Fragrance contact allergy: a clinical review

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(11):789-98. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200304110-00006.


Most people in modern society are exposed daily to fragrance ingredients from one or more sources. Fragrance ingredients are also one of the most frequent causes of contact allergic reactions. The diagnosis is made by patch testing with a mixture of fragrance ingredients, the fragrance mix. This gives a positive patch-test reaction in about 10% of tested patients with eczema, and the most recent estimates show that 1.7-4.1% of the general population are sensitized to ingredients of the fragrance mix. Fragrance allergy occurs predominantly in women with facial or hand eczema. These women typically have a history of rash to a fine fragrance or scented deodorants. Chemical analysis has revealed that well known allergens from the fragrance mix are present in 15-100% of cosmetic products, including deodorants and fine fragrances, and most often in combinations of three to four allergens in the same products. This means that it is difficult to avoid exposure, as products labelled as 'fragrance free' have also been shown to contain fragrance ingredients, either because of the use of fragrance ingredients as preservatives or masking perfumes, or the use of botanicals. About 2500 different fragrance ingredients are currently used in the composition of perfumes and at least 100 of these are known contact allergens. Therefore, it is advisable to supplement standard patch testing with the patient's own stay-on cosmetic products, as well as the fragrance chemical hydroxyisohexyl-3-cyclohexane carboxaldehyde, which on its own gives responses in 1-3% of tested patients. The focus in recent years on the ingredients of the fragrance mix will probably result in the fragrance industry changing the composition of perfumes, and thus make the current diagnostic test less useful. New diagnostic tests are under development to identify contact allergy to new allergens, reflecting the continuous developments and trends in exposure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cosmetics / adverse effects*
  • Cosmetics / chemistry
  • Deodorants / adverse effects*
  • Deodorants / chemistry
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / diagnosis
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / epidemiology
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / etiology*
  • Dermatitis, Allergic Contact / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Perfume / adverse effects*
  • Perfume / chemistry


  • Cosmetics
  • Deodorants
  • Perfume