The Best Perfumes to Try If You Have a Sensitive Nose
While I love perfume, the stores that house them are my own personal nightmare. 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. 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 odor-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 tells POPSUGAR. "The sinuses do not drain properly once they are swollen and the resulting build-up of pressure can cause a headache."
Sensitivity to odors 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 says. Those prone to headaches caused by fragrance, like me, often struggle with musky, tobacco-like scents and overpowering spicy scents, too.
Ultimately, you'll need to use your judgment 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 says.
With this advice in mind, read ahead to find out the best fragrances for migraine sufferers. Please note that while these are tried and tested by one nose, they might not work for you — everyone's triggers are different. It's always best to visit the store to sample the fragrance before buying.
Best Perfumes for Migraine Sufferers: You Eau de Parfum by Glossier
Glossier You ($64) is a favorite 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: Eau De Minthé Eau De Parfum by Diptyque
Diptyque's Eau De Minthé ($205) is fresh, and as you'd expect, minty. Containing patchouli, geranium, mint, and rose oxide, it's the fragrance that defines the "clean girl aesthetic." And most importantly, it's very unlikely to cause a headache.
Best Perfumes for Migraine Sufferers: Grapefruit Cologne by Jo Malone
Jo Malone's Grapefruit Cologne ($145) 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 vacation, it's filled with ingredients that shouldn't exacerbate headaches.
Best Perfumes for Migraine Sufferers: Citrus Verbena Eau de Toilette by L’Occitane
L'Occitaine's Citrus Verbena Eau de Toilette ($78) is perfect for sensitive noses. It's invigorating and bright while still remaining subtle. Made with top notes of lemon, grapefruit, and orange, middle notes of verbena, and base notes of cedar wood, it should pass the test.
Best Perfumes for Migraine Sufferers: Orange and Bergamot Eau De Toilette by Molton Brown
If you're a fan of uplifting fragrances, you'll love this Molton Brown's Orange and Bergamot Eau De Toilette ($120). It smells of summer and is made with notes of Sevillian orange, neroli oil, and bergamot, all typically non-irritating for most migraine sufferers.