Why does my perfume give me a headache?

Feb 28, 2022Tiphanie Nguyen4 comments

Have you ever thought - maybe even out loud - that your colleague's perfume was overpowering to the point of giving you a headache?

face and flowers

We know this: it's never pleasant, especially when you find yourself face to face with omnipresent odors during family meals, meetings with colleagues or subway journeys. A trial.

But how do we explain that certain scents give us a headache, to the point of no longer being able to wear them or even no longer being able to 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 co-worker - is giving you a headache . Before going any further, let's first take stock of the distinction between allergy and sensitivity. Your headaches are caused by scent 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. Thus, a person who suffers from an allergy due to a component of a perfume will generally develop a skin reaction - for example hives - localized to the places where the perfume was applied. More rarely, allergic people can also trigger severe reactions, such as asthma, after being exposed to a certain scent.

This way the headaches

However, in the case of symptoms such as headaches or dizziness, the immune system does not come into play at any time . Headache problems cannot be detected during a conventional allergy test. We therefore rather speak of hypersensitivity .

There are 2 possible scenarios: fear of certain odors, commonly called osmophobia , or hypersensitivity to specific chemical substances.

  • Osmophobia or phobia of odors: people prone to migraines are also more sensitive to odors, to the point of suffering in more than 50% of cases from osmophobia. At least that's what the Italian study carried out at the Aldo Moro University of Bari, published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, reveals. In the case of osmophobia, those affected perceive odors unpleasantly, due to their intensity. Concretely, osmophobia is a smell disorder often linked to hyperosmia (i.e. increased sensitivity to odors) which causes a change in the perception of existing odors, which seem to become much stronger. The smells are therefore intensified to the point of becoming unbearable for some people, or even triggering headaches.

woman with hand on head

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

In some cases, odors can stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which becomes inflamed and causes migraines. Certain scents can even cause blood vessels in the brain to dilate or narrow, causing headaches !

  • Another scenario: multiple chemical hypersensitivity (MCS). This disorder discovered by the American allergist Theron G. Randolph, father of environmental medicine in the 1950s, is defined as “ an acquired condition characterized by the repetition of symptoms affecting multiple organs which occur during exposure to various substances chemicals at concentrations well below those known to cause effects in the population .”

    This hypersensitivity is therefore triggered by exposure to chemical substances even in very low concentrations - sometimes even below their toxicity threshold - present in everyday products. We think in particular of paint, cigarette smoke, animals, mold, petroleum products... and perfumes .

    Fragrances are in fact a particularly common trigger for MCS symptoms such as headaches. Fragrances are generally composed of numerous chemical elements - which can range from 100 to 350 ingredients in classic perfumery (at Bastille, we are rather fans of short formulas: between 35 and 50 ingredients ). The observation is all the more frightening when we know that brands have no obligation to display the list of ingredients because unfortunately, the formula of a perfume is still considered a trade secret.

    Thus, in the case of multiple chemical hypersensitivity, we are not talking about a reaction to odors, but rather a reaction to chemicals which can go so far as to make life difficult for people with MCS - this disorder can in particular affect their quality of life, forcing them into social isolation, due to excessive chemical aggression.

    Today included in the international classification of diseases by the WHO and recognized as a disabling condition in Germany, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Japan and especially in the United States and Canada, this disorder does not is, however, not officially recognized in France. According to Doctor Tournesac, considered one of the most committed in France on the subject, we are even “very behind in the management of these symptoms”. For more information about MCS, go to the website of the SOS MCS association created in 2003 which fights and tries to raise awareness of the disease among public authorities.

What to do to make it stop?

The first step would be to identify the causes, scents or chemical components responsible for your headaches . If a particular brand of perfume or other everyday products causes you uncontrollable headaches, write them down and try to identify the cause. Our advice? Learn to decipher the labels of your products in order to recognize sensitizing ingredients and avoid them !

Among the substances you should avoid:

  • certain synthetic substances: solvents - such as benzene -, benzyl acetate, sulfates, formaldehydes, parabens, and phthalates in particular.
  • but also certain natural substances! These substances, present in tiny 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 stay safe all the same. your guards - they are not all innocent! There are 26 of them, including linalool , citronellol , geraniol , coumarin , citral in particular.

To better decipher the labels of your products - especially cosmetics - we invite you to read this article which will make you an ingredient pro!

Un Deux Trois Soleil - Eau de Parfum – Bastille

Well, we grant you: this task proves more difficult in perfumery when we know that a classic perfume can contain more than a hundred ingredients and that apart from a few rare committed brands like Bastille, its composition is not not delivered with the bottle. It's a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack ...

At Bastille, no problem on that front : we even make your job easier! Because your skin deserves the best - and because between us, the idea of ​​hiding from you what your fragrances contain completely escapes us - all our perfumes are guaranteed short formula (around fifty ingredients maximum), without parabens, no phthalates, no endocrine disruptors and above all guaranteed zero hidden ingredients. You will find the entire list of ingredients for each of our perfumes on their product sheet:

Then, as there is still no specific treatment to treat the symptoms of sensitivity , headaches in this case , linked to odors or chemicals, our best advice - and also that of Professor Martin L Pall - just try to minimize your exposure to scents/components which can potentially irritate you particularly if your reactions are intense:

  • Avoid stores with strong odors or places that collect the chemicals you react to, such as large perfume stores,
  • And if you notice that a product you use at home, such as a cleaning product or a particular fragrance, bothers your sensitivity and causes headaches, we advise you to avoid using it in order to minimize them.

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

There you go, we hope that our article hasn't made you too dizzy and that it has above all given you some answers on the subject of perfume and headaches !


Photos: Unknown, Nick Prideaux

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


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Comments (4)

  • 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!

    Luke Coutinho
  • 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!

    Kate Herold
  • 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 .

    Alina jule
  • 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

    Jim Musawa

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