A perfume or fragrance allergy happens when you have an allergic reaction after being exposed to a perfume that contains an allergen.
Symptoms of a perfume allergy can result from:
- touching the perfume liquid or substance
- getting sprayed by the perfume
- even inhaling some of it
According to a
As many as 19 percent of participants in the survey had actual health effects from fragrances.
It can be difficult to totally avoid perfumes that cause allergic reactions. But here’s some information on:
- what you can do when you notice the symptoms
- how to treat and cope with your allergic reactions
- when to see your doctor
When you have allergies, your body has a specific immune system response to an ingredient or a chemical in the perfume that causes the reaction.
This means that your body identifies the ingredient in the perfume as a foreign substance. Then, it releases an inflammatory reaction to help fight off the substance as if it’s a bacterial or viral invader.
This immune system response usually develops over a course of days and manifests as itchiness or a rash. These symptoms can last for weeks before they go away.
Perfume sensitivity, much more common, is a reaction to something that irritates your body. Sensitivity doesn’t necessarily trigger a body-wide immune system response.
With a sensitivity, you might have a rash that goes away after a few hours or a mild headache.
You might also just sneeze a few times before your symptoms go away. This is because your body reacts by getting rid of the irritant to return to normal.
Types of substances
The substance that you react to also makes a difference.
Most ingredients in perfumes that cause a reaction aren’t actually allergens. They’re usually synthetic or chemical irritants that your body finds… well, irritating.
Allergens, on the other hand, are technically proteins that the body reacts to with an inflammatory response that causes allergy symptoms.
In short, a true perfume allergy happens when an organic protein in a perfume ingredient causes the reaction. The heavy majority of reactions people endure are simply perfume sensitivities.
The symptoms you experience are directly related to whether you have a perfume allergy or a perfume sensitivity.
Let’s look at some common symptoms.
Most allergic reactions typically give you an itchy red rash that goes away quickly after you’ve been exposed to the perfume. Some mild symptoms can last for a few weeks even after a brief exposure.
A few mild symptoms of a perfume allergy can include:
- itching, even where you don’t see any rash or irritation
- itching around your eyes and in your throat
- skin that’s scaly or dry
- blisters that get crusty and ooze pus
- outbreak of hives
- patchy, reddish skin
- a burning sensation on your skin with no visible irritation or sores
- being more sensitive to sunlight than usual
A few mild symptoms of a perfume sensitivity can include:
- sneezing if the perfume is sprayed near your face and airways (nose, mouth, and throat)
- itching, running, or stuffiness of your nose
- nasal mucus dripping down the back of your throat (postnasal drip)
- persistent cough
Other allergic reactions are much more severe and can happen quickly. Some of these symptoms might need immediate medical attention. They’re however, extremely rare.
Here are some severe, emergency symptoms to watch out for:
- Swelling in your mouth, lips, or tongue. This kind of swelling can be uncomfortable and make it harder for you to breathe, eat, or talk. You may need medical treatment, such as corticosteroid injections, to reduce the swelling quickly.
- Anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis happens when your airways get inflamed and close up because your body releases a high volume of a type of antibody called IgE. This can make it difficult or impossible to breathe. Get emergency medical help if this happens.
Your treatment for a perfume allergy should be based on your symptoms and the substance that causes the allergy.
Most importantly, it should include avoidance of the substance that caused the symptom in the first place.
Try these treatments for mild, temporary symptoms:
- Medications. Oral antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), or loratadine (Claritin) can help with itching and stuffiness. You can get these at any store that sells over-the-counter (OTC) medications or get a prescription from your doctor.
- Topical corticosteroid creams. You can apply hydrocortisone or other similar steroid creams to an itchy area or to a rash.
- Colloidal oatmeal bath. Taking an oatmeal bath can help soothe itching and inflammation. You can also make an oatmeal compress by putting oatmeal soaked in cold water in a thin material like pantyhose.
- Gentle moisturizing lotion or cream. Use one that doesn’t have any artificial ingredients or chemicals that might trigger another reaction.
- Try light therapy. You can try either blue or red light to help eliminate any bacteria irritating your skin or to reduce the immune system response on your skin to both soothe and repair tissue.
If perfume or fragrance allergies are disrupting your life and you want your symptoms to be less severe:
- Consider getting contact allergen testing. Your doctor or an allergist can use
patch teststhat expose you to small amounts of different allergens to determine your specific allergic triggers. Once you figure out what you’re allergic to, you can try to avoid any perfumes that contain those ingredients.
Call 911 or seek immediate medical help if you have a fever or any trouble breathing.
The first thing you should try to do is avoid the substance causing your allergy in the first place.
Once you know what you’re allergic or sensitive to, look for that substance in any perfume you want to buy and never buy it again.
Try natural, plant-based perfumes if you still want to achieve a similar scent but want to avoid any of the substances that cause allergies.
Choosing a perfume that has minimal ingredients can reduce the chance you’ll have an allergic or sensitivity reaction.
But you can’t always avoid exposure, especially if you live or work with people who wear perfume for personal or professional reasons.
Here are some ways you can help take control of your environment and reduce symptoms of a perfume allergy:
- Try to avoid common areas where people wearing perfume may walk by and trigger your allergies or sensitivities.
- Keep a small air purifier near your workspace to help keep your air free of airborne proteins that can trigger your symptoms.
- Let the people around you know about your allergies, so they can know to avoid wearing perfume around you.
- Don’t use any scented products at all to minimize your possible exposure to your allergy or sensitivity triggers. This includes candles and air fresheners.
- Get a flu shot every year to keep your immune system strong.
- Talk to your employer about keeping your workplace scent-free, especially if you have other coworkers with fragrance allergies or sensitivities.
See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- large boils or hives that are painful or extremely itchy
- feeling exhausted or drowsy
- feeling confused or disoriented
- feeling unusually dizzy
- feeling sick or throwing up
- heart rate spiking for no reason or beating abnormally
- you have a fever (100.4°F or higher)
- you have symptoms of an infection on your skin or elsewhere, including your skin being warm to the touch or an itchy rash that’s producing a thick, cloudy, discolored discharge
- your itchiness or rashes become painfully itchy or constantly distract you from your everyday life
- your rash is spreading out from the place it started to other parts of your body, or new rashes appear where you haven’t been exposed
- you have a reaction around your face or your genitals
- your symptoms don’t get any better or start to get worse after a few days or weeks
- you have trouble breathing because of tightness in your throat
Perfume allergies and sensitivities are common and can be disruptive. This is especially true if you have to work or live with people who wear perfume or cologne every day, and you don’t have the ability to avoid them.
But there’s plenty you can do to reduce your exposure or improve your symptoms.
Limiting exposure, getting treatment, and telling those around you about your symptoms can help you cope and make sure exposure doesn’t interfere with your life.