No one likes it when another person shows up reeking of perfume, but for many people, even a little perfume can be an awful thing. If you’ve found yourself wanting to scream as people walk by with what they claim is only a little fragrance, you could have a sensitivity or allergy to perfume. This is a frustrating but very real condition, and while treatment is possible, it’s more along the lines of treating symptoms and learning to avoid situations in which you might be exposed to fragrances that set off your symptoms.
Perfume Allergies vs. Sensitivities
Even though the reaction can be the same for both sensitivities and allergies, you should learn which one you have. True allergies are conditions in which your body’s immune system reacts to something — usually a protein — in the substance in question. Sensitivities are what they sound like; you’re sensitive to the substance but don’t necessarily have a medically traceable reaction.
Symptoms of both allergies and sensitivities include:
- Headaches and/or sinus pain when exposed to the perfume
- Nasal congestion or runniness
- Asthma-like symptoms
- Hives after touching something containing the fragrance chemicals
Perfume Allergy Causes
No one is really sure what causes perfume sensitivities. Allergies, of course, are caused when the body decides a substance is an enemy. But for plain sensitivities, reasons can range from your nose having a shape that’s conducive to inhaling more of the perfume to overexposure and sensitization of specific chemicals in products, like acetone.
Perfume Allergy Treatments
Treatments generally go after the symptoms of a perfume allergy or related condition. Sometimes nasal allergy sprays work, though you have to be careful not to use these too much lest you develop rebound nasal problems. For true allergies, avoidance is the only real treatment.
Coping with Perfume Allergy
You can take steps to reduce your exposure to fragrances. If you have magazine subscriptions that cover fashion, home, or other subjects that might involve fragrances, contact the customer service department of each magazine to request perfume-free issues.
Look at all of your cosmetics and cleaning supplies and switch out ones that give you trouble for ones that don’t. For example, if your fabric softener seems to smell really strong, use a small amount of white distilled vinegar in your laundry instead. Look for products that are fragrance-free, rather than unscented, as unscented products might still have a fragrance that has only been covered up. Get laundry detergent that is made for sensitive skin as well.
Also, eat well, get lots of rest, and exercise sensibly. These aren’t magic bullets, but revamping your diet and lifestyle has an overall beneficial effect on your health, making it easier to resist the ill effects that perfume can bring on.
The workplace can be particularly distressing for those with perfume allergies and sensitivities. Many offices have gotten better about warning people to reduce the use of smelly products and air fresheners. However, if you encounter stubborn or even abusive co-workers who insist on wearing heavy perfume, contact your supervisor and your human resources office. You may need documentation from your doctor.
Reacting to perfumes and fragrances can be annoying at best. However, it is something that more people are dealing with now, which is leading to greater understanding among doctors and employers. If you have been reacting negatively to perfumes, contact your doctor or an allergist now.