If you have a sensitive nose, you know that you have to be careful when it comes to perfume. A strong scent could be too much for you, and no, that’s not just you being dramatic.
"Living with a sensitive nose can be difficult because strong scents can cause headaches, migraines, or even nausea,” says beauty and fragrance influencer Funmi Monet Olorunissomo. "A variety of smells ranging from spicy food to strong perfumes can trigger a physical response or irritate your nose.”
Despite this, you don’t have to give up hope on finding your own signature scent—you just have to be strategic. We caught up with Olorunissomo and Bee Shapiro, a beauty columnist for The New York Times and the founder of Ellis Brooklyn, a clean and sustainable fragrance company, for the lowdown on how to shop for fragrances when you’re more sensitive to strong scents.
What should people with sensitive noses look for before shopping for perfume?
There are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a fragrance that won’t bother your nose.
Opt for skin scents. When choosing a fragrance, look for something with low sillage, Shapiro recommends. "Scents with major sillage, which is the trail of fragrance you leave in your wake, are going to bring about more headaches just because the scent is bold and very present,” she says.
When in doubt, go for an eau de toilette. Many perfumes come in either eau de toilette formulas or eau de parfum formulas. If you’re on the sensitive side, Olorunissomo recommends an eau de toilette formula. "Typically, [an] eau de toilette formula has a lower concentration of fragrance oil,” she says. "An eau de parfum can have anywhere from 15% to 20% concentration of fragrance oil, while eau de toilette has a lower range of 10% to 15%.” An eau de toilette might be the same as an eau de parfum by the same name, just with a lower fragrance intensity.
Don’t choose complex scents. Olorunissomo says it's best to go for more linear scents that don’t develop on your skin over time.
Choose a different formula. Instead of a traditional perfume, consider a body lotion or oil, which will develop closer to your skin, says Olorunissomo.
Are there any fragrance notes to look for or any to avoid?
Tread carefully with patchouli, vetiver, oakmoss, white florals, agarwood, incense, black pepper, cumin, and leather.
Shapiro emphasizes that when it comes to choosing a fragrance, it’s all about balance—so just because a fragrance contains one of these scents, that doesn’t mean you should immediately write it off.
Keep reading for Olorunissomo’s and Shapiro’s recommendations for fragrances for sensitive noses, as well as some of our favorite picks that fit the bill.
The best perfumes for sensitive noses:
Key fragrance notes: ambrette seeds, jasmine petals, musk
"Skin scents, like our Myth Eau de Parfum, which is a beautifully balanced white musk, don't have a ton of projection but linger for many hours," says Shapiro.
Key fragrance notes: pink pepper, ambrette seed, ambrox, iris
Glossier's You is like if you bottled a warm hug. It's light, slightly woody, and slightly floral but not overpowering or cloying in any way. It works with your body chemistry to create a soft, personal scent.
Key fragrance notes: ambroxan, jasmine petals, musk, moss, woody ambery notes
This perfume has a soft sillage, making it perfect for those who are sensitive to strong scents but want a perfume that reminds them of curling up in a library.
Key fragrance notes: cardamom, iris, jasmine, cotton peony, tonka beans
"This is a light, fresh, slightly sweet woodsy scent," says Olorunissomo. "It’s unisex and great to wear year-round."
Key fragrance notes: fresh musk, copabia oil, salted praline
Subtle and with a low sillage, this cozy perfume is perfect to spritz on in the cooler months. Olorunissomo describes it as a "subtle pleasant scent that smells slightly sweet, salty, and milky."
Key fragrance notes: damask rose, centifolia rose, litchi, ambroxan
Who said rose fragrances can't feel new and fresh? Olorunissomo says this perfume "is a light, fun, and playful rose with some citrus and green notes. It smells natural and fresh without feeling overpowering."
Key fragrance note: amber
Since this is an oil instead of a perfume, this scent will automatically wear closer to your skin. This oil "is a light and inoffensive fluffy woodsy scent that can be worn year-round," says Olorunissomo. "It smells effortless, warm, and cozy." It's also unisex.
Other perfumes for sensitive noses:
Key fragrance note: cetalox (synthetic ambergis)
It may have a single fragrance note, but this is anything but a one-note perfume. Designed for people who prefer "discretion over complexity," it's light and woodsy.
Key fragrance notes: sandalwood, juniper berry, green floral, patchouli
Dedcool fragrances are sustainable while still being luxe. This one mixes sandalwood and juniper berry for a clean, neutral scent.
Key fragrance notes: raspberry, wild rose, plum
If you're a fan of fruitier fragrances but don't want them to smell too cloying, this is the scent for you. It's light and crisp.
Key fragrance notes: vanilla milkshake accord, maraschino cherry, pink lemonade, grass clippings, waffle cone
Inspired by '90s Riot Grrrl culture and punk rock, this ultra-wearable fragrance is perfect for anyone who's ever sported heavy eyeliner or made a zine.
Key fragrance notes: grasse rose absolue, Italian mandarin, white musk accord
Rosy and fresh, this is the perfect sparkling rose perfume to add to your collection.
Key fragrance notes: sandalwood, cedar, cypress, myrtle
If you love deep, woodsy scents, this will be your new favorite perfume. Inspired by the scent of sandalwood being burned in temples in the Indochine forests, it's unique, velvety, and smooth.
Key fragrance notes: vanilla, lime, amber
For the gourmand fragrance lover who doesn't want to be overpowered, consider this vanilla-forward scent. It's brightened by lime and amber, so it doesn't get too heady.
Key fragrance notes: bergamot, lavender, coriander
According to Olorunissomo, lavender scents are "great for helping to decrease inflammation during allergy season." This scent is feminine and floral while still being soft.
Still looking for your signature scent? Check out When I Wear This Woodsy Fragrance Note, People Stop Me in the Subway.
Katie Berohn is the associate beauty editor at Who What Wear. Previously, she worked as the beauty assistant for Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and Prevention magazines, all part of the Hearst Lifestyle Group. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a major in journalism and minor in technology, arts, and media, and earned her master's degree at NYU's graduate program for magazine journalism. In addition, Katie has held editorial internships at Denver Life magazine, Yoga Journal, and Cosmopolitan; a digital editorial internship at New York magazine's The Cut; a social good fellowship at Mashable; and a freelance role at HelloGiggles. When she's not obsessing over the latest skincare launch or continuing her journey to smell every perfume on the planet, Katie can be found taking a hot yoga class, trying everything on the menu at New York's newest restaurant, or hanging out at a trendy wine bar with her friends.