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What’s That Smell: Fragrance in Facial Moisturizers

By Amalah

Dear Amy,
You don’t have to post this but if you would get back to me I would really, really appreciate it. After reading your column and being at my wit’s end with my skin I purchased the Philosophy “starter kit”. I have seen a difference which is great but I have a question about the Hope in a Jar….is it supposed to smell……..I don’t know…..spoiled? The smell goes away (or gets covered by the perfume applied after) but I can’t help wondering if I just spent a lot of money for something that has sat on a shelf forever. No one I know uses this product and I am not all that close to a store that sells it so this is why I am turning to you.
Please tell me the smell is normal.
P.S. Congrats on the pregnancy!

I’ve had several people write and comment about the “smell” of Hope in a Jar. I’ve heard it described as “weird” and “fishy” and now…”spoiled.” I just opened my own jar and took a deep whiff, and…eh. I don’t get any of that. It doesn’t really have much of a smell to me. I smell something, and while I wouldn’t describe it as flowery floral bouquets of fresh-baked bread, I also wouldn’t describe it as rancid fish guts, either.
A truly spoiled moisturizer will “look” bad — which in the case of Hope in a Jar, would mean it would look runny and separated instead of creamy and fluffy, and yellowed instead of pure white.
So I’m thinking that different noses smell different things in the stuff, especially noses that are used to fragrance being added to their face creams. (Very common among certain drugstore varieties — Olay, L’Oreal, etc.) You’ll see it listed simply as “fragrance” on the box. And when you see “fragrance” listed on an moisturizer, the proper response is to put that box back on the shelf and find something without it.
Fragrance doesn’t belong on your face. It can trigger allergies and skin sensitivities, it can aggravate dry, flaky skin AND it can clog pores and cause blemishes. It’s stupid, stupid stuff. By all means, lather up your arms and legs with lotions that smell like fruit cocktails or chocolate-chip cookie batter (although I prefer fragrance-free EVERYWHERE), but keep the stuff you put on your face fragrance-free.
A lot of skincare lines have figured this out and proudly advertise their wares as fragrance-free (Aveeno, Clinique, Philosophy, etc.), so I don’t know why some products continue to add the fake floral scents — maybe to mask a really bad smell or like you suggested, to make the product smell nice after a year on the shelf. Or their customers just really want their moisturizers to smell “pretty.”
So while I doubt your moisturizer really is “spoiled,” obviously if the smell turns your stomach I’m not going to tell you to suck it up and smear rotten egg on your face day after day. With time, you’ll probably get used to the non-fragrance fragrance. If you aren’t convinced or your Jar looks spoiled, like I described earlier, return or exchange it. (Both Sephora online and QVC are pretty good about returns and exchanges, I’ve been told, and also offers customer service.)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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