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Why Fragrance Gives You a Headache, And How to Make It Stop

12.21.2022
Why Fragrance Gives You a Headache, And How to Make It Stop
Picture it: you’re walking through a department store when a sales associate sprays fragrance as you walk by. Very quickly, you’re met with a headache.
Anyone prone to migraines or skin irritations has probably wondered why certain scents seem to trigger these adverse reactions. Ahead, discover how to avoid these responses, so the idea of wearing fragrance doesn’t sound like such a headache.
Why Your Fragrance Can Cause Migraines 

It’s important to remember the powerful connection between the brain and nose. This connection is the reason smell is the strongest sense memory, but also the reason certain people are sensitive to various scents.

While it’s difficult to discern why a fragrance triggers a migraine or skin sensitivity, it’s not impossible. Harmful ingredients like phthalates and parabens are a common first place to look. Used in fragrance to extend longevity and increase shelf life, respectively, they are also linked to skin irritations and other effects. 

The first step in discerning what triggers a reaction, therefore, is ensuring the brand you shop is free of these chemicals. (Note: Commodity fragrances are all free of phthalates, parabens and sulfates.)

How to Prevent These Reactions
Unsurprisingly, a scent that triggers a negative reaction in one person won’t necessarily trigger a reaction in someone else. Because of the personal nature of sensitivities, anyone looking to discover the source of theirs must use trial and error. 
Start experimenting with fragrances that use different notes, such as spice-forward or wood-forward scents, to try pinpointing if a certain group doesn’t work for you. To be safe, avoid deep, heavy notes at first like incense, oud and patchouli. Heavy smokes and spices are more pungent to the nose, making them more likely to cause a reaction. 
Instead, begin with fragrances with light notes like citrus and herbs. These notes have calm, aromatherapy-like qualities and create more subtle reactions when in contact with the nose.
When testing fragrances, it’s also important to avoid spraying on the neck. Start on a blotter, if possible, in case of a skin reaction or headache when you smell it. If it’s safe to move forward with the scent, test it on your wrists or other pulse points away from the face. If you’re still able to comfortably wear it, you can apply it to the sides of your neck next time, as well. 
Our Recommendations
As stated above, all of our scents are free of sulfates, parabens and phthalates, so we feel comfortable recommending any of them. But if you want to start off slowly, here are 5 recommendations for migraine-free fragrances.

Paper Expressive
Its main ingredient is Iso E Super, a warm, ambery scent that smells a bit differently on everyone. Iso E Super lays on the skin light like a soft sheet of paper, and it’s subtle enough to wear everyday without becoming overwhelming. The note is also lab-made, which means you can’t have any natural allergies to it.

Milk- Personal 
Personal skin scents were designed to cling to the skin, so there’s no worry about Milk- invading your nose. This softer take on our bestselling Milk fragrance has notes of Marshmallow, Tonka Bean and Mahogany Wood lightened by Skin Musk and White Cedar. It’s also been migraine-free approved by the experts at Who What Wear. 

Mimosa
Citrus notes of Lemon, Blood Orange, Mandarin give Mimosa its bright, energizing quality. They’re paired with soft floral notes of Sheer Jasmine and Orange Blossom for a warm, golden effect.

Book Expressive
Sparkling Bergamot, crisp Eucalyptus and warm Sandalwood create an unexpectedly fresh scent. These notes evoke relaxation, thus it’s no surprise the scent was inspired by a quiet moment curled up with a good book.

Moss- Personal
Another Personal fragrance, its green and citrus aroma of Bergamot, Oakmoss and Petitgrain is made weightless with a gentle Musk. Inspired by nature, Moss- is vibrant and refreshing like a breath of fresh air. It was also the first scent to grace our migraine-prone customer’s dresser: 

“​​I’ve not been able to wear perfume since I was a teenager as it always gives me a headache. Not a single one of your scents gives me a headache. I don’t know what you’ve done differently from other brands but please don’t change. I’m sold and you’ve got me as a customer for life!” - Nes

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