Bambo Nature Blog

Fragrance-free Or Unscented: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever wondered about the reason why some products are labeled fragrance-free, while others are labeled unscented? It’s one of the semantic ruses brands use to make their products stand out in the crowd – so, what’s the difference between the two terms?


There are a few key reasons many of us are choosing to avoid products that include fragrance. Essentially, the idea is to avoid products with a lot of additives that may cause allergic reactions like dermatitis. Some products containing additives can also cause photosensitivity, migraines, and many of them exacerbate asthma symptoms. Unnecessary fragrances are one such avoidable additive.

In addition to this, you might have heard that many added fragrance chemicals are composed of phthalates. Phthalates are an industrial plasticizing agent that have been linked to a multitude of serious health problems including fertility issues, testicular cancer, and liver cancer.


Products marketed as fragrance-free are literally: fragrance-free. They do not contain added fragrance to either smell nice or to mask the smell of other ingredients. These are the products to select if you’re shopping with the intention of avoiding fragrance additives.


Products marketed as unscented are NOT free from added fragrance. Unscented is a labeling term that indicates that fragrance has been added to the product to mask the smell of its other ingredients. These products have no (or very little) scent, but it’s only for cosmetic purposes rather than for health, safety, or environmental reasons.

Spotting The Difference

The first step is to smell a sample of the product. If there is an obvious smell, for example floral or fruity, then you can safely assume the product contains fragrance.

If you don’t smell anything, or if you can smell something but it doesn’t register as a recognizable scent, then check the labeling. Does it claim to be fragrance-free or unscented? One way to remember the difference between the two terms is that the word unscented can suggest that there was once a scent and it was somehow removed – whereas fragrance-free can only mean that the product is free from all fragrance additives.

If there is no such labeling, or if you want to be on the safe side, check the ingredients for items that appear on the European Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety’s Fragrance Allergen List. This is a list of 26 fragrance additives that are known to potentially cause allergies.

If you are shopping in the United States, it’s important to remember that this list of the 26 worst fragrance additives are only legally required to appear on packaging labels in Europe.

The laws in the United States tend to favor the brand’s trade secrets when it comes to fragrance combinations, so products aren’t required to include a full list of their fragrance additives on labels. However, there are apps you can download that have a database of ingredient lists that are easy to look up when you’re out shopping.

Here are the fragrances to avoid according to the European SCCS:

  1. Amyl cinnamal
  2. Benzyl alchohol
  3. Cinnamyl alcohol
  4. Citral
  5. Eugenol
  6. Hydroxy-citronellal
  7. Isoeugenol
  8. Amylcin-namyl alcohol
  9. Benzyl salicylate
  10. Cinnamal
  11. Coumarin
  12. Geraniol
  13. Hydroxy-methylpentylcyclohexenecarboxaldehyd
  14. Anisyl alcohol
  15. Benzyl cinnamate
  16. Farnesol
  17. 2-(4-tert-Butylbenzyl) propionald-hyd
  18. Linalool
  19. Benzyl benzoate
  20. Citronellol
  21. Hexyl cinnam-aldehyd
  22. d-Limonene
  23. Methyl heptin carbonate
  24. 3-Methyl-4-(2,6,6-tri-methyl-2-cyclohexen-1-yl)-3-buten-2-one
  25. Oak moss
  26. Tree moss extract
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