Do you think that when you buy a fragrance-free product, it’s unscented? If you’re thinking “yes, of course,” prepare to have your mind blown…Picture This: You’re a cosmetic chemist (my, that’s a sexy lab coat!). You have just created a lotion that feels silky smooth, highly moisturizing and is the best thing since wi-fi. The only downer is that it doesn’t smell quite right. Something about it is off, but—since you’re a chemistry genius, obviously—you know exactly how to solve this problem.There’s an arsenal of ingredients that can change the lotion’s odor. An essential oil, aromatic extract or fruit/flower distillate water will do the trick. One or two drops and, violá! Your lotion is now perfection. But…

1. Is it fragrance-free or unscented?

Essential oils, aromatic extracts and fruit/flower distillate waters all contribute scents to your product. Some are far stronger than others, but at the end of the day, a “scent” has been added to your lotion to change the way it smells. Therefore, your lotion is not unscented. The catch? Beauty companies can still make a “fragrance-free” claim because they did not use a fragrance to change the odor.

2. What, exactly, is a fragrance?

It’s a complex mash-up of odiferous ingredients, from both natural and synthetic origins. A fragrance’s ingredient list can sometimes be longer than the ingredient list for an actual product. It isn’t practical to list all of the components of the fragrance—companies aren’t too keen on giving away their secrets either—so the word “fragrance” (or parfum, if you’re fancy) is the only term required of beauty companies to use on their ingredient labels to represent the fragrance blends.

3. What does “fragrance-free” mean?

The bottom line (and this may be a little bit shocking): The only thing that the term “fragrance-free” means is that the word “fragrance” does not appear on the product’s ingredient label. I repeat: “Fragrance-free” does NOT mean that no scented additives have been added to change the scent.

4. How do I know if a product is really unscented?

It’s easy to tell if a product is fragrance-free; the trick is determining if a product is truly unscented. Here’s a tip: If you see essential oils and fruit/flower distillate waters on the ingredient label, then it is a scented product.

5. What can I do if I’m sensitive to fragrance?

The essential oils in those fragrance-free (but not unscented) products can contain the very same allergens as fragrances (synthetic and natural). The bottom line is if you are sensitive to fragrance, then it’s most likely the allergens that are the underlying issue. Here’s a chart of 55 common allergens found in some fragrances. These are unavoidable to get certain notes in a fragrance like citrus. If the product is fragrance-free but you still see some of these listed, then you may want to proceed with caution.

5 Eye-Opening Facts About Fragrance-Free vs Unscented Beauty Products