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The truth is, if you have sensitive skin, you absolutely can use fragrances… but should you?

Having sensitive skin can sometimes be a hassle, especially when it comes to searching for scents that won’t cause irritation.

Here, we’re going to discuss the causes of fragrance irritation, perfume ingredients that could be allergens, and what you should look for while shopping for fragrances if you have sensitive skin.

If you notice irritation — like burning, itching, or stinging — after using fragrances, there could be a couple things going on.

You might be sensitive to one (or more) of the ingredients

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all cosmetics to include a list of ingredients. However, under current rules, fragrance ingredients can just be called “fragrance.”

Essentially, “fragrance” is used as a catch-all and can mean the product contains a blend of synthetic chemicals that aren’t listed individually. That makes it hard to pinpoint which ingredients are irritating your skin.

According to the National Eczema Association, between 1 and 4 percent of the population is sensitive to fragrance.

You might be reacting to the alcohol

A lot of fragrances have an alcohol base. This makes for a quick, easy spritz since alcohol dries quickly. It can also increase the absorption of the product into your skin.

However, alcohol can be drying, and it can also be irritating to people with sensitive skin.

If your skin is sensitive to fragrances, don’t worry. You might not have to give up scents completely. Use these tips to find something that works for you.

Go natural

If you suspect your skin may be reacting to “fragrance” as an ingredient, try to go as natural as possible. However, know that naturally scented products may be hard to find. According to one estimate, only about 5 percent of fragrance ingredients come from natural sources.

Additionally, while essential oils offer an all-natural scent, they won’t work for everyone. Some people may still experience sensitivity to essential oils.

Some oils (like lemon, lime, orange, and bergamot) are also photosensitive, meaning they may cause a reaction if you apply them and then expose your skin to the sun.

Try to get a small tester size of a fragrance you’re interested in before you purchase a full-size bottle. That way, you can see how your skin reacts before you go all-in.

Opt for oil-based

If you think the alcohol base may be your issue, look for an oil-based scent instead. You can find options made with common carrier oils, like coconut. It may take a little longer for these to soak into your skin, but they should be less irritating and drying than traditional options.

Oil-based natural perfumes can either be found in a roll-on format, or a solid perfume which is usually made from essential oils blended into a base of jojoba oil and beeswax. These do not last as long as synthetic perfumes but the trade-off may be that you can actually enjoy them!

Rethink your application

If your skin still can’t tolerate fragrances, try applying the scent to your clothes instead of directly to your skin. If you go this route, just be sure to use an alcohol-based fragrance since oil can stain clothing.

You can also try a hair mist made specially for hair. Don’t use a regular alcohol-based fragrance on your hair, since this can be drying.

Before using any new fragrance, do a patch test. Spray just a little on your skin and wait 24 hours to see how it reacts. If you notice any irritation, stop use immediately and consult a doctor or dermatologist.

Additionally, if you want to use fragrance while pregnant, talk with your doctor first. Some fragrances are made with essential oils, not all of which are safe for pregnancy.

To create this list, we looked for oil-based fragrances for all genders. Some contain fragrance as an ingredient, while others are scented with all-natural essential oils. Each fragrance on our list smells great according to online reviewers.

Additionally, all the products on our list have been vetted to ensure that they meet Healthline’s medical and business standards. Read more about our process here.

  • $ = under $35
  • $$ = $35–$45
  • $$$ = over $45

MCMC Fragrances Maui Perfume Oil

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 10 ml
  • Scent profile: floral, tropical

This vegan, cruelty-free perfume oil has a short ingredient list. With a coconut oil base, it should be less drying than traditional perfumes. However, it does include fragrance, so you might want to steer clear if you think you may be sensitive to synthetic scents.

Reviewers say the scent is long-lasting, and that while the top notes are more “green,” the base has a nice floral, gingery aroma.

By Rosie Jane Fragrance Oil, Dylan

  • Price: $$
  • Size: 7 ml
  • Scent profile: spicy, woody

With notes of cedar, frankincense, and musk, this perfume oil can work for any gender. Reviewers describe the scent as “clean” and “earthy,” with one reviewer saying it’s a good “go-to” scent.

By Rosie Jane is transparent about their ingredients. While they do use some synthetics, you’ll always be able to see exactly which ones (no catch-all “fragrance”).

With a coconut oil base, By Rosie Jane claims their perfume oils will last 6 to 8 hours.

Sweet Essentials Perfume Oil

  • Price: $
  • Size: 2 oz
  • Scent profile: floral, musk

This perfume oil by Sweet Essentials is completely free of alcohol and chemical preservatives. It can even be used on hair to tame frizz and add shine.

The base is a mix of coconut oil, jojoba oil, and castor seed oil, though the ingredients list also contains fragrance.

While there are no reviews on the company’s site, it has received a 5 star rating on third-party sites.

Fat and the Moon Plant Perfume, Green Man

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 2 oz
  • Scent profile: earthy

Made of organic jojoba oil and essential oils, this is a good basic perfume oil. Sold in a two-ounce bottle, it’s also more economical than small roller-ball perfumes. It does contain some alcohol, so be aware of that if you think you may be sensitive to the ingredient.

Reviewers describe the scent as “sexy” and “ethereal.” It’s marketed to all genders.

Malin + Goetz Dark Rum Perfume Oil

  • Price: $
  • Size: 9 ml
  • Scent profile: spicy

With notes of bergamot, plum, rum, and leather, reviewers describe this scent as “divine.” They also comment that it’s long-lasting.

All Malin + Goetz products are made with sensitive skin in mind. The brand also focuses on sustainability, making everything locally to reduce their carbon footprint.

Kai Perfume Oil, Rose

  • Price: $$$
  • Size: 3.6 ml
  • Scent profile: floral

Made with a mix of fragrance and essential oils, this phthalate- and paraben-free perfume has a delicate rose scent. Some reviewers describe it as oily, but note that it rubs in quickly.

They also comment that the scent is “subtle,” saying that you may have to reapply somewhat frequently.

Having sensitive skin can be a struggle, but finding ways to smell good shouldn’t be. Be sure to read labels before you buy. You may want to avoid synthetic fragrances and opt for oil-based scents.


Morgan Armstead is a senior at Johnson C. Smith University and an intern at Healthline, writing beauty and wellness material.