Why Do Certain Scents Give Me a Headache? The Best Perfumes For Sensitive Noses

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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.

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Glossier You
glossier.com

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Glossier You

Glossier You (£49) is a favourite of beauty editors across the world for a reason. While it might sound too complicated on paper, it's actually one of the most wearable fragrances out there. With notes of pink pepper, ambrette seeds, Ambroxan, and iris, it's the perfect balance of bright, warm, and soft smells, with a little bit of spice. It's my ultimate "safe" fragrance. Glossier touts the perfume as something that smells differently on everyone, and this perfectly highlights how subtly the spray sits on the skin.

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Diptyque Eau de Minthé
diptyqueparis.com

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Diptyque Eau de Minthé

Diptyque's Eau de Minthé (£140) is fresh and — as you'd expect — minty. Containing patchouli, geranium, mint, and rose oxide, the fragrance defines the "clean-girl aesthetic". And most importantly, it's very unlikely to cause a headache.

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Jo Malone Grapefruit Cologne
jomalone.co.uk

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Jo Malone Grapefruit Cologne

Jo Malone's Grapefruit Cologne (£55) is made from Spanish grapefruits, rosemary, peppermint, and pimento, and it's as uplifting and refreshing as you can get. Not only does it smell like a summer holiday, it's filled with ingredients that shouldn't exacerbate headaches.

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: L'Occitane Citrus Verbena Eau de Toilette
uk.loccitane.com

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: L'Occitane Citrus Verbena Eau de Toilette

L'Occitaine's Citrus Verbena Eau de Toilette (£54) is perfect for sensitive noses. It's invigorating and bright while remaining subtle. Made with top notes of lemon, grapefruit, and orange, middle notes of verbena, and base notes of cedarwood, it should pass the test.

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot Eau de Toilette
cultbeauty.co.uk

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot Eau de Toilette

If you're a fan of a joyful and uplifting fragrances, you'll love Molton Brown's Orange & Bergamot Eau de Toilette (£85). It smells of summer and is made with notes of Seville orange, neroli oil, and bergamot, all typically nonirritating for most migraine sufferers.

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Ruth Mastenbroek Marlin Lavender Dune Eau de Toilette
ruthmastenbroek.com

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Ruth Mastenbroek Marlin Lavender Dune Eau de Toilette

Ruth Mastenbroek Perfumer London's Marlin Lavender Dune Eau de Toilette (£65) is an aromatic and woody fragrance. Made with a whole host of migraine-friendly ingredients such as bergamot, thyme, and lavender, it's the ultimate refreshing scent to wear all year round.

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Mama Moon Spiritual Bleach
mamamooncandles.com

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Mama Moon Spiritual Bleach

This is less of a perfume and more of a magical blend of oils. Well, it's actually marketed as a potion. Made by eclectic witch Semra Haksever, Mama Moon Spiritual Bleach (£20) is made with high-quality essential oils and fragrant herbs with the intention of raising your spiritual vibrations and sharpening your manifesting powers. It's a beautiful mix of sage, rosemary, and lemon — all of which are migraine safe.

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers:  Miller Harris DANCE Amongst the Lace
millerharris.com

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Miller Harris DANCE Amongst the Lace

Miller Harris' DANCE Amongst the Lace (£95) is the definition of fresh and playful, and it's made with a mix of mint, citrus and herb scents. An exciting blend of cow parsley, lime, zesty verbena, and mint is exactly what you need if you struggle with overpowering smells.

Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Miller Harris Rêverie de Bergamote
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Best Perfumes For Migraine Sufferers: Miller Harris Rêverie de Bergamote

This unisex citrus aromatic woody fragrance is definitely a friend to sensitive noses. Created by perfumer Emilie Bouge using Bergamot, Orange, Tangerine, Summer Basil, Lavender, Rosemary, Geranium, Moss, and more, Rêverie de Bergamote (£95) is a logical choice.