Unscented, fragrance-free, natural fragrance, scented with essential oils... what does it all mean!? It's a question we get a lot and it can be extremely confusing. For example, you can have an unscented product with "fragrance" listed as an ingredient and something that is "fragrance-free" but it smells like flowers and citrus.
What is Fragrance?
According to the FDA, in most cases each ingredient of a personal care product, aka a cosmetic, must be listed individually. But under U.S. regulations, fragrance ingredients can be listed simply as “Fragrance.” So when you see the term "fragrance" it's referring to any chemical, natural or synthetic, used in relation to the scent of a product. These can include animal derived products, essential oils, diethyl phthalate, or DEP.
Why do companies not need to list fragrance ingredients? Because of a little thing called "trade secrets" or intellectually sensitive information that's not copy written or trademarked, that gives a company an advantage or keeps them competitive by keeping it secret. According to US law, labeling requirements can not require a company to reveal trade secrets.
What Does Fragrance-Free Mean?
A company, like Alder New York, that says they are "fragrance-free" is referring to not using the blanket term "fragrance" to describe the ingredients used to give a product its scent. The benefit of buying "fragrance-free" is that you know exactly what you're putting on your body, but it does not mean that a product has no scent.
What Does Unscented Mean?
Unscented products are a different story. Claiming a product is unscented means that there is no discernible scent. That does not mean that there isn't "fragrance" or fragrance ingredients used in the formula. Many unscented product will have ingredients that hide the unpleasant odor of other functional ingredients but smell like nothing.
The important thing to note is the ingredients listed on a product, to make sure that your products are clean and don't feature ingredients that are harmful to you or the environment. You can use our list of restricted ingredients as a guide and when it comes to assessing the smell of a product, you're just going to have to take a whiff.