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How to Know If the Fragrance in Your Hair Product Is Damaging, According to an Expert

It’s one of the greatest debates in beauty: Is fragrance really the devil? Finding fragrance in hair products (or self-care products in general) isn’t uncommon, but how do we know if they’re really that bad?

Everyone’s hair is different, and no two products are created the same. Therefore, there’s got to be some discrepancy over the harms of fragrance in hair products. To shed light on this tricky subject matter, we reached out to Elizabeth DiMaio, founder of Healium, an extensive product line for people with thin or fine hair. Keep reading for her expert opinion on this issue.

(via Unsplash)

Mane Addicts: There’s a great debate over whether or not any fragrance should be allowed in haircare. What’s your take on this?

Elizabeth DiMaio: Fragrance is such a personal preference and may actually be the determining factor of why someone does or doesn’t purchase a product. It’s even my understanding that there are specific religions that can’t use perfumed or scented products. I do believe that beauty products should not compete with or overwhelm your perfume. This was something very intentional with our formulations. I personally like having a fragrance, as it might remind me of a specific time in my life. My gardenia-fragranced perfume from Michael Kors reminds me of my mother.

MA: What is the potential harm of fragrance in haircare?

ED: Fragrance is broken down into several different categories and can be manmade, aromatic, all-natural, or essential. Depending on the chemical compound or if the natural state of the oil has been chemically altered, some people might feel fragrance can cause dryness. On the other hand, some people might feel fragrance can cause irritation. We’re all like snowflakes—everyone is different, so what affects me as far as a fragrance due to irritation or personal preference may not be the same for my daughter.

perfume bottles sit by a book
(via Unsplash)

MA: How does a consumer know if there’s harmful fragrance in their haircare?

ED: There’s a difference between products being fragrance-free and unscented. A natural oil may actually be considered a synthetic fragrance, once it has been chemically changed to meet the product’s needs or specifications. Because it now has synthetic properties, it can be categorized as a chemical and is now considered unscented. The smell is no longer a fragrance but a part of the chemical makeup.

A fragrance-free product will be completely free of any natural, essential, or synthetic oils meant to provide smell. This can also work negatively, however. Many ingredients, such as amino acids, do not smell good. Sometimes those oils are used to counter the unlikable smell of some ingredients.

MA: What constitutes a harmful fragrance as opposed to a fragrance you need to worry less about?

ED: This one can be tricky because most fragrance companies consider their products (fragrances) proprietary, or a trade secret. Therefore they don’t have to list them individually by chemical makeup. Depending on the sourcing and quality of the fragrance and the reputation of the company, some fragrances could include chemical makeups such as phthalates or carcinogens. Essential oils are derived from only one plant, and while it may be the cleanest ingredient, there still may be allergen indications to take into consideration.

MA: Do Healium’s products include fragrance? If so, how did those formulations come to be, and what prompted the decision to include it?

ED: Healium products do include fragrance. However, they are custom blended and made in the USA. In the beauty industry, especially haircare, one of the first things a customer does before purchasing is smell the fragrance. In the “P’s of purchasing,“ this is usually the first step to determine if they’re even interested in looking further into trying the products.

While fragrance is up for endless debate, THESE are the ingredients you always want in your haircare products!

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