Perfume for When You’re Feeling Under the Weather


It happens to most of us at least once a year: we struggle through the sore throat and lethargy of a cold; allergies tickle our throats and clog our sinuses; or we’re completely laid up with a virus. These past few days for me, it’s been the flu. I feel achy and sluggish, but I still want the comfort of a little bit of fragrance. What perfume is best when you’re feeling under the weather?

Obviously, if you’re nauseated no scent is safe. When I’m feeling queasy, my nose goes into overdrive, and even the faint whiff of someone on the street can make my gorge rise. Simply hearing the words “amber” or “powder” turns my stomach. (On a related note, why does Tums even make a tropical fruit flavor? When I need an antacid, the last thing I want is some kind of faux mango in my mouth. Give me the pure chalk, please.)

If your malady is more in your chest and head, perfume will probably sit better with you than if you have intestinal issues. Sure, your nose is clogged and you feel like someone crammed a futon in your skull, but that’s no reason to completely let yourself go. Put those pilled yoga pants and stretched-out tee shirts in the laundry, and use your illness as an excuse to take out your dressing gowns and pretty nightclothes (even if you have to wear doubled-up tube socks to keep your feet warm). A few drops of pine or lavender-scented bath oil in the tub — nothing too sweet — might be all the fragrance you need. Somehow resinous smells harken back to Vicks Vaporub and feel both refreshing and medicinal. (Plus, the hot water of a bath is great for warming your hands and feet and for easing body aches.) 

If you have the energy or someone to give you a hand, change your sheets after a fevered night so you don’t have last night’s shivery perspiration polluting tonight’s sleep. When the bed is stripped, try a few spritzes of a dry cologne on the mattress. I’ve been loving the tart lime in Guerlain Eau Impériale on my pillows. Watch out for those perfumes that start out crisp and cool but heat up as they dry down, like Frédéric Malle Angéliques sous la Pluie. Any amber or sweet sandalwood might be too cloying for you right now.

Once you’re feeling well enough to comb your hair and ponder leaving the house, you might try easing back into your perfume wardrobe. But plunging straight into Bond No. 9 Chinatown or Mugler Angel could send you right back to bed. For me, florals don’t work until I’m completely well. Even an innocuous rose gags me when I’m still sick. Forget about the orientals, powder, or big chypres, too. Yves Saint Laurent Y is about as floral and chypre as I can handle, and that’s only because of its crisp, clean green edge. Keep anything fruity far away for now.

Soft lavenders, like Christian Dior Dune, or just a dab of a dry incense-wood fragrance, like one of the Comme des Garçons Monocle fragrances or L’Artisan Parfumeur Dzongka, sit well now. At this point, I can also start wearing Eaux de Colognes that have a little more warmth to them. Sweeter citrus, like Jean Patou Colony and Parfum d’Empire Azemour les Orangers, start to smell good about now, too.

Soon enough — certainly by the time you read this post — I’ll be on feet again, digging through vanilla-laden leathers and ambery orientals, looking for something to wear without a thought to being nauseated.

What do you do about fragrance when you’re feeling under the weather? Do you wear it all? If so, what smells good to you?

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  1. Merlin says:

    Oh no, sorry about the flu. I actually find scent to be very helpful when I have colds. In fact that is the only time I use my Lush solids, Ginger and Breath of God. Usually I don’t enjoy them that much but I especially like the Ginger when i am sick. I also like a little lavender essential oil on my pillow (diluted or under the pillow as the pure essence burns my face. I sometimes spritz some refreshing scents on my sheets, like a cologne or Tea Rose, but I try to limit this type of regular perfume as I’m worried about irritating my respiratory system even more.

    • Angela says:

      Ginger sounds great! There’s a store near me that sells “get well broth” that is loaded with ginger and chili and really clears out your respiratory system. Ginger tea sounds really good to me, too, right now.

      • Merlin says:

        Stick some honey in it too – and enjoy!

        • Angela says:

          That sounds perfect.

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      Seconding ginger-related scents and teas when I’m feeling sick. I practically lived off of ginger cookies for the 3 years I was on chemo drugs. Sometimes, it was literally the only food I could stomach.

      • Merlin says:

        Its funny, because when I’m not sick strong ginger can easily make me queasy!

        • Angela says:

          I don’t think ginger root would make me queasy, but a candied ginger might.

      • Angela says:

        It’s so strange how ginger is calming and settling to the stomach–and yet it’s such a pungent flavor and scent.

  2. Marjorie Rose says:

    Dune when you’re feeling under the weather?! That would be TOO MUCH for me!

    I think maybe I could do a squirt of L’eau d’Hiver or a similarly transparent, warm scent. But probably I’d just wait until I was better and then ease into something gently spicy, and comforting, like Jacomo #8.

    • Angela says:

      I thought I’d be able to handle some sheer florals, but no way. L’Eau d’Hiver might work, though.

  3. platinum14 says:

    Sorry to hear about your flu.
    Whenever I’m sick, I take out my bottle of Eucalyptus bath/shower gel that I keep for those tough days. The hot shower combined with the smell of eucalyptus helps to open up the sinuses ( I often get sinusitis) and allows me to breath and feel normal again… for a bit.
    Tea also plays a big part in the recovery. I like it strong and with a few chili flakes. Garlic tea (raw grated garlic in hot water or in hot chicken stock–no company on that day) also does wonder.
    I treat myself with slices of candied ginger. Ok… I do that even when I’m not sick, but that’s especially good whan I am sick.
    Vicks Vaporub and Chinese Tiger balm are my only fragrances.

    When I start to feel human again, VC&A’s Zanzibar (Ginger, vetiver, lemon) or Verbena (Durance de Provence) help me ease my way back into the world.
    Get well soon!

    • Angela says:

      I love the idea of garlic tea! I have some homemade chicken broth in the freezer and a head of garlic handy….

      Zanzibar sounds absolutely ideal. I need some Eucalyptus bath oil, too.

  4. Rappleyea says:

    Knock on wood, but I haven’t had a cold or flu in five years thanks to this:

    (no affiliation)

    But when I did, I never wore fragrance. I was too busy either inhaling a mix of essential oils in a bowl of steaming water (usually eucalyptus, atlas cedar, lavender, thyme, tea tree) or rubbing a mix of lavender, chamomile and tea tree essential oils over my sinus passages.

    I hope you’re feeling much better!

    • Angela says:

      I normally go years without even a cold, but this one knocked me right out.

      And is there anything baking soda won’t do? Honestly, between baking soda and fish oil, we should be able to cure anything.

    • Merlin says:

      Rappleyea, I didn’t try all the essential oils you once recommended – but I did get the lavender one to start…in fact, I just recently finished the bottle and am now onto my 2nd.

      i.e. it really works!

      • Merlin says:

        Perhaps its time to move onto the tea tree and chamomile…

        • Rappleyea says:

          Every home medicine cabinet needs a bottle of tea tree essential oil. It absolutely saved me from a brown recluse spider bite with no other treatment needed.

          • Angela says:

            I will definitely be stocking up on some. In fact, I’m surprised I don’t have a bottle already.

  5. Ikat says:

    Funny, this morning, I reached for Portico’s Eucalyptus Shower Gel, which I haven’t for ages. With the steamy warmth, it’s like being in a wonderful spa steam room and it feels like it opens my sinuses. I usually hoard this and only use it sparingly, but that eucalyptus really makes me feel good.

    • Angela says:

      I need some of that shower gel!

  6. happy888cat says:

    Get well soon! I just had a bad flu recently too. Even being a huge gourmand buff I find the tiniest bit of sweet/creamy notes to be a HUGE no-no. Nothing heavy either if headache is also at play (avoiding all sandalwoods and amber).
    I tend to go chypre.
    My feel better choices are: Profumo & Acqua Nobile Iris by Acqua di Parma.

    • Angela says:

      I sure do love Profumo, but I’m not sure I could do it when I’m sick. But I bet Acqua Nobile Iris would work for me!

  7. stinker_kit says:

    I hope you will be feeling better soon! I like lavender when I am under the weather. Caron pour Un Homme layered with Bodyshop Lavender and Chamomile lotion is what I find comforting.

    • Angela says:

      Caron Pour un Homme sounds perfect! I should check out the Bodyshop Lavender and Chamomile, too, and see if they have a bath oil.

  8. Kelly Red says:

    Boy did that photo take me back to my childhood! My mom rubbed Vick’s on our chests and then covered it with a tea towel so it wouldn’t get on our pajamas. She also used a vaporizer that had a little tray she would fill with Vick’s and hot steam flowed over it. The Vick’s would melt and scent the air. The memory of the smell takes me back to my room, bundled in bed, listening to the radio on low. I actually haven’t smelled Vick’s in ages.

    • Angela says:

      My mom had one of those vaporizers, too, that she loaded up with Vicks. Have they gone out of fashion now? They must have. I haven’t seen one for years.

    • nozknoz says:

      I haven’t smelled it in decades, either – I should really get some!

  9. Ericgmd says:

    Hi Angela,
    This year the “Megadose Vitamin C Gods” have evidently been watching over me and I have not gotten it (yet!)
    I do hope you feel better quickly and thank you for the nice article.
    The Vicks Vaporub picture you posted reminded me immediately of L’Eau Bleue d’Issey Pour Homme for some reason. It does have the balmy mint-sage note. I’m going to make it my “cold and flu” scent from now on.
    I hope that I don’t use it anytime soon :-)

    • Angela says:

      It is a true perfumisto who has a cold and flu scent!

  10. Oakland Fresca says:

    Crisp, clean sheets are a must if I am feeling cold and achy…Cristalle is a good clean fragrance for those times…

    I hope you feel better soon!

    • Angela says:

      Cristalle would be a good one–sort of along the lines of Y, but even crisper, I think.

  11. Nightingale says:

    I woke up this morning with a sore throat and body aches. After getting kids to school I crawled back in bed. My bathrobe smells of Bond No. 9 West Side – which I absolutely love, but just the lingering scent on my bathrobe was too much. After my nap, feeling much better, I hesitatingly tested out a sample of Chanel No. 19 that I picked up over the weekend. Fortunately, I do love it and it’s making me very happy. I still feel crummy, but at least I smell divine!

    • Angela says:

      Isn’t it funny how anything with a hint of sweetness is nauseating when you’re sick? No. 19 sounds much better.

      I hope your sore throat and body aches pass quickly!

  12. Merlin says:

    Interesting how when one is sick one goes for crisp or aromatic scents. Comforting scents are usually thought of as creamy, woody or vanilla – all notes that are off-putting when there are germs around. Its as though these all suddenly feel like germ-breeding grounds and one can only stand clean or slightly anti-septic smells.

    • Angela says:

      It really is interesting. Kind of counterintuitive, but true.

  13. hajusuuri says:

    You might as well confiscate my perfumista card. Scent / perfume is the last thing I think about when I am sick (no matter which body part is sick) and…I also never spray my sheets because I need a break from scents no matter how good they smell.

    I hope you are feeling better!

    • Nightingale says:

      Ditto…I hope all under the weather are feeling better soon!

    • Angela says:

      I’d never take away your perfumista card! And I do understand wanting a break from scent (although I do love a touch of cologne on my mattress).

  14. annemarie says:

    Unfortunately, if get a cold or the flu I become so congested my sense of smell is *completely* gone for days or weeks, and nothing works to fix it except time and antibiotics, if applicable. No decongestants have any effect – not Vicks, not eucalyptus, no sinus drug or any decongestant drug of any sort. Nothin’. Just natural healing. So there is no perfume that can be any sort of comfort. This makes me very sad because perfume is my main form of comfort. :(

    I keep a jar of Vicks by my bed and each morning I reach for it not to use it, but to sniff the jar. If I can smell it *at all* it is a triumph – I’m on the mend!

    Hope you get well soon. Stay warm.

    • annemarie says:

      Adding: not even Wasabi peas can cut through my congestion. Ginger and chilli? Ha! If only it was that simple.

      • Angela says:

        Too bad! If wasabi won’t do it, nothing will.

    • Angela says:

      It sounds like you truly do get clogged! That must make sleeping difficult, too.

  15. nozknoz says:

    When I feel run down or unwell (such as when I was recovering from dental surgery), I’ll wear Via del Profumo Lake Flower, which was designed for a wellness center in the hills of Romagna. It’s described as “the anti-depressive perfume,” a consoling fragrance that “can help any woman in the particular moments of her life when strength and certainties abandon her and she finds herself to be again fragile like a small child.” It’s also intended for those in healing and care giving professions.

    The notes are given as ylang-ylang, rose, and helichrysium, but it smells like fresh ginger to my nose – an olfactory illusion, apparently.

    • Angela says:

      I’ll take several gallons of that right now, please….

      • justineantonia says:

        Oh me too, me too! Seriously , Nozknoz, where are stockist details of this magical elixir, please? Am in need of major league bolstering over here.

  16. juicejones says:

    2 suggestions:
    The Laundress Linen Spray. Soft lavender. Very pleasant.
    The second I found on the sale shelf at Walgreens. Watkins Camphor Relief Mist. 6-7 spritzes in the air turns your shower into a sauna. Good at getting rid of that sick room smell too. I bought all of them and give them to friends and coworkers who think they are great.
    I am hesitant to perfume myself when I am sick but my environment, yes.

    • Angela says:

      Oh, I love the sound of the camphor relief mist. I will definitely be hunting that down.

  17. yukiej says:

    I hope you feel better soon! I have found that lavender tea is very soothing to the throat, nose, and mood in my most recent bout with winter icks. I had problems with perfumes overwhelming me, but for some reason Bois Farine was perfectly comforting without threatening to become cloying. I am lucky in that I can still smell a little bit too, I guess! I was also surprised to find Olympic Orchids Seattle Chocolate worked out nicely despite being a much denser, blanket-y perfume.

    • Angela says:

      Lavender tea sounds really good, and I don’t think I’ve ever had it. Is it just steeped lavender buds? I should try it.

      The chocolate perfume sounds potentially overwhelming, though. But you say it isn’t, and I haven’t tried that one yet.

  18. Leony says:

    I hope you are feeling better today hun. I was not sure where to post my following comment because I am a confused newbie and need help from everyone. I think I posted in the “2013”. I just registered yesterday and love this site. Everyone is so knowledgeable. Please see what I call “my dilemma”. lol…
    Newbie here. I have a lot to learn about perfumes. My mission is to learn about all the different notes a perfume has. I can’t seem to find my signature fragrance. In the last couple of years I have bought perfumes that I get bored with. I want something that when a man passes by me, he will turn around and be knocked on his feet…lol… In the last month, i have been going to Nordstrom. The sales lady suggested Flowerbomb. I tried it and brought it back because it made me sick to my stomach. Last month I purchased Hanae Mori with body cream. I love the bottle and the butterfly. Although it is a beautiful fragrance you have to be very close to me to even smell it. I also bought the small Bvlgari Noi. Still debating if i like it. I have always been a Chanel lover, but got really tired of Coco Mademoiselle. I can’t go beyond $120.00. I have tried several samples from Nordstrom and just brought them to work and gave them out. I like to smell different than other women. Tired of all women around me smeling the same. Plus I am trying to attract a man…lol… I have been using Vanille Gourmande Eau Gourmande by Laura Mercier and my nephew loves it because I smell like a cake…lol… I do like the following notes: Bergamot, Vanilla, Sandalwood, Gardenia. I want something elegant and seductive perfume for women that will help make me irresistible. I think i am asking for too much…lol… Just tired of looking… Please help! You guys are so awesome:):) Leony;)

  19. Ayala says:

    Like some of the commenter above, I also find ginger especially appropriate when the cold/flu hits. That’s why I created Zangvil a few winters ago. Incidentally, I was under the weather yesterday, and thought it would be a great opportunity to apply some Youth Dew extrait. I was so wrong – even with my conservative application and semi-stuffed nose, it was too much (namely – too fecal for my under-the-weather mood) for at least 3 hours. Of course it softened and became glorious after so my love and appreciation for it haven’t been tarnished by the experience ;-) I think I will opt for Aromatics Elixir next time instead – it has that comforting, slightly medicinal aspect but not nearly as much indole.

    • Angela says:

      How amazing to be a perfumer and make the perfect ginger fragrance for when you have a cold! I’m writing Zangvil down right now…

  20. Celestia says:

    Having recently been dreadfully ill for the better part of two weeks, I must report that there was only one day that I did not wear perfume. Plagued by respiratory issues since childhood, you’d think that I couldn’t stand scent when sick. My bronchiole tubes sounded like pan pipes or a Wookie. When ill, I apply something extremely benign that disappears quickly, like an Escada summer edition.
    One summer I scrubbed and weeded too much and ended up with either carpal tunnel or tendonitis for eight months. Several doctors could never figure out what it was but I had to have my wedding rings resized due to the swelling in my fingers. Now the rings are too big! What really helped was a special glove worn at night AND eating sugared ginger slices. (I could do without the sugar.) They also help my GI tract problems!

    • Angela says:

      Ginger really is a miracle food. Plus, it’s so delicious! I’m glad it helped cure your swollen fingers. And I’m so sorry that you were ill for so long. Whatever it is that’s going around right now is awful.

  21. Celestia says:

    Thanks so much, Angela. I must correct my spelling: it should be bronchial (the adjective) tubes. Bronchioles are the noun form.

    • Angela says:

      You are much smarter about it than I!

  22. SI306090 says:

    I usually take a shot shower using Kiss My Face’s Cold and Flu shower gel. Eucalyptus and Menthol in a hot shower can clear up your sinuses almost magically.

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