“I have a headache!” – A word about perfumes

September 25th, 2008


Photo by Sarah G

Perfumes and fragrances (usually derived from an artificial/chemical source) are used to scent a wide range of bath and body products such as  perfume, cologne, aftershave, lotions, deodorant, makeup, hair care products, and baby care products. They are also used in household products like air fresheners, laundry detergents, candles, cleaning products – and the list goes on.

When “perfume” or “fragrance” is listed as an ingredient, it shouldn’t be confused with actual essential oils.  Fragrances and perfumes are made from a wide variety of chemicals from formaldehyde to methylene chloride.   The average perfume can contain over 800 ingredients, most of them toxic. By law, the ingredients in perfumes does not have to be listed.

Common side effects from perfumes are headaches and migraines, sneezing, watery eyes, sinus problems, anxiety, nausea, wheezing (especially in asthmatics), shortness of breath, inability to concentrate, brain-fog, dizziness, convulsions, sore throat, cough, chest tightness, hyperactivity (especially in children), tremor, fatigue, lethargy, and drowsiness.

The side effects from perfumes and artificial fragrances are so widespread and affects so many people, many companies now have a “scent free” policy in the workplace.

What can you do?

One way to avoid exposed to artificial fragrances is to read labels.  If you see “fragrance” or “perfume”, chances are at least a few of the 800 toxic chemicals are used in this product.  If you are looking for a scented product, look for products that are derived from natural sources such essential oils, botanical oils, flower water and resins.

Green and Chic – Ingredients

27 Responses to ““I have a headache!” – A word about perfumes”

  1. Interesting. I had no idea fragrances can cause such a wide range of side effects.

  2. greenandchic says:

    Personally, I get horrible headaches (and sometimes migraines) from perfumes. Fortunately for me, that is my only migraine trigger, but when it happens, it can waste an entire day/night.

  3. Glee Girl says:

    Saw you over at BWAB. This is one of my hobbyhorses! I’m at the point where I wish perfume/fragrance was banned. I’m very sensitive to some – I get headaches, sore throats, sore eyes, stuffy sinuses, and a “fuzzy” feeling in my head. Often all it take is for someone who overdid their morning spritz to walk past me on the street.

    It’s truly scary that many of the chemicals used to create artificial fragrances (including those in expensive perfumes) are either known to cause adverse health effects or suspected of it – some are even suspected of being carcinogenic!! They are poorly tested and manufacturers often claim that the amount in their product is too small to cause a problem. Which might be true if we were only ever exposed to their product, but in reality we are bombarded with artifical fragrance everywhere (on top of all the other chemicals that are part of modern life).

    I have recently switched to using colour and fragrance-free personal care products, but sadly you can’t do much about what the people around you use. :(

  4. greenandchic says:

    Glee Girl – I remember doing some research about this a few years ago and was shocked that the most high-end brands are some of the worst sometimes! I hear you about just walking by someone who uses it. When I used to commute via public transit, it could screw up my whole morning or day. Fortunately, most people don’t feel the need to wear perfume to work.

  5. Perfume gives me headaches too. Not migranes but it really bothers me. I can’t stand the perfume inserts in magazines. And I know what you mean about perfume on public transportation – it’s terrible. I’d rather smell the body odor then the perfume trying to cover it up. :-)

  6. greenandchic says:

    @Kim. I forgot about the magazine inserts. I rip them out as soon as I get it.

  7. I always get a headache when I go into the grocery aisle and there’s the perfume/chemical smell. I used to think it was the lights but now I know better.

  8. [...] its the use of artificial fragrances in personal and home care products because of my allergies (perfumes gives me migraines).  Also, I avoid certain foods to a [...]

  9. [...] scented laundry detergent gave your baby a rash, or you made the decision to stop using perfume or cologne because you or others in your presence may be allergic to it.  Now that you decided you [...]

  10. Alexa says:

    My perfume allergy was more severe when I was a child than today. I remember I took a whiff of my mom’s thick, heavy grandma scented Givenchy perfume when she left to work, and I would get down on the floor and pass out in a few minutes and woke up when the sun is down. Other times I would get blinded from migraines and vomit from smell of perfumes. Now as an adult I have a moderate headache, nausea and fatigue if I smell any kind of perfume especially these heavy floral old woman or sugary warm vanilla scents. I only found ONE perfume that I’m not allergic to, Hollister Malaia, because I love the smell and it’s light. I’m considering to use essential oils like citrus and fresh scents for special nights because they don’t contain dangerous toxic chemicals

  11. Nora Smith says:

    I have severe allergies and asthma and I have fought for years to get people not to wear perfume in the workplace. Yesterday I went to a hospital to have a test done and people were wearing so much perfume, I left the hospital having an asthma attack. I complained to the administrator, but nothing I say ever makes any difference. I wondered if I was the only one who reacted to the terrible scents that people slather on these days. I have worked for 3 hospitals in the last 2 years that had “scent free” policies and everyone working there is still wearing perfume. I was told this rule couldn’t be enforced. I had to quit working there because I went home sick every day. I finally started telling people in restaurants who handed me cups of coffee with the lid smelling so strongly of their smelly perfume that I couldn’t even drink it to have someone else give me a cup who wasn’t wearing strong perfume. I get all these dirty looks. Why do they have so many rights and I don’t? I’m the one getting sick from their perfume. Sometimes I’ve wondered if today’s perfume is the biological warfare that people are so afraid of these days, not epidemics. It sure makes me sick.

  12. Carla Rose says:

    @Nora – I can believe they allow people to wear perfume in a hospital! At my last job (in an office) we had a scent free policy that was constantly ignored by both male and female. I did complain to HR but was given a fan to fan the fumes away from me!

  13. [...] over a year ago and I couldn’t be happier.  The magazines I collected were full of ads, nauseating perfumed pages, and they took up precious space in my home.  I flipped though the pages to cut out certain [...]

  14. [...] “I have a headache!” – A word about perfumes was one of my first posts in the “Chemicals to Avoid” series. I wrote this post out of frustration due to constant exposure to artificial presumes, scents and fragrances that gives me terrible migraines. [...]

  15. I work in a hospital and just walked passed a person who works in the surgical unit. She was wearing so much perfume!!!! I now, of course, have a headache that will escalate into a migraine. I can’t imagine how the patients feel!! This is an overwhelming smell to be around if you are healthy. Can you imagine an ill person smelling this!!!

  16. Carla Rose says:

    Wow, Monica, I cant believe people who work in hospitals are allowed to wear perfumes. I cant imagine someone already having a difficult time with their health being forced to breathe that stuff in!

  17. Mary K says:

    I found this website after suffering a whooper headache from some man’s cologne while I was shopping at the grocery store. The headache came on so swiftly I had to leave the store and go home before I could finish my errands. I lost an afternoon because I had to lay down and rest until I felt better. So annoying!
    I am writing this to let you know that I experienced headaches after reading some magazines with the smelly inserts. Well, I learned that if you subscribe to a magazine you can contact them and ask for the magazine with NO perfume inserts and they will do it! (Good Housekeeping was quick to correct that) Hooray!!! May I also add that as I sat in my doctors office I developed a horrible headache from a magazine insert. When I finally went in to see the doctor he could tell I didn’t feel well. I asked if he needed to get more business because I was fine until I read his magazines and what the heck were those scented magazines doing in a pulmonary doctors office?? He was very apologetic and immediately asked one of his staff to look into this! He no longer has scented materials in his office! Thanks for letting me vent!

  18. Carla Rose says:


    Thank you for sharing your experience with us! The more people know about what artificial fragrances can do, the more they will be banned in public places – I hope. I didn’t know you can order magazines without those inserts. Thanks for the heads up!

  19. Cindy says:

    I have never seen a no perfume sign at a physician’s office until today.
    It surprised me. On the other hand the smell of mildew/ old building was so strong that it made me cough. I would rather smell a plug in air freshner than have to deal with an old smelling building. How healthy is that? I can just imagine breathing in mold spores from that office. Ick.

  20. Carla Rose says:

    @Cindy – Mildew, perfume, air fresher (chemical that only covers odors) all sound very unhealthy!

  21. [...] store, contests and giveaways, product reviews and guest posts.  Some of my older posts such as I have a Headache: A word about perfumes and Petroleum jelly possible cancer risk will continue to be some of my most popular posts, but [...]

  22. wsams says:

    I agree totally. Enough exposure to many different fragrances and I’m disabled for hours to a day or two.

  23. [...] My Physicians Guide To Headaches. | Hot Tub Filters OnlineToxic chemicals in perfumes and frangrances | Green and Chic [...]

  24. Salon Sharon says:

    I have actually experienced this,i bought a perfume that drove me mad.The scent was too strong in that it caused me headache.But thanks for the tips hope read carefully the instructions.Thanks for the blog

  25. e says:

    it is good to know that i am not the only one. i take public transportation and when an individual gets on with the cologne or perfume that they bathed in, my headache and nausea are immediate. the same goes for walking past someone on the street. i know there are people who believe that the response is an exaggeration, but it’s not. the trigger is immediate, and the entire morning or day can be affected because of these toxic scents. i’m glad i stumbled across your posts, thanks.

  26. wendy says:

    I have suffered from migraine for years owing to the over use of perfume and think it should be banned in public places I had 3 days of my holiday ruined by perfume on the plane

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