should your office ban fragrances?

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.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 279 comments… read them below }

  1. Roscoe

    These always seem tough to enforce. As stated, everything has fragrances. Its one thing to ask me to not wear cologne or after shave. I’d be fine with that. Completely different to ask me to switch to scent free laundry detergent, deodorant, or body wash. I’m sympathetic, but everyone else shouldn’t have to change all of that for one person.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      I’m sympathetic, but everyone else shouldn’t have to change all of that for one person.

      I don’t think you can really make that a blanket statement. Why are deodorant and body wash off-limits to change but cologne and aftershave aren’t?

      1. fposte

        Because, culturally speaking, adding stuff just to make you smell is optional, but washing and deodorizing are mandatory. So it doesn’t cost me anything to stop spraying Chanel, but if you want me to change soap and deodorant, it’s getting both very personal and costing me money.

        1. OhNo

          Plus you can also run afoul of other disabilities – there are many people with sensitive skin or contact allergies, who may only be able to use certain soap/shampoo/deodorant products without aggravating their condition.

          1. AnonasaurusRex

            But a lot of the time products aimed at people with those conditions are purposefully fragrance free and color free because perfumes and dyes are a huge skin sensitivity trigger.

            1. A Bug!

              Most products that are “unscented” or “fragrance-free” aren’t actually odorless. It’s just that they don’t have added fragrances. They still have a scent, usually a more subtle, plain-soap smell, but it’s still enough to set off some people’s sensitivities.

              There’s just no blanket solution; it needs to be addressed case-by-case and with reasonable communication and understanding from both sides.

            2. michelenyc

              As someone with sensitive skin I can also not just switch products to something else. Some of the fragrance free/color free products have ingredients that can cause my skin to flare up and it has taken me a lot of my life to find products that actually work for me.

            3. Kate M

              But it also doesn’t have to be a medical condition – maybe a certain shampoo I’ve found is the absolute best for my hair, which would be much harder to deal with otherwise. Maybe I have to buy a cheaper detergent that smells chemically because that’s all I can afford.

            4. Vicki

              I’m sorry, I really am, but I am not going to shop for fragrance-free, color-free, whatever-free shampoo for a co-worker.

              If the co-worker is close enough to smell my soap or shampoo hours after my shower, I’ll be writing to AAM about personal space issues.

        2. Allison

          Right, basically this. If I had to switch to fragrance-free everything, there would only be a couple days a week I could continue to use my scented body washes, lotions, deodorants, etc., and I’d need to buy a whole set of new toiletries to use during the work week.

          1. INTP

            And you would have to buy many of those new products from specialty brands that might cost significantly more, not work very well for your skin and hair, require ordering online or trips to specific stores, etc. Most drugstores sell some options for unscented body lotion but beyond that it can get difficult for facial skincare and cosmetics (I know this because I can’t use fragrance on my skin – I don’t even currently wear foundation because I can’t find one under $30 with no fragrance that doesn’t look like clay on my face), and beyond difficult for haircare. And besides the cost and inconvenience, if you have difficult skin or hair that you’ve finally narrowed down some products that work for, you might now have to go around with persistent acne or frizzy hair for your coworker. It’s not a burden to place on the whole office lightly.

          2. Jadelyn

            This is a huge part of it, for me. Fancy body-care products are my biggest vice – Haus of Gloi is my biggest weakness, but I also regularly try out new Etsy sellers and other small organic/handmade brands – and a lot of it is *because* I enjoy the sensual experience of pampering myself in the shower with things that smell incredibly good to me. It sets the tone of my day, it’s a little bit of luxury in my otherwise relatively-low-income life, it is absolutely part of the self-care I undertake for my own mental health reasons, and for someone to ask me to give that up 5 days out of 7 and go buy a whole new set of toiletries that, to me, will feel incredibly dreary in comparison with the stuff I truly love using, is absolutely outside the bounds of reasonable accommodation.

            Perfume is fundamentally different, since it’s an after-hygiene add-on, but you can pry my scented body wash from my cold dead hands.

      2. Erin

        Because you have to clean yourself, and it’s unreasonable for an employer to tell you what soap you’re allowed to use; you don’t really need to use after shave or cologne. And the latter products go on after, tending to smell stronger and linger longer.

      3. INTP

        It’s hard to find things like shampoo and hair styling products that are unscented. Even harder if you have skin sensitivities and allergies yourself (i.e., I can’t use sodium laureth sulfate on my scalp, and it’s in the vast majority of shampoos). Besides having to buy new sets of things, people are limited to a small number of specialty brands and specialty products that may be hard to find or not work for them. I have fragrance sensitivities myself and while I find it easy enough to find unscented body wash and body lotion (though a little pricier than if I were willing to use the cheapest brand on the shelf), the selection of hair care products is extremely limited. I just use brands with fragrances I find less irritating instead of paying a lot of money for frizzy hair because the one or two unscented products on the market don’t work for my hair. I cannot use scented products on my face at all, and as a result I can’t use most skincare products from the drugstore or many makeup products – I deal with it, but it’s definitely a burden in terms of cost and convenience.

        Of course, I don’t think it’s necessary for anyone to use lotions that are formulated to double as perfumes, like those from Bath and Body Works. But avoiding fragrances in ALL personal care products is a very significant burden that I don’t know is fair to ask of employees versus, say, letting the sensitive employee work from home or work in a private office and remote into meetings.

        1. Turtle Candle

          Not to mention that often the scent-free stuff is more expensive, because you often have to buy specialty or niche brands. I briefly lived with someone who was so scent-sensitive that we had to buy unscented everything, and it was noticeably more expensive. (This was especially true as at the time I bought almost exclusively generic/store-brand items, and there were almost never unscented generic/store-brand versions. But even compared to ‘regular’ name brands, there’s often an uptick in price for the unscented version or the ‘allergen free’ line or whatever.)

          It’s also hard because people who aren’t scent-sensitive (including myself before that six-month period) often don’t even realize how many things that they buy are scented. Logically, if you had asked me whether dryer sheets or Dawn dish soap were scented and I’d stopped to think about it, I would have realized, probably yes. But if I wasn’t asked to stop and think about it, I wouldn’t have thought of them as ‘scented’ in the way that, say, a Bath and Body Works lotion or body wash is scented.

          1. KR

            An aside… My dad used to have a very sensitive nose when he was on a certain medicine. Everything in our house from laundry detergent to lotion had to be either unscented or “Free & Clear” because he couldn’t stand perfumes of any kind. I remember walking past him one morning on my way to school and he stopped me demanding to know what perfume I was wearing and why. He didn’t believe me when I said it was just my deodorant until I brought it out to show him. I hadn’t even noticed there was a smell. Now that I live on my own and he’s off his medicine, I very happily buy scented products and scent boosters for my laundry.

          2. INTP

            Yes, definitely. And even if the fragrance free options are commonly available, it still costs more because you have to buy THAT PRODUCT all of the time, whether it is on sale or not, whereas many people on a budget will buy the detergent or dish soap or whatever that is on sale that week, since the products are otherwise pretty interchangeable. When you consider that there’s usually some product at 25-50% off in every category, that can add up to a lot of extra spending. And this goes for everything from trash bags to high-end cosmetics. I don’t even wear foundation because I tried the very few fragrance-free, dry skin friendly tinted moisturizers and CC creams I could find under $30 and they didn’t work well. Even at Sephora, the brands that cater to fragrance-free are predominantly at the high end of the already high Sephora price range.

      4. Roscoe

        Basically its what everyone else said. Soap to clean my body and deodorant and kind of necessary, whereas cologne and aftershave aren’t. Unscented costs me more money, and frankly I should have the freedom to use the soap I like

      5. Artemesia

        Perfumes and colognes are MUCH more pervasive when used than are soaps and body washes. I suppose it is possible for someone’s body wash to fill a room with scent, but that has not been my experience. But our new doorman wears some sort of cologne — maybe Axe spray? and I get a headache if I linger in the lobby and it insinuates itself into the inner lobby and elevators when he is on duty. I am hoping someone else will deal with it. He is a really great young guy on his first big job and I don’t want to criticize him — hoping one of the other doormen or the manager deals with it.

        I had a visiting colleague from the Middle East at the workplace a few years ago who used cologne that would completely fill the hallways and public spaces. I could only escape by closing my office door; the staff didn’t have that option. I didn’t feel a woman should approach him about this (and I had no management role vis a vis him) and the man who was responsible for him being there would not tackle it either. It was 6 mos of hell.

        Sometimes I catch a hint of soap or shampoo — that is nothing like what you get with someone who uses perfumes and colognes which are designed to linger and have strong strong scents.

      6. Vicki

        Because cologne, perfume, and body spray are _meant_ to generate a fragrance in a diameter if more than an inch.

        Shampoo, soap, and lotion are not.

        I have a (now-former) co-worker who wore perfume. It was noticeable from 10 feet away (i.e. walking past her cubicle, not going in, not just standing next to her).

    2. Erin

      Well put.

      I would be happy to stop wearing body spray or perfume, but would absolutely draw the line at being told what laundry detergent, body soap, and hair products I could use. The line needs to be drawn somewhere to avoid the rule being too intrusive on personal space, and this is where I think it should be drawn.

      She can’t expect everyone everywhere she goes to accommodate this – she had to take precautions herself, as you would with an allergy. She should discuss with her doctor what steps to take to avoid a migraine reaction – medications, a singular office, proper air circulation, etc. She cannot IMO reasonably ask her employer to say, “Excuse me, I’ll be passing out a list of acceptable products to use on your body and to wash your clothes with, effective immediately, thanks.”

  2. DMC

    I sympathize as I can be affected by certain smells and get headaches (though typically not migraines). That being said, fragrance-free policies are a pain in the arse, logistically and from an HR standpoint. However, it is worth bringing up and maybe the company will consider a fragrance-sensitive policy (which means go real easy on scents, no perfumes or perfume-scented lotions), which isn’t too burdensome, in general.

    1. Ihmmy

      huge pain in the arse, especially if you have a lot of visitors that you need to try and notify about their overuse of cologne or perfume. I still haven’t figured out a polite way to tell our visitors that our business is ‘scent aware’ (so not officially scent free) but that they should cut down. I only get bad headaches from scents, another person who sometimes works on our floor can have an anaphylactic reaction to scents.

      1. OfficePrincess

        What about something tucked in with the parking/logistics information? “Parking is available on the street or in a lot around the corner on 3rd street. Please use the main entrance and Sophia, our receptionist, will let us know you’ve arrived. Please note that Chocolate Teapots Inc is a scent aware facility due to respect for our employees’ health, so we ask all employees and businesses to refrain from wearing heavy scents in the building. We look forward to seeing you on Friday.”

        1. Windchime

          I love this wording but I worry that it wouldn’t work because nobody thinks that their own particular scent of perfume or cologne is “heavy”.

  3. Michelle

    I sympathize with your daughter, as I am a migraine sufferer as well, but scents only bother me after the migraine starts. I think reasonable people would do their best to avoid triggering your daughter’s migraines, but I agree that it can be really tricky to ban all fragrances in the workplace. For example, I often get complemented on my clothes smelling nice and I assume it’s because of the dryer sheets I use. I never noticed the scent lingered, as they are just regular dollar store brand dryer sheets. As Allison mentioned in the article, all kinds of products have scents. I also agree to not frame the request as “you are rude for wearing perfume/cologne”. Just stick with the health effects and most of the coworkers will do their best avoid triggering your daughter’s migraine.

  4. Analyst

    Not too tough… my overall industry trends fragrance-free and I’ve worked in FF offices for the past 12 years. It’s even something HR mentions to people coming in to interview so they know not to load up on scents. FF usually just applies to cologne/perfume, not laundry detergents.

  5. Jade

    I’m curious what kind of workplace it is. If it’s an office, she could maybe ask that the coworkers whose desks are nearest to her not wear scented things. Perhaps her coworkers would even be willing to switch cubicles, if possible, so that people who don’t mind not wearing scents could be nearest her. If it’s a non-office environment, that’s gonna be even harder to work around.

    1. Allison

      That sounds reasonable. I wear scented lotions and I have a tube of scented hand cream on my desk, but if even one person in my corner of the office said it bothered them, I’d gladly switch to something less scented.

      1. Windchime

        Me too. I love my Jergens, but I definitely wouldn’t want to make someone feel ill or have a reaction to it and I would happily switch to fragrance-free lotion if it was requested. I already don’t wear any perfume to the office because I’m aware that it might bother people. I used to work with a guy who smoked like a chimney and then would slather on the cologne and I could barely stand to be near him. My asthma would start up immediately.

        1. Jade

          That raises another valid point- cigarette smoke. How do you deal with it if the smell of cigarette smoke lingering on someone’s clothes is a trigger for someone? Seems unlikely anyone would like being told they can’t smoke on their breaks because a coworker is sensitive.

          1. Melissa

            Cigarette odor makes me queasy. Granted, not as debilitating as migraines (which I also get, but odor isn’t a trigger). I might ask to switch cubicles if I sat near someone who was a heavy enough smoker that I could smell it from mine. Don’t think my employer could enforce a working hours nonsmoking policy.

          2. simonthegrey

            My best friend is mildly allergic (asthma reaction) to cigarette smoke. Her office (at the same place I work but different site) is fragrance free because of one coworker who complains about headaches but I don’t think they are migraine level. Also, not worded to sound like I don’t believe the person; I just don’t work with her so I don’t know the severity. However, that same coworker smokes, and was recently reshuffled to share an office with my friend. The coworker reported my friend for wearing lotion (which was actually deodorant) so my friend asked for permission to bring an air purifier to work for her sake with the smoke AND for the coworker’s sake with any chance fragrances. It works out for them I guess.

  6. Victoria

    “Fragrances from laundry detergent, body lotion, hair products, and even soap can all linger, particularly if they’re strong to begin with. That means that truly effective fragrance-free policies end up having to restrict more than just perfume and aftershave; they often have to address a whole range of products that people use, which can end up feeling intrusive to some.”

    Well… yes, I would find this quite intrusive! Are there people who wouldn’t? I would be completely on board for a no-perfume / cologne / body spray / scented hand lotion office policy for this reason, but it seems to be going a few steps too far to ask people to switch over to entirely unscented shampoo and laundry detergent… I’m not even sure where you find such things, and it could involve a non-inconsiderable amount of cost.

    1. Callie

      I use unscented laundry detergent (it’s usually labeled as “free” or “free and clear”), and I use an unscented hand cream because of eczema (Aveeno) but I have never come across an unscented shampoo/conditioner.

      1. Elle the new Fed

        Same here. I’m unscented in all my personal products as well because I have sensitive skin, but until recently, it was a lot of work to all the unscented stuff. Definitely no unscented shampoo unless you count a straight unscented soap like Dr. Bronner’s as shampoo.

        I’ll also add that even Aveeno, Lubriderm and Eucerin have a lingering scent that can be easy to pick up on. My sibling has severe eczema and has always used a variety of creams like this.

        1. fposte

          That’s the tricky thing about sensitivities, too–there are plenty of things that have strong scents that don’t come from added fragrance (and then there are the things that have added fragrance to mask an otherwise unappealing odor). So if just a strong odor is, say, a migraine trigger, doing away with added fragrances can help but it won’t solve it, and you could sometimes make somebody offend more.

        2. simonthegrey

          I use regular moroccan oil on my hair and untreated shea butter for lotion. Indeed, both have smells, just not sweet ones.

        3. Unegen

          It’s funny you mention Dr. Bronner’s, because the smell of plain, straight-up castille soap (like Bronner’s) is one of the few scents that will give me an instant migraine. Of course I have to pretty much stick my nose in the bottle to get a whiff, it’s not a smell I can smell *on* people, but in context it’s just kind of funny. Everything has a smell and you really can’t win! :)

      2. OhNo

        I generally prefer fragrance-free laundry soap and lotion, too (although I go for Vanicream – which is an excellent product, in case anyone’s looking for one).

        I’ve seen scent-free shampoo exactly once. One of the girls in my dorm in college had some contact allergies that meant she had to use specials soaps and the like. She had an unscented two-in-one soap/shampoo combo. All I know about it is that she got it from a company that specializes in hypoallergenic products, and I’ve never seen it since.

        So apparently it’s out there somewhere, but good luck finding it! I’m sure it’s also ridiculously expensive.

        1. irritable vowel

          A little baking soda mixed with water is an excellent fragrance-free shampoo.

          1. cardiganed librarian

            Seriously? Everyone’s supposed to go no-poo? I have done so (unsuccessfully, in the end) and it was not a simple substitution. That would be polishing-up-the-resume territory for me.

            1. irritable vowel

              Not at all suggesting that. The person I replied to said it was very difficult to find fragrance-free shampoo, and my response was to that. I’m fully in favor of everyone doing what they like with their hair. :)

            1. dragonzflame

              It works if you balance the pH out with watered-down vinegar (1tbsp to 1 cup for both). It’s like conditioner. I’ve done BS/ACV for five years now and it does work well for me. But it’s certainly not an option for everyone’s skin type – my husband can’t do it. Not to mention the transition period, which was awful and disgusting (for two weeks my hair felt like greasy hay), and I was able to get away with it because at the time I was exclusively work-from-home-self-employed, but I would not have done it if I’d had an actual job.

          2. Unegen

            Sure, if you want your scalp’s moisture barrier completely compromised. Baking soda is TERRIBLE for skin.

        2. LawPancake

          This is definitely not a workable solution for everyone but, if anyone is interested, JR Liggett makes shampoo bars with no added fragrance that are pretty cheap (like $6 a bar). I tried them after I realized that our water is just too hard to go no-poo without massive dandruff. They’re detergent free and lather nicely.

      3. Anxa

        They are soooo hard to find!

        Why, WHY?! is that I can go to the grocery store and find an entire aisle of shampoo, is there not a single suitable unscented one?

        And of course there are other considerations, too, like SLS content, animal testing, etc. So if you do manage to find unscented shampoo, you have to settle elsewhere.

        I gave up on fragrance free shampoo that fits my budget and works for me. Sadly, this means I have to cut down on my shampoo use and daily showering is simply impossible, unless it’s the throws of summer. I am lucky right now that my job is pretty casual, but I worry about how ‘professional’ my appearance it.

        I have fine, dirty blond hair. A good washing does not last as long for me as it would for others. But if I shampoo daily, there’s a good chance of getting a rash, which is even worse than regular oily.

        Do cosmetics company really not know how many of us are desperate for gentle, effective shampoo?

        1. Windchime

          Would baby shampoo fit the bill? It seems like they should make a fragrance-free version of that but maybe not. It’s been a long time since I’ve purchased baby shampoo.

          1. Rana

            Alas, no. Because they know that many parents want their babies’ heads to have “that baby smell.” Weirdly, you can purchase baby shampoo that is “gluten free.”

            1. Kay

              Hahaha yes! I recently tried to find the gentlest-possible shampoo in a drugstore, and I saw the gluten-free label on one! They also had “organic” varieties. I couldn’t smell them because they were safety-sealed, so I had to wing it. The one I chose REEKS of baby powder scent and leaves my hair looking unwashed. >:/

          2. ancolie

            Baby shampoo is formulated to be gentle on the eyes, not necessarily on hair or skin. It actually can be much harsher than non-baby shampoos.

      4. Older not yet wiser

        At CVS you can go to the pharmacy and ask for scent free shampoo and conditioner. No prescription is needed so not sure why it’s kept behind the pharmacy counter. It is a bit pricy but not outrageous.

    2. Bwmn

      I think the reason why the line often ends up in a murky discretionary realm is because of enforcement. No fragrance at all is easy, but drawing the line can be tricky.

      If the line is “no perfume, cologne, body spray, or scented hand lotion” – that still doesn’t address fragrances in products like hair spray or body soap that can be quite strong. Old Spice and Axe (to name a few) make body washes that are aggressively scented – but if it’s acceptable on the policy then how does HR/management respond? Is it a situation where it needs to be reported and then can only change if there’s some kind of medical accommodation? Or just a discretionary consideration where management/HR need to intervene case by case anyways? And then if I know that Bob is allowed to use Scenty Body Soap, and Jill is allowed to use Scenty Hair Spray, then who’s going to notice if I dab just a little perfume/cologne/body spray/scented lotion?

      Our HR Director wears about a gallon of perfume daily, so even though we have a scent policy on “discrete use”, if that’s how our HR defines it…..

    3. Terra

      Not to mention what if she’s unlucky enough to be triggered by mint/toothpaste smell. Some stuff just doesn’t come in a form that isn’t potentially going to trigger something in someone.

      1. MsMaryMary

        My dad has problems with fragrances, and the smell of lip balm sets him off. Doesn’t matter if it’s menthol, cherry, mint, vanilla, rose, etc. I even tried natural brands that are honey scented or have no added fragrance (maybe I could get away with plain petroleum jelly, but I don’t really want to carry a jar of vaseline in my purse). So I try not to apply lip balm near Dad, but it’s practically a reflex for me. Half the time I’m halfway through digging it out of my purse before I stop myself.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          On a random note, they do make tiny “travel size” containers of vaseline now!

        2. Artemesia

          Vaseline has long had a tiny tube of lip balm which is really just a tiny tube of vaseline. I have always found it most effective to prevent chapped lips and used it for years although now I use a Burts Bees product for that. Vaseline’s is a tiny tube with a dark blue top about the size of a chapstick.

          1. March

            I use one and I really like it. However, I don’t know if they do unscented – the one I have smells like cocoa butter, I have yet to see one that doesn’t have a smell to it.

    4. Murphy

      I would be completely on board for a no-perfume / cologne / body spray / scented hand lotion office policy for this reason, but it seems to be going a few steps too far to ask people to switch over to entirely unscented shampoo and laundry detergent… I’m not even sure where you find such things, and it could involve a non-inconsiderable amount of cost.
      Agreed. I use unscented a lot of things, but certainly not everything.

      And on the vein of intrusive, I’d be hella pissed that I couldn’t use a body wash with scent but I still have to ride the elevators/sit in meetings with groups of people who have just come back inside from smoking, for example (one I literally just dealt with and wanted to throw up).

    5. Drink the juice Shelby

      Oh heck no on switching shampoo & conditioner. It took me years to figure out what works best on my curly hair. I hate to sound selfish, but seriously that’s a huge change. I could easily go without scented lotions or perfumes.

      1. Talvi

        Yeah, I’ve had a really hard time finding a shampoo that works for me; it took me quite a bit of trial and error in the first place. I actually recently tried a new one, and switched back to my old brand because the new one weighed my hair down and made it look greasy but washing my hair daily makes it dry and brittle – a no-win situation. Much-beloved shampoo is SLS and silicone-free, doesn’t give me build-up or residue, and my hair feels light and looks clean on day 2 after washing.

        I have no problem using unscented hand lotion (and an unscented glycerin-based bar soap will do for me too), but you will have to pry this shampoo out of my cold, dead hands.

  7. 2horseygirls

    My ex-husband had to deal with this years ago when he managed a small group of employees. One gentleman wore a very strong fragrance, and said it was cultural/religious in origin, so he was free to wear it. Another employee went home with a migraine at least twice a week by noon, and EH would take his clothes off ASAP when he got home – it was that strong. I don’t recall how it was resolved – I think one or the other quit.

    In my previous position, the college president was VERY sensitive to smells, and would not hesitate to call someone out for using scented lotion. Interestingly, the scented lotion I used never garnered comment one….?

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

      I think some of it has to do with the scent itself.

      Evidently, my former coworker could not stand the Bath and Bodyworks Cherry Blossom scent. And..she didn’t know that until I brought it to work to keep in desk.

      1. Allison

        A lot of people can’t stand that scent. I loved it when it came out, and then one day I put some on in the car with my then-boyfriend and he complained that it was making his eyes water. I finished up the stuff I had but I don’t think I bought it ever again, even after we broke up, because I knew it was a smell that bothered people.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

          I was surprised to find out how many people do not like it!

          Like you, I have never purchased another bottle because of that.

      2. MsChanandlerBong

        I absolutely love how it smells, but I’ll have a headache within minutes if someone wears it around me.

          1. virago

            I loved Ecco Bella vanilla body lotion but stopped wearing it entirely after a co-worker asked, “What smells like pipe tobacco?”

            When I replied, “That must be my body lotion,” she exclaimed, “Oh, my goodness! I never would have asked that if I’d known it was you!” We *both* felt bad after that.

      3. Nina

        I like Cherry Blossom, but the Japanese Cherry Blossom scent is way too strong, imo. My mother loves that one.

      1. Temperance

        I worked with someone who didn’t wear deodorant for what he said were cultural reasons. He had a really strong BO smell because I don’t think he showered very often, either.

  8. MK

    I am surprised that there are workplaces who consider it rude(!) to wear fragrances. Unless the OP means wearing very heavy scents or too much of it, or to insist on wearing it near someone who has an adverse reaction.

    I think a no perfume\cologne\aftershave policy is reasonable, “no fragrances at all” would really be too intrusive.

    1. Allison

      I’m pretty sure I’ve run into that sentiment here as well, with commenters saying it’s inconsiderate to wear perfume or scented lotions to work, because some people could be allergic or hypersensitive.

      Personally, I think they’re okay as long as they’re not super strong, no one has mentioned an allergy or hypersensitivity, and you don’t spray anything on in the office. I hate being in the bathroom right after someone has sprayed something.

        1. Allison

          I agree it’s unpleasant to smell another person, but do you really think everyone who wears perfume in public is being rude?

          1. the gold digger

            No. Rude implies a deliberate ignoring of the feelings of others. But wearing a lot of perfume is inconsiderate – the wearer has not even thought that her or his scent might not be welcomed. It’s thoughtless.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I agree with that. I think that as a general rule you should only be able to smell someone else’s perfume/cologne/scented whatever if you’re making out with them.

              Or, okay, hugging them.

                1. many bells down

                  I was shopping the other day and I handled some item of clothing that had clearly been tried on by someone who had BATHED in perfume. My hands reeked of this floral scent even after I washed them! So thanks for sharing, Flower Power Lady!

            2. Allison

              Wearing perfume and wearing a lot of perfume aren’t the same thing, and if you say wearing perfume is inconsiderate, I’m not going to assume you actually mean “too much perfume.” Of course wearing a heavy scent is inconsiderate, but not everyone who wears a scent is wearing too much. I’m not trying to start an argument here but I would like people to be clear when they talk about this, unless you think any fragrance is too much, but again, you need to specify that because we can’t read your mind.

              1. Green

                There’s also the problem defining “too much” or “too strong.” If someone isn’t touching you–and especially if they’re a few feet away–they generally shouldn’t be able to smell you, whether or not you think the smell is pleasant. It’s not rude to wear perfume, but it is inconsiderate to assume that other people find the same smells as you do pleasant.

            3. Cath in Canada

              I was once on a transatlantic flight with someone who’d decided that it was acceptable to basically marinade herself in very strong perfume before getting sealed into a metal tube with hundreds of strangers for ten hours. That seemed pretty rude.

              (I wasn’t sitting near her on the plane, thankfully, I just smelled her from across the departure lounge. If I’d ended up close to her I would have shown a flight attendant my asthma inhaler and requested a move!)

      1. Artemesia

        Very few people have a clue about what ‘super strong’ means though. One quickly gets olfactory fatique for their personal scene whether it is BO or perfume. And then because they can’t smell it, they spray on some more. I sat next to someone on a plane one time who had a serious asthma attack when on landing the woman in the seat in front of us, already well perfumed, took out a spray bottle and gave herself another good spritz. The woman in the next seat literally began to choke and turn blue and had to use a rescue inhaler to get off the plane.

    2. Stranger than fiction

      I’m thinking she meant wearing too much perfume in general is rude. I was always told nobody should be able to smell your perfume unless they’re very close to you,like giving you a hug. Leaving a cloud lingering everywhere you go is just not cool anywhere.

      1. Kyrielle

        And, please, please, go minimal on your scents when you will be traveling in enclosed spaces in close proximity to strangers (buses, trains, or heaven forbid, airplanes).

        I may have just returned from some air travel in which, fortunately, the offending scent was not one I turned out to be sensitive to. I wasn’t pleased, but I wasn’t suffering a screaming sinus headache either, so that’s sort of lucky.

        1. Allison

          I remember the first time I wore Bombshell by Victoria’s Secret. Great scent, but hooooo boy is it strong, and I didn’t realize how strong until I could smell myself on the subway. I felt terrible, and I rarely wear it anymore – when I do, it’s one light spritz.

      2. pope suburban

        Oh my, yes. When I was temping, I had an assignment to cover someone’s maternity leave, which came with a huge office. Think space for two big desks and loads of filing cabinets, and plenty of room to move. The cabinets contained payroll information, so people would come in periodically and get documents; no biggie, I was clear across the room. Except for one lady, who wore so much powdery, flowery perfume that I could taste it, and would sneeze (No known allergies here, mind). It lingered for a good ten-fifteen minutes. I have no idea how anyone shared space with her. It was terribly unpleasant.

        Weirdly, I always got clobbered with that same scent when I was out doing shopping, and while it’s less common where I live now, when I find myself tearing up in public (Sometimes in empty shop aisles, because someone has crop-dusted with their perfume), it’s always that powdery-floral stuff. I honestly can’t fathom how someone could get scent-blind to *that damn much* perfume. Like, sure, a bit, I could see getting accustomed, but at this point I don’t know how their eyes aren’t watering.

    3. AnotherHRPro

      Actually some workplaces require no perfumes/fragrances for their employees due to the products that they make. You probably don’t want your cookie maker to wear perfume or your favorite cookie not taste good! :)

      1. fposte

        Somebody here once noted that medical facilities working with IVF ban fragrances very strictly because of the sensitivity of the embryos, which I thought was really interesting.

      2. Rebecca Too

        Yes! Like the Starbucks barista that wears an insane amount of patchouli, puts the lid on your coffee cup, and bingo….you have a patchouli latte. No thanks!

  9. Bowserkitty

    My employer of several thousand has a strict policy in place but some departments enforce it more/less than others. I don’t work with patients so my area of my department is less enforced, but I do recall a coworker (who DOES work with patients) on the other side of the campus getting sent home one day for wearing a fragrance in excess. I don’t think it’s a bad policy but I think it would be difficult to start up. It had been well established by the time I got here.

    1. Bowserkitty

      I should note, after reading some of the comments, that this policy does NOT extend to deodorant or body wash! That would be horrible for me…

      1. Sarianna

        As someone who uses fragrance-free deodorant (and a dab or two of tea tree oil in the middle of summer as well), I’m curious why you would find that so awful.

        1. chocolate lover

          As someone who actively seeks out unscented deodorant when shopping, it isn’t necessarily easy to find. At some of my local stores, I haven’t been able to find any at all.

          1. Vulcan social worker

            I wear Dove fragrance free. Though I don’t need others to go completely scent-free around me (refraining from perfume, cologne, hand lotion, body spray will do for most people), it was really helpful that my partner did when we got together. She uses Mitchum. I’m not sure if it’s fragrance free or unscented. (Unscented products have fragrance plus masking agents and can still be triggers. I’m fine with the Mitchum though.) Both the Dove and the Mitchum are fairly easy to find. Every store doesn’t carry them, but if I keep my eyes open, I do see them.

          2. irritable vowel

            Deodorant crystals are fragrance free and easy to find (I get mine at Whole Foods). They are not anti-perspirant, so you still sweat (which is good, IMO), but they kill the bacteria that create the odor.

            1. fposte

              Yeah, they’re basically roll-on deodorant in rock form. Aluminum salts are a wondrous thing!

          3. Zahra

            I use a men’s unscented deodorant that I buy at the supermarket (Loblaws turned Provigo, for the Canadians). I use a men’s deodorant because it’s cheaper than women’s and unscented because I prefer that to most masculine scents.

        2. KR

          Personally, I would find it awful because I can be a sweaty monster and it took me close to 10 years to find a deodorant that worked for me. If my workplace told me to find another kind, it would be very difficult.

        3. alter_ego

          well, for me it would be awful because, in addition to it being really hard to find unscented things, I just plain LIKE the smell of my “summer breeze” body wash, and “citrus explosion” deodorant. I own a lot of it since I buy it on sale, or in bulk at costco, and it would require a lifestyle change on my part to accommodate.

        4. Observer

          Also, a lot of fragrance free deodorants depend on ingredients that can be irritating to some.

          1. Jadelyn

            THIS Oh my god I cannot STAND tea tree oil. It’s supposedly super good for oily skin and I do use essential oils for a lot of skincare stuff, but I can’t do tea tree because the smell grosses me out so badly.

    2. Former Diet Coke Addict

      My boss is keen on LOADS of cologne. He must have a lifetime supply of the stuff, he practically bathes in it. It’s eye-watering to encounter him first thing in the morning. I often wish I could send him home. And I like fragrance! In moderation!

  10. EB

    I’m scent-sensitive (they cause migraines and aggravate headaches I already have) and I would not feel comfortable asking my to colleagues go completely scent-free, though I think it’s reasonable to ask them to go easy on the scents. It’s fine as long as I can only smell it if I’m close to them. It’s a problem if it lingers in the air, sometimes even after they leave. I would also ask that people not spray perfume/body spray in the office.

    1. Rebecca in Dallas

      Same, I get migraines and certain perfumey smells can either cause them or make a slight headache turn into a rager. In the past, I’ve politely asked coworkers not to spray their perfume at their desks and the reply was, “No problem! Sorry it bothered you.” It’s a totally reasonable request.

    2. Sarah G

      This! I work at a fragrance-free workplace, and it’s not nearly as big a deal as a lot of people are presuming it would be. We are not expected to change every bath product, laundry detergent, etc. People are just expected not to use perfumes or heavily scented products, like Bath & Bodyworks type for example. Mild everyday soap/shampoo smells, or mildly scented hair products, are NOT an issue. It’s just about being conscientious. Personally, I love it because I’m sensitive to fragrance, although I don’t have a strong physical reaction. And FWIW, Whole Foods 365 line offers very inexpensive unscented shampoo, conditioner ($3 each I think), and other bath products.

  11. Bee Eye LL

    I used to work with a lady who was a heavy smoker and she covered with tons of perfume. You could tell everywhere she had been because the smoky/flowery smell would linger long after she left.

    1. Temperance

      At my last job, we actually let a temp go for that reason. She smelled so terrible and it made the reception desk reek. My poor pregnant coworker’s morning sickness would get triggered by her smell.

    2. Master Bean Counter

      I put up a hook to hang my jacket on behind my desk because of a similar lady. I used to hang my jacket on the communal rack. One day I had to pull over and remove my jacket because I couldn’t stand the smell. I brought in one of those stick on hooks for my jacket the next day. I also kept a fan pointed so that the air flowed from my desk to hers to help with the smell.

      1. Rat in the Sugar

        As a smoker who is sometimes guilty of this, I will say that I do it not because I think it is fooling anyone (I know it is not, my clothes are still smoky fresh out of the dryer) but because I enjoy the scent of my cologne and I like to get an occasional whiff of it as I move throughout the day. My nose is so dead from smoking that I have to use several spritzes or I feel like I’m not wearing any at all.

        I’m trying to do this less and remember that my cologne is more for other people, and I should just spritz my pillow if I like it so damn much. :/

    3. EB

      The combination of perfume and cigarette smoke is my absolute #1 trigger. I’ll have a throbbing headache within minutes.

    4. Oryx

      Yes, we had a former manager like this at a previous job only she was covering up the smell of alcohol.

    5. The Optimizer

      I used sit next to a heavy smoker that would come back from her smoke break then spray buckets of stinky, cheap perfume at her desk. Thankfully, our boss was also sensitive to scents and was sympathetic when I complained. She then did it in the bathroom as a compromise. At least I could avoid that by going to a different floor if I needed to.

      I also worked with another lady who wore excessive perfume and you could track her movements around the building by the trail she left. She worked in IT so she moved around a lot. Our entire department could leave the floor, go to lunch and come back an hour or more later and know that Jane had been there.

  12. Adam

    I have my doubts about total scent-free policies working, but what sort of organizations have they effectively been implemented in? I imagine staff size might have something to do with it.

    1. Vulcan social worker

      Hospitals and university departments for employees. Hospitals because sick patients can’t avoid staff wearing perfume. Of course they can’t make visitors refrain from wearing fragrances. Well, I do have one doctor who will send you home and not see you if you come in wearing fragrance. I don’t know of it’s because of patient needs or there is a staff member who will get sick. Either way, I appreciate that I won’t get sick when I visit.

    2. Rusty Shackelford

      I know this is an obvious example, but when I had an appointment with an allergist, the pre-appointment paperwork they sent instructed me not to wear any fragranced products at all.

    3. Rebecca in Dallas

      When I had LASIK done, I was instructed not to wear any fragranced body lotion or perfume for the procedure. I didn’t ask why (and I don’t wear either of those anyway), but there is an example.

    4. LadyTL

      I see it with alot of success in retail and food service businesses, both large and small.

  13. Master Bean Counter

    In the orientation video for my current work place employees were strongly advised not to wear excessive perfumes, colognes or after shaves as this may cause problem for those who work around you. I almost cried happy tears.
    I left my previous office two days early because a new person came in who used way to much perfume.

  14. Ask a Manager Post author

    My husband’s allergies are triggered by lots of artificial scents, especially perfumes and strongly-scented laundry detergents. He gets really sneezy and congested and gets watery eyes. Traditionally, he dealt with it by loading up on Benadryl (and dealing with the constant sleepiness that would cause).

    When I started dating him and learned that, I stopped wearing perfume around him, and once we got serious, I switched over to unscented laundry detergent. Both of those changes made me slightly sad; I miss my perfume and the laundry detergent I used to use! But he never has to take Benadryl anymore unless he’s going somewhere where he’s going to be exposed to perfume for hours (my niece’s bat mitzvah was hellish for him because he forgot to bring it). It’s nice having him not sneezy and reasonably awake.

    What amazes me is that people close to him (like his mom, who is an extremely nice person) still wear perfume around him. I do not understand it at all.

    1. Master Bean Counter

      a Zyrtec taken the night before an anticipated event cuts down on the allergies and leaves a person awake enough to actually enjoy it.
      That’s my strategy for those kinds of events.

        1. Master Bean Counter

          Yeah, that can happen with a surprising number of allergy meds. I think Allegra works in a similar fashion and doesn’t require the level build up like Claritin. So that might be a good option.

          1. Kelly L.

            I switch them off every few months–like, right now I favor Zyrtec, but it wasn’t cutting it anymore, so I took Allegra for a couple weeks and then went back to Zyrtec. It seems to be working better, but I don’t know if it’s real or placebo or just the allergens dying down.

      1. Cath in Canada

        I took a Zyrtec once and it zombified me. I had to go home from work at noon after trying to do an incredibly simple thing and getting it wrong (in different ways) three times. I don’t remember cycling home, but I must have done, because my bike was locked up in the back yard when I finally woke up about 27 hours after I must have gone to bed. I was groggy for another two days. Totally freaked me out, to the point that I just put up with my (thankfully mild) hayfever symptoms now!

        1. alter_ego

          I knew a guy who normally took claritin, but he ran out, and he was going on a date in a botanical garden so he borrowed some of his roommate’s zyrtec to similar affect. It was their first date, and he apparently, after being super weird the whole time, just lay down in the middle of the garden and went to sleep.

          He did not get a second date.

        2. Renee

          Zyrtec can be very effective but it is poorly tolerated by a lot of people. Sleepiness is the most common issue, but it can also cause hormonal and psychiatric side effects (anxiety, aggression, and depression). There’s also a withdrawal side effect reported by a lot of people of uncontrollable itching. I take Allegra now, but only at night, and it doesn’t seem to carry the same side effects. It’s not as effective, but it’s good enough. I also take ranitidine (Xantac), which few people know is an antihistamine. It works via a different mechanism and can be taken with the traditional AHs. It makes me mildly sleepy, but not so much that I can’t take it if I’m at a social event or at home. I feel like adding it really helps a lot.

    2. Erin

      Interesting. Sounds reasonable to me! People close to the person is one thing; employers and employees are another.

    3. Terra

      I think the problem is one of definitions and compromise. For example, you said “strongly-scented” laundry detergent bothers him. I’m guessing that means there are some brands that don’t. If he was my co-worker and I found out about that I’d be interested to know if he knew what brands/scents was the difference. Now assuming that he does and assuming that there’s a brand at the same price point to mine that doesn’t trigger his allergies and assuming that he can wait until I finished my current bottle for me to make the change (because I can’t afford to throw the $20 I spent on the current bottle away) then it’s something I’m willing to do. But first that’s a lot of assumptions and second that’s a lot of compromises to make for just one co-worker. When you have a lot of co-workers it’d quickly become insane.

      It may even feel like your co-workers are being unreasonable when individually they probably aren’t, it’s just that they’re dealing with it on an individual level and the person with the problem has to deal with it on a group level. Unfortunately, I don’t know that there’s an easy answer because it’s not really something most work places have the authority to police or would feel comfortable policing in a lot of cases.

      1. fposte

        Though even if a brand doesn’t bother somebody now, there’s no guarantee that they won’t change the scent formula down the line as its components change in price. And how annoying for both people if you’ve changed to the “good” laundry detergent and then that one causes problems anyway.

        1. Semi-nonymous

          Yup, this is a major problem.

          I worked in an industry where some of the most commonly used ingredients in personal care products were a major problem if they got into the systems – two of the biggest offenders were silicone derived products (which are in pretty much every hair care product that promises shine or anti-frizz, including tons of conditioners, and almost every foundation or concealer that promises to “minimize pores” or “smooth away fine lines) and the aluminum salts in pretty much every much antiperspirant. So it was someone’s job to test personal care products to try to find ones that didn’t have problematic ingredients or cause compatibility issues. However, it was impossible to keep the (very very) short list of “probably ok” products current, while the “banned” list just kept growing and growing, because any company can reformulate their product at any time, and often do based on the current costs of certain raw materials. Eventually they gave up on having a “good” list, because it was impossible to keep up with it.

          In the same industry, we also added tiny amounts of concentrated fragrance to our consumer product, and it served to mask the odor of the original ingredients, making the product overall smell “neutral” to our consumer focus group, whereas the product without the added fragrance was usually rated as an unpleasant or sharp smell by the focus groups. Or we added small amounts of ingredients like citrus oils not because they added anything to the product performance but because they helped neutralize the product scent but didn’t have to be listed as “fragrance”. So while I try to seek out products without added fragrance for my own personal use, it’s so very very hard to know exactly whether it is fragrance or an ingredient that is causing that scent that gives me a headache.

    4. the gold digger

      like his mom, who is an extremely nice person) still wear perfume around him.

      I hate my mom’s perfume. As she has gotten older, I think she has lost some of her ability to smell and she does not notice how much she is wearing. She will apply it in the morning and then again before leaving the house in the afternoon.

      I finally had to ask her not to wear it when we were together. I told her that scents in general bother me (they do) but did not tell her that I think her perfume (Red Door, I think) is particularly nasty.

      1. PF

        My mother uses some kind of strongly scented product (I’m not sure if it’s a lotion, or her shampoo, or what; she doesn’t wear perfume) such that when she visits, I discreetly turn on the whisper-quiet bathroom fan so that the house will be continually ventilated. However, when I ask about the scent – which is actually pleasant, just STRONG – she says she doesn’t use scented products. So either she can’t smell it or is just used to it? I’m sure my son will forever associate that scent with “grandma”.

        I did notice that my own hair styling product has a strong, distinct scent to it (when I don’t usually register it as a smell) just after one of her visits, so we do get used to our own usual scents.

        1. alter_ego

          I once dated a guy who smelled very strongly of something. It wasn’t bo at all, it smelled almost herbal, but he insisted that he didn’t use anything scented at all. I ended up ending things with him, because the smell, while not necessarily bad, was just so off-putting, and since it apparently wasn’t something he was doing intentionally, it’s not like he was able to change it.

    5. AFT123

      Ugh this sounds terrible. I am a perfume collector and it’s a hobby and passion of mine, but when I got pregnant, I had to stop wearing anything scented, switched to unscented laundry products and lotions/soaps. My shampoo seems ok to me. My husband had to get different deodorant and hair goop. Every smell made me nauseous. :( I still can’t wear scented things though scents on other people don’t bother me as much anymore.

      Your poor hubby! You are a good person for accommodating him, I’m sure he appreciates it a lot!

    6. chocolate lover

      Is it possible she doesn’t know/realize that’s what is causing his allergies?

      My husband and I are both allergic to dogs. His sister has two, so we try not to go to their house often. Can’t avoid it when their parents are in town visiting though. MIL said something to my husband about coming in the house from the yard, and he stalled. I made an offhand remark about how his allergies were acting up and his dog allergy would just make it worse, and she looked completely confused and surprised, and asked “He’s allergic to dogs?” I genuinely think he never said anything to them. Even when MILs own dog licked his leg and he broke out into a rash that wouldn’t stop itching all night.

        1. Temperance

          I wonder if our MILs are related. My husband and his brother are very allergic to cats. She currently has 4, and she acts so surprised when we don’t want to stay in her house. Or when we didn’t want to take in one of her cats (it was the oldest and meanest, of course).

          1. the gold digger

            We have two cats, but keep them out of the living room and the guest room (well, as much as we can – is there anything more intriguing to a cat than a closed door?) so that we can host allergic friends we want to see. My mom is allergic and I don’t want her not to be able to stay with us.

            However – there are some people we do not inform that our house is partially cat-hair free. Some people we don’t want staying here.

    7. Bowserkitty

      Benadryl also has constipation as one of its side-effects, which I found out the hard way when I was using it to fall asleep during a cold a couple of months ago. Normally it would just knock me out but this was far worse!

    8. Artemesia

      I carry some essential meds in the watch pocket of my jeans and I wear jeans (black solid, but still jeans) most of the time. If he wears slacks or jeans with a watch pocket he might just make sure all of them are ‘loaded’ with his allergy med of choice, so that if he finds himself in that situation he is ready to go. I used to use the kind of claritin that dissolves in the mouth and works for 12 hours and would have that especially when traveling when I almost always discover some new pollen I am allergic to. Having my 3 most essential meds always at hand is a great comfort. (I also carry a packet of aspirin for heart attack first aid being of the age when we have friends dropping like flies.)

    9. Nicole

      I don’t get that either. My mom has a lot of sensitivities, particularly to scents, so not only do I leave the perfume off when we go visit, but I wash all the clothes we plan on wearing in non-scented detergent, plus I use lotion that doesn’t bother her (that I only use for when I visit her since I don’t particularly care for it). Is it a pain? Yes. It sucks not being able to “smell nice” on holidays, but I would feel like a jerk if I wore smelly stuff knowing that she’d suffer with headaches for days after seeing us.

      Since my mom has always been sensitive, I grew up in an unscented household, which might be why I find strong scents a little overpowering, but at the same time really love my scented candles and perfumes because I couldn’t enjoy them until I moved out.

    10. LadyTL

      If it is just artificial scents there is alot of companies out there these days that make perfumes and soaps with essential oils. I have severe allergies to artificial scents but am not triggered at all by essential oils (provided they are actually essential oils and not synthetic replacements). But then your husband could completely not have the same reaction as me.

  15. Sarianna

    My college girlfriend’s housemate was severely sensitive to fragrances. I finished off my regular detergent and started buying the free and clear kind–it still cleans my clothes just fine. Same with soap, and I started using a less-chemically-scented shampoo/conditioner as well. No skin off my back to spend an extra $2 on stuff, for him not to have migraines just from hanging out with me.

    Twelve years later I only see the guy once every few years, but am still in the habit of using low-fragrance products. It’s astounding to notice how heavily scented most products are when you’re not used to that background-level of chemical-fragrance. My coworker borrowed my workplace-branded jacket for the day a few weeks ago to cover a spill on her shirt, and when she returned it to me, she’d washed it. I couldn’t figure out what smelled so awful until she pointed out it was the jacket! (I’ve washed it six times and the perfumey smell won’t go away–twice each with baking soda, vinegar, and free&clear detergent. I think the problem is my HE washer. I’d love to hear any suggestions!)

    I genuinely do not have MCS or an allergy, and personally adore perfume oils (hi, my name is Sarianna and I’m a BPAL addict!), but the fake chemical-perfume smells are off-putting.

    1. jhhj

      I’d try leaving the jacket out in the sun for a day or two, this seems to work for everything for me.

      1. Terra

        Be careful with this as the sun can also bleach dark colored clothes fairly quickly. You could try spraying it with or soaking it in cheap vodka to remove the scent.

        1. Sarianna

          Ooh, hmm, I’ll try the washing soda Yetanotherjennifer suggested first, but if not… trip to the packie for me ;)

      2. Sarianna

        If only I weren’t in tinyapartment! That’s super awesome to know, though, thank you!

    2. Yetanotherjennifer

      Try soaking the jacket in a bucket of washing soda for a few hours or overnight and then wash as usual. And treat this smell like a stain: don’t use the dryer until the smell is gone. You can get washing soda at the grocery store, it’s wonderful stuff. I have a HE front load washer and I really miss being able to soak my laundry in the washer. Our current house doesn’t have a utility sink either so I soak half a load at a time in a 5 gallon bucket.

      1. Sarianna

        Thank you very much–I will definitely try this. It’s a dark jacket so I worry about sun-bleaching, plus…tiny-apartment. I used to soak everything in my old washer, but this place came with an HE set (lucky, mostly, until I want to soak my bathing suit or what-have-you). I’ll pick up bucket and washing soda on my way home–I am *really* looking forward to this jacket not reeking!

    3. MsChanandlerBong

      The free and clear detergent (All brand) is the only one that ever caused a problem in my household. After the first time I used it, my husband broke out in hives all over his body. He had to go to urgent care to get a steroid shot to get rid of the hives. I don’t know what’s in it, but it has something that can trigger issues.

      1. Sarianna

        I’ve been using Purex F&C. Doesn’t seem to bother me or my family–my mom switched to it when caring for my housebound grandmother in her last few years and it was an improvement over the standard Tide she’d been using since before I was born.

      2. Rebecca in Dallas

        How odd! I used that brand for years because of my sensitive skin, anything else made me break out in hives. I switched to Seventh Generation maybe 3 years ago because I started buying cruelty-free products, I wonder if the All has changed its formula since then?

        My husband and I just got back from Jamaica. The resort we stayed at was wonderful and fabulous but I must have been allergic to whatever industrial-strength detergent they use on their sheets and towels. I itched like crazy the whole time! I ended up buying a $22 box of Benadryl from the gift shop just to get some relief.

    4. the gold digger

      We use fragrance-free laundry soap as well. The clothes my husband washed at his mom and dad’s with their detergent (which apparently was stolen when someone was looking at the house last year – who steals detergent?) when he was there smelled awful to me. It’s so cloying.

      1. Amadeo

        Was it Tide? Tide is apparently a pretty popular item for thieves, although I’ve never figured out why.

        1. Temperance

          I’ve heard it referred to as “liquid gold”. It’s because it has a high black market value; you can’t buy detergent with food stamps, so it often gets stolen and traded. Same with diapers.

      2. Sarianna

        I know house-buying is expensive, but that’s a whole ‘nother level of frugality/desperation…

        (I shudder to think how strongly I/my clothes must have smelled back when I used scented detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets!)

    5. Temperance

      Not sure where you live, but I air out all my thrift store coats by leaving them outside if it’s cold out/not too pollen heavy that day. It does the trick. I’m not a fan of leaving things in the sun because they can easily get bleached that way.

      1. Sarianna

        Can’t quite do this at my apartment but I’ll remember this for the future–thanks! :)

      2. Rebecca in Dallas

        I do that when we go to bars that allow smoking (my city has banned it, but one of the suburbs near us hasn’t). Blech, nothing worse than reeking of stale cigarette smoke!

    6. Meg Murry

      I only use Charlie’s Soap for laundry now, and I love their tagline – “If you want flowers, go pick some”. I can not stand scented laundry detergent or dryer sheets anymore, even the “neutral” stuff – it either gives me a headache, makes me itch or both. My husband washed our bedding in some old detergent we had on a top shelf, and I had the worst headache that night because I usually sleep with the comforter right up near my face.

      RE: the HE washer and de-stinking – in addition to washing, can you try soaking the jacket first in a bucket or laundry tub with warm-ish water and borax? Otherwise, I’ve had luck with putting my HE washer on the “rinse and spin” cycle with just water and borax or vinegar, and then turning off the machine after about 10 minutes, before it gets to the spin cycle to let the clothes soak in the water. Not sure which did it, but to kill the flowery scent on my comforter I did one soak with vinegar in the water, then washed with no soap, then immediately did a borax soak, then washed with Charlies Soap and a little bit of oxygen bleach, then vinegar in the softener dispenser.

      I also agree with others to try hanging it to dry (in the shower maybe?) instead of putting it in the dryer until you get the scent out.

      1. Sarianna

        I’m definitely going to try soaking it again. I had let it air-dry–I’m lucky that there is a dehumidifier and a closet shelf right next to my washer, so I’d hung it there with the dehumidifier running.

        Charlie’s Soap, eh? Putting that on my Subscribe & Save and crossing my fingers!

    7. Artemesia

      The thing that worked for me was the enzyme top soak like Biz — it is the only thing that gets rid of sweaty odor — and yeah the HE washers don’t get clothes as clean and fresh as the old top load agitators.

    8. MiaRose

      If you like BPAL, have you tried CJScents? They have oils and sprays. I’ve developed asthma and sensitivities to a lot of scents, and have had to get rid of a lot perfumes I owned, and I always have to be careful now. Effects from triggers are immediate and painful, but I can still enjoy a number of them.

      1. LadyTL

        I use BPAL and ZOMG Smells because of my allergies to artificial scents. They really came to my rescue when I had one job require me to wear perfume.

  16. V

    I’m happy to skip perfume at work, but I’m not going to spend $$$, time, and risk painful skin irritation or damage my hair trying to figure out scent free alternatives to the shampoo, conditioner, soap, and skin lotions which work for me.

    Skipping perfume doesn’t cause any other damage; skipping or changing lotions and other personal care products risks breakouts, painfully dry and damaged skin, and allergic reactions.

    1. KR

      This – I can’t use just any product on my curls. I’ll gladly not use scent boosters on my work clothes, skip the scented lotion, refrain from making smelly food and not use perfume for a coworker, but it stops at hair products and skin products.

      1. Rusty Shackelford

        Yep. I’ve discovered the holy grail for my curly hair, and you will pry it out of my cold dead hands. (But if you told me the smell bothered you, I’d keep my hair as far away from you as possible.)

  17. SH

    I’ve always been told to avoid strong fragrances because it’s unprofessional. This post makes me think that was incorrect information. Regardless, I avoid scented products as much as possible.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Nope you’re not alone there. The problem seems to be the worst offenders seem totally unaware because it seems some people just have weak sense of smell while others have a stronger one. My bf says I’m noseblind to the smell of our dogs, but yet I’m extemely sensitive to other smells.

      1. anon for this!

        +1 for noseblindness. My dad has been a long time smoker of the green stuff, so when I was a teenager and I started doing that and being around people who did it, I was always wondering why I couldn’t smell it unless I literally had my nose in it before it was smoked. Of course when I got older and realized that he smoked that, I realized that I’m noseblind to that – it just smells normal to me.

  18. AnnonaMomma

    While I don’t get migraines, I do get headaches and often some allergy symptoms (scratchy throat etc) with some strong smells. I once shared a cube wall with a woman who LOVED slathering herself with fragrance lotions. Her desk looked like a display from The Body Shop and she would apply them all day long. To her they were relaxing. To me, they caused sneezing and coughing fits. Another office mate liked to do the same and would spray body spray around her cube, which eventually wafted down my direction.

    I never officially complained, but I did mention it to them both – often after a (slightly exaggerated) bout of sneezing/coughing. I would just say that strong smells hit me very hard – I must have been a bloodhound in a past life haha – and both were pretty receptive and cut back on their use of smelly stuff when I was around. I am sure it annoyed them, but as humans they understood that what they were doing was impacting me and since it was not a necessary activity it could easily be cut back/altered.

    1. Allison

      “I am sure it annoyed them”

      I wouldn’t assume that! Like I mentioned upthread, I love my Bath and Body Works hand cream, but if someone said the smell bothered them I’d buy something less scented to keep on my desk, and use the scented stuff some other time (or return it, BBW has an amazing return policy). I really wouldn’t mind making that switch!

      1. AnnonaMomma

        Thanks for that. I say it annoyed them based on the personalities in play. It did become a bit of an office joke, “Don’t use lotion or AnnonaMomma will get a headache” which was their passive aggressive way of trying to call me out. If you knew them you would know I was not being overly sensitive here :) I just laughed along and said I knew it was annoying, but it was either smell your lotion or hear me sneeze all day. They were decent about it, but I knew it bothered them to not be surrounded by their scents all day.

        1. Allison

          Ah, well if they were being passive aggressive that is super rude. I don’t like people who get mad any time someone asks them not to do something.

      2. AFT123

        I agree with Allison – I am not annoyed in the slightest if I need to refrain from smelly stuff to help someone feel better. I feel terrible anytime I know I am the cause of someone’s sneezing, headaches, etc. I was giving my mom some of my old clothes and I washed everything in unscented detergent/dryer sheets, and she STILL sneezed. I felt like a jerk.

      3. Victoria

        Same! As I was reading this thread I was putting on some Body Shop lotion on my hands. It’s olive scented, so not particularly stinky, but has a distinct fragrance, and I really wouldn’t mind a bit if someone asked me to leave that one at home and swap an unscented one for my desk.

  19. Graciosa

    Regarding enforcement, I have attended hobby-related events that were mandated as fragrance free – and yes, they checked.

    Really, they did.

    There were designated teams who walked around the classrooms and exhibit halls smelling people.

    I’ve never had that happen before or since, but I do not want to be in charge of smelling people in the work place.

  20. Muriel Heslop

    What about the people who microwave fish in the break room? Can we get a workplace ban on that?

  21. Tookie Clothespin

    I’m in grad school and my school has banned fragrances. There are signs in all the restrooms, and occasionally emails will go out reminding people.

  22. Kassy

    At my office, we have one large bathroom with ~10 stalls and a small one-seater at the other end of the building. The smaller restroom has been designated fragrance-free due to an issue like this. I thought it was well handled, and other than a few jokes of the “I WISH restrooms were fragrance-free” variety, it went over pretty well.

  23. MsMaryMary

    I think it’s also worth noting that some people’s sensitivities are not limited to artificial scents. It makes trying to set a workplace policy even more difficult My dad is sensitive to fragrances, but some plants, drinks, or foods will give him a headache. Asking your coworkers to skip perfume is one thing, but telling them chai tea or cherry cokes are off limits is another. Or how do you communicate to employees’ significant others and families that flower arrangements aren’t allowed in the office?

    1. some1

      This happened at my former workplace. It was a govt dept so they didn’t provide coffee. My coworker made coffee in her office and I don’t know what brand she used but it smelled like dirty socks. So gross.

    2. fposte

      Yes, I think the artificial notion is a bit of a myth–most often it’s intensity and “flavor” that’s the problem. It’s just that artificial scents are often cheaper and therefore can more inexpensively ramp up the volume.

      1. Vulcan social worker

        Not for all of us. I find fish in the microwave gross but it’s never going to cause me a migraine. I’ll become ill from my own clothing if it’s washed in Tide though. My mom and sister both had to switch to free and clear so that I could stay at their homes and I bring my own pillow when I travel anywhere else. The thread the other day about the boss who didn’t believe in migraines really hit home for me because this is my life.

        1. fposte

          Well, I didn’t say it was true for everybody–but it sounds like patchouli is an issue for you, despite its being natural, so it’s not a simple artificial/natural divide.

          1. Vulcan social worker

            Yes, there are certainly some natural scents that trigger me too, but overall odors from flowers, food, BO etc. aren’t going to give me migraines. The thing about essential oils is that you never really know what is in them. Many also have petroleum products so it’s hard to know if they are really natural. Patchouli has always made me feel terrible. Oranges are fine but not products made with orange essential oil, though I have no idea if it’s actually the orange oil or something else in the product. I don’t go sticking my nose in straight orange oil, because why would I do that to myself?

  24. EmilyG

    My former workplace had a no fragrance policy but it seemed only to pertain to things like perfume; no issue with detergent or shampoo (etc.) as long as it was rinsed off. Adherence to policies ensuring a friendly environment for public service and collaboration was part of the annual review so they really meant it. I don’t know of any specific person who *needed* a fragrance-free workplace, but it was the kind of organization where people took the culture seriously and respected the rules. I remember going out of my way to find an unscented version of a hairspray because I’d tried the regular version on a weekend and found it lingered too much, and I didn’t mind doing that.

    I’m not terribly sensitive to fragrances but really heavy perfume will start me sneezing and my nose burning. As a classical music fan, I haaaaate it when other audience members douse themselves with perfume as a part of dressing up more than necessary. I always cover my nose/mouth when I sneeze but when I do it a lot, I’m not above orienting myself in the direction of the person causing it, secretly hoping for them to realize it’s their fault…

  25. Yetanotherjennifer

    My daughter’s middle school has a partial ban on fragrances. One of the para-educators has an allergy and her classes are fragrance free. And a request goes out school wide each year for other students, staff and visitors to limit fragrances out of consideration. It’s good for everyone, those tween boys do love their Axe!

    Off topic, but I have to say I love the stock image that goes with the article! Imagine the art direction it took to get those facial expressions.

    1. MsMaryMary

      ALL middle schools should probably have a fragrance ban, especially after the invention of Axe Body Spray. Not that I have much room to talk, since I drowned myself in Love’s Baby Soft circa seventh grade.

  26. fishy

    Depending on the individual’s sensitivity, it may not be necessary to ban ALL scented products including even soaps and detergents, etc. I get scent-triggered migraines, and for me the main problems are perfumes and colognes (along with things like air fresheners, scented candles, and certain flowers). I have to be careful about what soap and detergent I use because those scents will linger around me all day, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with someone else’s soap choices – I’d have to be sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with them for it to bother me. Basically, if I can smell you from across the room, I’m probably going to get a migraine from the scent, but if the fragrance is weak enough that I don’t smell it unless I’m right next to you, it’s fine.

    Basically, it depends on the person what level of scents, if any, are okay. In many cases, “low fragrance” will suffice rather than needing the office to be truly “fragrance-free”.

  27. AnonasaurusRex

    It’s times like these that I’m so glad I work in a hospital. We have a policy that’s part of our dress code that asks all staff to avoid using heavily scented products and warns that if you are involved in direct patient care you may be asked to leave for the day if something you are wearing is causing a reaction in a patient. I get migraines from strong smells and my previous workplace was lousy with heavy perfumes and cologne and no person wore the same kind. It was an assault on my senses and I ended up missing so much work some weeks it pushed me to make a job change. I know it’s extreme, but your health should always come first as much as possible. All that said, the steady increase in smell and skin sensitivities in the overall population leads me to believe that at some point in the future all those heavily scented and dyed detergents and soaps and things will probably be a rarity.

    1. the gold digger

      My cousin the optometrist will not eat food with garlic or onions, does not wear perfume or other scents, and is careful with her deodorant. She does not want to gross out her patients.

      1. alter_ego

        My optometrist mentioned not being able to eat garlic or onions during the week last time I saw her! I’d never even thought of it, but I told her that I appreciated the consideration. I don’t know that I could go into any profession that required me to cut down on my garlic consumption.

    2. Temperance

      This is a great policy, although I have to ask – does it extend to cigarette smoking? I was hospitalized recently and was pleasantly surprised that none of my doctors, nurses, or techs smelled like smoke. (I’m allergic.)

  28. Oui

    Do these types of policies only apply to ‘artificial’ scents? I have people who have often commented on the smell of my hair and skin products (favorably) but there isn’t really such a thing as completely unscented coconut oil or shea butter.

    1. AFT123

      Good question! I’ve never heard of someone having an allergy to the natural smell of coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, etc. I wonder if anyone here has heard of that.

      1. fposte

        A lot of these responses aren’t truly allergic (and natural airborne stuff is pretty prone to causing those anyway, as many of us can testify this spring!); they’re migraines, they’re asthmatic, etc. A lot of it’s about the intensity, and some of it, after experience with reactions, is doubtless nocebo, same as some of my Crohn’s flares are.

      2. Observer

        I don’t think I’ve seen allergic reactions, but other types, actually yes. A lot has to do with intensity, as well, for many people.

    2. fposte

      In general, no–they’re about detectably strong scents in personal grooming products, whatever the origin. As discussed, they focus more on perfumes and colognes than on shampoo and the like, but there are workplaces where even strong-smelling shampoo would be an issue.

      1. AFT123

        Lush products come to mind – they are mostly naturally scented with essential oils, but DAMN they are strong. My husband’s hair goop/pomade stuff is from Lush and you can smell him across the room.

    3. AFT123

      I would note though, “natural” scents are some of the worse triggers for some people because they are based on essential oils. Essential oils are potent and allergenic to many. Interestingly enough, there is a perfume manufacturer who started advertising hypoallergenic perfume that was composed of one single artificial fragrance molecule called Iso E Super. The thought was that it had no natural oils/frags in it, and thus was hypoallergenic. I’ve been curious about it forever but never ordered it. They’ve since come out with other isolated lab created molecule perfumes as well.

      1. Vulcan social worker

        True – essential oils like tea tree, rose geranium (I’ve used it for tick repellant since I can’t handle the smell of DEET products), or peppermint don’t bother me at all. I don’t have a lot of exposure to lavender products but I’ve used lavender Dr Bronner’s soap and it was fine. Citrus ones do bother me, and patchouli comes straight out of the deepest pit of hell as far as I’m concerned.

  29. Vulcan social worker

    I am extremely sensitive to artificial scents, but not most natural ones. I will sneeze from pollen, but the worst I’ll get is a sinus headache. That’s nothing to me. It only takes a minute of exposure to perfume or cologne for me to get a migraine. I’ve worked in an office where no one was allowed to spray perfume in the suite, but once in a while someone did anyway, thinking I was exaggerating my sensitivity and surely I wouldn’t know when we had our own offices down the hall from each other. Our director was displeased (with her, not me) when it meant I had to leave work due to someone else’s thoughtless. I was fine with her wearing her perfume in her own office but not spraying it mid-day.

    There are few good shampoo options that are fragrance free. I’ve found them in specialty pharmacies in Belgium and France and they are expensive. They do give me good hair though. I don’t like the ones I find in the USA. Here I can find them in natural food stores but they leave my hair limp. Fortunately I’ve learned that there are some other brands that use only essential oils and not perfumes and I like how my hair comes out when I use them. I’d rather no fragrance, but I’m not bothered by tea tree or peppermint either.

  30. Rusty Shackelford

    When I was working it was understood that fragrances were not to be used, it was considered rude at the very least.

    I wonder where/when this person worked? Obviously using too much fragrance is rude, but using any at all? I’ve never heard such a thing.

  31. ThursdaysGeek

    I worked in a place that said “No Fragrances” on the entry door, and one of the owners was the one who was sensitive. Some smells bothered him, some didn’t. It did appear that perfumes bothered him more than cologne, which could be a problematic distinction. Laundry soaps, shampoos, and the like were never an issue.

  32. ModernHypatia

    One of the things that’s so complicated is that some people use scented products for health reasons.

    I know a number of people who use natural soaps with various essential oils or other things that have a natural scent to manage skin conditions, or who have a much better success rate with those than with more heavily manufactured products. Plus, a number of ‘fragrance free’ products actually are chemically covering the actual scent of the product, and some people react to that. (I react more heavily to those than I do to scents, personally.)

    I also know people who use perfume to manage disassociation or past trauma related issues (though often they have some range in the actual scent they use, and may be able to choose a scent that works for them, and isn’t a significant trigger for others.)

    1. Allison

      Yes, I use tea tree oil products for my acne, although I mostly apply it at night. Still, it’s definitely a noticeable smell even if it’s not perfumed.

    2. Vulcan social worker

      Fragrance free products should not have any added fragrance. Unscented products are the ones that might have perfume plus a masking agent. It’s the unscented ones that can cause reaction. What is confusing is that sometimes unscented are fragrance free, and sometimes they ate perfume+ masking which leads to purchasing confusing.

  33. Us, Too

    My company is “scent free” and that means not allowing the “excessive use” of “scented products”. The latter is defined by be any product with a “significant odor”.

    Practically speaking this means “don’t use stinky stuff or we’ll ask you to go home and not use that product at work any more”. I’ve never heard of it being enforced but generally speaking we struggle more with stinky kitchen cooking odors (fish, popcorn, etc) and less with Axe body spray.

  34. The Super Visor

    This one is tricky. In order to accommodate an allergy sufferer who stated that fragrances were giving her migraines, we implemented a “No Fragrance” policy in regards to perfumes, lotions, afterhave, etc. — not going so far as body washes, soaps, or laundry detergent. Now the allergy sufferer states that her coworkers’ personal body fragrances (not exactly B.O. but the odor their bodies naturally give off– as in “Susan smells yeasty” or “John smells like chicken noodle soup.”) also makes her ill. It has lead to a series of uncomfortable conversations with people about personal practices in our open floor plan office.

    1. fposte

      I would think it would lead to a conversation with the complaining employee about what scent sensitivities you can reasonably attempt to accommodate and how, not a conversation with people whose bodies had normal body smells that only bothered this one person.

      1. The Super Visor

        Yes, we’ve had to have the conversation about reasonable accommodations. This was hastened after she sent an email to the entire department telling them that she couldn’t help her allergies but perhaps other people should see their doctors about their personal odors.

        1. fposte

          Does she spin straw into gold or something? She would have to be a lot of value to be worth that kind of keep.

        2. Observer

          She actually did that? Wow!

          But it does highlight a problem of trying to control smells in a public place. Perfume has become a norm for a reason – whether it’s cologn or the stuff in your deodorant.

          And, by the way, lots of people really can’t help their BO – it’s not a matter of poor hygiene or something that can easily be remedied by a minor diet change or something like that.

          1. cardiganed librarian

            I wonder, would this person have just died if she had been born 200 years ago? Because this is about the first time in human history that we actually expect other people to be odourless from a distance of two feet.

          2. Biff

            Another flaw with open offices. No where to get away from someone whose personal scent is offensive to you. (And I don’t mean BO, I mean whatever they smell like when they are clean.)

            1. Observer

              A lot of people have BO when they are clean. If Susan “smells yeasty” it doesn’t mean she isn’t clean. But, your comment highlights on of the reasons why this stuff can get so complicated. Never mind that this woman is being an idiot. The issue is that very often people don’t smell all that great to others, and the un-examined assumption is often that that person does not practice appropriate hygiene. That presents some real problems.

  35. Breebit

    I might be a total jerk but I hate fragrance-free workplaces. I already have to modulate my behavior and mannerisms to remain professional (both at work and whenever I’m in public because it may reflect poorly on my workplace), so adding another level of control that work has over my personal life makes me bristle. I have sympathy for people with fragrance sensitivities and have family members who have to deal with its impact on their lives. But man, it chaps my hide to be told that I can’t use a half-spritz of my perfume after my morning shower because someone two floors down has a sensitivity.

    1. Caffeine Free

      The reality is, the companies implementing these policies appear to value the work of the “sensitive” employees more than they value your desire for a half-spritz of perfume in the morning. Your perfume doesn’t bring any added value to the company.

  36. BjBear

    I’m curious where the line is drawn in accommodating people with conflicting needs in the office- we have something along these lines happening at the moment and it’s creating some bad feeling amongst employees. A colleague has perfume induced migraines, and has requested we don’t wear certain perfumes around her, which I’m happy to comply with. My frustrating comes from the fact that I have coffee induced migraines- drinking it is out of the question, but some days just the smell of strong coffee can set me off. Because of this I avoid the break room whenever I can, and I ask that colleagues don’t bring coffee into my office. no-perfume-colleague insists on ignoring this request and will frequently wander in to my office which is between her office and break room, with a steaming cup in hand. No matter how many times I ask, she insists I’m being precious and ‘retaliatory’ about the perfume. So I’m finding it hard to be sympathetic to her constant complaints that other coworkers are ignoring her request.

    1. fposte

      Well, your co-worker is being a jerk, which you already knew; try to separate that from the fragrance issue.

      At this point, I might try to sit down with her when she doesn’t have coffee for a talk. “Lucinda, I’ve talked about this and I’m frustrated that you don’t seem to be taking it seriously. Don’t come into my office when you’ve got coffee. If there’s a reason this is a problem for you, we can go to the manager and see if the three of us can sort it out; otherwise, I’d like you to be respectful about my health in future. Can you do that?”

      I wouldn’t raise her issues and I’d shove ’em back in if she brings them out. “I know you’ve had frustrations too and we can talk about them another time, but I’d really like to focus on what I’m asking you right now. Can you do what I’m asking?”

    2. Observer

      Agree with fposte. She’s being a jerk. And this is not about conflicting needs. It’s not like the only way to keep the perfume away from her is to bring the coffee into your office.

      I’d be tempted to start wearing whatever perfume. In the face of inevitable complaints I would point out that you can’t have it both ways. Either some smell set people off, in which case your coffee sensitivity is no different than her perfume sensitivity, or it’s all “precious” and you don’t need to inconvenience yourself over that.

      I actually would not do that. But I would really fantasize about it.

    3. Temperance

      I would start wearing perfume and walking into her office, because she sounds like a stupid jerk. A selfish, stupid jerk.

      1. Biff

        I’d spray it under her desk when she leaves for the day. So it’s mostly dissipated by the time she arrives, but slowly builds up into constant whiffs she can’t get away from. Adult mean girls are awful.

    4. Hlyssande

      Ugh, that’s terrible. Coffee is a scent I can only handle sometimes. If I already have a headache of some sort, walking by the coffee alcove in the office can be a big problem. It doesn’t trigger a migraine, but it can make them worse and it can raise my gag reflex. Blegh.

      You’d think that someone with scent sensitivities would be the most conscientious about it. That coworker is a jerk.

    5. BjBear

      Just wanted to thank those of you who responded to my comment- you inspired me to say something when she strolled in first thing on Friday morning. I politely reminded her that I’d requested people not to come into my office with coffee and she started complaining that I was ‘making up’ my illness, and it was cruel to do to someone who ‘truly suffered’ from something. I didn’t have the energy to argue too much with her, and I was heading to a meeting, so I firmly said, “I’ve asked you to respect my wishes, please do not come into my office with coffee in any form, or any hot drinks” and left. She followed me down the corridor for a bit (opposite direction to where she was going), but when I wouldn’t engage, disappeared off.

      Unfortunately she took it upon herself to stop by my office three more times on Friday, and every time she would open my office door (without knocking) and stand just inside, with her coffee cup held out in the corridor. There was no reason for her to stop by, so I just kept telling her I was busy. She seemed annoyed I wasn’t reacting to what she was doing, but the most annoying part was that she would leave my door open when she left (which I keep closed to avoid coffee smells wandering in from the break room).

      She showed up again late in the afternoon when I was stressed about getting a project completed before the weekend, and the sight of her smirking in my doorway annoyed me so much that I stood up, walked past her, and down to my boss’s office. She tagged along with me, asking me what was wrong, waving her cup in front of me, and ‘jokingly’ saying that she could do it since we weren’t in my office now, and that she’d been ‘following my rules’. I marched in to see my boss, announced perhaps too loudly that I couldn’t get any work done with her constantly wandering into my office. Not knowing the whole situation, our boss still turned to my coworker, asked why on earth she was bothering me (our jobs don’t overlap enough to warrant constant visits). Coworker mumbled something then sped off to her office, and boss shut the door and asked what was going on. It turns out that I’m not the only one that coworker has been being weird with about requests like this (and incidentally, of the three of us she seems to be purposely trying to antagonise, we’re the only ones who consistently remember not to wear perfume, so it’s a bizarre vendetta that doesn’t make any sense) and I am now to tell her that the boss has said there is no reason for her to open my office door at all, nor to step into the room with or without coffee, and that if she needs to talk to me she can do so via email or phone.

      I’m sure it won’t stop her, but I feel better about the whole thing, and would have continued to sit and stew every time she stopped by, if it wasn’t for your comments, so thank you!

  37. chocolate lover

    Agree with fposte, your coworker is being a jerk. She wants other people to accommodate her, but she doesn’t want to accommodate other people? That’s plain rude, especially since it takes no effort whatsoever to not go into your office with coffee.

    I think it’s a pizza commercial, Papa John’s maybe, where an executive asks somebody who entered his office (and wants to make a cost-cutting measure that would also cut quality) if they’ve seen his new door – then closes the door on the person. That commercial amuses me. Something to consider? :)

  38. Rachael

    I think a lot of people think it is a made up allergy. Luckily for me, my cheeks get REALLY red when I’m having a reaction and my eyes water. So, I would have a tell tale sign that I couldn’t be around certain people at work. I never asked anyone to stop wearing perfume, but it was known that if you needed to come to my desk that I might not be able to carry on the conversation (depending on how bad it was for me).

    Mostly I can power, through. The only two times I got angry about scents were when someone sprayed strongly scented hairspray into her hair (think circular motion around her head) and when someone was using the Mother’s Room to primp and I had to smell perfume for 20 minutes while I pumped (it was affecting my milk production).

    I feel really bad for those that get migraines, but I question whether I would be confortable asking people to change their household lifestyle because of me.

  39. Miss M

    The majority of the people where I work are reasonable about their fragrance choices, except one guy. He’s in his late fifties/early sixties and he bathes -bathes- in a bold flowery perfume. He has triggered a series of cluster headaches in me before. He claims it’s his “Natural body odor”. None of us believe him and he can be mostly avoided except for a daily morning meeting we all attend. Several people have called him out on it, some more forcefully then I did. His scent often fades by the end of the day, unless he has to work a late service, then he freshens up. He could be losing his sense of smell, but I don’t care to ask him.

    He is a partly retired funeral director.

  40. Observer

    I think a conversation with her boss about what can reasonably be done is in order. But, she absolutely CANNOT say or imply that wearing scent is rude.

    1. Observer

      Oops. I hit post too soon.

      For one thing, that idea is far, far from widespread. More importantly, it’s not her place to dictate how socially correct her co-workers are. And, in most cases if she tries to make that case, or it sounds like that’s what she is thinking, she’ll lose credibility. In fact, if it comes up that could totally shut down the conversation, but it’s the very rare boss who is going to have any interest in policing personal behavior to accommodate someone’s preferences, which this would be. The only legitimate issue here is how the fragrances affect her.

  41. Nibbles

    In addition, if you smoke pot, please don’t store it apparently unsealed in your backpack in a communal area. Former job had a coat closet where everyone hung up their coats, and one guy in particular seemed to either carry weed everyday in his backpack, just loose or something, or smoked so much of it that the smell was just permanently stuck on his backpack. My coat smelled like weed every single day, and that’s a smell that will give me an instant headache.

    1. De Minimis

      I’ve grown to really hate that smell….I smell it every day walking to and from work here, often smell it on people at the train, just all over the place. It’s pretty common here for people to smoke it openly, so it’s just part of everyday life, but I consider it on of those unpleasant street smells.

      Not making any value judgments, just from a smell preference perspective.

    2. Bowserkitty

      I live in a split duplex and my neighbor smokes frequently. I HATE coming home and having my own apartment reek of weed! It’s such a skunky smell and it’s a big reason I have candle warmers and wallflowers around my place.

      Luckily I’m moving soon so I hope that won’t be a problem at my next place.

  42. MiaRose

    Having worked in an environment where I and a number of my coworkers had different but very legit allergies (meaning we would have immediate noticeable reactions), implementing a completely fragrance-free and allergen-free policy just simply does not work. We just made sure to learn which allergies were most serious, and were very careful not to use them or have them around the affected person. We just got used to it. And we kept Benadryl spray, wipes and inhalers within easy reach, just in case.

    I found that we never had problems unless we had a customer come in with either way too much perfume (so much that we could almost taste the perfume) or were around cats. And we didn’t touch one coworker on the skin if we had used anything that had parabens.

  43. O'Bunny

    As a migraine sufferer, I’m aghast. People complaining that they will have to spend more money just because their personal choices are causing people physical pain? It’s okay to make Wakeen vomit if it allows you to have nice hair?

    Folks, migraines are utterly debilitating. I am unable to think, to see, to form coherent sentences, when in the throes of a migraine. Light hurts. Sound hurts. I’ve been hit in the face with a shovel (long story, it was an accident), and I’d rather that than another migraine. It’s not just a bad headache.

    1. Observer

      I get that it’s not just a bad headache, although don’t kid yourself because a “bad headache” can be pretty debilitating without it being a migraine. (Having suffered from both, I’m not just hand-waving here.)

      Asking people to spend extra money IS a significant issue. An extra $10 or whatever it is per week may not be much for some people. But, for some people that money is allocated for necessities. It’s not “nice hair” vs your migraines. It’s having lunch, the co-pay for doctor’s visits, gas money to get to work or similar issues for many people.

      As for the people who are talking about what works for their hair, you overlook that people – especially women – get penalized if their hair looks bad or like they are not practicing proper hygiene, which is the what happens for people whose hair is greasy, looks unwashed, is frizzy and flyaway. It’s not (usually) official or even conscious. It’s just that when people look a certain way it affects perceptions in ways that really can hurt people.

      So it’s not just about putting their vanity ahead of your headaches.

    2. Biff

      It’s not that. I think you are misunderstanding. It’s about your right to swing a fist only to where the end of my nose is.

      For example:

      I have psorasis. It’s horrible. One of the products that works well for me smells. It’s a natural scent from essential oils, but it smells and it’s strong. I know this. If this product set someone off… I’d be SOL for an affordable replacement. I’ve spent YEARS nailing down lotions, skin care products, hair-care products and soaps that don’t cause my skin to scream. I also have a really sensitive nose, so I do avoid strongly scented stuff, but if you had a reaction to citrus scents….. even the slight odor this stuff has could go badly.

      So it’s not “Do I cause O’Bunny to vomit so I can have nice hair?” It’s “Do I let my own condition deteriorate to the point of full body pain while I find a product that doesn’t cause O’Bunny to vomit?” To be honest, the answer is no.

  44. DuckDuckMøøse

    Personal fragrances can be annoying, but I haven’t had to say anything about them (yet; been close a couple of times, including this week ;) But people who use room fragrances, like the passive, slow-release air fresheners that work constantly (like those fragrance oil wands, or the little gel balls) – those definitely trigger migraines in me, and I’ve had to put my foot down. So far, they are the only chemical thing I’ve found that triggers me. If I can smell it at my desk, because it’s taking over the entire room – no. Get it out of here, immediately. I don’t have a problem with sprays like Lysol or Febreze, to spot-treat odors.

  45. Culture

    In many cultures (including mine) not wearing perfume/cologne is not the standard. It is expected to wear perfume at work, etc. as part of good grooming practices.

  46. Biff

    Nope. I think blanket bans like this tend to cover up mis-management or an unwillingness to manage.

  47. Ginny

    We had this policy at my old job because a woman was very sensitive to perfumes and cologne. Some people lay it on way too thick. I only see perfumes mentioned though nothing about soap or body wash. I don’t see a problem if it’s just relating to perfumes.

  48. Justin

    Have we got to this point? 100 pages of discussion on perfume?

    Here’s the problem with the prevailing mentality in America…..

    You CANNOT legislate the society you want to have. You just can’t do it. Life is bigger than that. It’s more complex than that. You can’t just say “do this” or “don’t do that”. Increasingly, this world is becoming more and more restricted and people are fighting back by flouting the rules.

    Here’s a great quote from Bruce Burnbaum: “Rules are foolish, arbitrary, mindless things that raise you quickly to a level of acceptable mediocrity, then, prevent you from progressing further.”

    Bans and rules aren’t going to get the job done. Do you really think you can forbid a grown, home-owning, college-educated adult from putting on Aqua Velva? It’s absurd. The whole discussion is absurd. We make work in this country about everything except work. No wonder we are in the total crapper and getting worse.

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