANICALLYBECCA for a discount on Schaf at The Choosy Chick store!

Shop Schaf Here

Schaf is also available at The Detox Market.

URSA MAJOR

Unscented, essential oil free, fragrance free (select products)

Ursa Major

Ursa Major is awesome! They’re a Certified B Corp and offer unisex scents for skincare and body care products. Most of what they make is lightly scented, but the Force Field Daily Defense SPF18 Lotion and Base Layer Deodorant are stripped down and have no scent. My husband Jon uses the sunscreen lotion!

Shop Ursa Major Here

WABI-SABI BOTANICALS

Essential oil free, fragrance free (entire line)

Wabi-Sabi Botanicals

I looooooooove Wabi-Sabi so much (check out this blog post reviewing my top picks from their collection)! The founder, Elysse, struggled with sensitive and acne-prone skin and wanted to make her own products that were gentle enough to use but still highly effective. None of the products contain essential oils, but they have beautiful aromas inherently from their ingredients. For example, the cleansing oil has roasted coffee bean extract and smells like a fresh cup of coffee. Use code ORGANICALLYBECCA for a discount on your order!

“Like our predecessors, it’s best to use essential oils sparingly and with respect to the plants and the planet that make them possible. This means limiting exposure, only purchasing essential oils from trusted, certified organic sources, and not falling into the trend of essential oils-for-everything.” -Elysse Crabtree, Wabi-Sabi founder

Shop Wabi-Sabi Botanicals Here

Wabi-Sabi is also available at Credo Beauty.

WILDCARE

Essential oil free, fragrance free (entire line)

Wildcare

This is another reader-recommended brand that I haven’t tried myself yet! It’s all non-GMO skincare made in Oregon. They still have two products that contain essential oils (solar serum and body oil) but are in the process of transitioning to completely essential oil free. Wildcare makes hydrosols, oils, cleansers, and masks.

Shop Wildcare Here

Other Organic Beauty Products That Don’t Stink

Other Unscented Essential Oil Free Natural Products

I thought it would be helpful to include some other one-off products that fit the bill:

Clean Rebellion I Am Free Castile Soap: So many ways to use this: cleaning, washing makeup brushes, or as a body wash. It’s just water and saponified organic olive oil.

Earth Harbor Glow Juice Refining Enzyme Mask: This one does have an exotic, fruity smell but there are no essential oils in it. This is a powerful mask if you need a quick chemical exfoliation. You can use coupon code BECCA10 for a discount at EarthHero.

Meow Meow Tweet Unscented Deodorant Cream: Baking soda free and comes in a refillable glass jar. No essential oils!

Organic Bath Co. Naked Organic Body Butter: An organic, simple body butter made with shea, sunflower, jojoba, argan, and sweet almond oil. No essential oils!

Osmia Organics Naked Body Oil: A luscious organic body oil made with eleven healing plant oils. No essential oils!

Pai Carbon Star Overnight Face Oil: This one is on my wishlist to try! It’s ideal for blemish-prone skin and is black which is so interesting for an oil. It’s unscented and contains no essential oils.

Solara Clean Freak Unscented Sunscreen SPF30: A non-greasy mineral sunscreen (non-nano zinc oxide) for your body made without the fragrance or essential oils. This one works pretty well, just make sure you shake the bottle before applying.

​​Suntegrity Natural Unscented Sunscreen SPF30: Another mineral sunscreen for your body made without the fragrance or essential oils. I haven’t tried this one yet!


Do you seek out unscented, fragrance free, or essential oil free products? Or do you have any other brands to add to this list? I’d love to know! 💚

Becca Signature

 

 

Unscented vs. Fragrance Free vs. Essential Oil Free Skincare: What’s the Difference?

Written by: Becca

Becca is a blogger, wife, and dog mom living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Having seen firsthand the benefits of switching to a natural lifestyle herself, she's passionate about helping women make the switch to clean beauty products, organic skincare, and a holistic way of life (without the stress of being perfect about it!).

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