Fragrance-Free vs. Unscented: What’s the Difference?

You might be thinking to yourself, “Does it matter and is there even a difference?” As it turns out, there is a difference. These terms sound similar and are sometimes incorrectly misused. This can make it confusing and even frustrating to understand the difference. Fear not, friend. We plan on giving you the down and dirty.

So, in a straightforward, stress-free way, let’s talk about the differences between fragrance-free products and unscented ones. Some companies and consumers use these terms interchangeably, but they mean different things. We’ll break down the differences and give some recommendations quickly and simply so you can read this standing in the aisle of your drugstore.

What Does Fragrance-Free Mean?

Fragrances can be anything added to a product to give it a particular smell. Some contain all-natural ingredients, while others are made from chemical compounds. A fragrance-free product can still have a scent, but the smell will come from individually listed ingredients you can read on the label instead of the single term “fragrance” which might represent anything.

If you’re looking for a little extra knowledge on fragrances, we’ve written a full article on that which you can read here.

What Does Unscented Mean?

This is where it gets a little sticky: Unscented products may actually contain fragrances. Some of the ingredients used in beauty products contain strange or unpleasant odors. These scents are masked through fragrances. When this occurs, some brands will refer to this as “unscented.”

What’s Right for Me?

Brands use the word fragrance is used to refer to both harmless and dangerous ingredients while we’ve seen companies manipulate the term unscented. So, what’s the rule of thumb? You’re going to hate this: There isn’t a perfect rule. If you’re extremely sensitive or want to play it cautious, you can go with all fragrance-free products.

We recommend the following:

  • Do your research on the brands. Do they share your values or are they looking to make a quick buck off buzzwords?
  • Learn the names of the chemicals or fragrances that are widely agreed upon are harmful. [link]
  • Listen to your body. If you start to notice a change in your skin or hair, pay attention to what you’re using. Try isolating different products to you can deduce if there’s a causal relationship.

With no easy solution, it’s up to use to carefully read labels and pay attention to terminology until more research is available and the labeling rules change. We hope this article has given you enough information to choose your products more confidently.



Looking for fragrance-free products? We have a few including a roll-on deodorant and a foot deodorant.