What specifically am I sensitive to?
April 2, 2014 3:11 AM   Subscribe

After having to leave a meeting due to someone elses perfume, I would love to know what chemical it is in scented products that I am sensitive to. Can we narrow it down some? Details of reaction inside.

First off: I love perfume. However, on a semi-regular basis someone is wearing a scent (in sufficiant amounts) that contains something I am sensitive to. The scents themselves differ, but I notice I am reacting when I feel a burning in my nose and throat, I can usually "taste" their perfume as well and can pick up on it from quite a distance or by walking down a hallway they have recently been in, whatever element it is lingers. I become nauseous and get a quite strong headache focussed in my forhead (sort of between my eyebrows).

Once I am "set off" I feel that I am much more likely to react to other scents or allergens during the rest of that day, my tolerance as it were is lowered quite a lot. I am mainly talking about perfumes but also some body lotions, washing powders, shower gels etc.

What exactly is it that is most likely setting me off? I would love to say "I'm intolerant of AB2CD, which is in a lot of perfumes" rather than "I am sensitive to perfume" because people get nutzoid about just perfume and scents. They get offended, think it's a judgement call (but this is expeeeensive perfume!) and do weird shit like wear extra to see if you notice.

Other stuff I am sensitive to includes: really aged meat/cheese makes my face go numb, contact dermatitis from metal belts etc and straight up allergic to cat/dog hair/dander/whatever. I don't appear to have a problem with naturally smelly things like orange oil etc but some flowers will fuck me up, especially like, lillies or hyacynths (which give me cold-sores!)
posted by Iteki to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia says cinnamaldehyde is a common fragrance allergen. Do the perfumes smell like cinnamon or spice?
posted by Houstonian at 4:13 AM on April 2, 2014

Sorry about the multiple posts, but here is a list of the 8 most common allergy-causing fragrances.
posted by Houstonian at 4:15 AM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's very little concrete information available about this, probably partly because different people have really different individual triggers, partly because manufacturers are so secretive about their formulations that it's impossible for an amateur to test these things out empirically. Some people seem to be sensitive to specific notes; some people seem to be sensitive more generally to fixatives or alcohol in the perfume.

Also, per this discussion, the conifer smell in Lynx/Axe that a lot of people seem to be sensitive to is (-)α-terpinol.
posted by Jeanne at 4:25 AM on April 2, 2014

Just to anecdotally confirm your thought that synthetic scent can be the problem. For me, it's synthetic florals that bring on my allergy induced asthma. Stores like Bed Bath and Beyond and Bath and Body Works always trigger an attack. I can't be on that side of the mall without a problem.

There's something really different in the synthetics. That chemical jasmine smell always sends me running for an inhaler, but I have a blooming jasmine outside me office window and it's not a problem.
posted by 26.2 at 4:27 AM on April 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is impossible to know unless you had some specific list of compounds that cuase this to occur. There is such a huge mix of chemicals present in every perfume, and what you're experiencing isn't like occupational asthma/Respiratory sensitisation. If you just wanted something to throw out there without actually narrowing down exactly what compound is causing this look for a list of compounds that carry the risk R42 and pick something that is found in a lot of perfumes.

Testing for this is especially problematic, mostly for reasons that others have highlighted, and also because how would you get a rat or guinea pig to express the symptoms that you describe to a researcher. Coupled with the threshold effect for sensitisation (assuming you are sensitised and not just having a psychosomatic reaction) you could test 1000 people and find nothing but you could be especially susceptible to sensitisation to this compound, possibly even from an earlier non-respiratory event.

I predict toxicity for a living and still wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to what is causing this event. It could even be something as innocuous as you climed a lot of pine trees as a kid and are therefore sensitised via dermal contact to pinene, which manifests as the respiratory distress as an adult and would also bring out allergic contact dermatitis when challenged with pinene via an insult patch test.
posted by koolkat at 5:22 AM on April 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would ask the coworker about the brand & fragrance of perfume and research from there.

Btw I am exactly like this... I lurve me some perfume and then every once in a while a certain scent hits me especially hard & triggers a migraine. Once this happens, even previously beloved scents become enemies. And I also have a bizarre list of sensitivities with no relation. (Jelly beans make my eyes puff up like I've been crying all night.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:49 AM on April 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel sick and headachy when near anyone wearing Thierry Mugler's Angel. I can smell it even if the person wearing it is the other end of a crowded train carriage. Apparently it shares a compound with coriander, which I also can't stand. I keep meaning to ask the scientists where I work for more details!
posted by ozgirlabroad at 9:54 AM on April 2, 2014

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