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  1. #1

    Default Perfume Allergy....getting older..

    I have seen several threads where people are wondering what fragrance to wear to a job interview,
    church, funerals, to surgery, etc. etc. etc.

    The recurring piece of "sage" advice I see thrown out is usually something like:

    with all the allergies out there, you don't want to cause anyone to have a reaction, anaphylaxis......

    I am a physician, and I don't buy it.

    Let me start by saying I am NOT an allergist or dermatologist, so take the fact that I am a physician with a grain of salt. I will say, though, that I know more about immunology than the average person. Most people who have allergies to specific antigens suffer from contact dermatitis. Atopic and contact dermatitis are VERY common in the general public. Unlike contact dermatitis, the physiologic mechanism behind atopic dermatitis is less well defined. The reason I bring this up is that I have seen people use the terms interchangeably and they are not the same disease.

    Most people with an unknown nidus for an allergic reaction get asked a serious of questions by their doctor in an attempt to narrow down the possibilities. If that fails and the reactions continue, they may even have antigenic testing to figure it out (although this is usually done to track down an allergy to food). No allergist would ever tell a patient, well if nothing else, tell your co-workers to stop wearing lotions, perfumes, stop using scented detergents, etc. etc. They would tell the patient to stop, as it may be the cause of their CONTACT dermatitis.

    I have never seen, nor do I think it could ever be definitively proven, a case of anaphylactic shock, or even a simple case or urticaria (hives) attributed to a perfumed substance IN THE AIR. Now, do not confuse this assertion with perfumes in general. Contact dermatitis could definitely produce a severe reaction in a sensitized individual if they placed the substance on their skin.

    Theoretically, if I sprayed 15 shots of Vetiver on my neck, walked past someone with a severe allergy, tripped, fell onto their neck with my still wet coating of Vetiver, maybe, just maybe then I could trigger some allergic dermatitis.

    People get easily confused between a sensitive nose and an allergic sensitivity. Pollen in the air is also a CONTACT allergy with a substance in the air. An allergic reaction to someone's fragrance is no more likely than an allergy to the smell of raindrops on cement, or the smell of rotting fish in a lake, or an ocean breeze, or hot pavement, or a fire, or of a pine tree.

    Next time someone tells you they have an allergy to someont else's cologne, ask them what symptoms they have. I can't tell you how many of my patients tell me they have an allergy to a medication, and when probed they tell me that it causes a headache, or an upset stomach, or makes them tired.
    Last edited by scentaddiction; 8th November 2009 at 04:32 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting old.

    Thanks for that interesting perspective.
    I have a number of allergies: hayfever, some food allergies, some solvents etc
    Despite these, I have only ever had an allergy to one or two fragrances and they were much older ones. I have also witnessed beyond doubt some people reacting with sneezing fits and classic hayfever allergy symptoms to fragrances I was wearing.
    Allergies are strange and inconsistent - I will always be aware of a reaction to something I'm allergic to but the severity varies with many factors.
    Allergies in my experience, can cause headaches, nausea etc by smell alone. I am not sure of the mechanism for this? I assume my body is so sensitive that just a few molecules entering my system cause it to over-react? There is one vintage guerlain frag which gave me headaches and a recent one too.
    I do think that this is unusual and people sometimes use the word allergy for something they simply dislike.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting old.

    Quote Originally Posted by hirch_duckfinder View Post
    Thanks for that interesting perspective.
    I have a number of allergies: hayfever, some food allergies, some solvents etc
    Despite these, I have only ever had an allergy to one or two fragrances and they were much older ones. I have also witnessed beyond doubt some people reacting with sneezing fits and classic hayfever allergy symptoms to fragrances I was wearing.
    Allergies are strange and inconsistent - I will always be aware of a reaction to something I'm allergic to but the severity varies with many factors.
    Allergies in my experience, can cause headaches, nausea etc by smell alone. I am not sure of the mechanism for this?
    There is no physiologic connection that I am aware of between headaches nausea and a true allergic reaction. There are several (4) ways that allergies occur. Immediate type 1 occurs when preformed antibodies (IgE) bind the allergen and cause other immune cells to release inflammatory cytokines that cause the symptoms. This is usually fast, but all 4 reactions end with the release of inflammatory mediators that cause the symptoms.

    Could it be that the inflammatory mediators cause the headaches and nausea, sure, I guess. Like I said, I am not an immunologist, but headaches and nausea are not typically the lone symptoms of an allergic reaction.
    Last edited by scentaddiction; 7th November 2009 at 11:02 PM.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting old.

    I have respiratory allergies and have been tested for the allergens that cause immune response. My allergist told me that it is very valid to have sensitivities that are not true allergies, but that the symptoms can be quite similar. He said it is not uncommon to have sensitivity if you are already prone to allergy attacks. The issue for him is that he could not give me allergy shots for anything I was sensitive to. The shots only work for true immune response. The only "treatment" for chemical sensitivity is avoidance.

    For me, there are some fragrance ingredients that cause such allergy-like reactions (post nasal drip, sore throat, swollen sinuses, and ultimately headache). So, while it might be inaccurate for a person to state they have allergies, it may be moot if they have chemical sensitivity. Anyway, I also find it annoying that people cry "allergy!" when they smell something they don't like. It is a disservice to real allergy sufferers who have a hard enough time being taken seriously.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting old.

    Quote Originally Posted by Asha View Post

    For me, there are some fragrance ingredients that cause such allergy-like reactions (post nasal drip, sore throat, swollen sinuses, and ultimately headache). So, while it might be inaccurate for a person to state they have allergies, it may be moot if they have chemical sensitivity. Anyway, I also find it annoying that people cry "allergy!" when they smell something they don't like. It is a disservice to real allergy sufferers who have a hard enough time being taken seriously.
    I agree, and that was basically the reason for this post. I also agree that allergy and atopy are ill-understood phenomena that can be difficult to diagnose or treat, but, like your allergist said, avoidance is key. I just severely doubt that people can physiologically react if they happen to drift through someone's sillage
    Last edited by scentaddiction; 8th November 2009 at 03:38 AM.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting old.

    Quote Originally Posted by scentaddiction View Post
    I just severely doubt that people can physiologically react if they happen to drift through someone's sillage
    Sorry, but if you don't have a specialization in immunology, I wouldn't bother writing an entire post like you did simply stating your opinion, which is based on subjective accounts and over-generalizations. If you're not an immunologist, then quite frankly, being a doctor just isn't enough of a title to state something so broad as "Well, I just don't see how it's possible."

    Your reasoning is so out there that I'm not even quite sure what it is you're trying to say... I gather you are saying perfume allergies don't exist on a physiological level? That's just ridiculous. I can't understand why you wrote a whole paragraph on "contact dermatitis," when all airborne particles CONTACT our nose, mucous membranes and possibly even the blood brain barrier EVERYTIME we smell them. We wouldn't smell them if they didn't make contact.

    There have been many famous cases documented of people having severe asthma, sinus congestion and dizziness (not to mention serious cases Multiple Chemical Sensitivity), etc. due to airborne perfume. Here is a good PDF on the subject by a doctor specializing in MCS: http://web.mac.com/doctormark/DoctorMark/KUS.html

    Furthermore, if someone gets a headache from perfume, why is it so hard to believe that this is an allergic reaction? I see the whole thing as pretty simple and straight forward: Even someone with a simple understanding of the placement of the sinus cavities will know that when sinuses become inflamed due to allergies, it creates pressure within the sinus cavities and surrounded tissues, which often manifests into a (sinus) headache above or around the eyes. Of course, many people get overly dramatic and end up creating somatoform disorders for themselves, but that's usually due to an existing allergy in the first place.

    Lastly, stating that perfume is no different than an ocean breeze or rain water is just complete nonsense. What did you learn in school in terms of chemistry? Perfumes are thousands of times more complex than rain drops, in terms of chemical make up. Not only that, you can be allergic to ANYTHING. It all depends on your immune system's interpretation of "foreign substances."

    No offense, but I wouldn't want to be treated by someone with your line of reasoning and lack of research into the issue.
    Last edited by L'Aventurier; 8th November 2009 at 12:34 AM.
    Sales thread here

  7. #7

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting old.

    Quote Originally Posted by L'aventurier View Post

    No offense, but I wouldn't want to be treated by someone with your line of reasoning and lack of research into the issue.

    Whoa, take it easy, Top Gun.

    My post was merely to point out that I think there are alot of people out there who confuse
    allergies, anaphylaxis, atopy, and headaches.

    I would not treat anyone with allergic rhinitis, as that is not my area of expertise. I wonder, did you read the article that you referenced?

    "I wish to propose something a little challenging, something which will annoy many people, and
    something about which I am more than prepared to be proven incorrect. It is a strange thing,
    when I consider it, because I have seen so many patients over such a long time, and have gathered
    so many statistics. I do not know why it has taken me so long to reach this conclusion, nor
    why I feel so uncomfortable about writing it.
    Multiple chemical sensitivities causes permanent and irreversible brain injury. Possibly other permanent
    injury as well, but at least brain injury."

    Are you kidding me? Even sub-specialists are allowed to have opinions....


    Here is a consensus statement from the American Academy of Allergists and Immunologists regarding the theories of the physician you quoted.

    http://web.archive.org/web/200106061...ments/ps35.stm

    Multiple Chemical Sensitivities is an antiquated term that is now referred to as Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance and the consensus is that:

    "Most studies to date, however, have found an excess of current and past psychopathology in patients with this diagnosis."

    This is precisely what I was talking about in my post. I do not doubt the fact that some people are overly sensitive to some fragrances, but for you to ask me "What did you learn in school in terms of chemistry?"
    (you should be more condescending next time)
    My answer is that there are millions of people out there with nickel allergies, and last time I checked nickel was an element. An antigen does not need to be a complex molecule to incite an allergic reaction, it just needs to present in sufficient amounts to provoke the response. I have yet to find a case report of a patient with a nickel allergy who went into anaphylactic shock from smelling it.

    I do agree that fragrances are more complex than an ocean breeze...but if you have an allergy to a substance, lets say patchouli for example, do you then suppose that all the "complex chemicals" in Givenchy Gentleman would cause a much worse reaction than a dab off essential oil? I do not believe that the complexity of the chemicals make you any more prone to developing antibodies. Nor do I believe that you would have the same response to smelling patchouli on a crowded bus.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting old.

    I think people make to much of allergies
    I'm allergic to hay, and when I tell people
    that they always assume that if
    I'm anywhere near hay I'll get a reaction
    but in reality I have to be sitting right next to hay for a very long time to get
    a reaction to it
    [COLOR="Purple"]I am not afraid... I was born to do this.

    -Joan of Arc [/COLOR]

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting old.

    I'm going to hold back on reaching any conclusions from this interesting discussion, but I will add some facts from my own case. I find that certain fragrances seem to have components which - for me - are mild lachrymators (i.e., they make my eyes water and/or my nose run). This is particularly true if I use too much of the fragrances. It's very reproducible. I won't say whether I'm "allergic" to these - any more than that I'm allergic to benzyl bromide or MACE (both of which are stronger lachrymators to which I am sensitive). However, if this is NOT regarded as allergic reaction, then it is certainly often CALLED that by others. And I think that's what the OP is getting at - people who may or may not have some sensitivity to a chemical are almost certainly going to call it an "allergy".

    On the one hand, the fact that I have given myself eye-watering by my own sillage would tend to make some cases of this believable. However, I can tell you that there are many cases where alleged perfume sensitivities in workplaces seem not to be logically related to the actual level or type of the fragrance. In some cases, it seems to be more related to the fears of the person complaining, when they smell any perfume, than to actual effects. But I am presuming that they did have some kind of bad reaction at some point, resulting in what amounts to hypochondria about perfume.
    * * * *

  10. #10

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting old.

    Quote Originally Posted by Redneck Perfumisto View Post
    I'm going to hold back on reaching any conclusions from this interesting discussion, but I will add some facts from my own case. I find that certain fragrances seem to have components which - for me - are mild lachrymators (i.e., they make my eyes water and/or my nose run). This is particularly true if I use too much of the fragrances. It's very reproducible. I won't say whether I'm "allergic" to these - any more than that I'm allergic to benzyl bromide or MACE (both of which are stronger lachrymators to which I am sensitive). However, if this is NOT regarded as allergic reaction, then it is certainly often CALLED that by others. And I think that's what the OP is getting at - people who may or may not have some sensitivity to a chemical are almost certainly going to call it an "allergy".

    On the one hand, the fact that I have given myself eye-watering by my own sillage would tend to make some cases of this believable. However, I can tell you that there are many cases where alleged perfume sensitivities in workplaces seem not to be logically related to the actual level or type of the fragrance. In some cases, it seems to be more related to the fears of the person complaining, when they smell any perfume, than to actual effects. But I am presuming that they did have some kind of bad reaction at some point, resulting in what amounts to hypochondria about perfume.
    Before anyone beats me to the punch, I know this post is now living up to its name....getting old....

    I, also, have terrible seasonal allergies, and I get congested easily. I also think that applying fragrance with an atomiser could cause an allergic reaction, as the aerosolized droplets actually come in contact with the mucus membranes in your nose before they dry up. This is the exact same mechanism as pollen. I did not and do not question the validity of this form of allergic response. Viruses and bacteria also are transmitted in a similar fashion, either from aerosolized droplets or from direct contact.

    Most patients I have spoken with regarding perfume allergies are either complaining of a severe reaction that they had after an application (contact dermatitis) or a headache. I also get headaches if I spray Kouros on my moustache. I have also sprayed on too much TdH perfume and wound up with a nasty headache, but I can assure you I am not allergic. I am sure that there is a connection between headaches and cerebral overload from the constant bombardment of a noxious smell. I only assert that this is not an allergic reaction.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting older..

    You know what, irrespective of the correct term applicable, overly enthusiastic use of perfume does bother those around you. That's the crux of the issue. Being subjected to both my own and others' sillage has at various times induced headaches, sneezing, difficulty breathing and the likes. Does that kill me? No. Do I think it's inconsiderate to wantonly spray knowing that others may react similarly or even more strongly? Absolutely.
    So call it whatever, just don't suffocate me with your sillage, m'kay?
    It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely products of a deranged imagination.

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  12. #12

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting older..

    Quote Originally Posted by veuve amiot View Post
    Do I think it's inconsiderate to wantonly spray knowing that others may react similarly or even more strongly? Absolutely.
    So call it whatever, just don't suffocate me with your sillage, m'kay?
    I absolutely agree, BUT the problem is that some people freak out if they can smell any "perfumey" fragrance. Really. It's like an automatic response. You can spray once on your neck and still have someone complain when the top notes don't burn off fast enough.

    What do you do...?

  13. #13

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting older..

    Have the good sense to know when someone's complaining to complain and when they have a point. Works for me.
    It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely products of a deranged imagination.

    Douglas Adams

  14. #14

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting older..

    Quote Originally Posted by veuve amiot View Post
    You know what, irrespective of the correct term applicable, overly enthusiastic use of perfume does bother those around you. That's the crux of the issue. Being subjected to both my own and others' sillage has at various times induced headaches, sneezing, difficulty breathing and the likes. Does that kill me? No. Do I think it's inconsiderate to wantonly spray knowing that others may react similarly or even more strongly? Absolutely.
    So call it whatever, just don't suffocate me with your sillage, m'kay?
    Agreed. This seems like an argument of semantics intended to obscure the real and true issue of others being bothered by perfume. Given that numerous scent addicts here on basenotes admit to having problems with a handful or more of scents they sampled, surely the general public will as well.

    A reaction by any other name would still smell as unsweet.
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  15. #15
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    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting older..

    Quote Originally Posted by scentaddiction View Post
    I also get headaches if I spray Kouros on my moustache. I have also sprayed on too much TdH perfume and wound up with a nasty headache, but I can assure you I am not allergic. I am sure that there is a connection between headaches and cerebral overload from the constant bombardment of a noxious smell. I only assert that this is not an allergic reaction.
    The TdH headache thing is not uncommon. Several folks on here are similarly sensitive to Iso E Super, the wonderful weak woody component of many things, including TdH. It's used in large quantities.

    Benzyl salicylate is also a true (listed) allergen, and a headache inducer.

    Quote Originally Posted by veuve amiot View Post
    So call it whatever, just don't suffocate me with your sillage, m'kay?
    M'kay!

    Quote Originally Posted by tott View Post
    I absolutely agree, BUT the problem is that some people freak out if they can smell any "perfumey" fragrance. Really. It's like an automatic response. You can spray once on your neck and still have someone complain when the top notes don't burn off fast enough.

    What do you do...?
    I agree that folks who - at the core - have real issues with fragrances - can seem hypersensitive. However, even when it's clearly just "complainy", in that the people may not be experiencing systems, they are correctly using smell in one of the ways nature intended it - as a warning. And if they're just complaining because they don't like the fragrance and are using allergy as something of a mollifier to make the complaint go down easier - well - they do have a legitimate complaint anyway. Hating a fragrance and not wanting to be subjected to it isn't a crime.

    Still, there are the rare folks who are just looking for something to complain about. I won't deny that they exist.

    Quote Originally Posted by veuve amiot View Post
    Have the good sense to know when someone's complaining to complain and when they have a point. Works for me.
    Yes. And even in the case where it seems like complaining to complain, I'd like to make two points:

    (1) the frag may not be as "weak" as you think. Most folks who have been here a while are very familiar with scent fatigue, and know not to respray continuously when they can't smell something. This is a huge source of office complaints. But there are also selective anosmias that even the sharpest noses display. It pays to be extra careful and check with other people before condemning a complaint as unnecessary.

    (2) wearing fragrance lightly enough that such a person doesn't complain and (more importantly) doesn't experience problems, can help build up their comfort level with some or even all scents.

    Quote Originally Posted by SculptureOfSoul View Post
    Agreed. This seems like an argument of semantics intended to obscure the real and true issue of others being bothered by perfume. Given that numerous scent addicts here on basenotes admit to having problems with a handful or more of scents they sampled, surely the general public will as well.

    A reaction by any other name would still smell as unsweet.
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  16. #16

    Default Re: Perfume Allergy....getting older..

    Quote Originally Posted by Redneck Perfumisto View Post
    The TdH headache thing is not uncommon. Several folks on here are similarly sensitive to Iso E Super, the wonderful weak woody component of many things, including TdH. It's used in large quantities.

    Benzyl salicylate is also a true (listed) allergen, and a headache inducer.



    M'kay!



    I agree that folks who - at the core - have real issues with fragrances - can seem hypersensitive. However, even when it's clearly just "complainy", in that the people may not be experiencing systems, they are correctly using smell in one of the ways nature intended it - as a warning. And if they're just complaining because they don't like the fragrance and are using allergy as something of a mollifier to make the complaint go down easier - well - they do have a legitimate complaint anyway. Hating a fragrance and not wanting to be subjected to it isn't a crime.

    Still, there are the rare folks who are just looking for something to complain about. I won't deny that they exist.



    Yes. And even in the case where it seems like complaining to complain, I'd like to make two points:

    (1) the frag may not be as "weak" as you think. Most folks who have been here a while are very familiar with scent fatigue, and know not to respray continuously when they can't smell something. This is a huge source of office complaints. But there are also selective anosmias that even the sharpest noses display. It pays to be extra careful and check with other people before condemning a complaint as unnecessary.

    (2) wearing fragrance lightly enough that such a person doesn't complain and (more importantly) doesn't experience problems, can help build up their comfort level with some or even all scents.



    Yes. We need to be diplomats for the world of fragrance, not shock troops!
    Thanks for the insight and well written reply. I completely agree with every point you made.

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