Perfume for Pain

I swear to you that this is a real book.

I am an extremely even-keeled person who almost never experiences anxiety on a conscious level. Instead, I get a variety of delightful somatic symptoms: eczema, chest pain, back pain. (Before anyone gets worried, I have seen doctors for all of these issues! No medical causes for any of ’em.) I have become an unwilling master of choosing perfumes that will not worsen (and might even soothe) the pain. A disclaimer: all of this is 100% unscientific. I am not a medical professional. In fact, I am whatever the opposite of a medical professional is. I am a medical unprofessional. Perfume is not an appropriate substitute for medical care. It is, however, probably an improvement on self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or Gossip Girl marathons. Unless we’re talking seasons 1 and 2 only. Hey, remember that time when Serena had brain cells? Those were the days.

I know that it's difficult to tell from this outfit, but I am almost positive that Serena used to have at least two neurons.

Head Pain

If you have legit migraines, the internet informs me that you will probably want to go without fragrance altogether. Even if you’re dealing with merely a garden-variety headache, headaches are notorious for increasing one’s sensitivity to smells, so a light fragrance is in order here. Not necessarily a “fresh” or “clean” perfume, but simply something quiet. I usually go for the delicate violet scent of Guerlain Après l’Ondée, one of the Marc Jacobs Splashes (preferably Rain, Cucumber, or Gardenia), or the herbal vanilla of Atelier Cologne Vanille Insensee.

Back Pain

Back pain is really rough. It’s commonly associated with depression, although it’s hard to say whether the depression causes the back pain or you become depressed because your frigging back hurts all the time. Whether your back pain is simply physical or also has an emotional component, I find that warm, sweet, comforting perfumes are the most effective at helping me get through a day of bad back pain. These include the sophisticated caramel scent of Prada Candy, the soft, creamy Kenzo Amour Le Parfum (which is woodier than the original Kenzo Amour), or the delectable incensey vanilla Kate Walsh Boyfriend.


Eczema, a “common skin disorder that involves scaly and itchy rashes”, is probably the most frustrating condition a perfume lover could have. Perfumes contain a great deal of alcohol, which dries out the skin, exacerbating the eczema. There are a few ways to get around this issue. Solid perfumes, such as those sold by Lush or Crazylibellule and the Poppies, actually moisturize the skin. Some perfume brands offer alcohol-free or alcohol-minimal versions of their fragrances; for example, Chanel has bath oils in No. 5, Coco, and Coco Mademoiselle, and Tom Ford has an excellent Black Orchid Finishing Spray.

Do you ever use perfume to combat pain? Tell us how in the comments!

29 thoughts on “Perfume for Pain

  1. What on EARTH is that book?!?!

    This post is really interesting, there are definitely scents that can soothe you when you’re unwell. The MJ splashes are great, and I’m pleased to find someone else who loves Rain! I really like the idea of warm cosy scents for back pain, I hadn’t thought of that.

    If I’m unwell, it tends to because of a headache, which means that I avoid perfume entirely, I think the same applies to any horrid flu bugs that you may have picked up.

    1. I like the “COULD SHE HAVE BEEN BORN A LESBIAN???” part of the cover best.

      I can’t lie, I love Rain. I think it’s so pretty. Smells awful on my skin, so I like to just spray my sample on paper to experience it.

  2. I will announce again, to the astonishment of many, that lavender GIVES ME HEADACHES. Swear to God, it’s the lavender. My sister keeps trying to give me lavender e.o. (“But it’s lavender! It’s relaxing! It should make your headache go away!”) and I keep dodging her. The one time I actually had a real massage from a real masseuse at a real spa, I had to ask her not to use the lavender oil because it was like a spike to the brain, which is opposite the conventional wisdom re lavender.

    When I’m feeling generally icky, like when I think I’m on the verge of catching some cold or other, I like my vtg Emeraude or Mariella Burani – or Rose d’Ete, if it’s summer. Cosy powdery scents that aren’t too overwhelming.

    1. How funny! And how annoying, I’m sure most beauty products intended for relaxation include lavender. Do you like the smell at all?

      You say Emeraude, but I know that you mean Superworld Unknown 😉

      1. I’m sticking my tongue out at you for that insulting comment about Emeraude. Bleah.

        I don’t mind the smell. It’s not a favorite, but I don’t dislike it.

  3. Hm. The migraine issue’s an interesting one. I often wake up with one already going full-tilt, in which case I can’t apply fragrance at all until it subsides. But if a migraine develops late in the day after I’ve already applied fragrance, I can only hope that I’m wearing something subtle, soft & rice-puddingy — the equivalent of fluffy white cotton to pack my cranium in — and nothing even remotely floral. Safran Troublant works well, and ever since JoanElaine introduced me to it, Yves Rocher’s Cedre Bleu.

    White flowers like tuberose or gardenia murder me during a migraine, as does mint. A well-meaning friend gave me a Bath & Body Works peppermint/geranium oil “headache relief” roll-on that makes me SCREAM with pain. I can’t explain it. It cuts like a white hot knife!

    1. I read and cringed along with your recent post on migraines, you poor thing. I love Safran Troublant and agree that it is very soothing. That B&BW roll-on sounds HELLISH. I have no idea why those two notes would be considered relief-inducing, they’re both supposed to be stimulating!

  4. I enjoyed this post – especially the delightful and wholly credible concept of Ari as a “medical unprofessional”.. : – ) However, when I am any kind of unwell, perfume is the last thing on my mind. Same with all serious stress really. I just don’t give fragrance any thought. I suspect I am missing a therapeutic trick, though.

  5. Wow, never thought about this at all! Usually when I had a migraine I don’t do fragrances and that’s about it. But I will try to pay more attention now.

    PMS on the other hand… that I did notice and would love a perfume that would soothe my mood swings during that time.

  6. Hmmm…I’ll have to think about the whole perfume for pain idea. But – I must say…I think that the deterioration in Serena’s brain cells is directly proportionate to the amount of BOWS that she has been wearing recently in her hair. (Her wedding hairstyle being the worst!)

  7. When I have a headache, raspiratory or stomach problems, I prefer not to wear any perfume (those that I love – not to create a connection between not being well and my favorites; new ones – not to scew the result of the test). Sometimes I might apply Yves Rocher Vanille Noire – it’s pleasant and if I end up hating it I won’t be too sad.

    1. Ahhh yes, it’s important not to create unpleasant associations with favorite perfumes. I pretty much always have a headache or chest pain, but I NEVER wear perfume when nauseous. I hate nausea. 4 or 5 years ago, I was eating pineapple right before I became very sick and started throwing up. I still don’t like eating it, to this day!

  8. Ari, this is a great post!

    I have fibromyalgia, so I understand pain well. Personally, if I skipped fragrance when I was in pain, I’d never wear it.

    My migraines happen during the day, usually, when I already have fragrance on. I just have to hope for the best. As for back pain and any other non-headache pain, I go with whatever strikes my mood. If I’m feeling nasty and body-achy and just unwell, I like incense, lavender, soft-not-sweet vanillas (any Guerlain drydown suits here), ambers.

    Great post. 🙂

    1. Jen, I hadn’t heard of fibromyalgia before, it sounds terrible. I am so sorry that you have to deal with it. Guerlain dry downs sound like the absolute best method of dealing with pain. I will have to try L’Heure Bleue the next time my back hurts.

  9. I think I tend to avoid perfume when I’m sick or in pain. Maybe mostly because I’m dragging in the morning and my perfume ritual gets shelved.

    I DO self-medicate with Gossip Girl. I actually stopped watching midway through the third season when my life spun out of control for a year or two. I am thinking of watching the third season over again and trying to catch up with the show… will this cause brain damage?? phooey.

    1. I REALLY cannot say strongly enough how much I do not recommend the third, fourth, OR fifth seasons. I was a huge fan of the first two seasons, and even liked the book series. They must have brought in some new writers or something for season 3 onward, because something went terribly wrong with that show.

  10. Ari, you are such a delight to read, always!
    Being a medical professional myself (but novice perfumista) I wholeheartedly appreciate your medical take on fragrance. The next time I have a perfume loving patient, I will be able to pass along your advice, be it founded or not, I am sure it will bring a smile to their face!!

  11. Oh wow, I like that question at the top. lol I think she was born a lesbian. That seems like some sort of 60’s or 70’s erotica. I do use perfumes to change my mood or as aromatherapy. Right now I’m all about some soft florals. I think it’s due to watching Downton Abbey and wishing for spring to come.

  12. OMG I’m afraid we’re the same Ari!! (except for the eczema)

    Do you have small thorax constitution, just like me..?
    Well, the fact… is sadly I’m very used to neck pain -cervicalgia-, chest pain and back pain. This combo means regular ‘Dorsal pain’, a bit unfair for someone my age! (what’s next, when I’ll be on third age…? ).
    The back and neck pain started early, when I was 19/20, and like you I saw many doctors and specialities with the same result = No medical causes. The chest pain is a bit more recent, I get approximately for 7 years now, I believe it is a consequence of the others, and some doctors associates to bad breathing habits and just a bit of Ashtma (just Asthma-like, but more on ‘breathing insufficiency’ somewhat… I’ve never had an Ashtma attack in my life).
    The chest pain grows depending on what I’m doing throughout the day (I can’t play racket sports so much, I shouldn’t attempt too heavy carrying/lifting things…). Sedentarism is BAD, but too much exercise can be even WORST.
    I usually get these pains 40% of the time. Sometimes all together, sometimes not. It is more prominent during Cold &Humid seasons. Then, in summer it’s only about 10% of the time. I LOVE summertime, I feel FLEX! 🙂

    I have my own theories, I guess it is due to laxity of my musculature, and a total bad posture habits…. I don’t take correcting them so seriously. Being in front of computer more than ‘x’ time without frequent breaks is an absolute BAD HABIT. Even when I’m in the best seat you can imagine in the best posture I can adopt… Even then, it’s my enemy! (cervicalgiaaaa!!)

    … I take note of your reccomendations! All suggestions are wellcome!

    *That suggestion —> Après l’Ondée for head pain… It makes absolutely sense!!!!!!!!!! ABSOLUTELY!
    This clean, calming fragrance has the most therapeutic effect I possibly ever seen in a perfume. … it soothes anxiety and tiredness, or even when you’re thirsty!!! It washes away a stressful emotional/working day…. it provides coolness in the heat of summer, leaving you feeling refreshed…. A REAL All Terrain Scent…..!!! love it, love it!

    1. You poor thing!!! No, I don’t believe I have any thorax issues, but yours sound absolutely unpleasant. I am so sorry that you are experiencing this kind of pain and hope that you get some kind of relief soon. What is it about the summertime that helps, do you think? Maybe this is an excuse for you to move somewhere warm and tropical!

      1. No worries. I’m used to that little discomforting issues. They are quite balanced, they tend to come and go all the time, like somewhat rheumatic, so it’s not always the case. I just would call them ‘Unpleasant Pain’ at the end of certain stressful days.
        Even then, I really have no conscience till late in the evening. I mean is not a severe pain. Most of the time it’s more of a dull annoyance.
        As the weather gets better I’m much more relieved! but I have an inkling it might be more due to Humidity than to Cold… so I guess tropical weather wouln’t be ideal, either. 😦

        Anyway, it comes to me more by feel than by way of knowing.

  13. Terry O’Brien of Back Trouble UK says “While 80 percent of the population are likely to experience low back pain at some stage in their life, there is a worrying trend in the amount of back pain experienced by teenagers. Yes, stomach flu can cause leg pain due to dehydration. This is because your body is designed for movement, so if you do not move after a few minutes; then you will start to feeling uncomfortable in some parts of your body.

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