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Is Fragrance-Free Skincare Really Good For You?

Some would need it more than others, but going all-natural may not exactly be a good thing either.

These days, many of us are prone to damaging our complexions for one simple reason: our modern lifestyle. We’re constantly hooked to our technological gadgets which emit harmful blue light, while our hectic lifestyles may cause stress and unwanted breakouts. Add to that the fact that we are constantly exposed to environmental aggressors such as UV rays and pollution, and it is only a matter of time before our skin barrier starts crumbling down.

The popular solution is to turn to gentler skincare products or brands that are supposedly ‘clean’ as their products are known for eliminating toxins and chemicals and exposure to cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting ingredients. In 2019, beauty giant Sephora introduced a slew of clean brands under this category such as Dr Roebuck’s and Pai Skincare.

According to Dr Ian Tan of IDS Clinic, the buzz with clean beauty has seen proponents singling out synthetic fragrances – as opposed to natural ones found in essential oils and extracts – as causing detrimental effects on the skin. However, he cautions that going the natural route isn’t necessarily “problem-free” as being free of synthetic chemicals does not mean a product is free of allergens. In short, natural ingredients may have a higher allergenic potential.


Photo: Stefan Khoo

However, there are advantages of using fragrance-free skincare products – those without any artificial scents – especially if you have sensitive or problematic skin“For those with these skin types, applying new skincare products may lead to redness, stinging, swelling, and itchiness. When that happens, using fragrance-free skincare products is ideal as it is best to avoid products with common irritants and allergens since fragrances are one of the most common irritants in skincare,” he says.

Another point to note is how the term fragrance-free is loosely defined. In some cases, a product labelled as such means it is merely unscented and that it may contain chemicals that have been added to mask the unpleasant scent of other ingredients. The bottom line is that it is crucial to understand what your skin really needs in order to pick out products to treat your concerns.

Here, we suss out the skincare products you can try if you’re keen on starting out a new fragrance-free – sans any artificial scents – skincare regime.   

Drunk Elephant Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser, $46, Sephora
An extremely gentle gel-type cleanser, this easily removes unwanted residue without leaving the skin feeling dry thanks to a host of mild surfactants and emollients. Its jelly-like texture foams up easily and it is also formulated without fragrance, SLS, and essential oils, which tend to strip off the skin’s natural oils and may cause irritation. Etude House Soon Jung 5.5 Relief Toner Toner, $28.90
What we really love about this soothing toner? It features a pH level of 5.5 (the same as our skin), recalibrating the skin’s pH level for it to work optimally. It is also made with 90 per cent plant-derived ingredients and panthenoside (a superior ingredient for calming) to hydrate, soothe and prep skin for the application of other products. Fancl Mild Cleansing Oil, $30
Ideal for those with sensitised complexions, this combines water-based makeup cleansing technology to gently remove makeup residue without irritating the complexion. Plus, it has a patented Moisture Keep Cleansing formula that is meant to retain skin’s natural moisturising factors to keep your complexion plump, smooth and soft. Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil, $48, Sephora
Rosehip oil, its key ingredient, combats dryness, roughness and rebalances sebum regulation for oilier skin types. It is extracted through a natural carbon dioxide process to ensure the ingredient is in its most stable and potent form for maximum efficacy. Omega fatty acids improve elasticity and plump up complexions for smoother, more supple skin. Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel, $60
A gel-type moisturiser that works on all skin types, especially so for those with oiler complexions, this product is infused with a cocktail of ingredients to strengthen skin’s barrier, improve resiliency and retain skin’s moisture levels for a healthier complexion over time. Vichy Mineral 89 Serum, $60
Formulated with 89 per cent natural-origin hyaluronic acid, this is meant to reinforce the skin barrier function to enable it to work more optimally. Over time, skin is strengthened and will then be able to fight against pollution, stress and fatigue. It also has a weightless formula that absorbs quickly into the skin without leaving it feeling sticky or tacky.   Dr Roebuck's Nuddy Ultra Hydrating Repair Creme, $64, Sephora
The Australian cult skincare brand is known for creating products made with minimal ingredients and formulated without any harsh ingredients to hydrate, soothe and nourish complexions. This dermatologically-tested cream is ideal for those with dry, sensitive, and even eczema-prone skin types as it replenishes moisture, soothes redness and calms irritation. First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Hydrating Serum, $64
The brand focuses on only using ingredients that are clean and safe for the skin (read: it supposedly banned 1,300 ingredients from being used in its products), creating formulas that are suitable for those with sensitised complexions. This water-based gel type serum is great for every day as it hydrates, nourishes, soothes, and treats early signs of ageing.   La Roche-Posay Hydraphase Thermal Water Essence, $61
Ideal for those with dehydrated and sensitive skin types, this is made with a high concentration of the brand’s Thermal Spring Water and hyaluronic acid fragments to continuously hydrate and retain moisture in the skin. It also features a gel texture that melts quickly into the skin upon application. Fresh Soy Face Cleanser, $63
If you’ve been trying to find a gentle cleanser for daily use, this is one to note. It has an extremely gentle formula that removes makeup residue without stripping off essential moisture. Amino acid-rich soy proteins, cucumber extract and rosewater hydrates, soothes and rebalances the skin.