Spritzing on a new scent at the fragrance counter can really be a game of chance. You might fall in love with the fragrance and walk out with an exciting new bottle to add to your vanity – or you could be running out of the store in a dizzy mess. While some thrive at the fragrance counter, taking the chance to sniff and spritz as many testers as possible, others get easily overwhelmed by scents. You might experience headaches, nausea, and dizziness from sniffing different fragrances and perfumes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to stop wearing a perfume completely – after all, that final spritz of perfume is the cherry on top of an amazing look.
We spoke with William Yin, founder of fragrance subscription service Scent Trunk and Sarah McCartney, a perfumer at who works there, to find out why fragrance-induced headaches happen and how to prevent them. Allow her to break down all the red flags you should be aware of:
1. You’re experiencing sensory overload.
First, you should pay attention to your environment and any factors that could be triggering a headache. Are you at the perfume counter with a fragrance-obsessed friend? “You can get headaches from getting overwhelmed by a lot of scents or from being exposed to a powerful scent for a long period of time,” explained Yin. “It is similar to the tiredness: our eyes will get tired after looking at a screen for long periods of time.”
If you find yourself feeling a little lightheaded from sniffing too many perfumes, get some fresh air or head over to a less overwhelming place. According to McCartney, the best way to shop for fragrances if you’re prone to feeling sick is to “choose three options you like and get them sprayed on to blotters so you can smell them in a different atmosphere. Walk around a bit and then decide if you like it.”
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Mark Popovich
2. The scent triggers unhappy memories.
If you come across a fragrance that’s similar to the one your ex wore all the time or a perfume you weren’t a fan of in the past, you might find yourself feeling uneasy and stressed. “You can get a headache if a fragrance reminds you of a situation you didn’t enjoy, so it’s going to be about the notes, not materials,” McCartney said. “That’s not caused by the fragrance’s construction; it’s caused by our brains being a bit too smart for their own good.” Try to avoid the fragrance and open yourself up to new options you can associate with happy memories.
3. Know your allergies.
Check the label carefully to make sure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients. “The ingredients list on a bottle do not state everything in the perfume,” McCartney revealed. “For the most part, they only list alcohol, ‘parfum’ – which is our secret recipe – and the allergens which are in it. All those other ingredients like limonene, geraniol, and benzyl benzoate, which make up the scent, can also cause an allergic reaction on the skin, which is extremely stressful.”
So take note of any allergens that trigger you and steer clear of any of these products by doing research and asking an experienced fragrance expert for help.
4. FYI: price has nothing to do with it.
A cheaper perfume isn’t necessarily to blame for any headaches you might experience. According to McCartney, the price of a perfume makes no difference since all perfumes must meet the same regulations and formula requirements. “When a perfumer is given a bigger budget to work with, they just have a wider selection of materials to choose from,” she said. You might have to go through a bit of trial and error before you find your ideal scent and note preference.