“We have two trigeminal nerves on either side of the forehead, which link to the eyes, nose and mouth and certain scents can activate this nerve,” explains Sonia Garçon-Pichon, practitioner in olfactory therapy at Edeniste. “All humans have olfactive receptors, but our sensitivities can vary from person to person,’ she continues. “Migraines can be triggered by intense, concentrated smells, which are linked to an individual’s sensitivity.” Unfortunately this means that there’s no easy to way to figure out which fragrances cause an individuals’ migraines specifically without actually smelling them first.
“There is not much definitive research around migraines and odour, but studies show that 25% to 50% of migraine sufferers have an increased sensitivity to odours during their headaches,” adds master perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek (who is a former migraine sufferer herself). “Your sinuses can be irritated by a single component of a smell that causes them to swell. Once swollen, the sinuses do not drain properly, and the resulting build-up of pressure can cause a headache,” she continues.
On top of this, Garçon-Pichon adds that hormones can also trigger migraines. “This is more common for women especially, as changing hormone levels can influence your olfactive perceptions,” she says. For me personally, I’ve definitely noticed that my migraines are more likely to occur in the week after my period, so it’s useful to know that this is also connected to scent as it means I can stick to my “safe” perfumes during this time and avoid experimenting with anything new.