The Link Between Perfume & Pigmentation

by | 28 December 2018

“Ooh that smells so nice”, you declare as you pass it around to your friends and you all agree that it’s so yummy so you buy it, take it home, putting it in your bathroom to lather, spray or rub onto your skin at a later date.

It’s all part of the clever marketing process where people we don’t know, in boardrooms we’ll never see, add fragrance into products to make you crack the lid, ‘sniff’ the bottle and put it in your shopping trolley.

Fragrances and smells are powerful. Just the whiff of 9711 perfume takes me back to my childhood and my grandmother’s dressing table. Even now if I see a bottle of it I get tempted to buy it just to re-live the memory.

But fragrance, whilst a powerful sensory experience, is a disaster for our skin and our wellbeing in general. Whether they’re a cocktail of synthetic chemicals mixed together in a lab or extracted from a rare plant and placed into tiny brown bottles and sold on the internet, fragrance and perfumes are bad news when it comes to our skin.

As we are coming into summer, I thought it was the perfect time to chat about how fragrance (both chemical and “natural”) can be one of the leading causes of skin pigmentation, especially when combined with sun exposure.

Fragrance is a big disruptor to skin cells and how they work. Yet we don’t even give it a second thought, we just associate smelling nice with good hygiene and being clean. But what if I told you things that smell nice don’t play nice? That they actually cause inflammation, trigger pigmentation and disrupt how your skin cells function.


How do they trigger pigmentation? Let me count the ways…


Fragrances, even those naturally derived from essential oils, create an inflammation response in our skin. The chemical concoction of fragrant ingredients interrupts our skin’s barrier, which sets off a cascade of inflammatory markers. This may not always be something visual, although you may have experienced redness, itching, irritation on exposure to certain products, highly linked to fragrant ingredients. That’s your skin telling you that it isn’t happy about the smelly concoction you applied.

Inflammation within our skin becomes like a green light to our pigment-producing cells, our melanocytes, stimulating a cascade of signals that kick-start the overproduction of pigment.

When this is combined with UV exposure, the impact of a fragrance on a skin is multiplied, causing our pigment cells to produce even more melanin, more than our skin cell can evenly distribute and manage. If our skin cells are saturated in pigment, the overproduction is like a running tap pouring into a bucket, it just overflows, flooding everywhere, much like pigment granules do when the melanocyte is in overdrive.

Once there has been an overproduction and flood of melanosomes, we see uneven distribution of pigment in the skin, leading to darker or unevenly toned patches of skin.

Most commonly, you may have noticed fragrance induced pigment damage on the sides of the neck where perfume is most frequently sprayed. Sun exposure on fragrance exacerbates the inflammatory response, triggering the melanocyte cell and damaging how it works.

Once this pigment cell is over stimulated, melanocyte cells go into overdrive and the damage to the function of that cell can be permanent, leaving that cell to misbehave and create too much pigment when the surrounding cells don’t need it.

Once a pigment cell knows how to misbehave, it will do it at every opportunity.

Removing fragrances and perfumes from your skin care ensures you are protecting yourself from an increased risk of pigmentation, especially during summer as we will naturally have more exposure to UV in this season. If you already have inflammation and uneven pigment in your skin, avoiding UV exposure is the first place to begin treatment. The next step is to find your nearest Corneotherapist to determine the influencing factors to your skin’s condition, help you reduce cellular inflammation to achieve more even skin tone.

If I’ve not convinced you to ditch your perfume, make the switch and spray your fragrance on your clothes instead of your skin. That way you can enjoy the fragrance without it creating inflammation within your skin and increasing your risk of pigmentation.