Signs of Perfume Allergy vs Irritation of the Skin

Some people may be sensitive to the application of certain deodorants or perfumes. In such individuals, application of even a small amount of a particular deodorant or perfume may cause adverse reactions in the body. Typically it may cause a localized reaction on the skin where the substance was applied. This may present as a red rash on the skin, itching, burning, pain, abnormal dryness of the skin or even the formation of other lesions like pustules.

Perfume Irritation vs Perfume Allergy

An abnormal reaction of the body to perfumes can be of two types: irritation and allergy. People often confuse them with each other due to the similarity of the reactions. However, irritation and allergy are different phenomena.

Irritation is characterized by a local inflammatory reaction of the skin to a substance that it comes in contact with repeatedly over a long period of time. Such irritation-inducing substances are known as irritants. Many harmless substances can turn out to be irritants upon chronic exposure.

For example, certain metals present in jewelry or certain cloth material may cause skin irritation upon long term contact with the skin. Chronic exposure of the skin to an irritant damages the skin and causes local inflammation. Such irritation can occur in any person. However, the amount of exposure to an irritant that is capable of eliciting inflammation differs from person to person. Certain fragrances are capable of causing irritation in a person.

Read more on irritant contact dermatitis.

Unlike irritation, allergy occurs only in susceptible individuals. An allergic reaction is characterized by an abnormal immune response of the body towards a normally harmless substance. Allergy-inducing substances are technically referred to as allergens. Examples of some common allergens include pollen, dust, eggs, shrimps, and gluten.

Perfumes can also cause an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. A person who has immune hypersensitivity to one substance is likely to develop allergic reactions to multiple things. For example, people suffering from atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, or asthma during childhood have a higher likelihood of developing other allergies later on in life.

An allergic reaction is characterized by the formation of antibodies specific for the allergen. In case of perfume allergy, the allergens are usually some of the chemical components of the perfume or deodorant. First exposure to an allergen may not cause any adverse reaction. However, an allergic reaction may occur upon subsequent exposures to the same allergen.

An allergic reaction can be more widespread or systemic compared to local irritation caused by an irritant. A severe allergic reaction may even cause anaphylactic shock, which can be lethal within a very short period of time. The exact mechanism of development of allergies is not clearly understood. However, the genetic makeup of an individual plays a part in the development of allergies.

Signs of an Allergic Reaction to a Perfume

Due to the potentially serious manifestations of allergic reactions, it is beneficial to be able to identify some of the key signs of an allergic reaction. Please note that immediate medical attention is necessary if there are signs of an anaphylactic reaction such as difficulty breathing, changes in heart rate and dizziness. Depending on the severity, these reactions can be life-threatening without prompt medical attention.

Redness of the skin

One of the key signs of an inflammatory reaction is redness of the skin. Both irritation and allergy cause inflammation and redness of the skin. Exposure of the skin to an irritant or allergen in a perfume typically causes a localized inflammatory reaction that is characterized by increased blood flow to the affected area of the skin. This increased blood flow causes localized redness of the skin.

Apart from redness of the skin, a persistent use of the perfume may also lead to the formation of a skin rash in allergic individuals. The skin rash may initially appear as a raised and swollen skin area. Eventually, the affected skin area may become dry and rough. A localized allergic skin reaction caused by contact with an allergen is technically referred to as allergic contact dermatitis.

Itching and burning sensations

Contact with an allergen contained in a perfume can also cause itching and burning sensations at the site of contact on the skin. Itching may or may not be accompanied by redness of the skin or a skin rash. Often, itching of the skin is the first symptom that indicates an abnormal sensitivity to a certain perfume or deodorant. However, absence of itching does not rule out sensitivity to a perfume.

As the skin rash develops, itching becomes more severe. Scratching the skin to relieve the itch may further damage the skin. Apart from itching, contact with perfume may also elicit a burning sensation in the area of application. The skin may also become sensitive to touch.

Watery and burning eyes

The eyes may get exposed to perfumes and deodorants that are applied in the form of aerosol sprays. Even when the perfume or deodorant is not in the form of a spray, and is applied directly to the skin via physical contact, the volatile chemicals in the perfume may reach the eyes through vaporization. Exposure to the vapors of perfume may occur even when somebody else has applied the perfume. Irritation or allergy due to perfume vapors can result in burning or watery eyes. The eyes may also turn red due to inflammation.

Sneezing and runny nose

When the airborne chemicals from a perfume enter the nose, they may cause irritation of the nasal passages. Allergic reaction in the nasal mucosa is characterized by sneezing and runny nose. The nasal discharge in these cases is usually watery. Sneezing and watery nasal discharge are attempts by the body to get rid of the irritant or allergen from the nasal passages. These nasal reactions may occur even when one is not wearing the perfume but is in close proximity to someone else who has put on a perfume.

Darkening of the skin

Chronic irritation or allergic reaction may also cause darkening of the affected skin areas. This is usually seen on the skin of the armpits, where people apply deodorants and perfumes. Skin damage caused by scratching may also lead to a dark discoloration of the skin. The darkening of the skin may be reversible if the extent of damage is not extensive. However, in many cases, the darkening of the skin may be permanent. For this reason, it is advisable not to apply perfumes and deodorants directly on the skin.

Difficulty in breathing

Difficulty in breathing is a rare reaction to perfumes. However, it can occur in people who have respiratory allergies (such as asthma). When the airborne allergens from the perfume come in contact with the respiratory passages, an allergic reaction can cause swelling of the lining of the airways. This constricts the airways and causes difficulty in breathing. The voice may also become hoarse. Anaphylactic reaction, which is the most serious and potentially fatal allergic reaction, is rarely caused by a perfume allergy.

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