Why does my perfume give me a headache?

Have you ever thought - perhaps even aloud - that your colleague's perfume was so heady that it gave you a headache?

face and flowers

We know what it's like: it's never pleasant, especially when you find yourself face to face with omnipresent odours during family meals, meetings with colleagues or journeys on the metro. An ordeal.

But how do we explain that some scents give us a headache, so much so that we can no longer wear them or even smell them?

In this article we explain the reasons for your discomfort, and the solutions to prevent you from losing your mind.

Possible reasons for your headaches

Allergies vs. sensitivity

There are several reasons why your perfume - or that of your colleague at work - gives you a headache. Before we go any further, let's make the distinction between allergy and sensitivity. Your headaches are caused by olfactory notes, whether natural or synthetic, but they should not be confused with an allergic reaction.

An allergy is a specific reaction of the immune system to substances called allergens. For example, a person who suffers from an allergy to a component of a perfume will usually develop a skin reaction - such as hives - localized to the areas where the perfume has been applied. More rarely, allergic people may also develop severe reactions, such as asthma, after being exposed to a certain fragrance.

Here comes the headache

However, in the case of symptoms such as headaches or dizziness, the immune system is not involved at all. Headache problems cannot be detected by a conventional allergy test. The term "hypersensitivity" is used instead.

There are two possible cases: fear of certain smells, commonly called osmophobia, or hypersensitivity to specific chemicals.

  • Osmophobia or phobia of smells: people who suffer from migraines are also more sensitive to smells, to the point of suffering from osmophobia in over 50% of cases. This is at least what the Italian study conducted at the Aldo Moro University in Bari, published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, reveals. In the case of osmophobia, the people concerned perceive odours in an unpleasant way, because of their intensity. Specifically, osmophobia is a smell disorder often linked to hyperosmia (increased sensitivity to smells), which causes a change in the perception of existing smells, which seem to become much stronger. The smells are thus intensified to the point of becoming unbearable for some people, even triggering headaches.

woman with her hand on her head

According to studies carried out by researchers at the Aldo Moro University in Bari, the areas of the brain stimulated by scents are close to those of the emotions - you can read more about the link between scents and emotions here!

In some cases, smells can stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which becomes inflamed and causes migraines. Some scents can even cause blood vessels in the brain to dilate or constrict, resulting in headaches!


  • Another case is multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS ). This disorder, discovered by the American allergist Theron G. Randolph, the father of environmental medicine in the 1950s, is defined as "an acquired condition characterised by recurrent symptoms affecting multiple organs that occur upon exposure to various chemicals at concentrations well belowthose known to cause effects in the population".

    This hypersensitivity is triggered by exposure to chemical substances, even in very low concentrations - sometimes even below their toxicity threshold - present in everyday products. These include paint, cigarette smoke, animals, moulds, petroleum products and perfumes.

    Fragrances are a particularly common trigger for SCP symptoms such as headaches. Fragrances are generally composed of numerous chemical elements - ranging from 100 to 350 ingredients in classic perfumery (at Bastille, we're big fans of short formulas: between 35 and 50 ingredients). This is all the more frightening when you consider that brands are under no obligation to display the list of ingredients, because unfortunately, a fragrance's formula is still considered a trade secret.

    Thus, in the case of multiple chemical sensitivities, we are not talking about a reaction to odours, but rather a reaction to chemicals that can make life difficult for people with MCS - in particular, the disorder can affect their quality of life, forcing them into social isolation, due to excessive chemical aggression.

    Now included in the international classification of diseases by the WHO and recognised as a disabling condition in Germany, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Japan and above all the United States and Canada, this disorder is not officially recognised in France. According to Dr. Tournesac, who is considered one of the most committed doctors in France on the subject, we would even be The European Commission has stated that it is "lagging far behind in the management of these symptoms". For more information about SCD, visit the website of the SOS SCD association created in 2003, which fights and tries to make the disease known to the public authorities.

What can be done to stop it?

The first step would be toidentify the causes, scents or chemical components responsible for your headaches. If a particular brand of perfume or other everyday products is causing you uncontrollable headaches, make a note of it and try to identify the cause. Our advice? Learn to read product labels to identify sensitising ingredients and avoid them!

Among the substances you should avoid are:

  • certain synthetic substances: solvents such as benzene, benzyl acetate, sulphates, formaldehydes, parabens, and phthalates.
  • but also certain natural substances! These substances, present in minute quantities because they have been regulated and limited by the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety since 1999, are in fact mainly responsible for allergies but can also be the reason for your headaches, so beware - they are not all innocent! There are 26 of them, including linalool, citronellol, geraniol, coumarin and citral.

To better decipher the labels of your products - especially cosmetics - we invite you to read this article which will make you a professional of the ingredients!

Un Deux Trois Soleil - Eau de Parfum - Bastille

Granted, this task is more difficult in perfumery, when you consider that a classic perfume can contain over a hundred ingredients, and that, apart from a handful of committed brands such as Bastille, its composition is not supplied with the bottle. It's a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack...

At Bastille, we make it easy for you! Because your skin deserves the very best - and because, between you and me, the idea of hiding what's in your fragrances escapes us completely - all our fragrances are guaranteed short-form (50 ingredients maximum), paraben-, phthalate- and endocrine-disruptor-free and, above all, with zero hidden ingredients. You'll find the full list of ingredients for each of our fragrances on the product sheet:


Secondly, as there is as yet no specific treatment for sensitivity symptoms, in this case headaches, related to odours or chemicals, our best advice - and that of Professor Martin L. Pall - is to try to minimise your exposure to the scents/components that can potentially irritate you, especially if your reactions are intense:

  • Avoid shops with strong odours or places that concentrate the chemicals you react to, such as large perfume shops,
  • And if you notice that a product you use at home, such as a cleaning product or a particular fragrance, is disturbing your sensitivity and causing headaches, we advise you to avoid using it in order to minimise them.

One last piece of advice: try to turn to more natural alternatives, especially by replacing certain products that contain a lot of synthetic substances. Because yes, despite the few natural allergenic components mentioned above, synthetic molecules often have more harmful effects on health and remain for many the main reason for hypersensitivity.

We hope that our article has not made you too dizzy and that it has given you some answers about perfume and headaches!


Photos: Inconnus, Nick Prideaux

Sources: SOS MCS, Le Monde, Atlantico, Aseq-Ehaq, LCI, Hi Families



  • Luke Coutinho

    Perfume-induced headaches can be a real struggle. Migraine sufferers are particularly vulnerable. Stay informed and scent-savvy to protect yourself from those pesky perfume-induced headaches!

  • Kate Herold

    Your perfume is not only causing you to suffer migraine headache, but it's also causing people around you to suffer migraine headaches. A scientific study showed that 70% of migraine suffers had migraines after being exposed to perfume for 20 minutes, and 0% of tension headache sufferers had headaches after being exposed to perfume for the same amount of time. This proves that people who suffer migraines triggered by other people's perfumes. The pain is real!

  • Alina jule

    I can't even begin to explain how this has helped me. I feel like it's just so much easier to learn this way, and it's fun. I love how interactive it is. I was able to find all the information I was looking for very quickly. The layout was appealing to the eye. I would highly recommend this website to anyone looking for this type of information.I just wanted to say thank you for the information. I am really enjoying it, and I appreciate the opportunity to access it
    www.myparfum.shop .

  • Jim Musawa

    I have had this problem for most of my life, am a 45 year Old Kenyan Male. This article has given me profound insights into my condition. Great article

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