What is perfume and fragrance sensitivity?

Have you ever had the experience of walking past the perfume counter and all of a sudden you start to sneeze? Or perhaps you are exploring the candles in a store and a headache comes on? Or perhaps whenever your partner sprays their favourite perfume you break out in a skin rash?

Perfume and fragrances have the power to evoke emotions, enhance experiences, and leave a lasting impression. However, for some individuals, these scents can trigger adverse reactions, leading to perfume sensitivity or fragrance allergies.

Fragrances are found in almost all of the products in our homes today. Everything from our washing detergent to our shampoo and conditioners to the makeup you apply, they all have fragrance added to them to make them smell good. Turn any of those products around and you will see the word “fragrance” or “parfum” and you will know that a scent has been added. A large majority of those are scented with synthetic fragrances.

What is the difference between perfume sensitivity and perfume allergy?

Perfume sensitivity refers to a heightened sensitivity or reactivity to certain scents, which can lead to unpleasant symptoms. On the other hand, fragrance allergy is an immune system response triggered by specific chemicals or ingredients in perfumes and fragrances. While both can result in similar symptoms, such as headaches, nasal congestion, and skin irritation, the underlying mechanisms and triggers differ.

Understanding Perfume Sensitivity

Perfume sensitivity can affect individuals who are both sensitive to synthetic fragrances and natural fragrances. Various factors contribute to perfume sensitivity, including the concentration of fragrance, individual body chemistry, and personal sensitivities. It is important to note that even natural fragrances, derived from botanical sources, can cause sensitivity reactions in some individuals.

Commercial perfumes can have up to 300 different chemicals in them, the large majority of those are synthetic. This can mean that working out exactly what you are sensitive or allergic to is very difficult. Additionally as perfume companies do not have to disclose their ingredients as they are considered “trade secrets”, it is very hard to find out.

What are the symptoms of perfume sensitivity?

Common symptoms of perfume sensitivity include headaches, migraines, sinus congestion, sneezing, coughing, throat irritation, skin redness, itching, and rashes. These symptoms may vary in intensity, depending on the individual's sensitivity level and the specific fragrance involved.

For myself, my sensitivity to synthetic fragrances has become more severe the more natural I have been living. If I smell synthetic perfumes I start to feel sick in my stomach and then a headache comes on. It can take a few hours for this to pass and is very unpleasant. Similarly even in fragranced products like commercial washing detergents, non natural candles, air fresheners in shops and reed diffusers with synthetic oils used in different places or homes all can set off the same reaction in me. I do not get the same reaction from natural scents at all.

How prevalent are fragrance allergies?

Fragrance allergies are relatively common, affecting a significant number of individuals worldwide. According to research, fragrance allergies can impact around 32% of the general population. The precise cause of fragrance allergies is still being studied, but it is believed to be related to the chemical composition of certain fragrances and individual immune system responses.

Fragrance and perfume allergies

Does perfume & fragrance sensitivity have an impact in the workplace?

Fragrance sensitivity in the workplace can have a considerable impact on productivity and overall well-being. For employees who experience perfume sensitivity or fragrance allergies, exposure to strong scents can lead to symptoms that interfere with their ability to focus and perform their tasks effectively. It is crucial for employers to create a fragrance-sensitive environment that accommodates the needs of all employees. This can be achieved by implementing fragrance-free policies, providing education and awareness about fragrance sensitivity, and encouraging open communication among team members. Additionally, offering alternative scent-free options for cleaning products and promoting good indoor air quality through proper ventilation can help create a supportive workspace for those affected by fragrance sensitivity.

We help you with “5 Reasons why natural scent will make your workplace more productive” and how to naturally scent the office.

How can you treat perfume sensitivity?

  • Firstly, it is always best to consult a healthcare professional in regards to these types of sensitivities and reactions. Either a doctor, naturopath or other allied health professional can work with you to ascertain the severity of the sensitivity and provide options on treatments.

  • Finding ways to avoid or minimise exposure to triggering scents will be your go-to. This may involve selecting fragrance-free or unscented products, opting for natural or hypoallergenic alternatives, and ensuring good ventilation in living and working spaces.

  • Let friends and family know of your sensitivity and ask for their assistance in avoiding use of perfumes while you are around.

Is there a difference between fragrance-free and unscented products?

The terms "fragrance-free" and "unscented" are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Fragrance-free products are formulated without the addition of any fragrance ingredients, natural or synthetic, which makes them a suitable choice for individuals with perfume sensitivity or fragrance allergies. Unscented products, on the other hand, may contain fragrance ingredients that mask the natural scent of the product, but these fragrances are typically neutral or low in concentration.

Always check the ingredients labelling if you are worried. If you see the words “parfum” or “fragrance” or even essential oil constituents then you know they have used a fragrance of some sort.

Even the word “Fragrance oils” can be misleading. We discuss this in our blog on “What are fragrance oils and are they natural or synthetic?

For myself I always check the labels, and because I am ok with natural scents I am checking that no synthetic fragrances have been used. If there is no ingredient list I will not purchase the product as I have no way of knowing and can’t trust that product. And if I am unsure I contact the brand directly and I ask.

Here at Sensoriam we get contacted by beautiful customers who are affected by fragrance sensitivities and are asking about the ingredients in our products. All of our products are 100% natural and in general are less likely to cause a reaction. However, we can’t guarantee that and if you are unsure in any way please take the proper precautions. We have the 2ml mini’s available and mini sets as a great way to try before going full size.

We can help you find the best natural fragrance for you. A great place to start is with our personalised Scent Quiz.

Share with us your perfume and fragrance sensitivity story and journey, we would love to hear it.

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