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While I love perfume, the stores that house them are my own personal hell. The intoxicating concoction of sickly scents swirling around the air almost always leaves me with a migraine. As much as I enjoy the ritual and glamour of wearing perfume every day, it took me a while to find a collection of “safe” scents — and I’m not the only one. A huge 95 percent of migraine patients say they have a sensitivity to smell, also known as osmophobia. And perfumes have been proven as the most common trigger for odour-induced migraines (above things like cigarette smoke, cleaning chemicals, and paint thinner). So, why do some perfumes cause migraines while others are inoffensive?
According to Ruth Mastenbroek, master perfumer at Ruth Mastenbroek Perfumer London, research into which specific notes are the most irritating is “very sparse”. However, we do know that headaches can result from a “single component of a smell irritating your sinuses,\ and causing them to swell”, she explains. “The sinuses do not drain properly once they are swollen, and the resulting buildup of pressure can cause a headache.”
Sensitivity to odours is personal, so there are no hard and fast rules about which fragrances to avoid as a migraine sufferer. To make things more complicated, ingredients will often have hundreds of components, with any one of them being a personal trigger. “Instead, we can look more anecdotally at experiences as well as use information we know from an aromatherapy perspective to create some hypotheses,” Mastenbroek says.
Which Perfume Ingredients Should Migraine Sufferers Avoid?
One scent that many migraine sufferers tend to have trouble with is vanillin. “Migraine sufferers may have a lower tolerance for vanillin, but sometimes only synthetic vanillin and not that present in natural vanilla, so this is a very complicated area,” Mastenbroek reveals. Those prone to headaches caused by fragrance, like myself, often struggle with musky, tobacco-like scents and overpowering spicy scents, too.
Ultimately, you’ll need to use your own judgement about which fragrances to avoid. “As a former migraine sufferer myself, I know it’s important to become aware of your own personal triggers across the senses,” Mastenbroek says. “From a fragrance perspective, start with individual note fragrances rather than complex ones. As you build up a repertoire of safe smells, you can branch out into the more adventurous and complex.”
Which Perfume Ingredients Should Migraine Sufferers Look For?
Migraine sufferers will often be best suited to innocuous, subtle, and soothing fragrances. This means sticking to citrus (orange, lemon, grapefruit, lemongrass, etc.), herbs (lavender, chamomile, rosemary, thyme, etc.), and mint notes (peppermint and spearmint). “Based on the aromatherapy knowledge we have, we can safely say these will not have an adverse effect on the majority of people, including migraine sufferers,” Mastenbroek said.
With this advice in mind, read ahead to find out the most suitable fragrances for migraine sufferers. Please note that while these are tried and tested by one nose, they might not work for you. Remember, everyone’s triggers are different. It’s always best to visit the store to sample the fragrance before buying.