Fragrance Allergies – do you know yours?

The recent questionnaires we sent out to our volunteer Beauty Bible testers, which I talked about in my last blogpost, threw up some very interesting information.

One of the questions we asked was “Are you sensitive to fragrances?”

Over 25% responded yes — a minority, but a sizeable one.

A follow-up question to those answering ‘yes’ was “Which fragrances are you sensitive to?”

Shockingly, around 60% of those with fragrance sensitivities had no idea at all. Most of the rest gave very general answers — ‘chemical fragrances’, ‘any strong perfumes’, ‘anything synthetic’ — and clearly hadn’t pinpointed their particular triggers either. Only one individual named a particular brand of cosmetics that seemed to cause her problems, and only two named an actual ingredient — vanilla in one case, and bergamot in another.

I understand that this data has hardly been gathered under the strictest of scientific methods, but nevertheless, were these results to be replicated across the population, it would paint a very dismal picture of both our levels of sensitivity to environmental fragrance chemicals — and of the lack of specific diagnoses concerning them. Just why are we so sensitive — and why don’t we know what we’re sensitive to?

I wish I had the answers to those questions. I recently wrote an article for the site — The Growing Problem with Fragrance — which highlighted the issue of our growing intolerance to fragrances, and which revealed recommendations from an EU scientific committee that the current number of fragrance allergens which must be declared on skincare labelling should be raised from 26, as it stands at present, to around 130. Clearly, this is a problem which the experts think is going to get worse.

If you are looking for help on identifying potential triggers for your skin allergies, a previous article of mine — Contact Dermatitis and Cosmetics — may help. Patch testing is the usual method of testing individual allergens, but the problem as far as fragrance allergens go, however, is that, usually, individual fragrances are not tested. Instead, ‘mixes’ are — which may tell you that you react to one or more fragrances, but not which particular one. Some dermatologists may be able to order specific fragrance patches for you, or even make some up using cosmetics or perfumes you use regularly, but this may be time consuming or expensive, and getting a referral to a dermatologist in the first place may not be easy.

Have you had your fragrance sensitivity diagnosed by a dermatologist? Or did your dermatologist struggle to give you a specific diagnosis? Have you been advised to avoid all fragrances? If you are fragrance sensitive and don’t know what you react to — why not?

We’d be very interested in hearing your experiences and stories.

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