The short answer is ‘yes’, there is a difference. As many are aware, artificial fragrances can cause irritation to those with sensitive skin, allergies or skin conditions such as Eczema and Psoriasis. Those with the most severe sensitivities and allergies may also have to avoid some essential oils because of they can cause irritant or contact dermatitis, a form of skin rash. We also see that many parents of young children opting for fragrance free baby products due to sensitivity of the new-born’s skin, which is proven to be delicate compared to an older child. Some may even just prefer the simplicity of no fragrance.
The common misconception is that ‘fragrance free’ and ‘unscented’ are interchangeable terms. Technically they are not. The technicality may matter to those with highly sensitive skin conditions. Let’s examine the difference.
Fragrance-free (scent-free): These products do not add any synthetic parfums, naturally derived parfums or essential oils. They also do not add any other additives to cover the smell of the ingredients. So, they are safe from explicit fragrance compositions. Depending on the quality of synthetic fragrance, or origin of the fragrance, it could be made from petrochemicals. EU regulations for cosmetics currently bans fragrances containing more than 26 allergens. Fragrance-free doesn’t mean ‘no fragrance’.
Unscented: whilst unscented products do not add fragrance or essential oils, they may use other ingredients which can mask the smell of other ingredients that may be unpleasant (e.g. the nuttiness of shea butter, or strong scent of cocoa butter, or ammonium-releasing ingredients). All ingredients have a fragrance, so when they are combined, the finished product will smell like something, albeit very light and mostly pleasant. So ‘unscented’ just means there’s no readily identifiable or potent smell.