Family Health, New Parents, Sensitive Skin


by California Baby

When it comes to personal care products, we’ve all seen bottles plastered with the words fragrance free or unscented. But what does it actually mean when you see a fragrance free body wash? Is unscented body wash just the same product with a different label? For people with sensitive skin or allergies, the distinction can mean the difference between healthy nourished skin and an itchy sleepless night.

In this article, we’ll explore the world of unscented and fragrance free products as well as what you should know about fragrances in personal care products.


Yes it is! Did you know that a newborn’s skin barrier can be up to 30% thinner than adults? In fact, babies don’t develop a full skin barrier until around their second birthday! While babies’ skin barrier and immune system are developing in those first few months, their delicate skin is more vulnerable to irritants and potential allergens like fragrances. (Fragrance is actually the most common allergen according to MedScape!) As their new immune system makes sense of the world around them, their skin could also potentially overreact to those allergens. 

Research has also shown that smells play a crucial role in bonding between parents and newborns. That means that products with fragrances could disrupt this delicate process and interfere with a new family’s chance to bond.

That’s why our number one recommendation for babies (and especially newborns) is a fragrance free body wash like our Super Sensitive Shampoo and Body Wash. With no added fragrances or scent masking agents and a formula so gentle that many hospitals even use it in their pediatric and neonatal intensive care units, you can rest assured your baby is getting squeaky clean without any sneaky fragrances.


For people plagued with eczema, the world can be an itchy and uncomfortable place. Like new babies, their skin barrier is compromised and prone to dryness, itchiness, and increased absorption. That’s why it’s crucial for those with eczema to know exactly what fragrances are used in their personal care products so that they can avoid those triggers that sensitize their skin.

That’s also why those with eczema should avoid products labeled unscented or ones that say that they’re for eczema, but that have vague ingredient lists harboring ingredients that might trigger a flare. 

Instead, we recommend using a gentle, non-drying, and fragrance free body wash like our Therapeutic Relief Eczema Shampoo and Body Wash.


Have you ever used a new shampoo, only to be plagued with an itchy scalp afterwards? As we know, fragrances are the most common allergen in personal care products, therefore it’s likely that what you’re experiencing is what’s called contact dermatitis stemming from the fragrances in your new shampoo.

Contact dermatitis can even cause more than an itchy scalp, with symptoms ranging from red, burning skin, swelling, and scaly patches to hives and sun sensitivity.

Is it better to have a fragrance free shampoo then? With 24% of Americans experiencing an allergic skin reaction in their lifetime, fragrance free shampoo and conditioner are a great way to avoid an itchy scalp or help prevent contact dermatitis in the first place, especially for newborns as well as kids and adults with sensitive skin. The safest shampoo in this case would be fragrance free.


What exactly does it mean when companies use the term unscented or fragrance free on their packaging? Don’t they basically mean the same thing?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the term unscented means that the product may actually contain fragrances but those fragrances are added in order to neutralize or mask the smell of the product itself. Adding these extra synthetic chemicals to a shampoo, for instance, can take a product that might smell off-putting to consumers and turn it into a more pleasant neutral or lightly scented experience. However, the downside to using scent masking chemicals is that you are introducing more synthetic and potentially irritating chemicals to your skin.

On the other hand, when you reach for a fragrance free body wash, the product you’re using hasn’t had any fragrances or masking agents added to change the smell of the base ingredients. What you’re smelling is only the raw ingredients with nothing extra added and the smell could very well be more distinct than an unscented version!


Simply put, synthetic fragrances are concocted in a laboratory, while the only truly natural scents are 100% essential oils derived directly from plants. 

When it comes to the world of product labeling though, things get a little more complicated.

The truth is that there is no uniform definition for the term “natural fragrance” and that leaves a lot of wiggle room for companies to make misleading claims about their fragrances.

When a company claims that their product has “natural fragrance” they could mean that their ingredients retained slightly more than 50% of their molecular structure after being processed from a natural source or they could even be referring to dozens (or even hundreds) of artificial chemicals that they’ve mixed together in order to mimic the smell of something in nature like lavender or orange. 

Additionally, any time you see a company list fragrance as one ingredient that means that their fragrance is actually a blend of ingredients, which United States law doesn’t require them to disclose to consumers.

The scents you’ll find in our products at California Baby, however, are derived only from the finest pure essential oils extracted from flowers, fruits, and plant skins with gentle steam rather than harsh chemical solvents. The final result is a delightful and truly natural fragrance without toxic pesticides or synthetic fragrances.


While it’s fun to have your shampoo and conditioner feature artificial scents like cucumber melon or cool ocean breeze, there are real risks to synthetic fragrances.

The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database has even given unspecified fragrance a rating of 8 (with 10 being the most toxic).

Contact Dermatitis

As we mentioned above, fragrance in products like shampoo can cause contact dermatitis, an extremely uncomfortable condition that can cause symptoms like intense itching, a burning sensation, swelling, hives, scaly patches, and even oozing blisters.

Allergic Reactions

As you’ll also recall, synthetic fragrances are known allergens. While contact dermatitis is the most common allergic reaction from fragrances in personal care products, other more serious reactions like anaphylaxis or swelling of the mouth, lips, or tongue are also possible and require emergency medical care.

Endocrine (Hormone) Disruption

According to Dr. Becky Campbell, synthetic fragrance ingredients like parabens, synthetic musks, and phthalates have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system by interfering with hormone production in addition to the release of hormones in the body. Some of the chemicals even mimic estrogen and affect the thyroid. Reputable research also supports these claims.


Synthetic fragrances additionally harbor chemicals that are known carcinogens. The Environmental Working Group agrees that cancer causing ingredients can be hidden within vague labeling and that any product that doesn’t list all of their fragrance ingredients clearly on the label could be concealing dangerous carcinogens.

Kidney Damage

According to Dr. Cece Brooks, styrene and phthalates, both common fragrance ingredients, have been shown to cause kidney damage.

Reproductive Harm

Synthetic fragrances are also especially dangerous to unborn babies and the reproductive system. These man made chemicals can cause infertility, miscarriage, ovarian failure, gynecological abnormalities, and have negative effects on children exposed to them in utero such as lower IQ and problems with attention and hyperactivity.

Asthma and Fragrance Sensitivities

It’s important to be mindful of using even natural essential oil fragrance around asthmatics and people with sensitivities to fragrance. A recent survey of people with asthma found that 27.9% of respondents have experienced an asthma attack and 64.3% have experienced one or more types of adverse health effects after exposure to fragranced products. Meanwhile, one in three people with sensitivities to fragrance in the United States experience respiratory difficulties and migraines after exposure to fragranced products.

Environmental Health

Choosing fragrance free options can even help the environment by reducing emissions, which can negatively impact air quality and the health of at-risk populations.

As a reminder, the fragrances we use here at California Baby are pure essential oils that are well tolerated and tested pesticide free for the safest fragrance experience. (For those with the most sensitive skin, we still offer our line of Super Sensitive products featuring fragrance free body wash which has no scent masking chemicals or added fragrance!)


When choosing personal care products, especially for those with very sensitive skin, it’s important to understand the difference between fragrance free (or no fragrance added) and unscented on the label. While the term unscented could be hiding fragrances added to mask the smell of the product itself, a fragrance free product is going to be the most pure product and best for babies, people with eczema or allergies and those with sensitive skin and noses.

When it comes to fragrance, there’s no way to know for sure what chemicals you’re being exposed to or how safe they are since United States law doesn’t require companies to disclose that information, so we recommend using products that are clearly labeled as scented with 100% essential oils, no added fragrance, or fragrance free, especially fragrance free body wash for newborns.

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