asking your office to ban fragrances in the workplace

A reader writes:

My daughter suffers from migraines related to most scents. Is there anything she can ask her employer to do about others wearing perfumes to work? When I was working it was understood that fragrances were not to be used, it was considered rude at the very least. 

There are offices that have implemented fragrance-free policies for reasons like this. I’ve always been curious about how they work — and how well — because so many things have fragrances other than perfume. Fragrances from laundry detergent, body lotion, hair products, and even soap can all linger, particularly if they’re strong to begin with. So I’m not sure one of these policies could ever be fully effective, although I’m sure they at least cut down on the problem.

That said, there’s wide variation in whether or not an employer will be open to trying a fragrance-free policy … to say nothing of the variation in how coworkers will respond to it. Some people think fragrance-sensitive people are overreacting and they should just deal with it (regardless of what the medical literature says). Some people take great offense to being told what personal products they can and can’t use. Others, of course, are more sympathetic … but your daughter should be prepared for a potential range of reactions.

There’s no reason she can’t ask, however. The key thing here, though, will be to stay away from framing other people’s scent choices as rude; she should frame it solely as a sensitivity issue on her side. If she starts arguing what others should or shouldn’t be doing, she’ll alienate people and come across as trying to control things that aren’t hers to control. If, however, she sticks to explaining the impact on her and suggesting some reasonable accommodations, she’s likely to get a better reception. And if she can stick to how it affects her, sometimes simply explaining the problem to other people is all it takes (and of course, other times it’s not.)

From a legal standpoint, how much she could push her office to take action probably comes down to how severely fragrances affect her. A federal court did rule earlier this year that an employee with asthma and chemical sensitivity to scented products could pursue an Americans with Disabilities Act claim against her employer for not accommodating her disability, but her reactions to fragrance were fairly severe (difficulty breathing, eventually resulting in emergency medical treatment). (And note the case hasn’t been decided at trial yet; she’s simply been cleared to proceed under the ADA.)

But your daughter probably doesn’t want to have to pursue this legally anyway and would rather her office just help her out on this. She might take a look at some of the resources out there on fragrance-free workplaces, like this one and this one, to help prepare her to talk to her employer.

What other advice do people have?

{ 180 comments… read them below }

  1. Foi*

    Scents (anything flowery or musky, specifically, so perfumes are especially bad) are migraine triggers for me – 10 minutes in an office with someone wearing perfume, and it’s migraine medication and bed for at least a day.

    I’ve had good experiences in 3 different offices with explaining the issue to my manager /supervisor and then speaking directly to the people who wear perfume. Phrasing it as a personal issue definitely helps (something along the lines of “perfumes are a migraine trigger for me, and I know you really enjoy them, but I can’t be in a room with perfume in it without needing to leave and medicate. I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t wear perfume to work when we have meetings.” has worked well.) Getting my manager in the loop was actually really helpful for situations where I couldn’t talk to the person directly (a client, say), where she was fine with me sitting at the other side of the room from the scent in question.

    A corporate policy seems like it would get a whole lot of lunchroom babbling and rejection, whereas speaking with people directly is much more likely to get them on your side. And, y’know, no one with empathy actually WANTS to cause pain, and leaving off the perfume is minor enough that people don’t tend to see it as a huge imposition.

    1. Carole Wharton*

      Yes, there is something you can and should do immediately.
      Have her get a TRUE Allergy Test by an allergist for fragrance mix, nickel, and potassium dichromate (the three environmental toxins that most people are allergic to.)
      Have the allergist write a letter stating that being exposed to these toxins may be disabling for you. If you find you are allergic to nickel, then make sure the allergist addresses the effect of the combination of fragrance and/or potassium dichromate with things contained in metal (including all aerosals) — It increases the toxic levels about 4,000 times, and stays in the body for 30+ years.

      Each exposure to an environmental toxin decreases your resistance for future exposures, so your daughter’s migraines and symptoms will increase throughout her life.

      I know. I am 53 and have not been able to work since I was 51 due to allergies to the environmental toxins mentioned above.

      Take action now.
      Carole Wharton

    2. kat*

      My first day at work I wore perfume. My supervisor told me it was a no scent environment. I stopped wearing any perfumes. 2 months later she’s transferred. Then a coworker approached me about changing my laundry detergent. I use Gain. & so do 5 other coworkers in our unit. However I am the only one asked to refrain from using it & to change my personal hygiene products, yes my deodorant, my shampoo & skin care products. Another coworker intentionally wore perfume 1 week after her probationary period was up nothing said to her. Another gal wears intensive hair care products…nothing said to her…yet another wears perfume all the time & not to mention the smokers the wreak (including my new sup). I’m reminded that I’m in my probationary period (1 year) & I can choose to move my desk…to the worst spot in the unit or? Yep lose my job…REALLY!!! YEAH I’m pissed. As I said I don’t wear perfumes or hairspray. I even shower at night so I don’t have a strong fresh shower scent . I’m in the field most everyday all day?….yeah I hear this lady does this to new staff. She’s a lonely bitter old lady. I tried being nice to her & her behavior is beyond ridiculous such as running past my cubicle and reaching docs to me as if I have the plague. She bullying me! I fear even if I use what “she” wants me to use (she’s left me “gifts”)…I can’t wait until I can leave a gift fir her. …a mask! Why not?

      1. Insidious_Sid*

        You are being bullied. If she’s your superior, then I would politely ask for the company’s written “fragrance” policy. If she’s not your supervisor, I’d go to YOUR supervisor and tell this person to pull on this hag’s choke chain and get her to back off. If the entire office is that idiotic, I’d start looking for a new job. It only takes one or two mentally ill tyrants to ruin an otherwise good place to work. Deal with it, or move but DO NOT tolerate it. You’re empowering this control freak bully to do just that. Bully you.

      2. Anonymous*

        This is ridiculous! I would complain to HR about the person making the accusations. Tell HR this person keeps hanging around you and sniffing your body an inappropriate manner, making an excuse that they can smell a fragrance. You can claim it’s a form of sexual harassment because they are invading your personal space and you want it to stop.

        I’m surprised no one has sprayed this persons office with cheap smelly cologne when she was not looking so she finally would have something to complain about. A spray with the scent of flatulence would be a good choice too.

      3. Deb*

        Gain is actually a huge trigger for me. It is quite a strong scent. I have no idea why you are the only one who was spoken to about it though. My employer has been a real advocate for me in the workplace and I think you have been very accommodating to go so far as to shower the night before! Wow! Kudos to you, really.

  2. BCW*

    I do also wonder how much is too much to ask. A strong perfume or cologne I can see. But what about after shave or deodorant? At that point I think it does become a bit much to ask someone to switch brands because of your own sensitivities.

    1. Samantha*

      I agree. I think people are generally understanding in these situations, but to a point. 99 employees shouldn’t have to go out and replace their shampoo, hair spray, soap, lotion, deodorant, etc. to make 1 person comfortable. If that person really has that severe an allergy, perhaps they need to look at alternate arrangements, like a private, secluded office or even working from home.

      1. DaveO*

        Samantha, the problem isn’t *comfort*, but incredible pain.

        I suffer from migraines. I was hit (accidentally) in the face with a snow shovel a while back. Given a choice, I’d rather be hit by the snow shovel.

        1. Anonymous*

          I understand your pain. Go ton allergist and get tested for fragrance allergies and nickel allergies. Get a letter from the allergist dating that your allergies may be disabling and that you need to avoid all fragrances. Bylas it with the human rights department. Get a disability attorney and file for disability, Social Security disability. Before you get the allergy test taken, get homeowners insurance policy for disability.
          Know that every exposure you have to fragrance, will make you more sensitive to them and make your headaches worse. Good luck to you.

          1. ko*

            I have scent allergies and have been to a doctor, but where I work I have been through hell trying to get them to take me seriously about my allergies. (Scent allergies is one of the hardest allergies to get people to take seriously as what they can’t see they don’t believe) I’ve even had someone stand on the other side of the short wall and spray over the wall to see if I’d react. I have had instances where my throat almost closed up and I had to go outside to get away from the scent. I get headaches, and sinus infections, I cough all the time, and still get challenged about it all the time. I would quit but I have been trying to find another job with no luck. Times are bad. I have complained and was told as long as they accommodated me reasonably there was nothing I could do about it. Imagine if this was you. All it takes is a little courtesy. Wear your scents after work. Please!

            1. Anonymous*

              Filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission can give you a measure of help. First get a letter from your allergist stating that you cannot be around fragrance mixes. Also get tested for nickel and potassium dichromate — other common things that cause allergy sensitivities. Nickel is particularly important, as it bumps up the effects of any other chemical by 3,00-4,000!

              You are correct in that an employee only needs to make “reasonable” accommodations. The Human Rights Commission can help to protect you for being discriminated against you due to your allergies.

              Before you get allergy tests, or at least prior to the allergist writing a letter, go get homeowners disability insurance. This is vital for your financial protection.

              If your work fires you, you could collect unemployment as long as you are healthy enough to find other employment. Else you could file for disability.

              The more exposures that you have to fragrances, the sicker you will get. Also it will take less time and potency of the allergen to aggravate your symptoms.

              The general population does not understand; but the federal government will eventually — when enough people have become disabled and are pulling for an already failing system.

              You are the only one that can stand up for your health. You are responsible for your own health. You may need to go to a few allergist before you find one that will provide you with the support that you need. . . . But the cost of not going is losing your health to the point of being homebound.

              One last thing, people with chemical sensitivities (which you have) are much more likely to have an AutoImmune Disease. Getting checked for this, and a few times over the span of a year. If it is positive, it will help support a disability case.

              Take action. Your health, lifestyle, finances, and even life is on the line. — Currently, you are literally poisoning your body.

              Good luck.

              1. KO*

                I have looked into disability and it isn’t enough to live on really. It is less than I make at work and I am on the lower end. Reasonable accommodation to them at my job, was seating me close to the door 10 feet away from the person wearing the scented product. I asked the person if they would please stop wearing it at work. The response was ‘No’. So I said (really not meant as a treat, just informational) that if I ended up in the hospital because of him being insensitive to my request that I might make him pay my hospital bills. He ran to management with the complaint that I threatened him and I almost got fired. My boss told me I couldn’t sue anyone for the hospital bills and that seating me close to the door was reasonable accommodations. I got so bad one day that I almost passed out because I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t talk or anything. It was all I could do to get myself outside to fresher air. I went home sick. It’s been a little better since then, but now I get people bringing stuff and asking me to smell it to see if I don’t have a reaction, then they’ll wear it. So far almost everything bothers me, and I hate getting sick just to see if it’s OK for them.

    2. ES*

      My parents complain about my deodorant all the time…it makes me laugh because usually I’m just as sensitive as they are, but dammit I’d rather have a deodorant that really works well for me than the alternative.

    3. Anonymous*

      I am sorry – is it really such a burden to switch your personal brand so you won´t make another person sick ?

      1. Colette*

        What if you also have allergies – not to scents, but to the other ingredients? Or if one brand works for you, but other brands don’t?

        Asking someone to not wear perfume is reasonable, IMO. Expecting someone to change brands of laundry soap/deodorant/soap is going too far.

        1. Anonymous*

          No not really because there is alot of fragrance and scents in all of those things!!!!

      2. Chinook*

        Sometimes, yes. The best hand lotion I ever found was a scented one. In the dry Canadian winter, when you are working with paper all day, this made all the difference between my hands cracking and a million paper cuts and them being normal. I was heart broken when Bath & Bodyworks discontinued the product, especially because their replacement product (which had no scent) did not work the same.

        I still ask the clerks if it is back. The ones from last year who used it when dealing with cardboard (because cardboard cuts are 10x worse than paper cuts) just shake their head in sympathy.

        1. Jamie*

          It took me years to find the perfect moisturizer. L’Oreal and has a very light scent – and I live in fear of them discontinuing this formula.

        2. Victoria*

          Try finding someone who makes lotions at home. I am a homemade soapmaker and what I make doesn’t have any chemicals or additives beyond herbal/natural and the lye to make the soap, which burns out in the process. There are those of us soapmakers who make natural lotions at home also.

      3. Samantha*

        I think everyone here has agreed with reasonable accommodation, like not wearing perfume to the office. The problem is that at some point, it becomes unreasonable to ask everyone else to make personal changes to accommodate the needs of one person. Personally, I would never demand that everyone in my office go out and replace all their personal hygiene items for my benefit.

      4. Jamie*

        Actually, I believe it can be a burden.

        The less expensive brands of hair care/personal products/laundry detergent don’t generally offer a scent free option. There are people for whom going from the generic brand of laundry detergent to Tide or Cheer would be a hardship – or from Suave shampoo and deodorant to the pricier brands.

        This could easily add up quickly – and as Colette mentions – people have their own reasons for choosing the brands they do.

        1. Anon*

          Yep. It’s taken me years to find a deoderant/antiperspirant option that is effective enough not to leave sweat rings.

        2. Elizabeth*

          “from Suave shampoo and deodorant to the pricier brands. ”

          Interesting. Suave is one of the ones we recommend as being unlikely to create issues for our employees to wear, since their fragrances tend to be much lighter and they tend to use actual botanicals, rather than synthetic replacements, which generally aren’t as aggravating to patients.

          1. Jamie*

            That is interesting! It was the first economical brand that came to mind, but I guess it’s a bad example.

            1. Anonymous*

              But, the example isn’t bad, because if the request is just, “don’t wear anything scented,” then the unscented options ARE from the more expensive brands usually, and Suave is probably not going to be mentioned as an option.
              The problem is that once you start saying, “X brand is ok” and it becomes enshrined in the policy, X brand may change its formulation, and then not actually work as a safe alternative.

        3. Natalie*

          Similarly, some very expensive hair products are only available in one scent formula, and thus not unscented. If I had to pitch my shampoo, conditioner, and the two styling products I use, I’d be out $100. I’d also be irritated as those are the best things I’ve found for managing my hair.

      5. Kou*

        It is for some people and isn’t for others. I’ve spent years tracking down the products that keep me from having horrible razor burn, it would indeed be a burden to have to find a new one– if a different effective product even exists.

      6. JT*

        ” is it really such a burden to switch your personal brand so you won´t make another person sick ?”

        Probably not if it’s asking to not wear cologne/perfume. But if it was about not wearing a particular anti-perspirant/deodorant, yes.

        1. Canadian mom*

          Sure, it could be very difficult if the person was trying to find a compatible antiperspirant him/herself.

          My late Dh faced this problem. He luckily did find one, but if he’d encountered a co-worker who complained? – I don’t know what he would have done.

          I’m not unsympathetic to the problem; a few years ago I had a co-worker who freely sprayed her cubicle-area with strawberry-scented air freshener. I’m not sensitive to all scents, but this one made my eyes water, and gave another co-worker headaches. We complained to HR and they did nothing…(“oh, it’s just a few sprays!..)

      7. BCW*

        It can be for a lot of the answers given. But again, not to be mean, but should 20 ppl really have to change because of 1 person?

        1. Anonymous*

          Yes. Unless you want your taxes to go up because more people and more people keep filing for disability because they’re allergic to fragrances. People file for disability and are awarded disability because they cannot be around fragrances.
          People who feel they are allergic to fragrances need to first get homeowners insurance for disability. Second get tested for fragrance allergies and nickel allergies. Third get an attorney and file disability.

          1. Long Time Admin*

            I use a light spray of my favorite cologne every day, but when my co-worker in an adjacent cubicle told me about her allergies, I stopped wearing it to work. In choir, we’re asked to not wear any scent, since we’re in such close proximity during the church services. *Not a problem for me.*

            That being said, eventually the person with the problem needs to accept that, instead of expecting 20 or more people to change, it’s *their own* problem. If they can’t be around the normal working environment, they need to make the adjustment, whether it’s more teleworking or changing their workstations.

            I’m not entirely unsympathetic, since I do also suffer from several allergies, some caused by specific scents. But, I don’t expect everyone else to change what they’re wearing because of my problem.

            1. Your Mileage May Vary*

              I have to ask — do you really think wearing perfume is part of the “normal working environment”? Unless you work at a place that develops, markets, or sells perfume, I can’t imagine that anyone is wearing it for work reasons. People wear it because they like it. Hence, they can stop wearing it if they are asked to.

              Personally, I like really bright hair colors. But I realize that my personal preference isn’t something that is supported at work. So I can get another job or I can wait until I retire to go purple. In the meantime, I can wear hair extensions in my off hours.

              1. Long Time Admin*

                Hi, YMMV. By “normal working environment”, I meant the normal smells in an office – a bit of scent, cleaners, food/coffee odors, even the unfortunately acceptable stench of cigarette smoke that envelopes every smoker when they come back into the office after their breaks. Sometimes we have smells from outside getting into our vent system and they usually include diesel fumes from vehicles and wood smoke from house or brush fires (and this happens often enough that it’s not uncommon anymore).

                All of these things adversely affect someone, and most of them are unavoidable.

                Tell you what – I’ll stop wearing my perfume when the smokers come back in the building without stinking up the place. However, my boss told me we can’t do anything about that because it would, of course, be a violation of their civil rights. I’m lucky enough to be sitting by non-smokers now, so it’s only the errant stenchee passing by that I notice. I pop another benedryl, sniff my perfumed wrist, and carry on.

    4. Xavier*

      And if the reactions are food related, at what point will most things be banned to create a scent free environment. Even the chemical makeup of the office equipment, especially new furniture and electrical devices that have components that give off trace scents when warm from use (I know lcd tvs can produce an order when in use from the housing to the circuit boards). We live in a world of chemical bonds.

  3. Jaime*

    My office has our floors cleaned about once a month (shampoo the carpets, etc). A few years ago, the cleaning company used a very pungent cleaning product that negatively affected a lot of us working in the evenings. Thankfully, my company simply arranged to have the cleaners come on Friday evenings when no one was there. :) So if some of the problem scents have to do with cleaning products, it may be a relatively easy thing for your workplace to accomodate.

    As for personal scents like perfumes, your daughter may have to speak with individuals and ask them to tone it down for her. We have areas of the department that are fairly closed in and we’ve had people in the past unthinkingly spray perfume. In those instances, management was very much willing to send an email bringing it to attention and reminding people to refrain. However, I don’t know that they would make a blanket request based on one person’s sensitivity to even “normal” levels of scent. Perhaps she can ask for an isolated environment/office?

    1. Job seeker*

      At my last job, I wore a stronger new perfume to work. I had always worn a very light soft scent before. I had liked this new scent on a co-worker (a twenty-two year old) and thought it smelled wonderful. But, my co-worker next to me (my age) told me after me wearing it about a week it was giving her a headache. I felt so bad, I also got my feelings hurt at first. I told her I was so sorry and I really did hate it causes her headaches. I never wore it again. Later on, I realized it must have been hard for her to tell me that. She liked what I had always been wearing and I went back to that. This can be a very sensitive subject, better to not wear any or something very very light.

  4. Laura*

    My office sends a reminder email about once every few months saying that no “strong floral scents” are to be worn, because one person has a sensitivity.

    I abide by it, but I do find it frustrating. The person who is sensitive is someone I never see her in my daily path, do not sit anywhere near her, so it is frustrating to say the least. Then, where is the line drawn? Do I need new hand cream (I assume so)?

    But yes, I feel that most people abide by this no scents policy

    1. Soni*

      As noted in a comment on a different site I frequent, office air systems can carry scents to all corners of an office. One person noted that they were constantly bombarded with microwave cooking smells through a nearby vent, even though the break room was on the other side of the building.

    2. class factotum*

      I could always tell when one woman had arrived to work because her perfume (which was not to my taste) lingered in the hall. It didn’t give me a migraine, but I did not like having to smell and taste it.

    3. perfume-intollerant*

      Yes but if you share the same bathroom, kitchen, corridors etc it can linger for hours.

      I once had a boss who would ‘smart up’ for after work stuff in the bathroom and when she came out it followed her around the entire floor and I couldn’t enter that bathroom at all. I ended up going to the bathroom two floors down and holding my breath on the stairs for as much as possible.

      (Im not saying that’s what you were doing btw – just saying sometimes people don’t realise it spreads so far.)

    4. Blinx*

      Many people aren’t officially “sensitive”, in that they get migraines, but still find overbearing scents offensive. There may be quite a few who object to the scents that haven’t spoken up about it.

      I’m lucky in that I’ve never had a migraine, but I dislike strong smells, and it takes me a while to get used to them. New carpeting is one, leather upholstery in a car is another. It’s just up to me to get used to it. While I like many scents and perfumes, I like them in small doses (but I never wear them). A person’s scent (pleasant or otherwise) shouldn’t overwhelm you when you walk into their office.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        At Exjob, we had a coworker who would drown himself in cologne every day. You could smell him across the room. It wasn’t an unpleasant scent, just really thick. I was talking to the facility manager one day and said something to the effect of “Man, [Bob] really lays it on,” and he grinned really big and said, “‘I’m [Bob]! I stink like a French wh0re!'”

        From then on I could not keep from laughing when I smelled it. I still laugh about it. I’m laughing right now.

  5. Chocolate Teapot*

    I had a former colleague say that my (fairly light) perfume made her headachy, but on another occasion, when I asked her she said she felt fine.

    The worst one was somebody who seemed to empty an entire bottle of perfume over themselves every day. To put it mildly, you could smell once she was in the building!

    1. Natalie*

      Ugh. Our old postal carrier used to, as far as I could tell, dip his clothes in cologne. It lingered on all of the mail and empty envelopes for hours.

      1. Jaime*

        lol, that reminds me of a former neighbor. I used to rent an apartment in a fourplex and my downstairs neighbor must really have bathed in his cologne because I could smell him when he got home from work. If my windows were open it would float up and in and if they were closed, it would come in through the vents. It was hideous, but so oddly strong that I had to chuckle every time I was home when he came home.

    2. ES*

      I had a coworker who wore the most hideous smelling perfume. Another coworker joked that she never had to look up meeting locations – she just followed the scent of this woman’s perfume.

      The smell gave me headaches so I asked her directly if she could tone it down or stop wearing it. She did for a little while, then it was back in full force. Luckily for me she quit a little while later. Problem solved!

    3. Andrew*

      I had a boss who, at around 4 PM every day, would splash on what seemed like gallons of Tabu (the “forbidden fragrance”). It’s been over 20 years and it still makes me shudder.

  6. Jamie*

    I’m curious about this – regarding how far you can go.

    Certain perfumes trigger my migraines, but not all, so I’m definitely sympathetic. I would have no problem forgoing all perfume for a co-worker, but as someone upthread mentioned – how far does this extend? Deoderant? Laundry detergent/fabric softener? Hand lotion?

    Either vetting things on a case by case basis or an edict that everyone must go scent free on everything could be problematic.

    This reminds me of a case from the news years ago where a school had a student with a peanut allergy and issued a ban on anything containing nuts or even made in a factory where they are processed – not only prohibiting them on school grounds but at home as well. Apparently if a child ate peanut butter before school their breath could cause a reaction in their classmate.

    There was a lot of debate on another board about how much accommodation is reasonable.

    1. Jaime*

      Wow, I think that went a little too far. I can see the school sending out a letter letting parents know there is a child with severe enough peanut allergies that even peanut breath can trigger an attack and encouraging them to be sensitive to this child’s health, but they really can’t dictate. I would think most parents would understand and do what they can. You’d have to send this as a periodic reminder since most people will forget if they don’t deal with it on a daily basic.

      As a school though, I applaud them for removing peanuts and peanut products from the school. One of my closest friends has a child with severe allergies, including peanuts and eggs. His class once did an art project with meringue. He did not use the meringue of course, but one of the other students touched his arm later and he got a rash. It is a constant source of worry for my friend and her husband. One of them is always at the school if there is going to be a class party or some other kind of uncontrolled food situation. She feels it’s a lot of ask of a teacher or expect a teacher to administer his epi pen, but it’s necessary. It’s also difficult to explain to people unfamiliar with it all that something so little could really be deadly. Many people either don’t realize or don’t believe that it can be a real, deadly risk.

      The same with scents at work. I think if you make people aware of the issue that most people are willing to do something to help. However, just as with food allergies, a lot of people out there will downplay their perception of the issue.

      1. Jamie*

        I do think people will do what they can to help, within what is reasonable. For the scent thing I would totally forgo perfume and body sprays, etc. I would even do the unscented lotion thing if it were an issue – but I wouldn’t go scent free on deodorant, hairspray, laundry stuff…I think there is a better solution (private office, work from home) than imposing that level of change on multiple co-workers.

        1. Jaime*

          Agreed. Though I always feel terrible when I forget and put perfume on before going to my doctor. When they make the reminder calls, they specifically ask patients not to wear perfumes or strong smells, since it affects the doctor. :/

      2. Canadian mom*

        I have to agree – that really is too much.

        I’ve heard of some schools that require – if peanut butter is eaten with breakfast (i.e. with toast) – then the students eat it in their pajamas before being dressed in school clothes. I think that’s perfectly workable. But an entire school prohibiting any food-products that might have originated from peanuts?? Just not workable – and also, if it’s an area where there are some lower-income families – there’s a consideration that peanut butter is often touted by dieticians as a fairly cheap, good protein source.

        1. Victoria*

          IMO a peanut butter allergy that can cause death is miles away from a sensitivity/allergy to scents that can cause migraines. If a child can die from smelling the breath of another child who ate peanut butter for breakfast, then yes it should be curtailed as much as possible.

          I always try to abide by folks who have sensitivities, but then I only use a lightly scented after-shower spray rather than perfume.

  7. Elizabeth*

    The no-scents policy is a part of our dress code, but we’re a healthcare organization, and we ban them more because they have an adverse affect on people who are feeling sick already. If someone can smell you at a normal conversational distance, you’re asked to use alcohol wipes to remove the scent. If that doesn’t do it, you’re sent home to shower & change clothes. That’s true for any scent, not just perfume, and we’ve handed stronger deoderant to people whose anti-perperent isn’t cutting it, and we’ve sent people home who reek of nicotine. It’s about patient comfort for us, rather than employee comfort, but it works out the same.

    Nurses who come to use from other facilities are sometimes initially surprised at the strict enforcement, and they may get sent home a time or two before it really sinks in that we’re serious. I never see a patient, since I’m non-clinical, I work in IT, and my office isn’t even on the actual hospital campus, but I still abide by the policy.

    At home, I use a very light “rain” scented lotion. At work, I use an oatmeal-based lotion that literally has no scent. I never use the home lotion if I am coming in to work (I have another tube of the work lotion at home that if my hands are really dry I will use before going to work).

    It drives my husband nuts that perfume is off the list for possible gifts, but I’ve never gotten into the habit of wearing it, because I started working in healthcare when I was fresh out of college. I think I still have a bottle of Chanel No 5 that I got as a Christmas gift in high school.

    1. GeekChic*

      My current place of work has a no scents policy much like Elizabeth’s. It’s been in place since 2001 and is just as strictly enforced with all staff.

      Like at Elizabeth’s place of work we offer staff a chance to remove the scent with alcohol wipes but if that doesn’t work you must leave, shower and change clothes. It usually only takes one time of having to do that before people realize that the policy is serious and will be enforced.

      I don’t wear perfume and I use all unscented detergents and soaps. I was doing that before I started working at my current place of work so it was no big deal to me – though it has surprised some people.

      Someone mentioned nut-free policies in another comment. We don’t ban people from bringing in any type of food from the outside but the organization doesn’t purchase foods that will trigger known life-threatening allergies in staff (currently there are around 5 food items that aren’t stocked in the vending machines or purchased for catered events as a result of this policy).

  8. Sparky629*

    Asking your Office to Ban Fragrances in the Office
    All I want to say to this is YEAH. I absolutely positively agree with this one.

    I currently have a co-worker whose desk is on the first floor by the stairs. My office is at the top of the stairs on the 2nd floor. Some days, he has the absolute worst cologne EVER. I really really hate those days. :-(

    His cologne can only be described as a mixture of the worst, cheapest colognes you’ve ever smelled (i.e. High Karate, Jovan Musk for Men, and Old Spice) and a bad smelling hair treatment/perm/relaxer.

    It makes my eyes water and I can’t breathe from the stench. I’ve tried closing my office door and opening the window but nothing works. It seeps through the door crack and permeates the hallway.

    Around noon, he slathers on another coat of the god awful mixture and my agony starts over. I start counting every second before I can RUN out of here.

    I know it sounds dramatic but really it is that bad. I want to ask him the name of that god awful stuff so I can drive to every local store in the metro area to destroy every.last. bottle of it.

    So I agree with banning strong/pungent fragrances in the office environment.

      1. jennie*

        The problem is, no one believes they’re the one wearing a strong fragrance people can’t stand. Banning them all makes more sense.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          That’s because they get used to it. It’s one reason they tend to put so much on. After a while, they just can’t smell it anymore, so they end up using more and more.

    1. perfume-intollerant*

      A co-worker used to exercise at lunch and then put on TCP before returning to work. I wanted to do something similar!

      Just so I don’t triple post I’ll put this here too: the one I’ve had most problems with of late is our cleaners – they put the dusters on the radiators after they finish cleaning which makes the whole wing stink of it. Not fun.

  9. mimimi*

    “she’ll alienate people and come across as trying to control things that aren’t hers to control” <– this

    Has asthma/multiple allergies/migraines, but that's MY problem

    1. jmkenrick*

      Mmm. I sort of agree with this.

      Honestly, I’m HAPPY to accommodate these sorts of requests, and I think most reasonable people are….but if they’re phrased like it’s something I OWE the person in question, I’m going to balk a bit. It’s not my personal responsibility to monitor people’s different sensitivities, and we all have something like this up our sleeves.

      Asking someone to not wear perfume, or eat so loud, or whatever….all reasonable requests. But I think she should approach it kindly, and not from a place of frustration.

      Additionally, as someone who has pretty good relationships with the people I sit next to, I would be frustrated to hear my boss tell me that people I’m friendly with were complaining about something I was doing without mentioning it to me.

      I think the best strategy is to politely ask, and then escalate if from there if people aren’t helpful.

  10. LL*

    This was an issue at my previous job. The ban was incredibly extensive and covered all scented hygiene products and cleaning products. As a direct result, I soon realized that my boss got horrible, nausea-inducing BO in the afternoon and that one of my co-workers suffered from IBS and stunk up the bathroom on a daily – sometimes twice or thrice daily – basis. I want to be sensitive to people’s allergies but my goodness, the fragrances can be a lot better than the smells they are masking!

    1. Jamie*

      I didn’t even think of the air freshener in the bathroom issue. Good point.

      I wouldn’t work anywhere that banned that.

      1. Cruella DaBoss*

        Don’t even get me started on the air freshener subject.
        “Fresh Linen” to some is “Early Morning Brothel” to others.

      2. Natalie*

        Honestly, a better move in a decent bathroom exhaust system. Not possible in every workplace, I know. But if you rent in a reasonably sized office building, they should be adjusting the fresh-air exchange in the bathroom to render air freshener largely unnecessary.

          1. Long Time Admin*

            There is a grapefruit-based air freshener that Lowe’s carries. It’s with the cleaning products, and it’s not a real big seller, but it leaves NO SCENT at all. It works great, and if bathroom smells were a problem at work, I’d keep a bottle in my desk and use it.

            It’s tough when the boss has BO or horrible breath. Make sure you schedule meetings early in the morning and try not to sit close to him!

      3. Rana*

        Honestly? (And I know this will sound gross, but…) I’d rather smell human body odors than chemical “fresheners.” In my experience, too, they don’t actually mask the bad biological smells, but rather mingle into a perfectly horrific combination.

        Exhaust systems, when possible, are far better.

        1. BuffaloNY*

          Ooh Rana, I am the opposite. One of my coworkers has awful breath: the kind that lingers after he’s left the room. When he leaves my office, I usually douse myself in perfume just to get rid of the Breath Stench. After reading this thread, I think I will stop doing that, because I am probably driving my coworkers crazy. But that breath…..ugh.

        2. Ellie H.*

          I would too. It’s gross, but I can’t say how much I HATE the smell of air freshener. The worst is those car pine trees. They make me physically nauseated.

    2. Gene*

      Personally, and this has been a topic of discussion with my wife over the last 16 years, I’d rather smell sh!t than air freshener. I still regularly find those damned solid air fresheners stashed around the house.

      Of course, I was raised in farm country and work in the wastewater industry, so my sensitivity is different from most people. :-)

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        I totally agree. At least just light a match. That fake scent practically suffocates me.

  11. majigail*

    A high quality HEPA air purifier in the OP’s office or cube will significantly help too. Many will clean the air every 12 minutes or so, so if it’s just people popping in and out and not staying for the whole day, it will help. When framed as a reasonable accommodation, the company may do this before going fragrance free.

  12. KarenT*

    My office tried going fragrance free, but enforcing it was very difficult. My office has a fragrance-free”zone.” We are a two-floor office, and half the downstairs is a fragrance-free zone. Everryone with asthma or other issues irritated by fragrance can request to sit there, and anyone entering said zone should be fragrance free. I’m not sure how effective it is, but those in the zone seem to really like it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oooh, that’s an interesting way to do it.

      I would like to have a “quiet zone,” like the quiet cars on trains, for everyone who likes silence while they work — no loud laughs, no gum popping, etc.

      1. KarenT*

        Yes! I’ve often said office seating should be arranged by personality type and working style. Loud people together, quiet people together, smelly lunch eaters together. Just picture the harmony!

        1. Rosalita*

          We also have “Quiet Cars” where I work (that’s what we call them). Since we all sit in shared offices and pods, it’s helpful for people to have a place to go where there is no talking, no phone calls, etc.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Exjob let people go in the conference room and work sometimes. It was an open office with sections like bullpens, so even if you turned your phone off, you could still hear everyone else. If no one needed the room, you could go in there and work. I used to do it at lunch when writing.

      1. KarenT*

        It’s better than making the whole office fragrance free.There’s nothing down there but cubicles, so you’d have no business down there unless you needed to talk to someone who sat there. And if you are wearing fragrance, the idea is that you will not walk down there but either summon that person or phone them.

      2. KellyK*

        Might not be too bad, depending on the layout of the building. You wouldn’t want the “fragrance-free zone” to block anyone’s path to the kitchen or the conference room.

        And as a fan of perfume, I’d rather have one area off-limits than have to stop using it entirely.

      3. A Bug!*

        A little inconvenience for some employees in exchange for the health and comfort of others seems like a pretty reasonable trade.

        People with sensitivities to airborne irritants have to worry about a lot of stuff we take for granted on a daily basis. I have a very hard time grudging them the opportunity to earn a living at the cost of a pretty minor inconvenience.

  13. Not So NewReader*

    Personally, I prefer to use scent free products in my home. However, I have no problem with a LIGHT scent in the workplace/church/other public areas.
    What I have been noticing lately is some of the colognes and perfumes out now are very strong. And the scent is not … uh… nice. Okay, the scent smells really baaaaaddd. I think some people soak themselves in it. A friend pointed out to me that there is a big difference between plant based fragrances and fragrances that are totally synthetic.
    Growing up, colognes/perfumes used to be very light- just a hint of scent. That was enjoyable.

    I do understand about the deodorants. I mistakenly grabbed a product off the shelf thinking it was what I always bought. I was in a hurry- you know how this happens… I got it home and the scent was soooo very strong I could not stand it. I wrote the manufacturer and threw the product away.

    Being an allergy person myself, I have a lot of sympathy for folks who are struggling. But as people pointed out what is reasonable accommodation and what is over the line? In extreme cases, no employer would be able to accommodate their lengthy list of allergy triggers.

  14. AG*

    I think that if the OP’s daughter approaches it from a strict health angle that would be the best. I personally think that wearing overpowering perfume or using air freshener in an office setting is rude but I wouldn’t include that in a discussion with the boss. Having the right attitude will probably go a long way.

    I had a coworker who got migraines from bright fluorescent light, and their managers got the light bulbs over her desk removed.

    I think that asking people not to wear perfume or use air freshener is very reasonable. I’m not a scientist, but the “airborne-ness” of those products is particularly difficult for some people. Probably not going to be able to get people to stop using scented hair products, deodorants, etc. However those products usually stick to the skin more instead of being airborne, they’re usually not as offensive. Using scented lotion *at* the office is a bit trickier because your skin can get very dry at work, but using those products in the open can cause the scents to go airborne.

    I am also personally very sympathetic. I am very sensitive to fragrances/allergens/chemicals/smells. Right now we’re living with my MIL and she wears tons of perfume, smokes in the house (tries to hide it!), uses Febreeze, etc. I have to keep my door closed at all times and spend as little time as possible in the common areas. It’s awful, but I am in such a low-power position right now that I can’t do anything about it.

    1. Henning Makholm*

      “I had a coworker who got migraines from bright fluorescent light, and their managers got the light bulbs over her desk removed.”

      Wow, that sounds incredibly, mind-blowingly evil. Was there another reason their managers wanted her gone but couldn’t fire her outright?

      Yo dawg, I hear you don’t like fluorescent lights, so I removed the incandescent ones from your desk so you can work in the dark or turn on the fluourescent strips and quit whining.

      1. Sam*

        I think she meant they removed the fluorescent bulbs and replaced them with something else. Not that she worked in the dark.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No, usually this is something that a person getting migraines requests to have happen! I’m assuming it was a nice thing to do for her, not an evil one.

        1. perfume-intollerant*

          Yeah, I barely turn on my lights over my desk. Chances are the lower light levels affect her less than the flourescent bulbs.

        2. Headachey*

          Yes, this would be a nice thing! I’ve banned fluorescent bulbs from my home (and will stockpile incandescents before they’re banned), but it’s hard to ask my coworkers to work in the dark because *I* have a headache.

          There are filters for the fluorescent tubes available, but they don’t work for everyone. Another option is TheraSpecs ( which I’ll be trying soon.

      3. AG*

        Sorry if I was unclear, I meant that management was receptive to her request. She put a lamp near her desk. Personally I thought it was quite dark but that’s how she worked best.

  15. Ivy*

    If only people had the general understanding of how much is too much. I can’t wear strong perfumes on myself because it gives me a headache (generally I can withstand strong perfume on others if it’s only a quick whiff and I’m not sitting next to them). I do however, enjoy my light airy perfumes. I wear them all the time, but people generally can’t smell them unless they’re pressed right up against my neck. I’ve had people who have perfume triggered migraines tell me my perfume is fine/doesn’t give them migraines (I asked because I didn’t want them to suffer). I would be respectful if someone told me they were getting headaches.

    I feel like strong, sweet perfumes should be banned from life…. but maybe that’s just a personal preference :P

    1. Ivy*

      I also have the liberty to be as scent heavy as a please since non of my coworkers suffer from scent-induced migraines. I mean I keep it within reason (Re: strong scents give me headaches), but I still have my lightly scented lotion, lightly scented hand sanitizer, etc

    2. Jen in RO*

      I think this is key. Some people just don’t get what “too much perfume” means. I’m not sensitive in the least, but when I have to use the meeting room and it reeks of perfume because the last person in there either put on perfume in that room or had doused herself in the whole bottle… that’s just unprofessional.

    3. Anonymous*

      There are occasions – when the combination of ill-ventilated rooms, excessive central heating, and certain perfumes or after-shaves has me chain-swallowing sinus medication – that I start muttering under my breath about the Geneva Convention, Chemical Weapons Protocol.

  16. Hannah*

    I’m not fragrance averse, and they do not give me health-related issues, but one of the reasons I never wear perfume is because I’m paranoid someone in the office will be allergic/intolerant/just not like the smell of it.

    I’ve worked in a couple of offices where some of the ladies wear this one, specific perfume. I must have some sort of aversion to this perfume, because I can recognize it immediately. I HATE the smell of it and I’ve noticed it seems to be very popular with ladies “of a certain age.” I really, really wish I could figure out what perfume it is because it drives me crazy! There was this woman who wore it everyday at one of my previous jobs and I felt so badly, because she was such a nice person and I really liked her, but I would practically run the other way when I smelled her coming!

  17. SJ*

    I work with a lady who goes out to smoke and then comes in and sprays on her very strong perfume in the ladies’ room and the scent then permeates the entire office. So now she smells like cigarette smoke and cheap perfume. I’ve asked management to make a blanket announcement at our staff meeting that strong scents shouldn’t be sprayed in the office but they’ve yet to do it. I don’t necessarily get migraines but if my allergies are acting up, the strong smell just adds to my overall misery. I don’t care if she wears perfume, she just needs to spray it outside. I think this is a reasonable request but I wonder if management is hesitant to say anything because this lady will not react well.

  18. Malissa*

    I have allergies to some very common perfume and cleaner scent. Anytime I’ve asked for something to be removed or changed to keep me from getting sick or having breathing difficulties at work the request has always been accommodated. Except for the lady who sits next to me. But she doesn’t always put her perfume on strong. so when she does I have a small fan that I can use to push the general airflow from me to her. That works really well.

    Now asking the instructor to make the Zumba class scent free because I was getting hit with bad perfume from three different directions was apparently asking too much. I ended up not returning to class after getting so dizzy from not being able to breathe that I almost puked.

  19. Blargh*

    For me, it was almost the opposite… my first roommate in college didn’t seem to wear deodorant or anything. Despite showering frequently, our room smelled TERRIBLE…the worst was that our room was directly across the hall from the enclosed staircase. The smell would float directly into the stairwell and get bottled up and just stew in there… ugh ugh. The girl down the hall who introduced me to the wonders of unscented Oust became my new best friend. ;)

  20. Kou*

    She also needs to do this sooner rather than later, because if she waits a while people may assume she’s making it up because “it wasn’t a problem before” as far as they knew.

  21. Joey*

    Asking other employees to change things like deodorants and detergents probably falls under undue hardship. Depending on the type of work she does some possibilities may be a different work location, different work hours, an air purifier, odor absorbing products.

    Although personally I think perfume and cologne is not appropriate for the workplace.

  22. Anonymous*

    I used to work with someone who wore a heavy, floral scent that had some ingredient that I was highly sensitive to. I could tell when she was coming down the aisle because I would start sneezing long before I could actually smell her perfume. We were a small office, and we had had the same local HR person for a long time. I asked her what I should do, and she took care of asking the woman to switch scents. Problem solved.

    I had the same issue with one of the air freshener scents the cleaning crew used in the restroom. They had several different scents blocks that they used, and one of them would just really set me off sneezing. The building manager took care of it for me.

  23. Jen*

    “There’s no reason she can’t ask, however.” Alison, do you mean asking the employer, or asking the co-worker? I work in civil service and I have been told I cannot ask my co-worker to modify her strong fragrance (which gives me incapacitating migraines) because the city would be subject to a lawsuit by this employee as it is potentially a violation of her civil rights. Ergo she has rights as a fragrance-wearer, but I do not have rights as a person who has an illness which is exacerbated by a chemical/odor/scent which I am exposed to at work. (!)

    I have been offered another desk in another location, but I think that effectively puts a band-aid on the problem and doesn’t really work toward solving it. In conversations I had with my supervisor and the Department of Public Health representative who was brought in to warn me not to say anything so as not to expose the city to a lawsuit, I wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt that my illness/condition is even legitimate. It was stressed in these conversations that in “many of these cases” the complainer can’t even provide proof.

    1. Elise*

      They are either very ignorant or cowards trying to avoid a work argument. With their argument (which is silly), I could see them having concern about a supervisor asking the employee not to wear the fragrance, but your making the request should not be an issue. A supervisor asking is more like a demand. A coworker asking is just a request. I’ll bet the coworker would be mortified to find out that her scent was causing you distress and no one was letting her know. I’m sure if she was so intent on her need to smell pretty that she would at least try another.

      I am curious though about what legal grounds they believe the person would have even if they were ordered not to wear a scent. I missed the “Right to Smell” amendment being passed.

    2. Grace*

      Seriously does your employer have any kind of bona fide employment legal counsel? Where do you live? With all of the employers getting sued (including city governments) for not putting a stop to scents in the workplace, I’m surprised that (if you’re in the US) the federal law (Americans with Disabilities Act) or the state law (mine is California Fair Employment & Housing Act) hasn’t ever been mentioned. You might want to meet with an employment lawyer or post a legal question on avvo and ask employment attorneys for their advice. Good luck.

  24. JT*

    “because the city would be subject to a lawsuit by this employee as it is potentially a violation of her civil rights.”


  25. Steve G*

    Have fun with this one! I find that alot of people’s clothes smell really strong like laundry detergent and they don’t notice. I think people learn to do laundry as a teenager and if their parents put too much in the wash, they get used to the smell and continue it as an adult. People that are used to using alot of detergent think I’m nuts that I smell it so strong, even though its them! You watch them do laundry and they think you need 2 or 3 cups of detergent per load!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This plus fabric softener.
      Someone gave a family member some shirts. NICE shirts.
      I washed them three times before I managed to get the scent out of them. uggghhhh.
      The fabric almost felt waxy….

      1. Natalie*

        If you ever have the same problem in the future, try washing them with a cup of white vinegar and no soap. The fabric softener does actually build up on the fabric and vinegar can help get it off.

        1. Long Time Admin*

          I use vinegar in place of fabric softener. I couldn’t stand the feel of the build-up on my clothing, and especially on my towels. My laundry actually looks cleaner – I had some towels that were pastel/white and I was going to start using them as rags. Then I washed them and used the vinegar instead of fabric softener for the rinse, and they came out beautiful again! Not to mention, much more absorbent.

          1. byr0n*

            I have terrible allergies and use All Free and Clear detergent and dryer sheets– seems to work very well for me.

    2. Agile Phalanges*

      Oh, yes. I have no idea how much they use, but my ex and his wife use a brand with a strong scent, and possibly do use too much. The day when my son goes from their house to school, then home to my house, he REEKS of laundry detergent. The rest of the days, he wears clothes laundered at my house (in scent-free stuff), but I can smell him coming on Mondays! (And that’s after spending all day with pre-teens at middle school!)

    3. Rana*

      Yep. We use the scent-free stuff, but whenever we visit family, the laundry gets done with whatever scented detergent they have on hand. Several months later, we can still smell it!

    4. Anonymous*

      As a long-term apartment dweller, I have a habit of sticking my head into the machines in the laundry room and taking a sniff before I throw my clothes in. If my nose immediately gets stuffy, I move on to another machine. Fortunately where I live now is damp enough that fewer people use those anti-static freshener strips. I used to live in a very dry area, and the things were ubiquitous. It being a dry area, I could dry clothes in my apartment.

    5. Blinx*

      Well, better to reek of laundry detergent than BO! I do think that some people have a better developed sense of smell, and some have scents that they are tuned into that don’t bother others. Someone commented to me about a coworker’s cologne, and asked if it was X. I couldn’t smell a thing! I know if I run into a convenience store for 5 minutes, my hair will smell like cigarette smoke for an hour and it drives me nuts!

  26. EM*

    For some reason, anything scented lavender makes me sneeze uncontrollably. We had some lavender-scented room spray in the ladies’ room at my office. I tried to tough it out for a week or so, but I finally asked the person who bought that stuff (I work for a very small company) if we could put something else in the ladies’ room. She had no issues with it at all. We have a very colloquial office culture, so I approached it as, “Not that I’m a princess or anything, but lavender makes me sneeze”. It worked for me because I’m NOT a princessy-type and I’m one of the few female technical staff in our office.

  27. Anon for now*

    Your daughter should bring a copy of the letter from her doctor explaining the correlation between the irritant/s & the migraines with her when she talks with her boss, as well as resources & suggestions about reasonable accommodations.

    Good luck to her, and thanks to everyone who speaks up on this and related issues.

  28. KarenT*

    If nothing else your daughter could put up some jazzy posters. Our fragrance- free zone has posters saying “Non scents makes good sense” and the like.

  29. Jen in RO*

    In my opinion, banning *all* fragrances in the office is going too far. I shouldn’t have to change my soap because one person is sensitive. I think a better approach (for office-based workplaces) would be to move that person to an area/office where this wasn’t an issue – either isolated from the rest of the floor or with people who didn’t mind using unscented everything. I do think that *excessive* perfume is rude and unprofessional, but how much does it take to trigger an allergy? For most of my coworkers, you can only feel the scent if you get very close (closer than normal in a business environment).

    1. Anonymous*

      In my experience, that’s not what “fragrance free” means. If someone is close enough to smell your soap (as opposed to perfume or cologne), they’ve got bigger issues. :)

      1. Jen in RO*

        To be honest, *I* can’t smell the fragrance of my soap on my own hands 1 hour after washing them… so I guess I’m a bit baffled in general about this entire thread.

        1. KellyK*

          You’re not the only one. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed anyone’s soap or laundry detergent, and rarely do I smell someone’s perfume unless I’m very close to them. I occasionally use body spray, but I don’t notice it an hour later.

          But other people are very sensitive to scents. (I have a friend who would react just walking *past* Bath & Body Works or a store that sold incense. )

          Also, if it’s an allergy, it may trigger below the point where you consciously notice it. For that matter, I wouldn’t be surprised if people with allergies are much more sensitive to the scent of airborne allergens than people who don’t have a negative reaction.

  30. Anonymous*

    I think the trick to being successful here is in how she presents it to her HR person. Personally, I’d never heard of a scent-free office, and I imagine others might not be familiar with the concept, either. This is a big change to make, and some people might be irritated that one person’s discomfort (however severe that might be) is creating a change for the entire office. A lot of people may feel that it’s unfair. So it’s important how it’s handled.

    Possibly a more practical solution would be to move the sensitive person to a more isolated area, as others have pointed out.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary*

      Our entire University is scent-free and it’s pretty well enforced, at least in the classrooms. I have no idea how the dorms are, though. Now if they would start getting serious about people gathering right outside the entrances of the buildings to smoke between classes….

  31. LCL*

    This is a tough problem. Some education might help. My experience has been that the shampoos and antiperspirants marketed to the younger crowd have that extreme strong chemical scent. Axe products, or Garnier Fructis, are the worst!

    OTOH, I know of someone who was talked to about what one person claimed was strong BO. Turned out the female complainer had made the same complaint about every male that she had to work next to…

  32. Anonymous*

    I once temp’d for several months at Lawry Spice Company in LA. I have an aversion to cumin. Perfume’s okay with me, but please lay off the Indian food. :)

    I also solved my chocolate addiction working at See’s Candies!

  33. shake*

    To the person above who wrote about a specific perfume being used by ladies of a certain age I have a feeling it is Youth Dew. A friend of mine who is in this age cohort has a severe reaction to this fragrance. As in one whiff and she gets a horrible headache.

    I am always teasing her that this is what keeps her so young-she can’t hang out with anyone her age so she is forced to hang out with us “young-uns”.

  34. byr0n*

    Really, though, where do we draw the line? I have severe allergy issues myself– touching certain brands of paper products (manila files are the worst!) ignites a histamine reaction and my hands turn red, burn, and start itching like crazy. Should my office be forced, then, to identifty a brand of paper that does not cause me issues and switch to it? My solution is to wear gloves if I’m going to handle a lot of files, and to take benadryl as needed.

    For some people, cologne/perfume is part of dressing for the office. Many people definitely overdo it, particularly the young crowd. In my experience, there are two levels of products that tend to cause issues: cheap, synthetic products like the horrid Axe brand, and very expensive perfumes that tend to use floral essential oils.

    1. Carole Wharton*

      When you are allergic, you are allergic.
      Any amount will cause a reaction. Any amount will weaken your body’s defenses. Reactions are often delayed 3 to 5 days, as it takes time for the chemical to work through your body (just like it take time for medicine to work through your body). You may get migraines, joint and muscles aches, asthma — not just itchy eyes and sneezes.
      The public needs to get informed. If you have allergies, you need to stand up for yourself (and other with allergies who are less informed).
      When you speak of the cheap and the AXE, you may be reacting to fragrances contained in metal — either aerosol or metal lid or bottle. Fragrances mixed with metal is 3,000-4,000 times more damaging and stays in the body for 30+ years (according to my allergist).
      If you’re allergic to fragrances (or nickel or whatever), you need to request a fragrance-free work environment, also talk with the manager of the grocery story your shop in and Target-like store.
      The Human Rights Commission and Social Security Disability Act does cover allergies and allergy sensitivities.
      And I recommend getting Home Owners Disability Insurance before getting proof of your medical condition. (Afterwords may be to late to get the insurance.)

  35. Cassie*

    I’m pretty sensitive to smells – any scent that lingers after the person has left is too much. There are a couple of employees in our dept who wear heavy perfume/cologne. Maybe it has to do with their culture – not sure. But you can tell if said employee walked by because you can smell it.

    Most of the time, deodorant is not that much of an issue (unless you use some kind of body spray) – we don’t stand that close to each other. What I hate is when coworkers microwave popcorn (it stinks) or burn their toast. How do you burn toast in a microwave?! Well, they found a way. And then they use Lysol cleaning spray as an air freshener and spray it into the air. Yech.

    I guess if I’m sitting in my cubicle and I can smell the person sitting in the next cubicle, it’s too much. Although I did have a student who always smelled like soap – but it was nice smelling soap. It’s like he showered before coming to my desk every time. (I almost commented about it once but wisely didn’t).

    1. Carole Wharton*

      That Lysol spray is putting heavy metal into the air. The metal leaches into the liquid. Heavy metal harms your body. It can cause migraines, arthritis, asthma.
      A box of baking powder is best. Even cutting up a lemon helps.

  36. Naomi*

    I think it’s too much to ask an entire office to be scent free. I have allergies of my own and I don’t make a big deal out if to my coworkers. I just take an allergy pill for it and make sure to have it handy just in case. I think making a fragrance free zone is more doable and if a coworker came up to me and told me straight out instead of going through HR I would think it was rude. I feel bad for people with this problem but at the same time Im not going to stop doing things I like doing, like wearing perfume just for you ( who I may not even be sitting next to!) I just think a perfume scent is an extension of my outfit and try not to spray a ton,I am conscious of that. I just think once you institute something like this where do you draw the line? What about strong food odors? Bathroom soap.. Etc

  37. Anon*

    In healthcare, yes, I can see a general scent ban — with some sensitivity to patients/new-hires who may forget, or may be unaware how strongly scented some of their home products (like laundry detergent or lotion) can be.

    In a typical office environment, though? Not even for severe life-or-death reactions, but for migraines? The migraine-sufferer would have my sympathy if they approached people personally about specifically triggering scents. An office-wide general ban, however, would be insane. Some scents will be more triggering than others, some products will be harder to find substitutions for than others, and some co-workers will be in closer contact than others.

    How many people have their migraines triggered by, say, grotesquely flickering fluorescent lights? And how many offices have you seen convert to incandescent for the comfort of a single employee? And in this scenario incandescent lights would make MOST employees more comfortable, adversely effecting none of them. Yet this, somehow, is not considered the office’s problem to fix … while scents are?

    Migraines suck, no doubt about it. So does jumping through hoops for an unseen anonymous co-worker who may or may not even be affected by your particular product. Either have the brass to approach individuals as necessary, or suffer in silence.

    I recall a couple who were looking for a room on Craigslist and magnanimously offered to “help” their prospective roommate/landlord choose all new scent-free products and embark upon a new “scent-free lifestyle.” Sorry genuine scent-sensitive sufferers, but once some delicate little hothouse flower co-opts your personal disability and slaps the word “lifestyle” on it, the sympathy dries up VERY quickly.

    1. Jamie*

      “Not even for severe life-or-death reactions, but for migraines?”

      In regards to the life and death reactions, which I understand is a real issue for some people with both scents and food – I’ve always been baffled that this is something to want to legislate at work and school.

      If I (or one of my kids) could have a reaction to something so severe that it could cause death there is no policy that would make me comfortable being at risk.

      Using the peanut allergy for example – if my kid couldn’t eat nuts then it’s totally reasonable to ask the other parents to refrain from sending class food that contain them. That’s reasonable. But if my child could die, literally die, if some other kid ate peanut butter for breakfast and they smelled their breath or invisible residue on their clothes? Then I’m taking a LOT stronger measures than just asking hundreds of other families to comply. I’m keeping my kid in a controlled environment – because I’m cynical and realistic enough to know how often policies are disregarded and I would never be able to trust in this scenario.

      So – as a migraine sufferer – I do agree with you. If there is a specific trigger it’s reasonable to ask a co-worker to accommodate but if they can’t/won’t it’s up to me to find a solution (moving desk, working remotely, whatever). However, if it’s life and death co-workers shouldn’t even be in the position to possibly kill someone with their deodorant – it’s up to the person in the unfortunate situation to take stronger measures.

      1. Grace*

        Many times what people think makes sense about the law, isn’t actually how it’s written or what the appellate courts have ruled.
        Employers are required to come up with solutions and engage in the interactive process, even if it’s not a life-threatening medical condition that is triggered by the allergic reaction. The Americans with Disabilties Act governs this area of the law at the federal level; state anti-discrimination laws also come in to play. My state laws (California) are extremely strict (California Fair Employment & Housing Act).

  38. T*

    It is not just irritation that occurs in those affected. My wife suffers from asthma triggered by a reflexive reaction in her bronchials to scents such as flowery perfumes and soaps. Vanilla scents in candles and lotions are particularly bad because they are so strong and don’t go down over time.
    Her boss and co-workers reacted exactly as some of your posters have, “why should I change, it’s her problem”. What a juvenile and self-centered response. People (including members of her family) act as if she wants this to be happening to her and she enjoys have a major asthma attack. They wouldn’t even accomodate her by moving her desk away from the others.
    Frankly, I’m dumb-founded that people can be so self-centered. I had a co-worker comment that my deoderant was particularly strong and irritating to their sinuses one time (before my wife developed asthma). I changed deoderant immediately because we are talking about my fellow man’s health and $3.50 in product.
    Get a grip people. It’s not the end of the world to change scents or not wear your perfume that fills a room until your days off. What happened to the old business rule that if you can smell it more than 2 feet from your body you are wearing too much.

  39. Lilith*

    Our office has implemented a policy banning air freshners, deoderizers, aftershave, cologne, aromatic lotion, perfume, body sprays, soaps and deoderants that might have an offensive scent. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with this, except the one person this bothers has NEVER had an allergy test. They had a friend who happened to be a doctor write that it bothers his allergies, but that was NOT an allergist. We also have an open office where customers come in all the time wearing perfume, and we have smokers that come in reeking. Yet this same allergy ridden individual can go out and sit with the smokers with no problem to the allergies. The animosity in the office is off the scale for this one person who acts like an infant and management who bends over backwards to kiss this employee’s buttocks. What can the rest of us do?

    1. Anonymous*

      Hmmmm. I can’t speak for this person, and he should definately see a doctor, but, I am a person that has tremendous allergies to fragrance/perfume/lotions/deodorants/hair products/candles….you name it. I have severe allergies and I am in the worst category for migraneurs, so it is a double whammy for me. I do not like smoke and have never smoked, but, it does not have the same effect on me that the other smells do. Now I am not trying to defend this individual, but, just stating that it could be possible that the smoke does not affect him in the same way. On another note, if he claims it makes him sick, he should be seeing a doctor (not just a friend), and have documentation to back it up. I feel very guilty even mentioning to a co-worker that scents make me sick, so most of the time I try to suffer through it and cry all the way home. In our defense, it is also very difficult to obtain disability because so many people think we are making it up. For those that REALLY suffer from it…it is very, very real. I hope this person isn’t just trying to get over on you all.

  40. Grace*

    1. @Lilith: I’m glad that your office has implemented a scent-free policy as there are usually multiple employees with allergic reactions (and even clients). I’m not sure why your company didn’t protect the identity of the person wit the medical problem and how you know that person’s medical records (which are required to be legally protected by the employer in most places). Most employers can legally ask for more medical verification, if needed.
    2. I worked in an office where a new employee with long hair was permitted to wear a strongly-scented shampoo that made multiple employees extremely sick (migraines, hay-fever, asthma) and the employee refused to change shampoos and didn’t have a care in the world that she made other people medically ill. The legally untrained HR/Office Manager didn’t provide reasonable accomodation and didn’t engage in the interactive process
    (violations of California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act, our state law). The case ended in litigation.

    1. Lilith*

      Grace, the problem is this individual has gone around ranting, raving and carrying on so that everybody and I do mean EVERYBODY knows of the supposed allergy issues. Oddly enough, no allergy problems existed for the first two years the employee was there, and there has been no change in employees or any scented products used. The only change was the person was promoted and was diagnosed with high blood pressure within months of the promotion. This is also when the allergy problems suddenly developed, as in within weeks of the high blood pressure diagnosis. The individual made it clear that they had a note from their doctor, and that the doctor is a personal friend whom they have on speed dial. In other words, instead of civilly asking someone to not wear a scent, this person repeatedly made an ass of himself and nobody has addressed that. He whines and edicts come down from on high. It’s an office full of females with an all-male supervisory staff and this individual is male. The odd thing is nobody has worn anything scented for months since the first and second edicts were distributed, yet the whining, slamming things around on the desk and being belligerent to coworkers and customers alike continues. This person whines, and another threatening policy memo stating someone will be dismissed if they wear something scented comes out. Additionally there is a work parity issue as the majority of us females have at least a third to half more workload than does Mr. Whiny. It’s literally become a hostile work environment such that with a dozen of us in the room when, that atmosphere is so frigid that everybody is afraid to speak. Leave usage is at an all-time high because people can’t stand to be anywhere near this guy. Oddly enough, when Mr. Whiny isn’t there, it’s a noticeable relief for everyone.

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        It sounds like there are two issues: your coworker’s unprofessional behavior and the fragrance thing. You are combining the two. I’ll address the allergy issue because (unfortunately for me), I have a lot of allergies.

        First, allergies don’t exist from birth. You can develop new ones as you age and you can become less sensitive to other allergens. So, it’s completely possible that no allergies existed — or didn’t exist in great enough quantities to point out — for the first two years that the employee was there. I do not think that the blood pressure diagnosis has anything to do with the allergies. If your coworker is like me, they combine non-serious symptoms for one visit to the doctor’s office.

        Also, I’m not sure why it matters that the doctor is your coworker’s personal friend. I am friends with both my regular physician and my gynecologist yet I still expect that they keep their medical ethics in mind when they treat me. And if by keeping their doctor/friend on speed-dial, you mean they are in their contacts in their cell phone, well, I think a lot of us are “guilty” of that.

        You said above that your coworker hasn’t been to an allergist. Neither have I. I don’t need a professional to tell me that every time I’m near someone mowing the grass, I need my inhaler. It may not be exactly grass that I’m allergic to — it might be some sort of pollen that gets stirred up — but I know enough to know that it is not a situation I will put myself into willingly.

        You seem to really dislike your coworker and I don’t doubt you when you say life is miserable when he is in the office but you aren’t coming across particularly well. If your manager won’t fix the fact that your coworker is belligerent to customers, let alone coworkers, then it may be time to start looking for a new job.

        [I’ll let someone else with more knowledge chime in on this part but I don’t think what you’ve described meets the hostile work environment qualification, as it’s a pretty specific definition. Also, it may not be a work parity problem; it may just be how your manager wants to divide up the work. Make sure you understand these things; if you go into HR raving about a hostile work environment that clearly doesn’t exist, the rest of your complaints will likely go unheard.]

  41. Lori*

    Wow people – think of fragrances in ANYTHING (perfume, cologne, deodorant, fabric softener, clothes soap, hand lotion, etc.), as the man-made toxic CHEMICALS that they are. Someone wearing a product that is fragranced and forcing others to smell is, is no different than someone smoking (a bunch of man-made toxic chemicals) and forcing others to inhale that. I can’t believe fragrances have not been outlawed yet, as smoking has in most states. Seriously, find out what is in the products that you use that are poisoning you as well, not just the sensitive people who have a problem (like me) – asthma caused by fragrances is no joke. Check this website –

  42. Jim*

    Just to illustrate how devastating the effects of a perfume / cologne / chemical, sensitivity are, they have completely disabled my wife. She had progressively worse anaphylactic reactions to perfumes ( her last attack in the work place took 5 epi pens and hospital admission to resolve) ect until she could no longer work. The steroids used to treat her asthma have resulted in broken bones, both hips, ribs and a shoulder, glaucoma, cataracts, spinal degeneration. In the span of 3 years she went from 100 % functional to wheelchair bound, unable to walk, and on SSI disability.

    1. Danielle*

      I am so sorry to hear about your wife’s illness and the subsequent fallout. I completely understand because I suffer greatly from it as well. It makes me want to crawl into a shell because alot of people do not understand and are so insensitive to the fact. I am currently pursuing trying to get disability myself because there is not a day out of the month now that I am not sick from being around people/in public. I truly hope that your wife and you will be okay and can find some relief.

  43. Anonymous*

    I am a person that becomes VERY ill (migraines and allergies)from smelling perfumes, fragrances, cleaning products, some make-up, soaps, lotions, air sprays…you name it. It is not my fault and I have received alot of backlash from people that simply do not understand. My neurologist is also a migraine sufferer and has implemented a no fragrance zone in her office. She has written letters to my HR and pretty much states that those scents are not “necessary” during the work day. She believes they can be worn after hours. If multiple people come in with multiple scents and they start to mix….it can be a danger zone for people that are sensitive and for others if it is too much. At first I felt bad about having the medical issue, but, I tend to agree with my doctor now. Why do people need to put on all of that during the work day…or any day really? Who are they trying to impress? I used to work from home and it worked out better for me due to these reasons. My department was laid off, so I was out of work for 2 years. I just received a GREAT job, but, will not be able to work from home since it is a leadership role. I have been sick every single day since I started a few weeks ago. I leave the office and go straight to bed because there are 5 women in a class that come in smelling like they have bathed in perfumes and lotions for an entire year. Why should I have to be sick every day and hindered from learning or concentrating so that the can smell like a perfume ad all day? I think people need to be a little more sensitive to others and use a little more common sense. To me it is like playing your radio blasted in your car at a stop light. EVERYONE does not care to hear what you are listening to and likewise, I do not care to be sick off of what others are smothering themselves in. If one TRULY understood the illnesses from experience, they would reserve their pleasantries for another time.

  44. karen*

    Hi, I am 52 and I too am sensitive to scents. I get migraines, have other unpleasant symptoms such as my face getting red and hot, difficulty breathing, dry eyes etc. I realize that many people find it offensive to be asked not to wear scented products in the workplace. I wish they could try to understand how people like myself feel about it. We just don’t want to be sick..plain and simple. Wearing scents are options we have in our lives, I would like to have the option of being well enough to stay at work and do my job or go to social gatherings without getting sick. I realize it is my problem but if someone else is contributing to it wouldn’t they want to be the one to NOT contribute and help someone’s life be more functional?

    1. Jan*

      Karen said exactly what I was thinking! I completely know what she’s feeling! People that get sick from perfumes, etc. in the workplace didn’t wish this upon themselves! If all of the people that wear all these irritants could have just one hour of what we go through, maybe they would understand how difficult it is. We can’t go to concerts, movies, stores are a big problem because of the perfumes people wear. I work in an office where there is not “no perfume policy”in place and I’m sick all the time. On the weekends, I finally get my sinuses “cleared out” then Monday…it’s back to being sick from people who wear the irritants but won’t stop because they think I’m making it up! Why in the world could you or would you make this up. The whole time I’m sneezing, my nose is stuffed up and burning like crazy and my eyes are puffy & burning. It’s always a problem no matter where we go, but when you have to sit in an office for 8hrs. around it…you can’t even imagine how a person’s nose, eyes, headache feels. I am “dizzy” at work because of it. I would love to work from home, but it’s not an option. I hate having to ask people to change what they do, but I can tell you this; if I were the one that didn’t have this curse and I wore perfume and someone said “could you please not wear it” I would stop because of my kind and caring nature and plain and simple RESPECT. How can people not be sympathetic when they KNOW that we get SICK from this. You would think that with all the technology in today’s world, someone could come up with a way that people like me (us) could live a normal healthy life and not be affected by a sensitivity to perfumes, etc. I would wear a “nose screen” if I could so I could go through just one day of not being sick from irritants everywhere I go! I purposely avoid people and places as much as possible to be able to “Breathe” normally. I’m not a complainer and I hate asking friends and even family not to wear perfumes around me. I will trade this curse with anyone out there that argues the fact that we are being ridiculous asking people to respect us and PLEASE understand this is a real problem. They have no idea unless they could see what it feels like and how sick we get from it.

  45. Carole Wharton*


    Each exposure to the fragrances that you are allergic to make your body less able to handle the next exposure. And the toxic chemical (yes, 80 – 90 % of fragrances are poison) seep in through your skin and eyes and mouth, then move through your entire body. These toxins may also cause swelling in your joints, make your muscles ache, and cause migraines. If you have the gene for an autoimmune desease, environmental toxins (such as fragrances, inks, dyes, canned products, aerosols) can stimulate the desease — a desease that would probably lie dormant without being kicked up by chemicals and heavy metals.

    The problem is much more serious than you realize, more than sinus and headaches. Go get allergy tests for “environmental irritants”, meaning “fragrance mixes, potassium dichromate, nickel” and a few others. The three I noted are the once that people are commonly allergic to, but there are about a dozen an allergist will test you for. Then have the doctor write a letter stating that you are allergic to these substances and that you are to avoid them. Make a copy. Give one copy to your employeer.

    If they do not make the office fragrance-free, file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. Employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations” for people “sensitive” to “environmental toxins”. — Breathing is necessary to live. Wearing fragrance is not.

    People become disabled from fragrances and other environmental toxins. If you feel you may be headed this direction, get disability insurance for your home before too many tests are done (definitely before you are tested for the autoimmune gene). Insurance companies only insure people who are healthy and show no signs of becoming ill.

    Take action. Stand up for your right to breath clean air, and remember, your body is like a sponge, sucking in toxic chemicals from all over.

    1. Jan*

      Thank you for your comment. I called my allergy Dr. after writing my comment as well. I’ve always felt like an outsider on this topic. It seems of all the people I know, I’m the only one who has such a severe reaction (problem) with scented products. I absolutely believe your comment about the body sucking in toxic chemicals. I actually get red blotches on my face, neck, chest (like hives) after I’m exposed to strong perfumes, men’s cologne, scented candles, just to name a few. I can actually taste the perfume when people wear so strongly. My throat gets “horse” I cough and I get to wheezing! I am taking action because I just don’t like feeling dizzy and so sick it affects the way I do my job. Something has to be done or I’ll have to stay in my home and never be around the offenders!

      1. Anonymous*

        How did the allergy test go? Are you allergic to nickel as well as fragrances? If so, my allergist told me that it makes that allergy to fragrances about 3000 to 4000 times as strong because the fragrance mixes with the Nichol.
        I understand about the rashes on your skin. Your skin is the largest organ of your body. Your body is trying to rid of the toxins by way of your skin. I hope you don’t end up getting shingles.
        I hope that you are able to stay away from the things you’re allergic to. Keep me posted.

  46. James Pratt*

    The whole premise of this article, and therefore this argument, is wrong. It is not about “scents” at all, but in fact about the toxic CHEMICALS in these products. Manufacturers need only to list the word “fragrances” on their labels to hide any number of up to 4,000 known toxic and/or carcinogenic chemicals from the FDA (which allows this loophole under the guise of ‘trade secrets’). See It’s not “scents” or “smell” at all, but instead, it is the unregulated (by FDA), toxic CHEMICALS in fragrance products which cause these asthmatic type reactions in people. Please see:

    1. Anonymously Scent-Free*

      Thank you James, for one of the more knowledgeable comments on this post. I have suffered from chemical sensitivities for 13 years and it has impacted every aspect of my life.

      I do my best to improve my immune system — I have spent tens of thousands of dollars on this—but still, it takes just one passive and unsuspecting inhale of air that contains the tiny molecules of cologne or scents from laundry dryer sheets to ruin an otherwise nice day.

      This doesn’t only happen in offices. It happens walking down the street or even a hike in the woods or going to an outdoor event. Mostly, I avoid conferences, theater, movies, etc—so imagine how this limits enjoyment and opportunity of life.

      It is really hard to make it through the day when living day-to-day and facing health-threatening situations become synonymous with each other–because people wearing toxic scents show up unexpectedly in all sorts of places –at the grocery store, etc–and the scents they wear linger after they move on.

      And, as difficult as it is to find a job in this economy, imagine the extra anxiety for someone who can’t anticipate what co-workers might do or what the environment will be, once they do get a job.

      Many chemically scented products are toxic, and the levels of toxic effects vary from person to person, and even from day-to-day depending on the accumulated level of exposure and condition of the immune system. It’s impossible to pin it down to say a little bit is an ok level–so the best thing is to eliminate chemical scents as much as possible from our lives.

      For people who do not experience the devastation that chemical scents cause, it is difficult to understand– because the source/cause is “invisible” and generally the symptoms (with some exceptions) that people experience are “invisible” too — you can’t usually “see” brain fog, the dizziness, headaches, muscle weakness, nerve damage, and general malaise that is caused by chemical scents.

      And, I have no doubt that some of the naysayers posting dismissive comments here may one day experience this agony themselves in 10 or 20 or 30 years from now, because the impacts of exposures are cumulative over time. I never had any allergy my entire life, and then *bam* this illness took me down and my life has never been the same since. And because of the lack of compassion from others in much of society, allergies and chemical sensitivities can also cause people to withdraw from society, become angry, depressed, and act in ways that alienate them from others, as may be the case in some of the postings above.

      It is amazing how people, in their own state of ignorance, have such little compassion for people whose lives are turned upside down by the pervasive aspect of chemical scents. I have personally experienced untold levels of cruelty from others who would rather cling to their specific brands and their daily routines (and even purposely spray my personal space with their products) rather than consider alternatives because of the consequences of their actions on others. Some people are only able to see acceptability through their own narrow definition of their own ‘likes and dislikes’ and ‘normal’ is only their way–a definition that may indeed be largely influenced by corporate marketing.

      I understand that we all have our own likes and dislikes and levels of “normal” ….For me, it is now ‘normal’ to avoid chemical scents. But I can also understand how challenging it is for people to ‘get it’ when they don’t themselves have these sensitivities….For instance, I am not bothered by natural floral scents (like lavender) but other people get quite ill by that. We all have our own ‘normal’ and need to open our hearts and understanding to the pain and suffering of others who don’t fit into our self-described idea of ‘normal.’

      Really, it’s not such a sacrifice to make small changes in life to help others. In fact, it can be uplifting.

      Thank you for this forum. It is my hope that these toxic chemicals will one day be seen as the poisons that they are—just as our thinking about cigarette smoke has changed over the years. Then, maybe I too can go to a movie or shop at a flea market or join a political rally and not worry that I’ll end up sick in bed because of the perfumes and colognes wafting through the air.

  47. Angela*

    I’ve been plagued by this one woman who works in the lab with me for years. Most of the time she works in a closed off lab so that if she never leaves that area it’s okay. The problem is is that she often leaves to come to the copier right in front of me. I can tell for about an hour if she’s walked down a hallway and it lingers in a cloud wherever she goes. She’d been told by about four people directly that it’s too strong and to stop but she just says no. I’ve told my boss that it’s been torturing me with nasusea and headaches and he’s talked to her and she stops for maybe a week then starts up again. Even worse we don’t like each other so she get vindictive and deliberately walks by me when she’s wearing it. HR ignores me completely and I’m ready to quit as I feel totally helpless. What am I supposed to do? If I ask anyone else they agree that her perfume is too strong but no one else will say anything. I guess I will either have to wear a mask or quit.

  48. Julie*

    I have worked at my current job for the last 6 months. I have a co-worker who sits at desk area about 8 feet away from me. About three months ago, she started wearing a very strong perfume. I am not allergic per say but find it very annoying to have to be subjected to the strong smell all day. Some days, she will not smell so strong and I will only smell the perfume if I have to walk by her on the way to the copier but most days, the smell comes all the way across the room and you can always smell where she’s been. It’s not that the perfume smells bad, it’s just strong. It is a very cloying jasmine/gardenia scent. People will walk by the reception area (where we are) and say, “Mary, you smell so good”. That makes me cringe because it only encourages her. None of them have to sit by her all day and be bathed in it. I have asked HR if there is any kind of a policy about wearing “too much perfume” but they told me that “too much perfume” was subjective and what one might consider too much is light to another so another words, only my problem. I don’t feel that there should be an outright ban on fragrance in the office place but to be mindful of others when using it and realize you are not the only person in an office and your likes may not necessarily be what someone else wants to have to smell all day. I am hoping that I can eventually transfer to another position in another part of the building. I am also looking for another job because this is the worst use of perfume I have ever smelled in the workplace.

  49. Carole Wharton*

    The Human Rights Commission can help. Allergies are covered by them.
    You may also be allergic to nickel (ie aerosols and fragrances contained in metal or with a metal top, as nickel leaches into the fragrance mix, making it 3,000-4,000 times stronger and keeping it in your body for 30+ years — according to my allergist).
    The federal government allows fragrances to be much stronger today than they allowed in the 1970 (the slackened they guidelines in 1978 and 1979). Fragrances allowed in America are not allowed in some other countries, they are too toxic. — 80 to 90 percent of fragrances are toxic, literally poison. And no amount of heavy metal is good for the body.
    Each exposure to fragrance and/or metal will weaken the system and make future exposures worse. Your reactions will get worse, and it will take less of the chemical and less exposure time for you to get a reaction. Eventually you may end up unable to go to the grocery store, out to eat, to a movie, or get on a plane. Even passing by someone wearing a fragrance will effect you.
    So stand up for yourself now. Get medical proof of your allergy. Get a letter from your doctor. Show it to your employer and inform him/her of how serious this is. If he/she doesn’t fully cooperate, file a claim with the Human Rights Commission.
    Protect your health.
    I also recommend getting homeowners insurance for disability BEFORE getting medical proof of your condition. (Afterwords will be too late, you’ll be rejected for the insurance.)
    Allergies to the point of “Sensitivities” are covered by Social Security Disability.
    Good luck.

  50. Bill*

    This scent thing is just another way for controlling people to exercise their demented little control-freak issues onto other people. They’re usually also the ones to ‘claim’ to suffer from OCD, when all they really suffer from is control-freak syndrome. The rest of us are catching on that all these people really do is destroy a work environment themselves. I have noticed more and more companies catching on to these scammers lately.

  51. Deb*

    this is want no one is looking at. if I light up a cigarette everyone would be yell and screaming. why because you can not contain the smoke or smell. so explain how this is any different ??? if you can not eat peanuts because you have a reaction, would it be ok if you coworker made you eat peanut butter because they like it. I try not to say anything most people just walk threw office and I hold my nose till they leave and put a fan on. only because I do not want to change every one else life. but I have one person in my office that wears lotion that is making me ill. and she said I am just targating her. so I must start looking for another job, even when I love my job and I have been here threw many of ups and down. its times to go.

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