Going fragrance free can be tricky, even for people who really need it, so I’ve put together a beginner’s guide to make it easier for people who want to avoid fragrances, create accessible spaces, or support people around them who can’t tolerate fragrances. I want to make it as easy as possible, because it’s really important for our well-being! Also, a lot of people find they benefit from going fragrance free even without MCS.
Why should I go fragrance free, anyways?
Many people are irritated by strong smells, perfumes, or chemical smells. Close to a third of the population of the US in fact. About 11%are very allergic to fragrances and become very ill when exposed to fragrances. You might hear people use terms like allergic to fragrances, or multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), and some people are allergic to a wider or narrower range of products.
While the effects vary between people, even small amounts of fragrance make me really sick: I get intense muscle cramps, migraines, dizziness, nausea, difficulty concentrating. Also, there is some reason to believe that exposure can make this worse, since some people develop these allergies after prolonged exposure to chemicals such as pesticides and working in hair or nail salons.
What’s on the list?
Resources regarding organizing, legal stuff, masks and other more comprehensive product lists are at the bottom as “*Additional Resources”. This list will try to show what products are available and where, and focus on cheap,easily accessible products you can get at a grocery or drug store.
You can also find stuff by googling things, there are a ton more available online, and sometimes you can even find them in stores near you. These are very common brands that don’t require shipping and searching.
Not sure about a product?
Look for “fragrance free” and “free and clear”.
If you’re getting something that isn’t explicitly labeled fragrance free, (even if its unscented) check the ingredients list to see if it lists fragrances or perfume.
What can trigger this? or what weird thing did I not realize could be a problem?
Anything scented, including unscented, natural fragrances, and essential oils. E-cigs, vapes, etc. also carry toxic chemicals. Nail polish, floor and shoe polish, varnish, recently varnished furniture, cleaning solutions, recently cleaned surfaces, fresh paint, new plastics, new sheets etc, air freshener, diffusers, lotions, body sprays, plugins, anything by glad (I’m pretty sure), gasoline, exhaust fumes, etc.
Vinegar and baking soda will clean almost anything and remove scents from almost anything. If this is not obvious, do not apply to skin at the same time!
Dr. Bronner’s advertises itself for everything, shampoo, soap, conditioner, cleanser, etc. They also apparently make shaving cream. Their products do have fragrance! But they have a few unscented products that only have scents from natural oils that are less intense for some people. This is also the only fragrance free shaving cream I found, but I wasn’t really looking.
Best, available everywhere: dove bar/beauty bar.
Great for hands face and body. Comes in two- giant packs. Can be disconcerting at first because it doesn’t have that “clean” smell, it really doesn’t smell like anything.
Some people may want to combine with a scent remover in the kitchen if you cut things like onions garlic a lot and having hands that smell like food bothers you a lot. Something like this bar.
However this is just a piece of steel and you can also use a knife.
Aveeno Body wash. Smells mildly like oatmeal. Cetaphil and Aquaphor also make fragrance free body wash.
Liquid hand soap: Dr Bronners or one can dilute unscented dish soap to use as hand soap, though it’s not quite as nice a consistency. You can find alternatives online.
Kiss my face is a great solid stick brand that makes a lot of other products too. (seen in health food stores, some pharmacies).
Almay makes a gel deodorant, I don’t like gel but they also have a roll on version.
Arrid extra extra dry solid unscented has no fragrance and it’s cheap, great for excersizing.
Crystal is a body deodorant stick that you moisten before applying. It is hypoallergenic and paraben free and approved by the (I believe) American cancer society. I’m fairly sure its all natural and has potassium alum, but not aluminum chlorohydrate or aluminum zirconium.
A lot of people also use baking soda who want to avoid all of these chemicals, but might want a little deodorization.
In Germany, Mum brand deodorant is really great, but I don’t know where to find it in the US.
Planet free and clear and seventh generation free and clear are both the same price roughly, hypoallergenic, fragrance free. Planet is not tested on animals and biodegradable.
Many people can’t use dryer sheets at all, but bounce makes free and clear dryer sheets. An environmentally friendly/cheaper/reusable alternative are dryer balls which don’t have the harmful filaments all dryer sheets have.
All detergent, Arm and hammer, and even tide make “free and clear” fragrance free laundry detergent. (Thanks Miyoshi’s family).
Laundry detergent: “Charlie’s Soap” is a brand of unscented powder and liquid laundry soap that works for Vivian. They now use the liquid version for doing hand laundry; it even has a nice dispenser chamber. Either works fine in washing machines.
Aveeno makes fragrance free lotion, but their baby lotion is identical and cheaper. Its smells mildly like oatmeal. You can also get store brands. This is usually less difficult to find for some reason. Burt’s Bees also has fragrance free lotion, but may smell of some natural oils. Aquaphor/Eucerin also make fragrance free lotion that’s very good.
Cetaphil, Eucerin, Gold Bond, Lubriderm, and Vaseline all make fragrance free lotions.
Carmex and Burt’s bees both make a fragrance free chapstick that have menthol. You can also find ones that don’t have menthol. Often they are labeled “naked” instead. Dr. Bronner’s has a purple naked fragrance free chapstick.
Burt’s bees baby shampoo smells really nice but can be bit strong for people who can’t handle any smells, I really like it. This goes for most of their products without added scents.
The Aquaphor fragrance free baby shampoo found at almost every drug store and is the cheapest brand you can get, but according to Anton it smells funny. I can’t tell. It’s really mild. Many baby shampoos or backpacking/biodegradeable shampoos will be fragrance free.
Hogwash can be used instead of products like febreeze to neutralize undesirable odors.
More hair stuff:
This list has lots of great products, includes anti-dandruff, and this list, is great for POC and curly hair.
I’ve been asked about conditioner, and it’s mentioned in some of the other lists, but I haven’t found one in stores. You can definitely find it with a quick google search, and either order it online or find the brand you want at your nearest location. This can take several tries. I recommend calling the branch to check. I do deep conditioning with a mixture of olive and coconut oil, then wash it out with a mixture of honey, baking soda and water.
Other shampoos, via crowdsourcing:
Jason restorative and gluten free
Prairie Naturals Arctic Sun Hypoallergenic Shampoo Fragrance Free. It is sulfate, DEA and paraben free
Whole foods 365 scent free
Everyday Shea products. Moisturizing. They do shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. $10 for a quart
Free & Clear, good for curly wavy, kinky and straight hair
Magick Botannicals fragrance, gluten, and salicylate free
Awesome resources by Leah Lakshmi Pepsna-Samarasinha, lots of POC specific stuff, curly hair stuff, stuff made by various artisans/people in the community, and a ton of home recipes that are fab for everyone. More links here too. Seriously, this is the best.
If you love cosmetics:
Legal Resourcesregarding accommodations from Department of Labor
Fragrance free humor
another list of products/places
For people with severe chemical sensitivities, masks can be helpful to filter out fragrances. If you need a mask for chemicals, it needs to contain a carbon filter.
This website sells many types of masks
They have a mask buying guide, in addition to this comparison chart to help you select which mask will meet your
I use the honeycomb mask, because it’s fairly cheap and easy to replace the filters when they get used up.
I also have a sports style respro mask, which I find works a bit better, and can be purchased at some sports stores as well as the websites listed above.