The term “fragrance-free” describes a product that does not contain additional fragrances or substances designed to mask the underlying natural fragrance of the product. While this definition would seem cut and dried, a number of products with labels which state that they are fragrance-free actually do contain artificial or natural fragrances or masking products, sometimes without a disclosure in the ingredients list. This is because government agencies have not formally created a definition and standard for such products.
People purchase fragrance-free products for a variety of reasons. In most cases, people buy them because they are sensitive to odors; pregnant women, people taking certain medications, and some individuals in a natural state are simply extremely sensitive to scents, with cosmetic fragrances causing discomfort. Some people feel that added fragrances can cause health problems, especially in the case of artificial fragrances, which may be made from chemicals which have not been widely tested for safety. For these individuals, the purchase is based on health considerations.
A wide variety of fragrance-free products including soaps, body washes, baby powder, moisturizers, shampoos, conditioners, deodorant, and other personal care items are available. Some products are also designed to be all-natural to address concerns about potentially harmful chemicals. It is not uncommon for a fragrance-free product to have an odor, thanks to the natural ingredients in the product, but this odor is viewed as acceptable because it is a necessary part of the product. A fragrance-free oat, honey, and milk moisturizer, for example, may have a faint scent from the ingredients. Being totally odorless would actually be a cause for suspicion, as it would indicate that chemicals had been used to mask a scent.
Some workplaces, schools, and other buildings have been designated fragrance-free in response to complaints from the people who work in those environments. In these situations, visitors are asked to refrain from wearing or using fragrances out of respect for the people who share the space, and personal care products such as soap and moisturizer provided on site will be fragrance-free. Such policies sometimes cause friction, with opponents dismissing the claims of people who report adverse reactions to fragrances.
Increasing awareness of the issues surrounding fragrances has led some governments to attempt to formulate more strict policies in regards to fragrance ingredients. In Canada, for example, manufacturers are required to list all ingredients, including traces of fragrances, so that consumers can make an informed choice when they make a purchase.