I keep a tightly edited list when it comes to beauty products because of my sensitive skin and lack of storage space (New York City apartment problems). I've used the same eyebrow pencil — Anastasia Beverly Hills in Ebony — since college, when I first discovered what an eyebrow pencil was. I buy the same rose toner from Mamonde every month, and I always use a lip balm from start to finish unless I lose it. When it comes to fragrances then, I'm even more meticulous because only a handful of perfumes do not give me a headache.
To backtrack a bit, my introduction into the perfume world started in middle school with mists. In 8th grade, my clothes were enveloped in the cucumber melon scent from Bath & Body Works, followed by Victoria Secret's signature Bombshell Body Mist — a potent syrupy scent housed in a bright pink bottle — when I entered high school. In using it, I felt a closeness to Gisele Bündchen and all the other Angels who graced the ads during that time period. Mists, which are less concentrated with fragrance oils compared to perfumes sat well with my teenage self until one day, right before college, I decided to invest in an "adult" scent.
That's how I came upon DKNY's Be Delicious perfume at Costco (don't ask me why it was sold there) during a food haul with my mother. I had kept a scent strip of Be Delicious from a magazine tear out in my drawer and it never gave me adverse reactions, so I decided to invest in the full bottle. I've always been drawn to crisp, refreshing scents that have a fruity note with some warmth to them (as you'll see below) and noticed perfumes that fell into this category never made me dizzy no matter how much I over spritzed. Such was the case with the mists, Be Delicious, and then Marc Jacobs Honey, which I used religiously from junior year of college to the first few years of my early 20s. I could spray on 10 pumps of it, which I did during my party days, and not feel overwhelmed by the saccharine scent or worry that it would negatively affect other people's olfactory senses.
I was serially monogamous with perfumes — when I found one I liked, and it didn't make me nauseous, I stuck with it until either the product was discontinued (RIP Marc Jacobs Honey) or someone else gifted me a different scent. (I wasn't too fond of fragrance aisles at big department stores because of my sensitive nose.) When I officially ran out of Honey a few years ago, I tepidly ventured down those same aisles I avoided to test out new scents, always one or two at a time. Then, I would beeline it out of there when I felt myself getting lightheaded by the medley of smells.
I also sourced my friends for perfume recommendations and one brand, Jo Malone, kept popping up in the discussion. I took home sample strips of a few different scents and one of my friends, who knew I was veering towards the Poppy & Barley cologne, gifted it to me last year for my birthday (right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit) and it hasn't left my shelf since.
In a way, I'm grateful to have been forced to say goodbye to Honey as this opened me up to the wonderful world of perfumes from other luxury houses and emerging brands. Through trial and error, plus multiple trips to Sephora for research (the perfume aisle still makes me dizzy if I spend too much time in there), I've come across many scents that have surprisingly pleased my senses.
Carina Chaz of Dedcool, a unisex vegan fragrance brand, shared some insights into why certain scents don't register well with individuals. "When non-safe synthetics come into play, it can be that 'overwhelming fragrance experience' due to the harmful ingredients such as phthalates and animal byproducts," she tells TZR. "Typically, these 'headache-causing scents' are watered down and contain toxic ingredients like BHT, a chemical preservative. When there are chemicals in the mix, it can disrupt your hormones, damage your skin, or harm your body and the environment." To summarize, check the ingredients in all beauty products, particularly in perfume purchases, if, like me, you have sensitive skin or an extra sensitive nose. Everyone reacts to scents differently.
Currently, my go-to fragrance is the Poppy & Barley cologne — I will use it until the last drop is gone — but there are a few other perfumes that have made it into my headache-free rotation. For those seeking to find your own signature scent that does give you a pounding migraine, scroll through some of my picks ahead.
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