Aroma Therapy: Natural and Synthetic Perfume Suggestions for Rachel

Says Rachel: "I just don't know much about perfume and I'm really at a loss. I think I've become allergic to synthetic fragrances. I didn't wear perfume for a year while I was nursing my son, and now whenever I try to wear one of my old favorites or try a new scent at the mall, I get a big headache and can't wait to take a shower and get it off of me. So, I guess I'm looking for a fragrance that uses natural scents. I'm not that into heavy florals, although I do like more herbal florals like lavender. I'd like something that smells fresh, clean, maybe a little green or citrusy, and nothing too sugary. A hint of musk would be OK. Perfumes I have enjoyed in the past have been Gap Heaven (in High School) Emporio Armani White, Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue, and Nanette Lepore Lovebird, although those all make me feel sick now. I'm willing to spend up to $100."

Hi, Rachel, it's Marian. The first thing I feel I should say is that if you think you've really developed an allergy, the best thing you could do would be to make an appointment with an allergist. I'm not a chemist or a medical professional, and I certainly don't want to make you sick. If I had to guess, though, your sensitivity has more to do with being a new mom (you'd be far from the first to report being unable to enjoy old favorite scents, thanks to an enhanced-not-always-in-a-fun-way sense of smell) and with your avoidance of fragrance for the past year. And I'm leery of steering you towards naturals, because they're chemically MORE complex than synthetics, not less, meaning you'd have a much bigger ingredient list to to have potential problems with. And for that matter, natural musk is animal-derived and is no longer in use, so anything that contains musky (or "white musk" soapy/clean) notes is going to contain synthetics. It just is. So if we stick with the original goal of Stuff That Will Not Give You A Headache, here are a few things I'd try. They're all in relatively wide distribution, so you should be able to give them a whiff at a store in your area rather than ordering and hoping for the best.

One option that IS all-natural is 1) Demeter Naturals Lavender ($29 for 1.7 ounces). It's just what it sounds like: a naturally-derived lavender-and-that's-it-fragrance. It might not be conspicuously "fresh", since that's another olfactory facet that's usually generated by synthetic compounds, but lavender by itself is a clean scent and one that you've said you enjoy. Gentle, if not 100% natural, options like 2) philosophy's eternal grace ($40 for 2 ounces, containing citrus, musk, and lavender notes) and 3) Malibu Lemon Blossom from Pacifica ($22 for 1 ounce) could be good too.

Since you liked Heaven (me too), and that's mostly jasmine, I thought you might also want to try another take on the flower. While Heaven is sort of a neon/cartoon/Care Bear jasmine with a slight blueberry edge, the old (pink packaging) 4) Fleurs d'Orlane ($21 for 3.4 ounces) is a much more shadowy, greener, jasmine bouquet - but still without the jasmine mankiness that could send you running for the hills. And lastly, if you were sitting in my house, I'd pull out my bottle of 5) Escada ($64 for 2.5 ounces) to see if you liked it. It's a pretty and very well-behaved mixed white floral with touches of orange and cucumber, and it's not terribly strong. (Which can bug me when I want to wear it and it's cool out, but it might be perfect for your needs.) And if you hear "Escada" and think "fruit bomb", don't worry. Not this one.

And if none of these work, let me know. I'm determined to help!


Rachel H.

Posted on 02.24.11 at 2:02 PM

Thanks so very much, Marian! I can't wait to try these.


Posted on 02.24.11 at 2:21 PM

Just an idea, it might be the perfumer's alcohol in the scents that is giving you a headache. I know it gives me a one! I've gotten really into perfume oils, which you apply directly to the skin so there's no alcohol spray to breathe in. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is my favorite, CB I Hate Perfume is another wonderful line!

pamela daley

Posted on 02.24.11 at 6:43 PM

Excellent response, Marian! Clear, informative and (a plus) well written - like most everything here on OB!

I second Black Phoenix and also (I have the same issues with perfume after having a hysterectomy of all things!) but love 4711 - which doesn't 'turn' on me or give me a headache like so many others (ah Chloe how I miss you).


Posted on 02.25.11 at 7:16 AM

My favorite oil is Ambre Oil ( All three scents are great, my fav is the original Ambre Essence. I get tons of compliments and love that it's made in Indiana!

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