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The Relationship Between Perfumes and Allergies

written by: bjlbyron • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 10/12/2010

Allergy to perfume fragrances is the most common skin contact allergy in adults. This article describes the relationship between perfumes and allergies, which fragrances are the ones that are most likely to cause an allergic response, and what you can do to avoid perfume allergy.

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    Perfumes and Allergies: What Causes Perfume Allergy and What Are the Symptoms?

    Each particular perfume product contains one or more of the thousands of fragrances that have ever been isolated naturally or synthetically developed. Examples of perfume products are eau de toilette, eau de parfum, eau de cologne, aftershave, shaving cream, underarm deodorant, bar soap, liquid soap, and hand cream, among others. The fragrances in these products contact the skin -- sometimes for long periods of time -- and give each perfume its own distinct smell that, for some of these products, is typically enhanced as the perfume wearer perspires. Unfortunately, about 100 or so fragrances are known to serve as allergens to certain individuals, which means that they are capable of invoking a problematic immune response in those individuals. One particularly commonly used fragrance that is known to be an allergen is Balsam of Peru (which is naturally derived from tree resin and is otherwise known as myroxylon pereirae).

    Other fragrances known to be allergenic and commonly added to a wide range of perfume products include, but are not limited to:

    • Benzyl alcohol
    • Citral
    • Benzyl benzoate
    • Eugenol (spicy odor)
    • Isoeugenol
    • Farnesol
    • Coumarin
    • Geraniol (rose odor)
    • Cinnamic alcohol (hyacinth odor)
    • Cinnamal
    • Cinnamic aldehyde (spicy odor similar to cinnamon)
    • Alpha amyl cinnamic alcohol (intense jasmine odor)
    • Hexyl cinnamal
    • Hydroxycitronellal (sweet odor; Lilly of the Valley)
    • Citronellol
    • Anise alcohol
    • Oak moss substitute (has a musky, masculine odor, and is isolated from tree lichen)

    When an immune response is invoked in a person, the person usually develops the skin condition eczema, which is a disorder that causes itchy rashes, dry skin, redness, and blisters. These eczema symptoms are usually localized to the area of the skin that the allergenic fragrance contacts (for example, the armpits when the allergenic fragrance is in an underarm deodorant product). However, it is important to note that in some cases, eczema symptoms may appear in areas of the skin that are removed from where the offending fragrance was applied.

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    How Are Perfume Allergies Diagnosed and How Can They Be Avoided?

    Perfume (fragrance) allergies are usually diagnosed by using a patch test, which is sometimes known also as a plaster test. In this test, Balsam of Peru and eight other fragrances, which are namely cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic aldehyde, eugenol, isoeugenol, geraniol, alpha amyl cinnamic alcohol, hydroxycitronellal, and oak moss substitute, are applied alone and in combination to various regions of a suspected fragrance allergy sufferer's skin for a short period of time. The dermatologistt who is administering the test will then look for indications of allergy, such as redness or rash, for example, in each area that these fragrances were applied. As a result of this analysis, the dermatologist can identify exactly which fragrance or fragrances are allergenic to the person being tested.

    If you are allergic to a particular fragrance, the best way to avoid an allergic response is simply to avoid all perfume products that contain that fragrance. This may be easier said than done, however, because fragrances are sometimes added in trace amounts to some perfume products and therefore are not mentioned in the list of product ingredients. Therefore, the most effective course is simply to avoid using all perfume products.

    If you absolutely cannot go without using a particular spray perfume or cologne, you may wish to apply it only to the outside of your clothing to reduce or prevent contact between the perfume or cologne and the skin. This application technique is rather effective for avoiding allergic symptoms.

    Of course, if you develop eczema symptoms while using a product, you should cease using the product. If the symptoms still persist, it is recommended that contact your dermatologist.

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    References

    National Allergy Research Centre (Denmark), Perfume Allergy: http://www.allergyresearchcentre.com/Perfume%20allergy-1251.aspx

    ScienceDaily, Even Perfumes May Cause Allergies: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090203110549.htm

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