Best Fragrances for Migraine Sufferers


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Although I love perfumes, the stores that carry them are my personal nightmare. The intoxicating concoction of sickly scents swirling through the air almost always leaves me with a migraine. While I enjoy the ritual and glamor of wearing perfume every day, it’s taken me a while to find a collection of “safe” scents – and I’m not the only one. 95% of migraine patients report having a sensitivity to smell, also known as osmophobia, and scents have been proven to be the most common trigger for smell-induced migraines (above things like cigarette smoke, cleaning chemicals and paint thinner). So why do some scents cause migraines while others are harmless?

According to Ruth Mastenbroek, master perfumer at Ruth Mastenbroek Perfumer London, research into the specific most irritating notes is “very rare”. However, we do know that headaches can result from “a single component of an odor irritating your sinuses and causing them to swell,” she told POPSUGAR. “The sinuses don’t drain properly once they get swollen, and the resulting buildup of pressure can cause headaches.”

Sensitivity to odors is personal, so there are no hard and fast rules about which scents to avoid in the event of a migraine. To complicate matters, the ingredients will often have hundreds of components, each of which is a personal trigger. “Instead, we can look at experiences more anecdotally and use the information we know from an aromatherapy perspective to create hypotheses,” says Mastenbroek.

What fragrance ingredients should migraine sufferers avoid?

One scent that many migraine sufferers tend to have trouble with is vanillin. “Migraine sufferers may have a lower tolerance to vanillin, but sometimes only synthetic vanillin and not the one found in natural vanilla, so it’s a very complicated area,” says Mastenbroek. People prone to fragrance headaches, like me, often struggle with musky tobacco smells and overpowering spicy smells.

Ultimately, you’ll have to use your judgment on which scents to avoid. “As a former migraine sufferer myself, I know it’s important to become aware of your own personal triggers through the senses,” says Mastenbroek. “From a scent perspective, start with single-note scents rather than complex scents. As you build a repertoire of safe scents, you can branch out into the more adventurous and complex.”

What Fragrance Ingredients Should Migraine Sufferers Look For?

Migraine sufferers will often be better suited to harmless, subtle, and soothing scents. That means sticking with citrus (orange, lemon, grapefruit, lemongrass, etc.), herbs (lavender, chamomile, rosemary, thyme, etc.) and minty notes (peppermint and spearmint). “Based on the aromatherapy knowledge we have, we can safely say that it won’t have a detrimental effect on the majority of people, including migraine sufferers,” says Mastenbroek.

With these tips in mind, read on to discover the best fragrances for migraine sufferers. Please note that although they have been tried and tested by one nose, they might not work for you – everyone’s triggers are different. It is always best to visit the store to taste the perfume before purchasing.


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