Humans are olfactory beasts, even though we don’t like to see ourselves as such. We’re guided by scents and odors on our daily lives, some pleasant, some others,… well not so much. With the few exceptions of those allergic or extra sensitive to the billions of scents we’re bombarded with day in and day out, most of us enjoy the calming scent of a rose, the relaxing smell of coffee in the morning and despise the pungent smells our own bodies can emit at times and that extremely strong cheap perfume that one coworker insists in attacking us with every day! ugh!
In cosmetics in particular, we’re used to scented products, from our shampoos and conditioners, all the way to our deodorants and even toothpaste, but in some cases we need or prefer for various reasons, products that won’t emit any odor at all. The words we are all familiar with and are very much used in cosmetics, that describe these products are unscented, fragrance free, odor-free, odorless and similar ones. But their definitions and the use of those words within the industry sometimes isn’t quite clear as we might think.
If we look them up in the dictionary their definitions are easy to understand. But although they might have similar definitions, there are certain subtle differences when it comes to how they’re used in cosmetics and they can confuse us at times.
Unscented or Scentless, literally means “without added scent”, “not filled or impregnated with odor or fragrance”, but not necessarily odorless. A product might display “unscented” in its label or “scentless”, and still give out a faint scent. This is because one or more of the ingredients in the formula have a natural scent that permeates through in the final product. Because not scents or masking agents are used generally in this products, the word “fragrance” isn’t present in the ingredients list, and the product isn’t necessarily completely free of odors.
Fragrance Free, literally means “free of fragrance or scent”. Although one might think it means there are no fragrances added to the product, similar to unscented, the reality is different. Products disclosing “Fragrance Free” on their labels might be actually unscented so actually no added scented ingredients are in it, or “odorless” meaning a chemical in the form of fragrance neutralizer was added to eliminate all natural scents from the ingredients. Usually these products although claiming to be Fragrance Free, disclose “fragrance” as mandated by the FDA in the ingredients list. So check the labels to make sure.
Odor-Free or Odorless.
Just like for Fragrance Free above, these products have fragrance neutralizers added to the formula to completely eliminate any scent the ingredients might have that could possibly permeate through. Check the ingredients list for “fragrance”.
Fragrance or Odor Neutralizers and Masking Agents
Fragrance or odor neutralizers and masking agents come in a variety of chemical concoctions, and unless the cosmetic company so wishes to do, chances are they won’t disclose the list of ingredients in them. When it comes to “fragrances”, “masking agents” or “odor neutralizers”, hiding the ingredients in these potions isn’t illegal at all in the US. Actually the FDA protects this as “trade secret” allowing cosmetic companies to hide the ingredient makeup of these under the “fragrance” umbrella. Zinc ricinoleate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Tetrahydroxypropyl Ethylenediamine are just a few of the quite large number of neutralizers most commonly used in cosmetics and other industries.
Another method that has become quite popular in the industry to mask the natural odors of certain ingredients is called Encapsulation. Encapsulating techniques for cosmetic active ingredients and volatile mater (odors) vary depending on the ingredients and purpose. The molecules that give off the odor in a product are “enclosed” in a medium or “shell” to prevent the release of this scent into the air therefore giving the appearance the product is odor or scent free. Products where an encapsulation technique was used to masquerade or eliminate the natural scent of the ingredients won’t disclose “fragrance” in the ingredients list, but the ingredients used to encapsulate should be disclosed as they’re part of the active ingredients in the formulation. Many micro-encapsulating methods require the use of not so natural chemicals, including polymers, and liposomes among others, many of which have been frown-upon in the natural cosmetics industry.
Because when it comes to products without scent there is no standard in the industry, the terms “fragrance free”, “unscented” and others are used indiscriminately in cosmetics regardless of their definition.
At By Valenti Organics, we don’t use masking agents, or encapsulating techniques to eliminate the natural scent some ingredients would give off. Products that are scented will display a full list of the essential oils in the formulation, and those market unscented like our true castile – sapone d’oliva (olive oil – jabón de castilla) – bar soap are true to its definition.
Ultimately, if reading the ingredients list of your favorite product, still won’t answer your questions, asking the formulator or the manufacturer might do the trick in revealing what’s really behind that fragrance free or odorless product, if not because of peace of mind, because as consumers we have the right to know what cosmetic companies are putting in our bodies, won’t you agree?…