Hyperpigmentation on your neck? It could be your fragrance

a black woman spraying perfume on her neck
Could perfume be causing your hyperpigmentation?Getty Images

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but if you’re experiencing hyperpigmentation on your neck (typically presenting as darker patches on Black and brown skin or sometimes red areas in fairer skin tones), you may need to rethink your fragrance habits.

“Spraying perfume directly onto your neck can be of the worst things you can do to your skin depending on its level of reactiveness, and yet it’s something many of us do every single morning without thinking,” says Skinsense founder Abi Cleeve. “I grew up watching my mum spray her perfume onto her neck and wrists, and although it looked very glamorous at the time, it’s responsible for some visible discolouration on each side of her neck now.”

But we’re not here to fearmonger or ban your carefully curated perfume wardrobe, you don’t need to bid them farewell altogether. There’s a way for your fragrance and even skin to coexist. Let's get into it.

How can fragrance cause hyperpigmentation?

So what is it in perfume that’s triggering this? Well, hyperpigmentation is a common response to any type of irritation to the skin. The most obvious culprit in fragrance is alcohol; “Perfume contains a high level of alcohol, and this can cause issues for sensitive skin such as contact dermatitis, redness, itchiness, and other reactions,” says Cleeve. Synthetic chemicals can play a part, but there are also some key offenders you might not suspect; “In many cases, natural extracts such as essential oils contain allergenic compounds which can be highly irritating,” notes Experimental Perfume Club Founder and nose, Emmanuelle Moeglin.

And beyond the possible irritation from the ingredients alone – which Moeglin says is rare – the main offender is the interaction with the sun's UV rays, which can really send the skin’s reaction into overdrive. Sun bums, put down the Fanta Límon and listen up: Many fragrance ingredients increase the skin’s photosensitivity, making the skin more reactive to sun exposure, and the neck is particularly susceptible as it’s already a thinner area of skin.

This irritation can then lead to hyperpigmentation, explains Skincare expert and founder of The Black Skin Directory, Dija Ayodele, as the melanocytes (melanin cells responsible for the pigment in our skin) begin to produce extra melanin in response to the irritation.

Should you stop wearing fragrance in the sun?

We all love a holiday perfume or a summer fragrance. It’s a core part of sunshine for so many of us. But across the board our experts advise against wearing fragrance on your skin when the sun’s shining; “Generally speaking, it is always better to not wear perfume when exposing yourself to the sun, no matter what your skin type,” says Moeglin. With Ayodele in agreement; “Don't spray fragrance directly onto fragile areas of skin which can then end up becoming irritated when exposed to UV and general environmental damage.”

But before panicking, the recommendation is not to apply it to your skin specifically…

happy, smiling and beautiful woman with an afro closed eyes closeup attractive and stylish young black female wearing makeup with good skin looking stunning enjoying the sun on a summer day
Delmaine Donson - Getty Images

Where to apply fragrance safely when in the sun

If you’re anything like us, actually sticking to not wearing fragrance when it’s sunny is a pretty miserable rule that we doubt we’d stick to. Thankfully that’s not the only answer.

“I think taking precautions and a compromise is always more effective in building habits we’ll stick to,” says Cleeve (Here, here!) “Spraying perfumes to clothes and hair might be a better choice when exposed to the sun, this will reduce the chance of damage and discolouration to those delicate neck and décolleté areas, whilst still being able to enjoy your fragrance.” The old ‘spray the air and walk through’ method is another alternative to your pulse points.

And that advice stands for any reaction to fragrance you may be experiencing. “If you have a specific sensitivity to fragrance on your skin, wearing it on your clothes, hair, or on a handkerchief in your pocket instead is a great way to enjoy your scent without reacting to it” suggests Moeglin. And what’s more glamorous than an oud-scented handkerchief?

How to prevent and treat hyperpigmentation

So you’ve stopped applying fragrance to your skin in the sunshine, but the most important step in preventing hyperpigmentation is applying high UVA and UVB sun protection. Every. Single. Day. That’s rain or shine, fragrance or no fragrance. While many of us have that locked into our daily skincare routine these days, it’s all too easy to not carry that down our necks and across our chests. But that skin is just as delicate and just as exposed to the sun as our faces. And if you are wearing fragrance? It’s even more vital.

Sunscreen is also essential for treating existing hyperpigmentation to stop it from worsening. And it’s important not to aggravate the skin any further, so turn to gentle cleansers and steer away from harsh actives if they cause irritation.

To treat hyperpigmentation, Ayodele says tyrosine inhibitors are a must: “These are things like Kojic acid when used cautiously, hydroquinone when used with doctors advice under prescription, retinoids are a great option. But also things like liquorice extract, alpha arbatin, rabatin, transamic acid; they all make great tyrosine inhibitors to help fade and prevent hyperpigmentation.”

And so it’s with a sign of relief that we’re prepped, informed and ready to continue smelling delicious all summer… safely.

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