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What You Need to Know Regarding Fragrance Allergy

toddler being scented by her motherWhat’s sweeter than the smell of a freshly bathed baby? There aren’t many smells better than that, right? Well, maybe – but is all that fragrance good for your baby? Not really. Here’s what you need to know regarding fragrance allergy.  Approximately 2-4% of the general population and up to 10% of the North American population has an allergy or sensitization to fragrance. And even if you are trying to protect your baby from fragrance, it’s hard to avoid it. Fragrance is found everywhere: in our lotions, creams, shampoos, soaps, deodorants, detergents, and cleaning products. In 2007, Dermatitis designated fragrance as the allergen of the year, and it is still one of the top five allergens causing skin rashes.

A scary statistic to know is that it can take hundreds of chemicals to make up just one fragrance. According to the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM), there are over 2800 chemicals that can formulate a fragrance, and at least 100 of these comprise the most common fragrance allergens.

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A skin rash due to fragrance is called allergic contact dermatitis, or ACD. ACD caused by fragrance commonly affects women and shows up as a chronic rash on the face and hands.

ACD to fragrance occurs when you become sensitized to a particular ingredient or ingredients making up the fragrance. Sensitization happens when the body has repeated exposure to that particular ingredient. After a lot of exposure, the body can become allergic to an ingredient. A good example of ACD is poison ivy. Once the body becomes sensitized and allergic to poison ivy, it only takes a tiny touch to cause ACD.  It’s the same with those who are sensitized to chemicals in fragrance. And what’s even worse is that the ACD may not develop immediately but may take 2-5 days to develop after exposure, making it hard to figure out it is the fragrance causing the allergy in the first place.

In 1999, the European Union (EU) Scientific Committee identified 26 fragrance chemicals causing allergies in patients, and in 2003, the Committee enforced that these ingredients be identified on cosmetic and detergent products. Since then, the list has grown to over 80. In 2014, the Committee recommended a ban on certain ingredients, including HICC and moss extracts atranol and choroatranolwhich. The moss extracts are both found in the iconic Chanel No. 5 and Dior’s Miss Dior perfumes. Chanel is currently considering reformulating their iconic perfume because of this.

So, how do you identify if you’re allergic to a fragrance? A patch test is the best way to determine sensitization, and it is commonly performed in a dermatologist’s office. Patch testing helps to identify which substances may be causing a delayed allergic reaction in a patient, including ACD. In a patch test, a series of diluted chemicals are placed on a patient’s back, and after two days, the chemicals are removed and an initial reading will be done to see if there is a local allergic skin reaction. A final reading is done two days after the chemicals are removed. For fragrance, there is a fragrance mix that is used and it is composed of the chemicals causing the most allergic reactions.

Since repeated exposure to fragrance can increase the likelihood of developing an allergy to fragrance, it is recommended that babies and children have limited exposure to heavily-fragranced products. Instead, if you really want that fresh-from-the-bath baby smell, use scented products with essential oils. The essential oils that cause the least allergic reactions are lavender, rosemary, and thyme oils. All Baby Pibu™ products are fragrance free! Our daily care products, including our Bathtime Wash and Baby Butter, have a light scent from lavender oil.

So if you must have some fragrance as you bathe your baby or slather on his lotion, look for those scented with essential oils. Or, you can just let his natural sweetness come through.



Dermatitis. 2007; 18(1):3-7.

Contact dermatitis. 2010 Nov; 63(5): 277-83.


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