Perfume Allergies and Irritants

Before you blame your moisturizer or body wash for your latest skin outbreak, you may want to check yourself before you spray yourself! While perfumes and fragrances predominantly trigger our sense of smell, we often forget that they also impact our skin – sometimes not nearly as pleasantly either. If your skin is acting up and you’ve been using a new perfume (or even an old favorite more frequently), it might be time to smell the roses and check to see if its ingredients include irritants that aggravate your skin or are triggering allergies! We asked Dr. Prystowsky for some advice.

Source of the Smell

Natural and artificially made fragrances are equally as common. Artificial fragrances are synthesized in labs while natural fragrances are made from flowers, essential oils, and fruits. Just because a product may be natural, however, doesn’t mean it’s safe for everyone.

Dr. P says, “Just because something is plant based or ‘natural’ does not mean it is safe for all people.  Because of differences in inherent allergies, some people will be OK with lavender whereas others may get an itchy rash from products containing lavender.”

Some scents are added to beauty products to make them more pleasant to smell while others are used to mask odors from the chemicals in that beauty product. Be careful though, even an ‘unscented’ product may have fragrances that mask unsavory odors, warns Dr. Prystowsky. Just because a product is ‘unscented,’ doesn’t mean it can’t cause allergic reactions.

Allergies vs. Irritants: A Breakdown

If you’re having a skin reaction it is likely due to either an allergen or an irritant hidden in the ingredients of your daily beauty or skincare products. While both allergens and irritants elicit unpleasant skin discomfort, the two differ in that allergies work by triggering a histamine response in your body, whereas irritants principally disrupt the skin’s surface.

Dr. Prystowsky explains, “Just like someone may be allergic to peanuts, someone can be allergic to lavender. In contrast, everyone can get irritated by overexposure to certain products, such as detergent.” There are many irritants and allergens in our environment.

Allergens and irritants may not be immediately obvious either. Dr. P says, “You can grow a sensitivity to an ingredient over time, meaning allergens and irritants can creep up on you. Repeated exposure could cause a more aggravated reaction. Plus, older people naturally have thinner skin that is more easily irritated.” For example, a bathing product that used to be fine may be irritate you in a couple years.

Accordingly, it is very important to be mindful of what you’re putting on your skin in order to be able to pinpoint what exactly may be causing a reaction at any given time.

Signs & Symptoms to Sniff Out

Perfumes and fragrances can trigger allergic responses or symptoms in two ways.

Bless you! For one, if you are allergic or reacting to an ingredient in a perfume or fragrance, inhalation of the product’s odor may set off a respiratory response like sneezing, wheezing and/or coughing. If something doesn’t smell quite right and causes a reaction like this, check the ingredients before continuing use.

Second, the response may appear in the form of a contact allergy reaction (think very similar to that of someone allergic to poison ivy when their skin touches the plant). If application of a perfume or fragrance causes very itchy red bumps to appear on the skin, an allergen is likely present.

Perfume Precautions

To avoid disagreeable reactions from your perfumes, be aware of the fragrances you are choosing.

Dr. P says, “If you are allergy prone and know what you are allergic to, reading labels carefully may help you steer away from products that would cause a problem for you. Alternatively, if it is hard to figure out the ingredients, you can do a small patch test of the product on the elbow crease for a few days. Another approach is to apply a small quantity of the product to the pad of a spot bandage and affix it to a non-sun exposed skin surface for 2 days. If you develop a rash under the spot bandage, don’t use the product.”

In addition to taking care of yourself – don’t forget to stay mindful of your peers! The people you’re around may have different allergies than you do, and may be sensitive to your perfume or fragrance. “What may seem like a light spritz to you, could cause a headache, rash, or coughing fit for your officemate,” warns Dr. Prystowsky.

You heard her folks – spray safe, spray responsibly.

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