Why Does Perfume Give You a Headache? (Explained)

Sometimes a perfume can smell really nice only to trigger a headache for you moments or hours later. Why does this happen?

People respond differently to fragrances. What might not affect someone you know can create a problem for you. Unfortunately, you may not know that you’re sensitive to a particular perfume until after you’ve encountered it.

I’ve done research to help you understand why you experience headaches after smelling perfume. Keep reading to learn why this happens and how to avoid it.

Why Does Perfume Give You a Headache

Which Perfume Ingredients Would Cause a Headache?

The harsh truth is that you can read the ingredients list on your perfume packaging and still not know all of the ingredients that you’re spraying onto your clothes or body.

Perfumes are a mixture of natural and synthetic ingredients. But in many cases, there are more synthetic compounds than natural ones found in perfumes.

Part of the cosmetics industry, fragrances found in perfumes are regulated by government agencies, like America’s Food and Drug Administration.

But regulation stops at ensuring that fragranced products are safe for customers to use. They don’t force companies to share all of those ingredients with customers, either. In this way, companies can protect their trade secrets.

At the same time, these government agencies recognize that you might have allergies or sensitivities to certain fragrances.

Even though they recognize it, they don’t have “legal authority to require allergen labeling for cosmetics as for food.” 

If you want to know exactly what ingredients have been included in a particular fragrance, then you will want to directly contact the manufacturer. For instance, if you’re curious about an ingredient in a Burberry perfume, you would want to contact Coty. They manufacture and distribute Burberry personal fragrances.

They suggest that if you know you have a fragrance allergy, that you avoid buying products that are made using fragrances.

Aside from contacting a manufacturer directly, you could see a specialist in order to learn which fragrance ingredients your body dislikes.

Allergists are one type of doctor that can conduct tests to determine which ingredients trigger a response in your body.

So overall, the specific ingredients that would cause you a headache is largely specific to you and may or may not be identifiable on the product that you’re using.

Why Do Perfume Ingredients Cause You a Headache?

Over time, enough research has been conducted on some ingredients that’ve been shown to cause headaches in people who are seemingly responding in similar ways to the same ingredients. 

And there might be specific scents, unique to you, that trigger a headache. Our olfactory receptors are sensitive. When we inhale fragrances, they travel directly up to our brain.

It’s unlikely that a one-time encounter would cause long-term damage. But even a short period of discomfort from a fragrance-induced headache can be off-putting. So what should you be looking out for?

Here are some fragrance ingredients found to trigger headaches:

  • Dibutyl phthalates
  • Diethylhexyl phthalates
  • Ethers
  • Ethylene glycol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Musk ketones
  • Parabens

Fragrances are aromatic chemical compounds that are combined to create a specific scent – often imitating fragrances found in nature.

Inhaling these fragrance chemicals can irritate your sinuses, causing them to swell. The pressure that builds up from being unable to drain your sinuses is what causes a headache.

In general, women are more sensitive to this process than men are.

How to Avoid Perfume Headaches

We come in contact with fragrances on an ongoing basis, and it might not always be possible to avoid encountering them. But there are a few ways that you can try to avoid inhaling perfumes to the best of your ability.

Make Note of What Bothers You

First, it can help to know what to avoid. If you notice a headache coming on, consider what you might have been exposed to. Do you recall the smell? Is it familiar? Do you remember the source of that fragrance?

It’s challenging to be on guard if you don’t have this information.

Don’t Approach Cosmetic Counters

For some people, fragrances have always posed a problem. In some cases, it’s not a specific scent, but almost any scent that might cause a headache.

In such cases, you might want to avoid the cosmetics department altogether. If you’re familiar with a store’s layout, devise a route through the store that puts as much distance between you and the cosmetics counter as possible.

Request Workplace Changes

Headaches can be so debilitating that you’re unable to be productive. If you notice that your headaches come on when you’re at work, it might be time to request that they implement a fragrance-free workplace policy.

Many companies already have such policies in place, but if yours does not, know that it’s not an unreasonable request to make.

Notify Friends and Loved Ones

Sometimes one of the best ways to protect yourself is to make those you encounter the most aware of your sensitivities.

People who care for you won’t want you to experience discomfort in their presence. If you have friends or loved ones who wear fragrances that are problematic for you, kindly let them know. Request that they use less perfume or none at all when they know they’ll be around you.

Opt for Natural Fragrances

Depending on the individual, you might be able to better tolerate natural perfume fragrances, like essential oil roll-ons. If this is the case for you, you may want to make that transition from perfume sprays to essential oils.

Because they’re natural, they might trigger seasonal allergies, so be sure to select an oil that won’t cause a different set of problems.

Know that the scent won’t be as intense or last as long as manufactured perfumes. But if you want to smell nice without triggering a headache or migraine, natural oils might be the best alternative.

Consider Testers or Toilettes

The natural fragrance route isn’t for everyone. So my last two suggestions involve perfume alternatives. 

If you notice that some but not all perfumes irritate your sinuses, you might want to try out perfume testers. This would involve a lot of trial and error, and you might get a headache in the process. But since you won’t be able to access a list of all the ingredients in a perfume, this might be the only way to continue to wear perfumes while avoiding a headache.

And lastly, you may want to consider toilettes or splashes. These are perfumes made with a lower concentration of fragrance oils. Reduced fragrance intensity might prevent a headache for you.

Of course there will be times when you’re unable to avoid being exposed to fragrances. This is why it can be good to always carry small doses of medication or other treatments with you. Over the counter migraine or allergy medicine might be helpful. Having drinking water on hand can alleviate some pain as well.

If you’re in need of prescription medication or more involved treatments, reach out to a licensed medical professional.

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Hello and welcome to Fragrance Advice! My name is Grace Young, and I’ve been drawn to fragrances since I was a little girl. There's just something about scent that brings me so much joy! 

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