What Is A Perfume Allergy?

  • Deborah Akujobi BS in Public Health Education and Health Promotion, NAU, Nigeria


The usage of perfume with an alluring and appealing fragrance has become a cherished part of daily life for many people, and some individuals find comfort in a familiar scent. However, being exposed to perfume is not a pleasant experience for some. It can even cause discomfort and health problems. This phenomenon is known as a “perfume allergy.” Understanding perfume allergies is essential, as it can become a major health concern and an inconvenience. 

This article will explore the definition, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and management of perfume allergies. By shedding light on this often-overlooked condition, we aim to empower you with the knowledge needed to navigate a fragrant world while safeguarding your health and well-being.

What is a perfume allergy?

A perfume allergy, also referred to as fragrance allergy or fragrance sensitivity, is a negative response that certain individuals may have to perfumes and scented products. This condition occurs due to an individual’s heightened sensitivity or an allergic response to the chemicals and compounds commonly found in perfumes and fragrances. 

Prevalence and significance of perfume allergies

The prevalence of a perfume allergy varies depending on geographic regions, demographics, and an individual’s sensitivity. Perfume allergies are relatively common, affecting around 1% of adults.1 Some key points regarding the prevalence of perfume allergies include:

  • Wide-ranging impact: Perfume allergies affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. They can manifest at any stage of life, from childhood to adulthood.
  • Higher sensitivity: Certain individuals may be more prone to perfume allergies due to genetic factors or pre-existing allergic conditions, such as atopic dermatitis or asthma2, 3.
  • Varying sensitivity: Sensitivity to fragrances and the severity of allergic reactions can vary greatly among individuals. Some people may experience mild symptoms, while others may have more intense and debilitating reactions.
  • Environmental exposure: The widespread use of scented products in daily life, including perfumes, colognes, scented lotions, air fresheners, and household cleaners, increases the risk of exposure to fragrance allergens.

Significance of perfume allergies:

Understanding the significance of perfume allergies is crucial for several reasons:

  • Quality of life: Perfume allergies can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Allergic reactions can be uncomfortable, painful, and emotionally distressing, leading to a reduced sense of well-being.
  • Health implications: While many reactions are mild, some perfume allergies can lead to severe health issues, including anaphylaxis in extreme cases. Anaphylaxis is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.
  • Workplace and social implications: Perfume allergies can create challenges in social and professional settings. Individuals with fragrance allergies may need to navigate situations where colleagues or acquaintances wear scented products, potentially triggering allergic reactions.
  • The economic consequences of managing perfume allergies can result in various expenses, including medical costs for treatment, acquiring fragrance-free products, and adapting one's surroundings to reduce allergen exposure.
  • Advocacy for fragrance-free environments: The significance of perfume allergies has led to increased advocacy for fragrance-free policies. in workplaces, public spaces, and educational institutions to accommodate those with fragrance sensitivities.

Causes of perfume allergy

Allergies to perfumes are mainly caused by allergenic substances present in fragrances and perfumes. These substances can lead to an allergic reaction when they touch an individual's skin or are breathed in. Let us take a look at some frequent causes and factors that contribute to perfume allergies.

  1. Fragrance ingredients: Perfumes and fragrances often contain a complex mixture of chemicals, including natural extracts and synthetic compounds. Some of these ingredients can be allergenic. Common allergenic fragrance ingredients include
    • Citral: Found in citrus oils.
    • Linalool: Found in lavender, basil and coriander.
    • Eugenol: Present in clove and other spices.
    • Geraniol and citronellol: Found in roses, citronella and geranium
    • Limonene: Found in citrus fruits and oils
    • Coumarin: Present in tonka beans and vanilla.
  2. Synthetic fragrance compounds: Synthetic fragrances can contain a wide range of chemicals, some of which may trigger allergies. These chemicals are often not disclosed on product labels due to trade secrets, making it difficult for individuals to identify specific allergens.
  3. Essential Oils: Some perfumes and fragrances contain allergenic essential oils derived from plants, flowers, and fruits. These may include:
    • Lavender oil
    • Lemon oil
    • Peppermint oil
    • Rose oil
    • Sandalwood oil
  4. Other natural ingredients: Some ingredients added to perfumes are natural and extracted from fruits, flowers, or even animal products! These substances give perfumes well-known and popular fragrances but can also act as allergens. Some commonly used examples are:4
    • Bergamot orange: The bergamot orange, scientifically known as Citrus bergamia, is an aromatic citrus fruit. The fruit is about the same size as an orange, but it emanates a stunning shade of yellow or green, resembling the vibrant colour of a lime, depending on its ripeness. Genetic research into the ancestral origins of extant citrus cultivars found bergamot orange to be a probable hybrid of lemon and bitter orange, giving it a characteristic citrus scent. 
    • Ambergris: This is also known as grey amber. This substance is solid and waxy with a grey or blackish colour. It is produced in the digestive system of sperm whales and has flammable properties. When it is freshly produced, it has a marine and faecal smell. Ambergris is an exceedingly luxurious perfume ingredient as it originates from the intestines of sperm whales, as revealed in a statement made to Bloomberg News by Craven. 
    • Jasmine: Jasmine is a genus of shrubs and vines in the olive family of Oleaceae. There are around 200 species that originate from the tropical and warm regions of Eurasia, Africa, and Oceania. Jasmine is widely cultivated for the characteristic fragrance of their flowers. A staggering 2,000 pounds of fragrant jasmine flowers are meticulously processed to obtain a single pound of jasmine oil. What is even more astonishing is that a staggering 8,000 jasmine flowers are needed to create just  1/25 ounce of the extremely sought-after absolute oil, renowned for its unparalleled potency. The price of jasmine oil is exceptionally high due to the substantial amount of flowers required to produce the oil for use in fragrances.
    • Oud: The Agar tree, primarily found in Southeast Asia, produces agarwood or “oud”, a perfume ingredient so luxurious it is otherwise known as "liquid gold".
  5. Preservatives and stabilizers: Perfumes and cosmetic products contain various preservatives and stabilisers to extend their shelf life and maintain their consistency. Some of these chemicals, such as parabens and formaldehyde-releasing agents, can be allergenic. Some examples of common preservatives which are known allergens include:
    • Parabens: Commonly used in cosmetics and personal care products. Formaldehyde-releasing agents: Used as preservatives in some fragrances and cosmetics.
    • Balsam of Peru: This natural resin derived from tree bark is used in some fragrances and can be a potent allergen for some people.
    • Isoeugenol: A fragrant ingredient that can be found in various perfumes and scented products, isoeugenol is known to cause skin allergies in some individuals.
    • Cinnamal: Found in cinnamon and used as a fragrance ingredient in some perfumes and scented products, cinnamal can also trigger allergies in sensitive individuals.
  6. Sensitization: Allergic reactions to perfume can develop over time. Repeated exposure to fragrances found in products such as perfumes, lotions, and detergents can sensitise the immune system of individuals, rendering them increasingly susceptible to allergic reactions. The development of an allergy due to sensitisation is unpredictable and can affect anyone5
  7. Cross-reactivity: Certain fragrance allergens can trigger an allergic response to other allergens. This implies that if an individual is sensitive to one particular substance, they might also experience a reaction to similar chemicals present in fragrances.
  8. Environmental Factors: Environmental factors, such as pollution and exposure to other allergens, can contribute to the development and exacerbation of perfume allergies. These factors may increase the sensitivity of an individual’s immune system.

Symptoms of perfume allergy

The severity and symptoms of perfume allergies vary from person to person and may occur upon contact with fragrances. Common symptoms include:

  1. Skin Reactions:
    • Rash: Red, itchy, or inflamed skin.
    • Hives (Urticaria): Raised, itchy welts on the skin.
  2. Contact Dermatitis: 
    • Skin inflammation and irritation where the perfume comes into contact with the skin. This can cause redness, itching, and sometimes blisters.
  3. Respiratory Symptoms:
    • Sneezing: Perfume allergens in the air can trigger sneezing.
    • Runny or Stuffy Nose: Allergic rhinitis symptoms, such as a runny or congested nose.
  4. Coughing: Exposure to perfume can irritate the respiratory tract, leading to coughing.
  5. Eye Irritation:
    • Perfume particles in the air can irritate the eyes, leading to tearing and itching.
  6. Headaches and Migraines: Strong perfume odours can trigger headaches in sensitive individuals. Some people with perfume allergies may experience more severe migraine headaches when exposed to certain fragrances.
  7. Asthma Symptoms:
    • Wheezing: Perfume allergens can induce wheezing, a whistling sound while breathing
    • Shortness of Breath: Individuals with asthma may experience difficulty breathing when exposed to perfume allergens.
  8. Nausea and Dizziness
    • Nausea: The scent of certain perfumes can make some individuals feel nauseous.
    • Dizziness: Exposure to strong fragrances can induce dizziness in sensitive individuals.
  9. Emotional distress: Coping with the physical symptoms and social consequences of perfume allergies can lead to anxiety, stress, and a reduced sense of well-being.

Perfume allergy management

While there is no cure for perfume allergy, there are several ways to manage your symptoms and prevent future reactions. Here are some tips on how to cope with perfume allergy:

  1. Avoid fragrances whenever possible: The best way to prevent perfume allergy is to avoid exposure to perfumes and fragrances as much as possible. This means:
    • Choosing fragrance-free products for your personal care and household use.
    • Reading labels carefully and avoiding products that contain "fragrance" or "parfum".
    • Asking others not to wear perfumes or fragrances around you.
    • Avoid places where perfumes or fragrances are used heavily, such as shopping malls, salons, spas, etc.
    • Wearing a mask when in public places where you cannot control the scents
  2. Use fragrance-free products: If you cannot avoid perfumes or fragrances completely, you can reduce your exposure by using fragrance-free products for your personal care and household use. These products are specially formulated to be gentle and hypoallergenic, and they do not contain any added scents or chemicals that can trigger perfume allergy. Some examples of products available in fragrance-free forms are:
    • Body lotions and creams
    • Soap and shampoo
    • Powder and deodorant
    • Laundry detergent and fabric softener
    • Cleaning products and cosmetics

You can find fragrance-free products in most pharmacies, health stores, or online. You can also look for products that are labelled as "unscented", "hypoallergenic", "dermatologist-tested", or "for sensitive skin".

  1. Wear a mask when in public places

Another way to protect yourself from perfume allergy is to wear a mask when in public places where you cannot control the use of perfumes. A mask can help filter out some of the perfume or fragrance particles that can irritate your nose, throat, and lungs. You can use a disposable surgical mask, a cloth mask, or a respirator mask, depending on your preference and comfort level. You can also use a scarf or a bandana to cover your nose and mouth.

  1. Take antihistamines or other allergy medications

If you have mild to moderate symptoms of perfume allergy, you can take over-the-counter antihistamines or other allergy medications to relieve them. Antihistamines are drugs that block the action of histamine, which is a chemical that causes allergic reactions in the body. Antihistamines can help reduce itching, sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes caused by perfume allergy. Some examples of antihistamines are:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Loratadine (Claritin)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra)

You can also use nasal sprays, eye drops, or creams that contain antihistamines or steroids to treat local symptoms of perfume allergy. You should always follow the directions on the label and consult your doctor before using any medication.

  1. Consider allergy shots or immunotherapy

If you have severe or frequent symptoms of perfume allergy that interfere with your daily life, you may wish to consider allergy shots or immunotherapy. This is a treatment that involves injecting small amounts of the allergen into your body over a period of time to desensitise your immune system and reduce your allergic reactions gradually. Immunotherapy can help prevent or reduce the symptoms of perfume allergy in some people, but it is not a complete cure and does not work for everyone. It also requires regular visits to an allergist and a long-term commitment.

If you are interested in immunotherapy, talk to your doctor about the benefits, risks, costs, and availability of this treatment.

When to see a doctor?

You should see a doctor if you have any of the following signs or symptoms of perfume allergy:

  1. Severe or persistent symptoms that do not improve with home remedies or medications.
  2. Symptoms that affect your breathing, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, or pain.


Perfume allergies are a common health problem that affects many people. Perfumes contain thousands of chemicals, some of which can trigger allergic or irritant reactions in the body. These reactions can cause symptoms such as rashes, headaches, sneezing, watery eyes, and respiratory issues. 

Perfume allergies can be hard to avoid, as perfumes are widely used in personal care products, household products, public spaces and workplaces. Some airports, hospitals, schools and churches have introduced fragrance-free policies. Some researchers and advocates suggest that perfumes should carry clear labels about their ingredients and potential health effects. They also recommend that people use natural or unscented products whenever possible and respect the needs of others who may be sensitive to fragrances.


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  2. Steinemann A. Fragranced consumer products: effects on asthmatics. Air Qual Atmos Health. 2018;11(1):3-9. 
  3. van Amerongen CCA, Ofenloch RF, Cazzaniga S, Elsner P, Gonçalo M, Naldi L, Svensson Å, Bruze M, Schuttelaar MLA. Skin exposure to scented products used in daily life and fragrance contact allergy in the European general population - The EDEN Fragrance Study. Contact Dermatitis. 2021 Jun;84(6):385-394. 
  4. The 6 Most Expensive Perfume Ingredients in the World. [Internet]. Cited 12. Sept 2023. Available from: https://www.byrdie.com/the-6-most-expensive-perfume-ingredients-in-the-world-3981102.  Accessed 12 Sept. 2023.
  5. Yoo Y, Perzanowski MS. Allergic sensitization and the environment: latest update. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2014 Oct;14(10):465. 
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Deborah Akujobi

BS in Public Health Education and Health Promotion, NAU, Nigeria

Deborah is a junior data analyst, a dedicated student studying Public Health Education at Nnamdi Azikwe University, and a technical writer. €€€€She has a passion for numbers and an interest in healthcare. She is pursuing a career path that merges her love for data and a desire to make a difference in people's lives. In pursuing a degree in Public Health Education, she is driven by the belief that everyone should have access to quality healthcare. Her studies focus on understanding the social determinants of health and identifying ways to improve healthcare outcomes for marginalized communities. She is passionate about mentoring the girl child.

With my analytical skills and my commitment to public health, I am poised to make a meaningful impact in the field of healthcare.

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