coworker wants me to change my hair routine, boss avoids meals with employees, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. I don’t want to change my hair routine for a coworker

I’m a cancer survivor in remission. When my hair grew back, it was surprisingly curly! My hair had always been fairly straight before, so there’s been a learning curve to care for it. There is a hair regimen known as the “Curly Girl Method” where you use specific sulfate and silicone free products and special techniques to enhance your curls. It isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. After a lot of trial and error, I found a combination that really works for me and my curls. Now for the problem … the shampoo that works best for me is scented and noticeable from a few feet away like a light perfume would be. It isn’t a bad smell, it doesn’t linger in a room after I leave, and it’s only noticeable from a small radius around me (I’ve asked friends).

One of my coworkers, Jane, makes of show of wrinkling her nose and mentioning how strong it is any time she’s near me. Today she asked me via email to “tone it down with the perfume” after she had stopped by for something. I’ve been playing oblivious to her face-making and hand-waving up until now, so apparently she doesn’t realize it’s my hair and not perfume.

Jane and I are the same level of authority but report to different managers/departments. We generally get along fine, but she’s known to be stubborn and a little difficult (to be honest, I feel she just wants to make a power play, which wouldn’t be out of character). As far as I know, she doesn’t have any official workplace accommodation requests in place for scent sensitivity. We don’t have a scent-free policy. I have a private office, as does she. She stops by my office (or vice versa) maybe three times a week at most, usually for around 5-10 minutes. And perhaps most importantly to me … I don’t want to switch my shampoo! It wasn’t easy getting to a place where I’m happy with my hair every day, and this shampoo was part of that. I feel her request is unreasonable considering the very small amount of time it affects her.

Can I ignore her request and is there a kind way to shut it down? Should I talk to my boss or hers or both? Or do I need to go back to the Curly Girl drawing board until I find a different and less scented shampoo that works for me?

This is tricky — partly because of how Jane is handling it! I suspect you’d have had a different reaction if she’d come to you and said, “I’m sorry about this, but I’m having a reaction to a product you’re using and it’s giving me a headache when I come into your office. Can we try to figure out a solution?” (And then that solution might be that you’re more willing to change the product, or that you meet in more open/ventilated spaces, or who knows what.) But her face-making and hand-waving is A Lot, and it sounds like you have reason to think she’s just being difficult for the hell of it. Still, though, you have to consider that Jane could be obnoxious and have a genuine scent sensitivity that’s causing her real issues.

But this is trickier than if it were just about perfume. It’s reasonable to immediately respect requests not to wear perfume to work; it’s harder when it’s something like shampoo, soap, or detergent since those aren’t optional in the way perfume is, and people can have their own important reasons for choosing a shampoo or soap (like yours, or skin sensitivities, or so forth). There are offices that ask people to avoid scented hair products because they can trigger reactions in people, but yours isn’t one of them (so far, anyway) and Jane hasn’t even said the issue is a sensitivity (as opposed to just not liking it).

So right now I think I’d just respond back to her email with, “I don’t wear perfume. I think you’re smelling my shampoo, which I can’t easily change. Let me know if you’d rather meet somewhere more ventilated or sit further apart when we’re meeting.” If she wants to push it beyond that, suggest she talk to HR about getting an accommodation if she needs one.

Read an update to this letter

2. Being late for a meeting because of stomach issues

What is the etiquette if something comes up right before a scheduled meeting that would make one late to or miss said meeting — especially when the reason is, er, a little private? This morning I had a sudden upset stomach about 15 minutes before a call with my manager, and while I made it back to my computer in time, I found myself struggling to word a message in case I hadn’t. “Something came up” sounds too weirdly vague, especially since being late to/cancelling a meeting last-minute seems rude and like it needs some explanation, but saying anything more specific seems like TMI-territory. The situation is one of those things that theoretically everyone knows happens but in practice feels too gross or personal to even mention in a professional environment.

Is there language I’m not thinking of that hits the right balance? Does the equation change if it’s a virtual versus in-person meeting? What would one say afterwards if they didn’t have their phone to send a message and were stuck in a restroom while others in the meeting presumably wondered where they were?? Somehow fully missing the meeting sounds less awkward — “I’ve gotten sick and need to log off for the afternoon” versus “sorry I’m 15 minutes late, my burrito caught up with me but I’m fine now.” It didn’t even happen to me and I have gone down the rabbit hole wondering about this!

If at all possible, try to send a text or email so the person knows you’re going to be late/might need to cancel. It can be very vague though! For example: “Apologies, could we push our meeting back by 15 minutes?” If you feel you must give a reason (although you often don’t even need to), you could add, “I’m feeling a little ill but grabbing some water and hoping it will pass.” And if you can’t do that in the moment and end up showing up late without any warning, you can say, “I’m sorry I’m late, I was feeling a little sick but I’m fine now.” (Or, if you can plausibly say another meeting ran over, feel free to sidestep the whole  issue and just say that instead.)

If you ended up missing the meeting entirely rather than just being late: “I’m so sorry, I suddenly felt really sick and couldn’t reach you in time.”

3. I’m nervous about being around my coworker whose husband is sick

I have a coworker who just started in our office but previously worked in a different department in the business. She came in today and said her husband is really sick (probably with Covid). I’m recently undergoing some challenging health problems and even if it’s not Covid, I really do not want to get sick because of my other health problems. We share a kitchen and bathroom in our office. Can I ask my boss if I can work from home given that someone may unintentionally make me sick? Or can I make a request that if someone is sick, they work from home themselves? Working from home is an option for us. My boss is aware that I have some health problems, but is not aware of specifics and is really understanding!

Yes, please talk to your boss! In some offices you wouldn’t even need to ask; you could just tell your manager you’d be at home for the next few days because it sounds like Jane’s husband may have Covid and you want to stay safe. But if you’re in an office where you ask, rather than announce, it’s a very reasonable thing to ask to do.

On the question of whether you can ask someone else to stay home … you can try (and it would certainly be the preferable option, so they don’t risk infecting other people either). It’s much less of an uphill battle today than it was pre-Covid, but you still might encounter resistance; if that happens, focus on the piece you have more control over (you going home yourself if you can, rather than trying to convince them to). You can also talk to your manager about putting better policies in place to keep illness from spreading (which can also be an uphill battle, depending on the workplace).

can I ask my coworkers to keep masking around me and not come to work sick?
can I tell sick coworkers to go home?

4. My boss avoids meals with her employees

My manager is a more than mediocre one — not perfect, but definitely not a bad one. There is one uncommon thing about her though, which is that she avoids having lunch or any meals with her direct reports, except those who are obviously her friends. It has lasted for a couple of years.

As she had been helping us a lot, I somehow managed to initiate a one-on-one gathering at a restaurant with her, and she did agree to come. The gathering itself was fine. Casual chats, good food, and both of us seem to have enjoyed it. But later on, she began to avoid talking about any topics that might be related to the gathering, even when we were not at the workplace. It unfortunately causes quite a great deal of anxiety, given that she is a likeable manager and the last thing I want to do is to make her do something she doesn’t want to do.

Did I do a taboo thing by inviting her for a meal? Should I also begin avoiding anything that may be related to that meal gathering? We are of the same gender and I am quite sure it is not about romance.

It’s fine if she prefers not to have social meals with employees. You didn’t do anything wrong by inviting her to one, but it sounds like you should accept that for whatever reason it’s not her thing and it makes her uncomfortable. I wouldn’t worry about it, but I also wouldn’t suggest another meal. As for never alluding to that previous meal again … well, she’s being weird! But assuming it’s not a major hardship to follow her lead there, you might as well just respect that she wants to be circumspect about it and stop mentioning it.

The bigger problem is that your manager apparently is friends with some of her employees and treats them differently than the rest of you (including with extra face time outside of work). That’s not okay at all, although you’re probably not in a position to do much about it.

{ 737 comments… read them below }

  1. I am a Graboid*

    I’m really tired of the big push to be accommodating for literally every last thing someone doesn’t like. There are only a few things I can use on my hair and face (auto immune disease) and all of them are strongly scented. Two are steroid creams that I have to use during flare ups. I’d like to know if someone had accommodations for scent issues what I would be expected to do to meet the accommodations! I’m not letting my face peel off because wakeen hates the smell of my steroid cream.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Since you also have a medical need, that’s what is called “dueling accommodations” and the employer would have to enter an interactive process with you both to see if they can solve it. More on that here:

      For example, if one of you can work from home or from a different area of the office, that might be the accommodation.

      (Also, I don’t know that it’s true that there’s a push to accommodate “every last thing someone doesn’t like” — as opposed to simply more awareness of varying medical needs, which is a good thing!)

      1. Dawn*

        There are so many sensitivities out there (scent and otherwise) with so many different symptoms. An awful lot of people find certain scents to be migraine triggers.

        The difference, I think, is that 20 years ago I was working for a manager who “didn’t believe in migraines” and that sort of attitude – denying peoples’ legitimate medical needs – is not so easy anymore.

        And the reality is that this is bound to happen when you shove many people together inside confined spaces!

        It is not unreasonable for people in that situation to ask if you are able to stop wearing something that gives them migraines, leaves them short of breath, etc.

        1. Dinwar*

          On the flip side, minor annoyances are part of life and it’s reasonable to expect adults to handle them with a certain amount of decorum. If something triggers migraines, yeah, that’s a problem–I get them, so understand how debilitating they can be.

          But not liking someone’s shampoo isn’t the same thing. LW1 has asked others about their shampoo, and others have said it’s not that bad. It’s entirely possible that the coworker is merely being obnoxious. This interpretation is further evidenced by the petty way they attempted to deal with it–instead of approaching LW1 like an adult and saying “I’m sorry, but the scent you’re using really bothers me when it’s this strong” the coworker went around making faces at LW1. That’s behavior more appropriate for my kindergarten aged daughter than someone in the working world with actual authority.

          I will also add that cancer isn’t just a physical disease. There are psychological impacts to it. Pretty much every woman on one side of my family has had breast cancer, ranging from something resolved by a brief out-patient surgery, to multiple mastectomies, to death. The psychological horror of a cancer scare is hard to imagine until you’ve felt it, and having that horror come true is far worse. Healing mentally is a process, and beauty products often are a part of that. (For better or worse physical appearance is important to women in our culture, and the psychological effects of cancer survivorship is not the place to discuss the issues involved here–you survive cancer you get to decide you want to feel pretty, and we get to support you, full stop.) Taking away part of that healing process is FAR more significant than telling someone healthy like me “You’re using too much cologne.” It’s more on par with someone saying “You’re missing too much work for your chemo treatment, you need to stop that and get your butt in your seat.” Remember, the psychological impacts of a major diagnosis can by themselves be deadly. Adding to the burden of someone already under an unimaginable level of stress is….not kind, to say the least.

          Graboid may not be expressing themselves well, but they raise a good point: Sometimes the person taking issue with the thing isn’t reasonable. While we should make reasonable efforts to accommodate people, it goes both ways, and we should not be obliged to accommodate unreasonable requests.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Yes, we’re supposed to be able to rely on people to accurately self-report where their issue falls on the scale from minor irritation to life-affecting medical issue. I feel like most people are reasonable and understand that, but then there are some who think that their minor issue should be everyone else’s major concern and they won’t speak accurately about it — they’ll exaggerate and outright lie just to get their way, because they choose selfishness over collaborative accommodation. They’re like (or the very same) people who fake service dogs or handicapped tags — just out for themselves and damn everyone else.

            1. MK*

              Ok, but the bar shouldn’t be so high that the issue should be medical before it is addressed, especially if the cause of the irritation is purely optional. If a shampoo scent is causing headaches or triggers a gag effect, one person’s shiny curls doesn’t overrule another’s expecting to be comfortable in the space that they have no choice but to inhabit.

              1. Observer*

                one person’s shiny curls doesn’t overrule another’s expecting to be comfortable in the space that they have no choice but to inhabit.

                That’s a false dichotomy, and a judgement call that you have no standing to make. You don’t know how actually uncomfortable Jane is being made, and you have absolutely no standing to dismiss the OP’s issue as a minor issue that is no more than petty vanity. It’s especially galling given that you are claiming that non-medical problems need to be treated with respect – yet somehow the OP’s problem doesn’t get the same treatment – and in a thread which give a very cogent explanation of the issue at hand for many cancer survivors.

                1. MK*

                  Huh? I …didn’t actually make a judgment? Going by what the letter said, no, we have no idea how uncomfortable Jane is. Maybe she simply doesn’t like the smell, maybe she is nauseous. The OP also doesn’t know, because she is ignoring her so far; which, yes, it should be on Jane to act like an adult and explain her issue, but the OP chose to write for advice without having this information.

                  Also, going by the letter, the OP says that this shampoo is what works best for her hair; I am not dismissing it as petty vanity, but I also wonder if it’s the only thing that works and how less effective the other products he used might be. I can’t agree that Jane needs to be choking or suffering debilitating migrains before the OP changes shampoos, because cancer.

                2. Kate 2*

                  Speaking as a white woman with extremely difficult curly hair, after 30 years of searching and trying products from the expensive to the cheap, the foreign to the American, I have found 1 shampoo and 2 conditioners that don’t leave my hair frizzy, greasy, knotted, matted, or a giant puff ball. So yes, for those of us with curly hair (which is not one type of curl), there may only be one or two products you can actually use.

              2. Susie*

                Exactly. If it’s making a coworker uncomfortable or triggering allergies or migraines, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect someone to switch shampoos to something unscented or with a different/lesser scent that isn’t a problem.

                1. MK*

                  Not really. She says this shampoo really works for her hair and that it wasn’t easy to find the best combination of products that makes her happy with her hair. If that means it’s the only product that makes her hair manageable, that’s one thing. But if there is a less ideal version and the coworker isn’t just disliking the smell but actually uncomfortable about it, you can’t insist that premium hair care takes priority.

              3. hot buttered anon*

                Gatekeeping hair styles and products can get you in trouble in terms of racism. Black people are often shamed and picked on for natural hair and/or the products needed to maintain their hair appropriately. So one person’s snark about shiny curls is another person’s microaggression.

                1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

                  Yes, this. I could fill the comment box with stories that reasonable people would hopefully find hair-curling, as it were, but reading this discussion I find myself wondering how many of the commenters deal with Black coworkers’ hairstyles.

                2. Susie*

                  Nah, I’m not being racist, just speaking as someone who gets migraines from heavy scents. White people wear strong-smelling perfumes and hair products too.

                3. DataSci*

                  The LW is most likely not Black, since her hair only became curly post-chemo. (“Chemo curls” are a thing, though they’re often temporary.)

            2. Petty Betty*

              Ugh. The handicap tag issue is why I was always so reluctant to get my own tags. I’m under 40. I don’t *look* disabled. I’m not a full time mobility aid user (I use a cane as-needed).
              The looks I get when I do have temporary tags (I get them every winter for my own safety and ease in icy Alaskan parking lots) is both often and hostile. The commentary is openly challenging, demanding to know my medical information (and questioning my mental fitness, since obviously I look well enough to walk, so I must be mentally deficient), threats to damage my vehicle, my person, tow my vehicle, call “the authorities” and management, report me to the DMV for fraud (where did they think I got the placard in the first place?), threaten to “confiscate” my placard themselves, a litany of their ailments to justify why they should have a placard rather than me (and truly, if they think they should, they should be discussing it with their doctor, not me!), how I’m stealing parking spots from the “real” disabled and veterans (yeah, somehow veterans are a separate distinction here, it’s weird when some people get going)…
              In short, a lot of very vocal and confrontational people have some really narrow ideas about what constitutes a disability, unless they believe they can benefit from it and they are more than happy to confront random strangers about it.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this! It’s absolutely unreasonable of them, and you shouldn’t have to defend your use of the accommodations that you need.

                I was temporarily disabled earlier this year (post-abdominal surgery), and I couldn’t bring myself to even use the motorized shopping carts because I was afraid of being judged.

              2. fullaboti*

                Those icy Alaskan parking lots are no joke. I’m sorry you have to deal with jerks while you’re just going about your business.

              3. Dancing Otter*

                I hear you so much.

                My late mother used to get nasty looks and remarks when she was standing by the *permanent* disability plated van, watching dad get her wheelchair out of the back.

                She had the use of both her legs, so she shouldn’t be coddled? Never mind the asthma, congestive heart failure and angina, apparently.

          2. Rain's Small Hands*

            So much this. Especially for breast cancer in women. Women are socialized to put a lot of value in their feminine attributes – boobs and hair – and breast cancer takes them both (or at least turns your breasts on you if it doesn’t just take them). Surviving it, and getting your hair back, and learning to deal with your new body – whether that is a lumpectomy, or a mascetomy with or without reconstruction is a big deal. Plus all the other stuff, early onset menopause, the long term recovery from chemo itself.

            Where there is a real issue – like migraines – a search for a new shampoo needs to be undertaken – and while its a pain (after years of wearing my own curls blown out I’m wearing them curly – and yeh – finding the products that make my hair do what I want isn’t a cakewalk) there are LOTS of products on the market. But if someone simply doesn’t like the smell….

            And we don’t really know its the shampoo. It could be soap, conditioner, curl cream, detergent, or just a change in her own body scent post chemo.

          3. Buffy will save us*

            She may be being obnoxious, but as someone who is scent sensitive and will get migraines from it, there are often times when I have a serious reaction to a smell that everyone else finds pleasant or subtle. It’s not fun.

            1. I am a Graboid*

              so I have to completely change my entire personal hygiene routine for you? that is so far of an overreach that it’s insane. I’m at work 30 hours a week and now have to completely change something that affects my entire life and my personal life and time off the clock. no. absolutely not. it’s way too much at this point. even if you get migraines, it’s straight evil to tell someone “stop using the only product that helps your hair after suffering cancer and hair loss and spend the next 6 weeks to 6 MONTHS trying to find a suitable solution which will impact your entire life for that whole time while you try to have some kind of self esteem and do something with your hair” no!!!! absolutely ridiculous and not ok. other people have rights too and anything that forces them to change something in their home and personal life is an ABSOLUTE overreach by their employer. when does it end? this is the mentality that gets teachers fired because they have a cocktail or glass of wine with dinner.

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                This comment is really aggressive and harsh, and pretty mean. I get that your scented products exist to treat a medical need, but that doesn’t mean that other people don’t also have medical needs that should be considered.

              2. H*

                I mean, there are possible solutions to this issue (as Alison mentioned in her followup comment) besides having to change products, but this is a weirdly hostile take.

                If I could not avoid a scent that was causing me migraines in my workplace, I would consider it “straight up evil” to me.

                Have you ever had a migraine? Symptoms vary but mine nearly always include intense pain, sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, and brain fog.

                If you witnessed someone enduring that you would find them straight up evil for requesting that you change your shampoo?

                1. Nesprin*

                  I get asthma attacks around scents- and quite frankly I wouldn’t trade an scent induced asthma attack for a scent induced migraine.

                  Graboid, I hope you’re ok- you sound like you’ve been going through a lot.

                2. snarkfox*

                  I think people who don’t have migraines don’t understand the full extent of what migraines are like. The last time I had one, I genuinely thought I was having a stroke because of the brain fog. I literally couldn’t read! Like, I could read words in my head but when I tried to read them out loud, they wouldn’t come out. It was scary and bizarre.

                  So, yes… if your shampoo triggers a migraine in a colleague, switch shampoos. Your “right” to have pretty hair doesn’t supersede someone’s right to function. Luckily, my migraines aren’t triggered by scents. But literally… I can’t work when I have a migraine because my brain literally doesn’t function, so no… hair care is not more important than that!

                3. Nina*

                  I do get migraines, not scent triggered, and yes, they’re terrible.

                  However I also have fragrance allergies that make me sneeze every ten seconds or so and give me a sinus headache. If it’s my shampoo that is going on my head, darn skippy I’m optimizing for ‘thing that works well with my sensitivities on MY HEAD’ over ‘thing that works well with a sensitivity a coworker may or may not have because all the information they’ve given me so far is stinky-face’.

              3. Student*

                Right now, the co-worker who complained likely has no idea that this shampoo was difficult to find to tackle a specific issue the LW has to contend with stemming from cancer treatments. Most people using scented hygiene products can switch them relatively easily, and while the co-worker should’ve been more tactful about the request, it’s not out of line to make the request.

                That said, as AAM mentioned above, if one person needs scented hygiene products for a specific reason, and another person is sensitive to the smell, then there are several less severe options that the workplace can take to try to make sure both employee’s needs are met without interfering with each other. However, in the end, if they can’t meet both employee’s needs, they will need to talk to both employees to figure out whose need is greater. If one of them has a documented medical disability and the other has a strong preference that is not a medical disability, then the person with the medical disability will likely win out, as they should. That can be deeply inconvenient for the person who has to make changes, but it’s not an overreach – it’s enforcing laws accommodating disabilities in the workplace. Those laws exist to ensure disabled people can get and keep jobs on par with others.

                Like it or not, in the US, employment is largely at-will and there are no legal protections that ensure you keep a job due to strong personal preferences; you can legally be fired for lots of private conduct at home (though it is generally unwise of the employer to do that).

                1. BokBooks*

                  Thank you for this. Before I started my own company, I was seriously considering filing for disability as I was having so much trouble with everything from cleaning products to lotions to perfumes and colognes triggering migraines in every office I ever worked in.

                  Coworkers were extremely hostile and one even sprayed perfume on me when I asked for accomodations.

                  Without the law protections I’d have been on the streets until I could find a job where no one wore perfume.

                  I now equate strong perfume wearers with absolute trash.

              4. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                Alternatively, if the thing you’re doing in your own home and personal life is causing your coworker to miss work, miss their own home/personal life, or end up hospitalized, how is that not the employer’s responsibility to address? You really can’t come to work wearing a product that will put your coworker in the ER.

              5. Parakeet*

                What a weird, aggressive take. This has nothing at all to do with home and personal life, or teachers getting fired for drinking socially. Scents in the workplace are not your “home and personal life” because your coworkers are a captive audience for them – would you have this same take about someone with massive body odor (a topic that has come up periodically on AAM)?

                Alison already explained the concept of dueling accommodations (in disability justice spaces this is often called “conflicting access needs”). And yet you’re still acting like any objection to anyone’s scented products in the workplace, even one that is just as health-related as your reasons for your products, is an attack on you.

              6. to varying degrees*

                Yes, you do. As important as hair care is to people at the end of the day it is not a medical necessity and if someone is getting ill because of another’s preference, then yes, the burden is one the person with the preference to alter their behavior.

              7. Anonym*

                I’ve gotta say, I don’t think you understand how debilitating migraines are. If you do, your willingness to inflict them on another person is staggering in its unkindness. I would willingly take on a lot of inconvenience to avoid causing someone to have one (I get them myself).

                Just because it’s possible to theoretically take a scenario or argument to an extreme doesn’t invalidate finding some sort of solution in the more moderate case. Going for a less scented product is going to be a reasonable ask for most people, and it’s not unreasonable to bring it up. Granted, Jane’s being jerk, and we don’t know where she falls on the “doesn’t care for it” to “severe physical reaction” spectrum, and OP is in the unusual position of cancer being part of her personal grooming decisions, but this sort of thing should be open to collaborative solution finding. Even if there is no good answer, reasonable people should try to find one.

                “Where does it end?” is not a good argument. At all.

                1. Lydia*

                  We need to remember that Jane has not indicated at all that it’s giving her anything more than stink face. If she’s getting headaches or migraines from the scent, then it makes sense to have a conversation about it. But it’s 100% in Jane’s court to tell the OP that’s the situation. Instead, Jane is making a face and waving her hand, which in most encounters means she just doesn’t like the smell.

                2. Umiel12*

                  Why does everyone keep mentioning migraines? Nowhere in the letter is there any indication that co-worker gets migraines. All we know is that she doesn’t like the way OP smells.

                3. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  Umiel, folks keep mentioning migraines because
                  1. Scent-triggered migraines are ridiculously common; about 1 in 5 women in the US get migraines (somewhat fewer for men), and about 9 out of 10 of them have scents as a primary trigger
                  2. LW objectively can’t know that Jane’s NOT getting migraines (or another medical issue) due to the scent she’s using. Currently she’s assuming this is a minor dislike on Jane’s part, but they really need to discuss it calmly and frankly.
                  3. Upthread, Graboid maintains that *even if* a scent is causing migraines or other harm, the right to one’s preferred grooming routine trumps a coworker’s right to not be harmed, which is what folks right here are reacting to.

                4. MigraineMonth*

                  @Umiel12 – It isn’t clear from the letter why the coworker is objecting to the smell (partly because she’s being so juvenile about it). Alison pointed out that this might be due to the coworker’s personal preference (in which case OP doesn’t need to accommodate them) or medical need (in which case OP needs to at least try to accommodate them).

                  Migraines and allergies are the main medical reasons why someone would object to a scent.

                5. Umiel12*

                  Regarding the migraines: making the argument that there is no way of knowing that Jane is not getting migraines or making the argument that migraines are the main reason someone would object to a scent are both logical fallacies. People are making assumptions and then arguing as if those assumptions are fact. The only fact we have is that Jane doesn’t like a smell, and she is being both passively and actively aggressive about it. You could just as easily argue that Jane is on the spectrum and lacks the social skills to communicate better, and that would be just as valid as arguing for migraines.

                6. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  Umiel – Arguing that LW has no way of knowing whether Jane is getting migraines isn’t a logical fallacy; it is a fact, based on what LW has presented here. The migraine (and other scent sensitivities) folks are not saying LW needs to drop her shampoo without further discussion. They’re saying LW should keep the possible legitimate objections in mind and try to find a mutually-acceptable solution. If Jane’s actually being unreasonable, LW can go to HR and show you were attempting to meet her halfway. If Jane does turn out to need a medical accommodation and LW ignores her requests, HR may come back with a much broader-reaching policy.

              8. NotAnotherManager!*

                So, basically, you’d like for someone to validated your believe that YOUR medical accommodation is obviously more important than someone else’s. Got it.

                I would not wish the migraines that strong scents induce in my spouse on anyone. You clearly have no idea how debilitating they are if your belief is that people should subject themselves to that sort of prolong, nauseated agony to accommodate someone else’s hygiene routine. Calling someone “evil” for not wanting to experience a migraine? You are the one who’s being ridiculous and over the top here. No one is policing what people do in their free time; they’re trying to balance a lot of needs so people are getting sick in the office or missing work due to the office environment.

                And, in the specific letter at issue, the shampoo in question is NOT a medical accommodation. It’s important to LW for very understandable reasons, and I am deeply empathetic to how hard it is to find products that work in your specific circumstances as I experienced something similar after a less serious medical event. Jane is being a pill in how she’s expressing her concerns, but, *if* the scent is creating a medical issue for her, then Medical Issue > My Ideal Shampoo It Took Me Forever to Find. It is not analogous to your described situation, where it is a prescription medication for direct treatment of a medical issue and does create a “dueling accommodations” issue. No one has the “right” to a specific beauty product, which is what the shampoo is, in this case.

                1. Britchikaa*

                  Agree. LW’s desire to use a shampoo that makes her hair look nice is very understandable considering that she has had cancer in the past, but it’s clearly not a medical accommodation.

              9. Britchikaa*

                Wow disabled people who don’t want to be in pain are “EVIL!!!!” simply for asking you not to wear extremely perfumed products at work??

                As an actual disabled and terminally ill person who suffers very badly from certain strong perfumes, that is simply a flat out ableist attitude.

                LW is NOT disabled, and there’s no indication that she absolutely has no other option than this one heavily perfumed shampoo.

                On the other hand, we have no idea if the person bothered by strong perfume identifies as disabled or not, only that the LW’s perfumed shampoo is strong enough to be obvious to people who aren’t close to her long after she’s washed her hair, and that the coworker is negatively affected by the strong smell.

                If Jane wrote in saying “my coworker wears strong perfume and it really bothers me” every single comment would support her, not demonise her as “EVIL!!!1!!11!!”

                1. anonymousity*

                  I don’t know if you can conclude that LW is “not disabled” based on this letter. Is her shampoo regimen an absolute necessity due to her previous experience with breast cancer? That’s a more subjective thing. This comment feels weirdly dismissive of the LW though. Surviving cancer leaves a lot of people with disabilities, including pretty debilitating ones. I actually had a colleague who developed intense scent sensitivities after going through chemo. Just because the LW didn’t disclose that in this letter doesn’t mean that she is definitively not disabled.

                  My point is that “disabled coworker” versus “non disabled LW” is a false dichotomy with the context we have. One could just as easily conclude that her colleague does not have a disability and just doesn’t like the smell. I’m not advocating for that conclusion either, but I don’t think we have enough info to definitively determine whether she’s disabled or it’s a preference. Knowing that chemo can leave people with chronic health issues, it does seem like an unfair conclusion to say that LW is absolutely not disabled.

              10. Curmudgeon in California*

                Are you for real?

                Yes, if your fru fru body/hair care product that you took “months” to find CAUSES SOMEONE PAIN you should have to change it, or wear it only on weekends.

                You don’t get to arbitrarily pollute the air around other people for your vanity, full stop. You do not get to hurt others because you need to look pretty.

                Sure, it’s not your fault that manufacturers put harmful* chemicals in their products, but you can chose not to buy them. These things literally make it hard for me to breathe.

                * Artificial fragrances are compose in part of aldehdyes and ketones that have never been properly studied for their cumulative effects.

                1. ADidgeridooForYou*

                  I 100% agree that if a hair care product is triggering migraines or medical conditions then it should be replaced with a less triggering product, but I think it’s a little harsh to call them “fru fru body/hair care products” or that it’s because of “vanity” or “a need to look pretty.” For many people – especially POC – hair is an integral part of identity. I’m a white woman with extremely curly hair, and I grew up with a lot of shame around it. It took me years to be proud of my hair and realize that I didn’t need to spend hours each morning with a straightener. Feeling confident in how you look isn’t just vanity; it’s a very important part of mental health.

                  If I don’t use my “fru fru hair products” – which did take me a long time to find and perfect – my hair looks like I stuck my finger in an electrical socket. And, unfortunately, women are judged more harshly for not looking “put together” when they’re at work. Of course, if someone near me expresses a medical need, I’ll change it; however, I think you’re unnecessarily belittling a concept that can be a major part of people’s identity and be much more complicated than you think.

                2. Tupac Coachella*

                  Going to back up ADidgeridoo here, as a curly haired WOC who actually loosely follows this particular method (Curly Girl has a contingent of wackos that will aggressively insist that all of the “rules” are followed to the letter or you can’t sit with them; I am not one of those).

                  “Looking pretty” might be at the very bottom on my list of reasons why I go to the time, effort, and expense of finding specific products that my hair doesn’t hate. Higher priority reasons include preventing the painful sores and scabs that come with a chronically dry scalp and, as others have mentioned, the fact that it’s hard to be taken seriously at work when others perceive you as unkempt. LW1 didn’t seem to be being uncharitable toward Jane, in spite of Jane being quite unkind to her. (Even though she likely has no idea why LW is so married to this scent, who waves their hands and makes faces at coworkers due to their smell? Rude.) Some people can just change shampoos without it being a Thing. LW can’t. I know some of the comments are a bit intense, but seeing as the letter said nothing about a reason other than personal taste that Jane is acting the fool, I don’t think LW’s disinterest in rewarding that behavior is unreasonable.

                3. Nina*

                  Okay, how’s this – I’m autistic, and hair touching my face/neck is a major sensory issue for me, an ‘I cannot focus on anything else until I remove this hair and secure it firmly in place’ issue. I read female, so shaving my head weekly (my strong preference, all else being equal) is an option that would have negative impacts on my job security (been there, done that). I get around it with a sideshave and a firm-hold wax on the top. Unfortunately, the only firm-hold wax I can find that a) I can afford to use daily and b) doesn’t set off my own fragrance sensitivity and turn me into a sneezing headachey mess all day is coconut-scented. You can smell it from about two feet away, maybe more if your sense of smell is particularly acute. Is this a preference or a medical thing?

                  It doesn’t always boil down to ‘the person using the scent must stop using the scent’.

            2. Umiel12*

              But there is no evidence that co-worker gets migraines or is sensitive to scents. All that’s been presented is that she doesn’t like the way OP smells, and she went from being passive aggressive about it to being openly aggressive. (Yes, I think sending an email that says, “tone it down,” is actively aggressive.)

              1. Laika*

                Yeah, I get migraines *and* I’m super sensitive to smells. If there’s a strong smell near me and I object to it, I don’t usually have time to pull faces since I’m probably trying to put distance between me and the smell. ‍♀️

                1. Curmudgeon in California*

                  Seriously. If I get a whiff of stuff that aggravates my sensitivities I’m moving away at my best speed.

                2. Elizabeth Naismith*

                  I can’t help pulling a face. If someone is wearing anything lavender-scented (and lavender is in most floral and fruity scents, natural or artificial) my face scrunched up before I’ve consciously processed what’s going on. And I leave as quickly as possible, to avoid serious health issues (not spelling them out online because that’s nobody’s business).

            3. Anomie*

              No it’s not. Scents that can be detected from “a few feet away” mean they are likely overbearing to some others at a close distance, don’t belong in the workplace. Find something else.

              1. Elizabeth Naismith*

                Agreed. If you can smell it at all, it can cause problems for someone sensitive to that smell. Heck, even if you can’t really smell it. People tend to go “scent blind” to things they’re used to. They don’t realize how strongly their products actually smell.

            4. Emilu*

              I’d like to hope that if that was the case you’d approach the culprit in a friendly manner, rather than “eww, you stink!”

              As Alison’s letter stated originally, I do think that, assuming OP was telling it as she saw it (which I am), you’d be a bit more open if you were in that same position.

          4. Jamjari*

            I agree that the coworker isn’t handling this well … but OP asking her friends if they find it bothersome and determining, based on their responses, that it’s not doesn’t mean it’s not a real issue for her coworker. Her friend circle might be determined by their tolerance of / sensitivity to scent. I get migraines from scents to the point where other people’s laundry detergent bothers me – I wouldn’t have hung out with OP long enough to be her friend if she regularly wore strongly scented products.

            1. Anonym*

              Yep. And while it makes sense to do a quick check with others to see if you’re wildly out of the norm – very reasonable, OP – it doesn’t eliminate the possibility that it’s still a real problem for someone. In this case we don’t know, since Jane’s just being rude and doesn’t seem to have mentioned anything beyond a personal preference, but it’s still possible that it’s a valid issue. A bit more digging would be worthwhile and reasonable.

            2. Lacey*

              I kinda doubt she has a circle of friends based on the shampoo she’s recently started using?

              But, I do have a horrible sense of smell, so someone could ask me and that would not be a very good indicator.

              1. Expelliarmus*

                First of all, we don’t know if the shampoo is stinky or just strong smelling. Regardless, though, you really think OP’s friends all just up and abandoned her just because of the shampoo? Because that seems like a really uncharitable view of her friends.

                1. BokBooks*

                  I imagine it’s DevaCurl, which smells like ass. I won’t allow my Mom to get in my car if she’s used it.
                  OP, when the honeymoon period is over and your hair starts falling out from the too-high PH and lack of cleaning ability leading to buildup in that brand, switch to SheaMoisture.

                2. Katie Impact*

                  I think what they were trying to say is that since the shampoo is a recent thing and she’s presumably had friends for longer than she’s been using it, her friend circle wouldn’t have been selected according to who didn’t find the scent objectionable.

                  In other words, “I don’t think she has (a circle of friends based on the shampoo she’s recently started using)”, not “I don’t think she has a circle of friends (based on the shampoo she’s recently started using)”.

              2. Britchikaa*

                I don’t think friends are a good judge period since of course your own friends are going to be biased.

                If a friend asked “is my shampoo too strong smelling” I wouldn’t say yes.

                Also, LW’s friends have seen her battle with cancer, her hair loss, and her battle to cope with hair regrowth, and as her friends are emotionally invested in her being able to cope and thrive with these challenges. Of course her friends aren’t going to say “yes the thing we spent months watching you search for is bad, stop using it”.

                And is LW framing to her friends as “random question, can you smell my shampoo?” Or as “ugh that awful Jane who always rolls her eyes complained again, do you think she’s right?”

                Not to mention LW’s friends are used to the way she smells. You just don’t notice a smell if you’re around it a lot.

                1. Elizabeth Naismith*

                  All very good points. Even if I were willing to tell a random friend that her shampoo was a bit too strongly scented… a friend who had cancer, and if finally growing her hair back? I would keep my mouth firmly shut, unless there was a serious reason to say something.
                  If she just asked what I thought of her shampoo, even if I thought it smelled bad enough to gag a skunk, I wouldn’t say anything to a cancer survivor.

            3. MK*

              Also, I don’t know how honest the friend of a cancer survivor would be when asked about a product that helped them feel good about themselves after treatment.

            4. Not A Girl Boss*

              Exactly. Just because scent is subtle and lovely, doesn’t mean it won’t trigger a migraine.
              I have a specific migraine reaction from coconut scents.
              It could be the worlds slightest scent of coconut to any normal human’s nose, but to mine a waft is enough to make me cringe, and any more than 5 minutes in close proximity will give me a migraine.
              Unfortunately, this is a particularly fraught scent to have an issue with, because it just so happens that many curly hair and black skin/hair care products rely heavily on coconut oils – and I just can’t help but feel weird complaining exclusively about the scent of my coworkers who use those products.

              Actually, my mom has curly hair, and I had to turn around and leave her house one day after she had begun trying out the Curly girl method. Luckily, she’s my mom and wants me to enjoy spending time with her, so we worked together to find an alternate product. But trust me, I get it, finding a non-coconut curly product is HARD.

            5. Elizabeth Naismith*

              Same here. I recently had to point out to a coworker that she was wearing 5 different, clashing perfumes, all of which were causing me problems. “But I don’t wear perfume!”
              No, but you use lavender-scented laundry detergent, honey-scented body wash, rosemary shampoo, a floral conditioner, citrus deodorant, and a raspberry-scented lotion. Those all have perfumes in them, and yes, I can smell them all, and yes, they’re giving me a headache.

          5. My+Useless+2+Cents*

            A few years ago a coworker had an office around the corner and about 20 feet from my desk and would periodically use this plug in air freshener that no one else had a problem with. I asked repeatedly where the scent was coming from and could they please stop using it. Crickets. It took over a year and FIVE other coworkers at different times asking her to stop using it because it effected me so much (I didn’t know who or where the smell was coming from until the last two weeks) before she finally and permanently stopped using it. I think she thought I just didn’t like it but I would be at my desk fighting a headache, holding a scented handkerchief to my face to prevent throwing up, and trying to type with one hand. Scent sensitivity is more than just a “minor annoyance”.

            1. WillowSunstar*

              Before COVID, we had a coworker use one of those and it was very strong pumpkin spice. She used it all year round til enough people finally complained.

            2. Curious*

              Did you say it gave you a headache? If you don’t ask for accommodation/give a reason for a request, then of course someone’s going to think you’re just asking because you don’t like it.

              1. My+Useless+2+Cents*

                Every time I messaged the entire office I mentioned it gave me a headache and was making me nauseous. I didn’t know what where the smell was coming from or who was responsible for almost a year.

            3. Lana Kane*

              Those should not be allowed in offices, seriously. And I say that as someone who uses them at home.

          6. Allura Vysoren*

            Relying on other people to say it “isn’t that bad” doesn’t mean that it can’t negatively affect someone else. I LOVE the cinnamon pine cones that grocery stores put at the entrances at this time of year, but they trigger migraines for a friend of mine.

        2. Starbuck*

          “that sort of attitude – denying peoples’ legitimate medical needs – is not so easy anymore.”

          Weirdly, though, it really seems to persist when it comes to allergies! I seem to notice that the more inconvenient the accommodation (or the more “obscure” the allergen) the more people want to find a reason to disbelieve it. It’s bizarre.

        3. Anomie*

          Generally no one should smell much like anything at work. One lotion odor literally makes me gag. Perfume on the job is ridiculous. It’s totally reasonable that “no one wants to smell you” whether it’s perceived as good or bad. There is no shampoo smell accommodation. And if one can be smelled “from a few feet” away it’s too much.

      2. Sotired*

        How is hair styling a medical need? I get it that LW1’s hair grew back different from what she was used to, but I do not see that as a medical need.

        1. Liz W.*

          It is not the hair styling itself but the healing required in response to the psychological ramifications of a serious diagnosis. See the second paragraph of Dinwar’s comment above.

        2. Just Another Zebra*

          So I have both very curly hair and a VERY sensitive scalp, plus an allergy to coconut. I have found exactly 1 line of hair care that works with my hair and doesn’t irritate my skin and also doesn’t contain coconut (like every beauty product on the market). It’s also scented. I’m not going to swap my products and have a reaction because someone doesn’t like the smell.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Oh. My. Goodness. The struggle of finding hair care products without coconut in them. The ones I use aren’t scented, but most people don’t need to regularly use clarifying shampoo due to being very greasy.

            1. Just Another Zebra*

              I’ve had to say goodbye to so many beloved products because they decided to be “trendy” and plaster NOW WITH COCONUT OIL FOR ADDED MOISTURE! on the bottles. Hair care, soaps, lotions, deodorants. Even certain razor heads that have “moisture strips”. I’m very protective of the beauty products I do use, because I really am limited.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                I basically can’t use women’s razors anymore because of that. I dread the day men’s razors decide coconut oil isn’t “too feminine” to use. (the gendering thing is usually very weird but at least it’s working in my favor for now)

            2. Not A Girl Boss*

              Seriously OMG, even the faintest smell of coconut gives me a migraine, and coconut in beauty products makes me break out in little angry white bumps. I’m passionate about non toxic beauty products and it’s REALLY hard to find natural products without coconut. I also have a lot of super fine hair that easily gets weighed down (for the love of heck, we don’t all want volumizing shampoo people!).
              I finally found Seen shampoo/conditioner and hair styling products which is natural, skin friendly, coconut free, and comes in an unscented version. I stockpile it a year at a time just in case they ever go out of business and you can pry it out of my dead hands.

          2. The Rural Juror*

            My shampoo that I use once every 3-4 days smells heavily of tee tree oil (I have psoriasis and it helps my scalp). I have very fine hair that gets greasy, but over washing causes a lot of discomfort. It’s a very sharp smell, so I could see some folks being put off by it on day 1.

            Luckily, no one has complained. But if they did, we’d just have to swap around desks in our open office space! I also would not switch shampoos.

            1. Not A Girl Boss*

              I am obsessed with tea tree oil, lol, so I’m curious about this shampoo! Im so sensitive to scents and it’s one of the only that doesn’t both me, so I guess I just get excited to smell like something?
              I use tea tree oil wipes (shoutout to Defense soap and wipes on Amazon) on my skin after the gym because I get a rash from my own sweat (sigh) and put a few drops in the fabric softener drawer of my laundry to keep it from getting funky because I don’t use scented laundry detergent.

              1. jtr*

                TOTALLY off topic, but this really helps? I have gotten a “heat rash” under my left arm lately, and other than walking around with my arm raised all day have no idea what to do about it…

                1. Not A Girl Boss*

                  Tea tree oil is anti fungal. I learned about it doing jiu jitsu, the Defense brand wipes and soaps were really popular to keep away the weird foot stuff that runs around sweaty gyms lol. Before that I’d been to a dermatologist for my weird sweat rashes and they gave me a ketakozanole soap (just a prescription strength of what’s in dandruff shampoo) but that stuff smells AWFUL and lingers forever. Plus it dries out my skin. The tea tree oil works just as well for me and I think it smells pleasant. But I guess for your specific “heat rash” it probably depends whether it’s a fungal thing or a friction thing. For the “chub rub” pimples I sometimes get, tea tree helps a little but cortisone cream is much more effective.

        3. I'm just here for the cats!*

          Its a mental health thing. I think what Dinwar is getting at is that chemo and cancer diagnosis harms your mental health. Your whole body changes. And post chemo/cancer recovery you still have these mental health concerns since you don’t look like you used to. And so for some women doing their hair and such makes them feel better and gives them a better self image.

          1. Britchikaa*

            This is very valid, but it’s also a question of, if we’re saying “any product that makes me feel good about myself supports my mental health ergo anything that makes me feel good is a disability accommodation” then where do we draw the line on that?

            After my aunt survived breast cancer she used to drench herself in YSL Opium, because wearing perfume made her feel womanly.

        4. learnedthehardway*

          Depending on your treatment, it might genuinely be a medical need to use certain products that don’t aggravate already very reactive skin – radiation causes damage not just to the tumors, but everywhere around it too. So that means you might have very sensitive skin in the area that breaks down at the slightest provocation for years (perhaps always) afterwards.

          (I have personal experience with this – as I told my radiation oncologist, my insides were shrink wrapped and my outsides were charred. The skin remains VERY fragile several years later).

            1. anonymousity*

              This is exactly why I replied to another commenter above who insisted that LW is not disabled and her coworker is. I have never had cancer, but my mother had breast cancer when I was young. Chemo can absolutely do a number on your body. She developed a chronic stomach condition that took years to manage. She has to wear compression garments because she had lymph nodes removed. Losing her hair did a number on her mental health at the time.

              A close friend of mine had a really aggressive form of leukemia as a child, to the point where he had last rites performed at least once. Then an experimental drug cocktail came into the picture and it saved his life. It also wrecked his heart and his ability to regulate his body temperature.

              It’s really ignorant for people to assume that after the cancer is gone, it’s all fine and dandy and everyone goes back to their baseline. In this case, we don’t know about what other health issues LW might experience and we don’t know whether her coworker has a disability. It feels just as dismissive for someone to say that the LW has no need for any accommodations at all as it would be to say that someone who complains about scents is just being picky.

          1. J*

            My chemo caused really weird skin issues I still deal with 15+ years later. Things like weird lines up and down my arms, very itchy skin (which is a sign of my cancer so managing the unrelated itching is key for early detection of a recurrence), and symptoms that basically act an allergy to coconut in beauty products. I was already curly before chemo hair loss but I couldn’t use any product from before treatment and there’s such a small amount of products on the market. Job searching as a new college grad when you’re huge from steroids and can’t fit into suits from the year before and half bald from chemo is not something I’d recommend.

            My hair that remained was also majorly damaged from chemo. I could see each chemo treatment on my hair with ebbs and flows of thickness for at least two years when I finally went for a really big cut to stop the breakage I was fighting and the hair loss that was still happening from the stress my body was dealing with in the aftermath. I’ve finally found a few products that work for me but all rely on almonds so I smell like almond extract.

            learnedthehardway, I know from my fellow survivorship buddies that radiation makes this so much harder. I went for an experimental route of no radiation but increased chemo and there’s no good options. I know so many people who think chemo/radiation is one and done but late effects make this so different. For others who don’t know, sometimes our bodies, including skin and hair, have some compounding damage from our early treatment. For me, my teeth are all falling out and my heart sees more damage and I needed an organ removed from treatment damage more than a decade ago. You can’t assume remission doesn’t mean we don’t need special products or treatment.

        5. Librarian of SHIELD*

          The comment you’re replying to is in response to a comment about medically necessary skin creams, not about the shampoo in the letter.

        6. ADidgeridooForYou*

          It’s not a medical need at all, and if the coworker is getting serious side effects LW should make some changes, but I think a lot of commenters here are really dismissing the importance of hair in one’s identity – especially curly hair, and especially for POC. It truly can take months to find a routine and set of products that work for you, and curly hair is incredibly difficult to manage. It often involves more than just glopping on some shampoo and calling it a day – usually there’s a whole routine involved. A sincere medical need should obviously be accommodated and taken seriously, but it’s not as simple as just stopping using your product and letting your hair do its thing like some people in the comment section seem to think.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            It could be a mental health need, and that qualifies. Especially since she is a cancer survivor, and many cancer survivors have really intense anxiety over their hair afterwards.

      3. Just a headache*

        How does one prove a scent sensitivity when it doesn’t rise to the level of fully debilitating migraines?

        1. Britchikaa*

          Disabled people don’t need to prove that we are disabled.

          Not saying Jane is disabled because obviously Jane isn’t here to give her side of the story – and we have no idea if the perfume is making her unwell or if she just doesn’t like it.

          But if (IF!) it is genuinely a migraine trigger then she doesn’t need to prove that to apply for a disability accommodation.

          Which is why Allison’s response is perfect. If it’s a medical need then Jane needs to go down the accommodation route and not wave her hands around.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            For an accommodation, you may need a doctor’s note, but just limited to what the condition is and why you need an accommodation.

        2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          You get a doctor to provide a note saying that you have a scent sensitivity that results in migraines and you need a reasonable accommodation for that condition. The employer cannot ask anything more from you than that. Only enough information from a doctor and you as necessary to understand what the accommodation is for so that they can reasonably work out how to accommodate it.

          1. Elizabeth Naismith*

            The problem is getting that note. I am allergic to lavender. That’s been verified by testing, and is in my medical records. But no doctor is willing to write me a note for it, because “it can’t be that bad,” despite lavender being in 90% of artificial scents, and most natural perfumes, too. Not to mention it’s in most migraine- and stress-relief products, so no one believes that it’s the trigger for my migraines (among other problems).

      4. KoiFeeder*

        Ironically, this is an issue I was going to broach on the weekend open thread- I had to Uber home and the driver happened to use a topical medication (the bottle was sitting in the cupholder, hence why I know what the issue was) that apparently I am severely allergic to, and I was wondering if there was any way to call Uber and ask not to be placed with that driver again without getting the poor man in trouble.

      5. Britchikaa*

        That’s an interesting take on a forum that tends to have extremely strong views on people wearing heavy perfume at work.

        If a shampoo is that strongly perfumed, it may not be suitable for the workplace.

        I’m a little uncomfortable that the LW included being a cancer survivor when that really is not relevant (would her using shampoo for curly hair be different if she had naturally curly hair?).

        I wonder if the response would be different if she’d just said “a co-worker complained that my beauty product is too heavily perfumed and the scent bothers her, what do I do?”

        1. Lydia*

          There’s no indication that it is, actually, heavily scented. Just that Jane doesn’t like the scent. Jane is not the measuring stick on how scented the shampoo is.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            I mean, LW herself says it’s noticeable from a few feet away. That’s pretty heavy scent for a shampoo.

            1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

              Also, Jane says “tone down the perfume” and LW connects that immediately to her shampoo, and not to her deodorant, laundry detergent, body wash, lotion, or any other of the many (usually stronger) scents people might wear to the office.

              1. Lydia*

                Because she’s had interactions with Jane about this before, so she immediately thought of the shampoo?

          2. Britchikaa*

            It’s obvious heavily scented. The fact Jane can smell it proves that. Presumably Jane is neither burying her nose in LW’s hair and sniffing it, nor breaking into LW’s bathroom to check the labels on her products.

            1. Nesprin*

              Or jane is pregnant and nauseous because of OP’s shampoo
              or jane is asthmatic and has a scent trigger or has scent triggered migraines
              Or jane just has a really really good sense of smell

          3. metadata minion*

            If someone can smell it from a normal-office-work distance, it’s pretty strongly scented for a shampoo. I wouldn’t want to smell even a scent I enjoyed all the time at work. And yes, if it was a case like in this letter I would suck it up and deal with lavender-coconut or whatever, but if you’re changing your colleague’s environment, they’re entitled to have an opinion on it.

          4. Elizabeth Naismith*

            LW said it can be smelled from a few feet away. That’s incredibly strong for a shampoo. Can you smell your shampoo right now? I can’t smell mine, unless I’m fresh out of the shower.
            So yes, her shampoo is inordinately strong. That’s a problem. Whether it’s a problem she feels the need to address is up to her, but the problem exists, regardless.

        2. J*

          “Now for the problem … the shampoo that works best for me is scented and noticeable from a few feet away like a light perfume would be.”

          A few ft away is not even a “light” perfume, let alone a friggin SHAMPOO.

          Jane is dealing with this badly, but as Jane is also (reasonably) assuming that this a perfume that LW is using and that LW obviously can be less heavy-handed about applying it, then I can also understand why Jane is being passive aggressive about it.

          LW – while the answer may be ventilation options or not meeting in small spaces or something rather than you changing your shampoo, please be aware that if someone can smell your shampoo from anything other than “standing right next to you” then your shampoo is INCREDIBLY scented for a shampoo and it’s not surprosing that it’s causing an issue for your coworker.

          1. Elizabeth Naismith*

            Yes. Most shampoos cannot be smelled unless you’ve just washed it (like, your hair might still be a bit damp) or you’re actively playing with your hair. I have a very sensitive nose, and I can only smell shampoos if it’s within a few hours of someone showering.
            If your shampoo can be smelled on a regular basis without having to hold your hair right under your nose, it’s strongly scented. If it can be smelled from a few feet away, it’s exceptionally strong. That’s too strong even for perfume, let alone shampoo.
            And just because I like a certain scent and think it’s mild doesn’t mean it won’t cause problems for others. I changed my shampoo and conditioner because it set off a friend’s asthma. Her friendship was more important than controlling my frizz.

      6. Marna Nightingale*

        So, Jane is being a jerk, BUT. It is actually possible that she does not know it.

        I have pretty serious scent allergies, and it turns out that that comes with both an INCREDIBLE ability to smell the things I am allergic to and a really distorted sense of how the thing smells. I dogsit for a friend and his only scented products are deodorant and laundry soap — I asked — and the place smells like a brothel on fire to me. I open his patio door the second I get there and I still get a headache for awhile.

        He, oddly, smells fine. Never noticed a thing.

        I have been genuinely convinced that someone had straight-up bathed in sandalwood and musk only to find out that they were trying out a new deodorant and those were the last two ingredients and it was basically a light floral.

        It is genuinely possible that to Jane, LW genuinely smells as if they were wearing unreasonably and unprofessionally large amounts of incredibly heavy scent.

        So for what it’s worth, any mask considered appropriate for filtering viruses will completely filter perfume. I owned and carried Vog masks before the pandemic and am still wearing them in public places, and allergies are nearly as big a motivation as Covid.

    2. JSPA*

      Not to say that you should feel obliged to try, but some compounding pharmacies are excellent (which is useful to know in case you ever become allergic to your own products– happened to me with a hydrocortizone cream, such that as soon as the strongest effect of the cortisone wore off, the cream itself caused a renewed flare). Your choice of multiple compatible bases + active ingredient, often for less than or equal to the price of the official version.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        This is a good point. I had a friend who used topical steroid creams a lot and eventually went into hardcore withdrawal with far worse skin issues. It’s really important to find the right balance, and compounding pharmacies really can be incredibly creative (though I think I would recommend this more for one’s own medical concerns than to accommodate someone else’s scent issues … if you have a working treatment, you shouldn’t need to change it to accommodate, as it is the employer’s responsibility to find an accommodation that works for both and does not interfere with medical treatment).

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I have psoriasis and can only use very particular skin products (I’m also a curly girl who would need my holy grail curl products to be pried out of my cold dead hands). My partner has severe scent sensitivities, as in he’ll get a migraine that will cause horrendous pain, fell him for the day and the effects will linger for quite a few days. However….. We work it out! It’s not even that hard to do, in spite of us both being very limited in what we can control about how products affect us. It’s honestly not been more difficult than a few quick conversations and check ins. The only thing that makes it difficult is when someone has an Attitude about it, like OP’s coworker.

      1. Lilo*

        I have skin allergies but even some non scented products will cause hives (my mom had to convince my school to stop using a certain cleaner on my desk because I had rashes on my arms). It’s a bit of a battle to find products that work.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Gladly, because I have a word of advice for the OP at the end of the derail. I’m allergic to pretty much everything I have ever been prescribed for psoriasis, so I use a homemade combo of coconut oil and dead sea salt on my skin as a scrub, the oil alone to moisturise. For the hair I’m kind of using kinky curly stuff (shampoo, leave in and custard gel) exclusively since shea moisture discontinued the only (only, I say!) stuff that worked on me. Luckily the other half does not react to the fruity/coconutty smells. Tl;Dr, OP, curly products get discontinued, so a backup is a good idea. On the other hand, you won’t know which things will affect your colleague because most things have some fragrance and you don’t know which ones set her off.

    4. MK*

      That being said, I wonder if the OP is being honest with herself about how strong the smell is. A light perfume isn’t noticeable from a few feet away, if people aren’t in your personal space and are noticing, it’s a pretty heavy smell. And shampoο scent isn’t actually supposed to linger, like perfume, especially not for some time after shampooing.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I also regard a choice about hair care following medical treatment as very different from necessary medical treatment.

        1. Dinwar*

          I disagree. As I said above, there is a psychological component to a cancer diagnosis, and for better or worse our culture values physical appearance in women. What that means is that some people–especially women–will find ways to improve their looks as a coping mechanism. I’ve unfortunately gotten to see this process play out. As far as coping mechanisms go it’s fairly healthy, or at least not unhealthy.

          Taking away that coping mechanism during a major illness is on par with taking away necessary pain medication. Sure, the pain medication isn’t doing anything to treat the cancer, but intentionally taking it away means intentionally increasing the suffering of the person involved. Considering this person is going through one of the more horrific experiences a person can go through in the modern world, that’s fairly cruel. Different people respond to cancer diagnosis and treatment in different ways, but depression and other psychological disorders are not uncommon, and can by themselves cause severe complications.

          I’m not saying the cancer survivor has carte blanche to do whatever they want. But the level of disruption caused by their beauty routine before someone can justifiably say something is substantially higher than it would be for a normal person.

          1. Lilo*

            My best friend had leukemia growing up and she was very, very protective if her hair after she managed to grow it back out. It really is a huge symbol of your illness and recovery.

            1. Carol the happy rl*

              Cancer survivor here. Yes it was essential to find something that made my new hair look good, but also, cancer survivors can lose a great deal of their sense of smell. (Taste, too.)

              Your friends are probably telling you the scent is lighter than it is; fragrances fade during the work day, so at 7 a.m. it might knock a buzzard off a honey wagon, but be a “mild, gentle aroma” by 6 p.m. You’re used to it, so it may not even be noticeable to you. (Think about that commercial about “Nose-blind”. Not only is that a reality, the smell of the anti-odorant comes with its own overly strong, knock you off your feet odor.)
              But your hair products. They can be offensive, really.
              You don’t have to change products. You’ve found what works for you. (Congratulations; it took me almost a year, because as my hair was growing back, it kept changing, as did my scalp and my chemical tolerances. My kids called it “Mom’s Bad Hair Year” and knew not to use any of my product on the dog.)
              The best stuff I found was discontinued and replaced by a type that smelled like synthetic fruit.
              But the smell was perfumed, and perfume fades when exposed to air and light.
              I poured my shampoo into a 9×13 baking pan and let it sit overnight. Then used a silicone spatula, scraped it into a funnel and back into the bottle. It still had a scent, but it was hardly notoceable when my hair dried.

              Another thing you might try is a psychological test to see if your coworker is imagining how bad it is. Over the weekend and on Monday, wash your hair with a no-fragrance shampoo.

              If she still complains, she’s imagining, or it’s not your hair at all.

              BTW, my hair always grew back patchy to start, some grew faster, some was curly, some had different shades. It always took a year to settle down. (4 relapses, 7 rounds of chemo, 11 wigs, 1,000 shampoo bottles, 3 types of perfume, because chemo makes my favorite perfume smell skunky.)

          2. MurpMaureep*

            Thank you for articulating this so well.

            First, I want to say that this is not at all the same as being a cancer patient/survivor! About a decade ago I had several bouts of alopecia, likely triggered by stress. I lost a clump of my hair, causing an obvious bald spot that I had to work to cover up. Luckily I had access to an excellent dermatology practice who found a treatment that worked, but it was profoundly upsetting in ways I didn’t fully understand at the time. I know it was tied to self-image, gender issues, self-worth, toxic family criticisms of appearance, etc. In the moment it was hard not to just cry all the time. I found I couldn’t even speak about it with anyone except very close family, and even that was painful. Having to experience something much more severe that is tied to a life threatening condition is unimaginable. OP deserves a lot of support and accommodation, not petty judgement about how a product smells.

        2. Observer*

          I also regard a choice about hair care following medical treatment as very different from necessary medical treatment.

          Which is totally not relevant to the discussion. Because even if you decide that you can determine whose mental health needs are “real” and whose aren’t, there is not the faintest bit of evidence that Jane actually has a medical issue.

          1. Britchikaa*

            There’s nothing to indicate that the LW considers her beauty product to be “a mental health accommodation.” There is zero mention of mental health in the letter. People are projecting all sorts of things onto the LW that may or may not be correct, but are simply not in the LW’s own words.

            Let’s stick to what is in the letter and not make things up, please.

            There’s also nothing to indicate that Jane isn’t being made unwell, and it’s wrong to act as though either option is The Truth when Jane is not here to put her side of the story across. We do know for a fact that the perfume is strong enough for others to smell, and that Jane is bothered by it for some reason.

      2. ThatGirl*

        I’ve used a few hair products where the scent lingered (not perfume though) and mostly it was only me who could smell them.

        That said, my thought was a small fan for the LW’s office, to help diffuse the scent if needed. Or a small air purifier, but a fan is probably cheaper.

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          This was my thought. It’s pretty rare for a shampoo to have an overpowering smell for a long time after you use it. I doubt it could compare with an actual perfume in terms of scent strength.

          Unless Jane has a super sensitive nose or is pregnant – which normally I would not say, but I remember that one letter where someone was complaining about the OP’s smell, but it turned out the complainer was pregnant.

      3. CheeryO*

        100 percent. The coworker is being a jerk about it, but the fact that she can smell it at all is a problem. I know the LW asked her friend, but if it were me, I would ask a couple trusted coworkers if the smell is noticeable. It’s very possible that others are noticing it but not saying anything, either because they’re not bothered by scents or because they want to be extra kind to the LW.

        I admit I’m a bit biased against CGM because I have curly hair and have never felt that the results are worth the effort. You can get fine results with any products as long as you use the right techniques. The gate keeping around CGM is way too much.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I second the recommendation to ask a trusted coworker.

          I’m also a cancer survivor and one thing I noticed in the immediate aftermath of my treatment was that my friends had become so encouraging and accommodating that they weren’t able to be honest with me in the way I sometimes needed. “No, that hat doesn’t look weird with that outfit, you had cancer and didn’t die! Wear whatever you want!” isn’t really a helpful response in the way my friends thought it was. They loved me and were glad I wasn’t dying anymore, and it skewed their ability to be straight with me for a few months.

      4. biobotb*

        Plenty of shampoos linger for a looooong time after use (many shampoos have a very distinctive shampoo-y smell that I can smell on plenty of people out in public). But it’s true that the OP may be nose blind to her shampoo’s scent and not realize how strong it is.

        1. Scout*

          ” (many shampoos have a very distinctive shampoo-y smell that I can smell on plenty of people out in public)”

          I believe that this is true for you, but I also think you have almost no company. I’ve never noticed a distinctive shampoo-y smell on anyone in public, and this is the first time in my long-ish life that I’ve ever heard anyone mention such a thing.

          I do agree that the scent in this case might be stronger than OP realizes, I just thought you might want to know you’re apparently a super-smeller in at least one category!

      5. MigraineMonth*

        My interpretation was that the coworker was coming into OP’s private office a few times a week, so probably getting more exposure than passing in the hall.

      6. Elizabeth Naismith*

        Good point. If others can smell your shampoo, and it’s been more than a couple hours since you washed your hair, that is irregularly strong.

    5. GythaOgden*

      I think if you were in the opposite situation, however, you wouldn’t find it so frustrating — you’d be searching for a solution. I’m reminded of the service dog/allergy problem, and although I don’t have experience with duelling accommodations, it certainly has been necessary to negotiate accommodations myself — dress code vs my need to wear trainers for an imperfectly healed broken ankle. You go in accepting the other person’s perspective, and you try to overcome your anger and frustration to negotiate their issue. There’s no reason to diminish your own needs, but in my case, a second pair of black shoes was all it took to satisfy us both, and in this case, Jane really does seem to be a problem — she may end up being even worse to OP if it’s not at least discussed.

      So often we work these things up into antagonistic situations when a bit of patience and acceptance of other people’s needs goes a long way to resolve this. Cancer is a horrible thing — I lost my husband to it three years ago, and I’d imagine OP feels very genuinely that her needs trump Jane’s. I had to negotiate flexitime to be able to look after him one day a week in his last month — which was hard in an in-person, coverage-related job. (I was offered a six month sabbatical but at my pay grade that would have been unpaid.) But that’s the point at which you swallow the belligerence and try and mediate between people.

      It’s hard. I’ve had therapy, so I’m better (not perfect!) at knowing which hill to die on. But awareness of your own needs often comes with the need to remember that others also have needs, be they medical, social, family or business. Remembering that social justice is not zero-sum — your rights don’t come at the expense of other people’s — is very helpful in this situation and something people often learn the hard way. Learning it the easier way, though, is actually much better for our own well-being in the long run.

      1. MK*

        Yes, but the OP isn’t using the shampoo as part of her cancer treatment. The issue, as presented in the letter is “OP likes how her hair looks using this product” vs “Jane doesn’t like the smell, which means both should find a compromise (I wonder if the OP is washing her hair in the morning before coming to work and might bypass the problem by changing to a night routine). If the scent was causing Jane migrains, I don’t think it would be reasonable to ask her to tolerate it for the OP’s basically aesthetic need, compassion about the cancer-related physical changes notwithstanding. If the OP’s hair kept falling out without the treatment, that would be another conversation altogether. In any case, there should be a conversation, not ignoring the complaints of people who are forced to share space with you.

        1. GythaOgden*

          This is what I meant about social justice not being a zero-sum game. It’s possible to negotiate based on all kinds of factors, but Graboid’s post was very dismissive of people claiming to have scent-based sensitivities, even as she herself knows firsthand what it’s like to have medical necessities — and most people responding here are trying to navigate that so that both sides find a conclusion and can still work together.

        2. Knope Knope Knope.*

          If she’s using curly girl she isn’t washing her hair every day. Possibly only once a week.

          1. MK*

            Ok, I am not very familiar with these products, but for a shampoo smell to linger after several days sounds odd to me.

          2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            Presumably the scent fades over time, right? If she does the shampoo on weekends, maybe she should only meet with Jane on Fridays?

            1. Clisby*

              Or stop by each other’s offices less often? Maybe they could have their discussion by phone?

              1. Ariaflame*

                Or by Zoom/Teams/video chat of choice. It’s not as if we don’t all know how to use them by now.

                1. Clisby*

                  Yeah, if the scent is bothering Jane (which is quite possible – I don’t like scented products either), it’s not clear to me why she’s coming by the OP’s office. If it’s really just 2-3 times a week for a pretty short period, why does it have to be in person? And vice-versa: If the OP realizes Jane is put off by the scent, why is she going by Jane’s office? Just on the surface, this seems like a really easy thing to accommodate, from both sides.

        3. Love to WFH*

          I’m sensitive to scented products. They get my sinuses filling up, which starts a headache and triggers my asthma and coughing. I’ve had to get off an elevator to avoid someone, asked coworkers to blow out scented candles, and ask a shuttle driver to let me sit up front in the passenger seat. These were all situations where “normal” people (presumably like the OP’s friends) were fine.

          I’m not super sensitive, thank heavens. While perfume and colognes are a problem, _most_ shampoos and lotions are ok. But a shampoo that you can smell from several feet away must be pretty heavily scented.

          1. Bubba*

            But Jane is not only resorting to cues, she wrote the OP and told her straight up to “tone down the perfume”. If this were about socialization and not wanting to speak up, it’s hard to see why she would feel more comfortable writing/saying something confrontational like that instead of “excuse me, hate to bring this up but, I’m sensitive to smells and your scent is giving me an allergy/headache”.

        4. Books and Cooks*

          “(I wonder if the OP is washing her hair in the morning before coming to work and might bypass the problem by changing to a night routine).”

          I wondered the same thing.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yes, a lot of these things could be resolved with a conversation, but most people don’t want to have that conversation. Usually, it’s because they have already had an imaginary fight in their head with a difficult coworker while the difficult coworker is having a totally different imaginary spat. I’m not sure what’s happening in this case or how things will go, but a conversation should be step one. If the coworker behaves like a jerk (which sounds likely), at least LW will feel OK about using her current shampoo.

        I had a similar situation where a coworker was using a cologne that resulted in me sneezing all day long. Nothing life-threatening…just sneezing. I approached him and said “I’m not 100% sure it’s your cologne but…” The next day, the coworker brought sample bottles of various colognes to see if I reacted to any of them, and duly labeled the ones that didn’t induce sneezing as “safe for work.” But, that coworker was particularly kind and considerate.

    6. HIPAA-Potamus*

      I agree. Of all the things for people to spend their energy and capital on. You cannot please every fragile flower.

      1. to varying degrees*

        I agree but probably not in the same way. If Jane truly has a sensitivity/allergy the “fragile flower” here would be the LW. Hair care, regardless of the reason for it, does not trump a person’s medical issue.

        1. I am a Graboid*

          this attitude is disgusting. I don’t owe a job my entire life. I’m at work 30 hours a week and I would NEVER change my entire hygiene routine and spend weeks to months trying to find products that work while not triggering the person complaining. that’s forcing me to change my entire at home off the clock way of purchasing things, washing my hair and styling it, when off the clock as well and is a total overreach. perfume is totally different, I can not wear perfume to work and put it on once I leave and then wear it after work, on my days off and weekends. telling me what shampoo I can use is insane.

          1. londonedit*

            OK, I do agree to some extent in that I have a ton of experience with trying to find a routine that works for my difficult hair, and I would be pretty upset if I was forced to change that because of a colleague’s allergy. It would definitely affect my self-esteem and I do think this is a particularly thorny issue because a lot of people see hair and make-up as ‘shallow’ and just think well why on earth can’t they change their shampoo, stop being so vain, blah blah.

            BUT your responses here are way OTT and really harsh, and I think you need to dial it back.

          2. Lenora Rose*

            Someone wore a scented product. Our custodian (who does actual physical labour around all us quiet office typoes, which noteably needs good lungs) was wheezing for a day and still has a laryngitic voice two days later.

            I once absently used a scented facial moisturizer to a choir practice and caused a coughing fit and a request to wash from the choir member next to me. I ran to the bathroom and washed my face immediately, because last I heard, you need lungs working to sing.

            Do you really want to tell people that you can’t even consider changing a shampoo or skin care product so they can BREATHE?

            We don’t know if Jane has an actual issue. If she doesn’t, she’s just obnoxious and deserves this scorn. But if she does, if she has migraines or lung issues, than your attitude (Not even the OP’s question, which is more balanced, but yours) quickly becomes the problem.

          3. Moryera*

            You do know that if your employer implements a policy you find overreaching, you’re allowed to find a different job, yes?

            1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              I am glad to see others are responding to I am a Graboid’s comment the same way I am! I was like … disgusting? Even if it is hurting another employee and even when there is no special reason (like OP has) to use that specific product?

          4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            I do not think it is disgusting. I see your point to an extent, but not the extreme response. OP has very specific reasons to use a very specific product, and it is also linked to a cancer experience. And many people have very specific hair needs that might make it overly burdensome to ask them to change.

            But, as someone with very basic straight fine hair that looks the same no matter what products I use (its own form of frustrating, because while it is easy, I cannot do anything interesting with it), it would be nothing for me to change shampoo. So if I knew a coworker was having a physical reaction to my shampoo, and they or my employer asked if changing my shampoo was an option, I would have no problem with that. My circumstances make that really easy for me. And if my shampoo really is strong smelling and I refuse to change it even though I have no real need to use that specific shampoo, I think the employer would be reasonable to require it (or at least that I stop showing up at work smelling that way).

            But none of that applies to this case.

          5. Curmudgeon in California*

            Then you should work from home, because if your body care stuff made me cough, wheeze or sneeze constantly, or gave me a migraine, you would be harming me for your vanity and convenience.

            It’s not an “overreach” to avoid hurting your coworkers.

          6. HotSauce*

            Heavy scents trigger my allergy induced asthma. I’m supposed to put my life at risk because my coworker wants to use certain scented products? Just NO. I guess I’m lucky that my workplace works with people who have issues like mine and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to not want to work in a place that might literally kill me.

          7. Kella*

            I’m not sure why you’re interacting with this as if you having to switch products is the only option. It is one option, and if the person using the product isn’t doing so for a medical reason, it’s worth asking if switching is a reasonable solution. If it isn’t a reasonable solution, then you have to look for other options, as others have mentioned, working from home, limiting in person contact, meeting in well ventilated areas, etc.

            What you can’t do is ignore someone who has a medical need and will be sick if no changes are made. That’s neither legal nor ethical. Engaging with the needs of people around you, and being aware of the way your actions impact other people is part of living in a society.

          8. LB*

            It’s increasingly a baseline professional norm to go relatively scent-free. And it’s pretty weird to decide that you have the right to a pigpen-radius cloud of odor around yourself, no matter how pleasant (to you). Wear it on dates if you want but not at work where people are supposed to be able to concentrate and don’t have the ability to go elsewhere. People are notoriously bad judges of how strongly they smell.

            1. Big Bank*

              Speaking of pigpen, if your workplace was raising scent concerns about your lack of hygiene you would have to change your routine, even if you were skipping bathing for some personal reason. I fail to see how overscented products is any different of an imperative.

              1. Elizabeth Naismith*

                Ooh! Good point! My manager had to have an awkward talk with a coworker about his BO. Turns out, he just used the same deodorant his dad did – basically the cheapest on the market – and it wasn’t working for him. He got samples of a few different kinds after that conversation, and found one that worked for him.
                So yes, if work can ask you to stop stinking because of your BO, they can ask you to stop stinking because of perfumed hygiene products, too.

      2. Jackalope*

        We don’t know if Jane just dislikes the smell or has allergies to it. If it’s the former then yes, she needs to just find a way to deal with it. But please read the rest of the comments here; if she has allergies, then it’s not being a “fragile flower” to insist on her right to breathe and not have migraines when at work.

        1. Lilo*

          If she genuinely has allergies she needs to make that clear instead of the way she’s treating LW. You can’t approach a situation like that as rudely and expect a good reaction.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            That is true, but as Alison said, she could be obnoxious and still genuinely allergic. OP does need to at least try to find out which it is. Alison’s advice seems great. If she persists after OP’s offers to meet in a better ventilated area, OP should tell her that if she has a medical issue with scents, she should take it to HR, since they are more familiar with how to handle accommodations (and because they can implement an accommodation that doesn’t just address OP, since someone else could come along any time and start using the same product, or something like that).

            1. Scout*

              I find it hard to believe that anyone who is allergic to something would fail to mention that in their message.

              1. Elizabeth Naismith*

                I don’t bring it up, because I get more flak about being allergic to lavender than I do just asking people not to wear it because it bothers me.
                Granted, I try to be polite about it. But it’s exhausting. And I shouldn’t have to share my medical information.

        2. Observer*

          What I want to know is why anyone would assume allergies or a genuine sensitivity? It’s not like she’s shy, so the fact that she’s never brought it up tells me that it’s HIGHLY unlikely that she actually has a medical issue.

          1. Someone Online*

            Yeah, if the scent is causing health problems for you then you can professionally and politely tell someone. And then work to find a solution. What she’s doing is middle school bullying stuff.

          2. Sal*

            I agree, and I think if Jane had even rudely made it clear to LW that she was in fact having physical symptoms as a result, the advice from Alison would likely have been different. Contra the letters about different access needs, on the surface, all we have here is two opposing preferences that don’t rise to the level of actual disability accommodation, with the potential for either to rise to that level (for Jane, scent sensitivity symptoms, triggering migraines, etc, and for LW, potentially, the mental health aspects as laid out by Dinwar above). I think as long as LW is mindful of that potential, Alison’s advice is excellent. LW may want to think through, however, what she’s willing to go to the mat on should Jane both decline the solutions in the proposed email AND plead actual physical symptoms when pressed. At that point, it will become a question of (alleged) physical symptoms versus important and emotionally-laden preferences, and I don’t think most employers could or would justifiably elevate the latter over the former unless they had very good reason to suspect Jane was full of sh**.

          3. biobotb*

            Exactly. If the scent were giving her migraines or aggravating her allergies or asthma, it’s on her to mention her medical need. (And surely she would have led with that, instead of just wrinkling her nose??)

            1. Lydia*

              This. Jane is being a pill and it’s unlikely it’s an actual medical level reaction, but if we are generous with the benefit of the doubt and she is having even a slight runny nose after smelling it, she is responsible for talking about it.

          4. Empress Matilda*

            Yeah, exactly. If Jane actually had a physical reaction to the scent, she would have said something by now. Probably several times, given what little I know of her personality.

            Lots of accommodations are possible in this situation, but it starts with Jane using her words – so far the only thing she has done is make faces. 100% this is a Jane-problem and not a duelling-accommodations-problem.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I think a lot of people in this comment thread are underestimating the extent to which a lot of people (particularly AFAB people) are brought up to not complain directly about things that bother them. “If it made her feel sick she would have said that by now” ignores the very real social conditioning a lot of women have been put through that tells us not to be a bother, not to be confrontational.

              For some people saying “the scent you’re wearing is giving me a headache” is totally normal and easy. For other people it feels completely insurmountable, so they resort to hints and nonverbal statements like the ones Jane is using.

              Is it possible that Jane’s just a jerk? Sure. But it’s also possible that she’s genuinely physically uncomfortable when she smells LW’s shampoo. LW doesn’t actually know one way or the other yet, because they haven’t had a conversation about it.

              1. Lydia*

                AFAB here and if someone is comfortable enough making faces and waving her hand, she’s comfortable enough to address an actual physical reaction with words. Jane doesn’t get a pass for being socialized to not complain; she is complaining.

              2. aebhel*

                Except that she’s not being nonconfrontational; she’s being actively, nastily passive-aggressive about it. Socialization aside, at some point during adulthood people need to stop expecting everyone to read their minds.

                Even if she is physically uncomfortable, she’s being a jerk about it. It’s more forgivable in that case, but she’s still behaving like a child.

              3. penny dreadful analyzer*

                Ladywoman of famously passive-aggressive family background here. I also have difficulty with this and in my worse moments will still clam up and not say things I know I need to say, but it’s still on me to work to learn to use my words, not just be like “Well I have been conditioned not to express my needs so everyone else has to anticipate them :) “

              4. Jackalope*

                So this may not be the case for Jane, who as we’ve discussed may have no medical issues. But let’s look at today’s thread. We’ve had multiple people complaining how awful people with scent allergies are for telling others that their scents are causing an allergic reaction. Those of us with scent allergies have been called “fragile flowers” on this thread, and “evil” for asking someone to stop wearing scented products to avoid migraines. On the responses to today’s post there have been people talking about past coworkers being total jerks about this, including for example someone whose coworker deliberately sprayed her with a bunch of perfume when she asked the perfume wearer to tone the perfume down a bit due to allergies.

                If on this comment section full of generally kind and thoughtful people, the amount of pushback for daring to have scent allergies is this strong and vituperative, then you should be able to deduce (and if not I’m laying it out for you now) what kind of reactions we can get in real life. This is a fraught issue and for many of us it’s really difficult to suss out the best way to handle scent-related concerns so that we can breathe and not get migraines. Again, not saying that Jane has handled this well or that she even necessarily has scent allergies, but not saying anything up front doesn’t necessarily mean that she doesn’t.

                1. Empress Matilda*

                  >>Again, not saying that Jane has handled this well or that she even necessarily has scent allergies, but not saying anything up front doesn’t necessarily mean that she doesn’t.

                  That’s fair. Thanks for laying it out like that!

              5. alienor*

                Yes, but Jane is being a jerk, which is also something that AFAB people are socialized not to do. If she were afraid of being a bother, she would be suffering in silence (not that she should do that if she actually were suffering) not making stink faces and complaining. Someone who’s bold enough to do that is almost certainly bold enough to say “Hey, OP, your scent gives me a headache.”

                1. penny dreadful analyzer*

                  I’d like to gently push back on the idea that AFAB people are socialized not to be jerks (and only partly because the people I know who believe that the hardest are the biggest jerks). Women are socialized not to openly be jerks, which is why so many jerk women are passive-aggressive instead of regular aggressive.

              6. Scout*

                But her written messge made it clear that she is fine with being a bother and confrontational, lol.

              7. quicksilver*

                I would love for every person commenting about “AFAB socialisation” to briefly consider that a) not all “AFAB people” had universally identical experiences of childhood socialisation and b) by using this logic they are supporting the TERF argument that trans girls/women were “socialised as male” and thus can never be “real women.”

                All the trans women I know were also socialised to be non-confrontational and accommodating growing up….but carry on with the biological essentialism, I guess.

          5. Britchikaa*

            Don’t assume. I’m generally an extremely assertive person and it took me years to “come out” as disabled and ask for accommodations because I was so scared of encountering ableist in my very ableist industry.

            Generally people who are passive aggressive are so because they are bad at conflict and bad at stating their needs openly. It’s not logical to say “she’s passive aggressive ergo would definitely tell people if she had medical issues.”

          6. Yeah, nah*

            Because people like to map their own personal experiences onto the letter instead of reading what’s actually there. They have a sensitivity, so obviously Jane has a sensitivity, when the only thing that’s obvious is that Jane isn’t communicating like an adult.

          7. Bubba*

            Yes, it seems odd that on one hand Jane has no problem telling OP that she doesn’t like the scent of the shampoo but, wouldn’t bring up an allergy or sensitivity (if she actually has one) in order to convince her to change it. OP is not obligated to change Shampoo just because Jane doesn’t like it.

    7. Texan In Exile*

      One of the few good things – if it’s even possible to say that – to come out of covid is that my mask keeps me from smelling perfume and scented shampoos. Spray away, people. I no longer smell your stinky scents.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        Except of course I would not mind and certainly would not complain about LW’s special shampoo! I mean voluntarily perfumed people!

      2. Onomatopoetic*

        Really? I find that the perfume tends to creep inside the mask and get trapped there, to the extent that I’d rather not wear a mask when travelling with perfumed people. (I do, though). Maybe my masks don’t fit good enough.

        So please, people, don’t wear perfume when travelling, or to a concert, or other places where people are crammed together tightly. It’s really hard to be stuck with someone that makes your asthma go off. Clubbing is another thing, then I can move away if needed.

        1. Flash Packet*

          If I’m wearing a cloth mask, even a triple-layer one made with tightly-woven fabric that I’ve cinched up as tight as I can using an adjustable lanyard that pulls the ear loops tight on the back of my head, smells tend to get under and in the mask and stay there.

          If I’m wearing a tight-fitting KN95 or N95, then only the strongest of smells get in.

        2. Texan In Exile*

          Uh oh. Now I’m worried that my sample size isn’t big enough and I am wrong. Maybe I just haven’t been around enough perfume and am in for a rude awakening.

          So in solidarity with those who do smell the scents despite the masks and in fear for my future self, people – stop wearing perfume outside of your home. Nobody else wants to smell it. Nobody.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        Oh? What mask are you using? Because even an N95 still has me coughing if I accidentally wander down the detergent aisle at the grocery store.

        The nice thing about an N95 is I can put it on then go outside in a cloud of pollen and not end up sneezing my head off while trying to drive. I still do get the watery eyes, though, because it isn’t a full face respirator.

        1. Bread Crimes*

          The only mask I’ve found that actually blocks scents is the P100, which has filters that need periodic changing, a lot of straps, and is made for things like working with asbestos. It’s what I use when I’m flying these days, but I would feel really self-conscious wearing it to work; it looks industrial, not office-professional.

    8. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      This comes across to me as treating your health issue as a real health issue and treating other peoples’ health issues as not legit. I can get migraines from scents and it is just as real a health problem as yours–and yours is just as real a health problem as mine, so, as Alison said, we’d have to try to work something out.

      1. Chris too*

        I have hair. It’s nothing special. It hangs from my head and I can use any random shampoo to wash it and it looks fine. It wouldn’t occur to me that others can’t easily change their grooming products.

        My husband has sensitivities to scent and I’ve gotten used to unscented products, to the point where scented ones and perfumes annoy me too, although I’d never say anything.

        My unspoken annoyance with LW would vanish if I knew she was limited to a scented shampoo because of changes to her hair post-chemo. If I were her I’d just explain this.

        1. Sal*

          I think if Jane were nicer, LW might have already done so. Jane has played herself in two ways by being rude about it: made it less likely for LW to want to switch shampoos and also made it harder for LW to explain the situation in ways that do not leave Jane looking like an a-hole for being rude to a cancer survivor for the long-term effects of her treatment.

        2. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

          Curly hair is a whole different ballgame (this often comes up with Black women in the workplace and the products we use on our hair vs what our White coworkers think of those products).

          LW did say to us, “When my hair grew back, it was surprisingly curly!” If she’s said this to Jane then Jane needs to either say, “the hair products are giving me a headache/triggering my asthma/so on” or leave LW alone about it.

      2. Lydia*

        Except it’s unlikely Jane has a health issue and, if she does, she needs to use her face to say so instead of just wrinkling her nose. At the point someone chooses passive-aggressive BS over actual communication, I think it’s all right to ignore them until they’re willing to say what they mean.

    9. Curmudgeon in California*

      I am very allergic to artificial fragrances.

      It’s not a ” big push to be accommodating for literally every last thing someone doesn’t like.” It’s a push to be able to breathe around other people. I often react to the stuff before I consciously smell it. I don’t “dislike” perfumes, they dislike me, and make me cough and wheeze.

      Your framing is very much “I wanna do what I want and I don’t care who it hurts.” I realize this attitude very common among certain demographics, but it’s not okay.

      If your face medication sends Wakeen into a coughing fit where he struggles to take a breath, then either you or he need to not be in the same office when you have to use it.

    10. Kella*

      As a fellow chronically ill person, I know how much you have to push back in order to get your needs met. Your needs are constantly doubted and you have to fight twice as hard for them, all the time. It sucks and it makes you feel worthless. This is a societal problem that the vast majority of chronically ill and disabled people encounter.

      But the thing that I have learned is that the solution to this problem is *not* the insistence that your problem is the more important one. The solution is to default to trusting other people in their ability to assess their own needs. It feels awful when someone assumes you don’t know what’s best for your own body. So why would I inflict that on someone else? I have no way of knowing who has a medical need and who doesn’t, and as I’ve learned, all bodies have needs. The question is whether it is a need that can be met in another way without significant hardship. The only person who can determine that is the person being asked to make a change.

      If you cannot change your hair care routine, people should trust you on that and other solutions should be looked at. But asking you to change it in the first place, when someone else’s health could be at risk, is not unethical.

    11. BlueCanoe*

      It’s not always about disliking scented products. Fragrances and other chemicals can trigger real physical symptoms including headaches, migraines, nausea, dizziness, asthma attacks, severe brain fog, incoordination, seizures, and loss of consciousness. These symptoms can be serious and even life threatening and can last for several hours or more after exposure.

      I appreciate Allison’s comment about dueling accomodations. You have a very real medical need with your autoimmune disease and the products you use. People with fragrance or chemical sensitivities have very real medical needs too – they need to breathe without getting sick.

      Based on LW 1’s letter, I don’t know whether “Jane” is making a fuss over something she doesn’t like or if she has a medical need and is just communicating it poorly, but your comment sounds pretty angry and dismissive towards “Wakeen” or anyone who might be affected by the products you use. Please do not dismiss all fragrance allergy sufferers as people who just “don’t like” something.

    12. Adams*

      As someone with curly hair, I can attest to how difficult it can be to find a product that works. It took me years to find the right combination. OP 1’s coworker needs to grow up and talk together about finding a solution. You shouldn’t have to change a friggin hair product because someone doesn’t particularly like the smell. If it’s causing a medical issue, yes, there’s reason to change. But it sounds like she’s just being didficult.

    13. this too much*

      Yeah real talk my hygiene routine is mine and I’m not going through the expensive process of picking new products for anyone who doesn’t live in my home. If companies expect a scent-free environment they should be the ones bankrolling all my detergent, hair care, lotion, all of it.

  2. Train adjacent*

    LW #2 a my go to is something like “my stomach was giving me a little trouble but we’re fine now!” I also have a tendency (good or not) to bring my phone with me when I leave the office, so the quick email/gchat to say I’ll be a few minutes late is fairly easy to pull off.

    I’m always worried that an urgent need of any sort will pop up in direct 1-on-1 meetings with clients where I would basically be abandoning them in my office if something came up. The horror! How does one explain that??

    1. Educator*

      I think the move is to excuse yourself without any medical detail and quickly ask a coworker, ideally someone whose job is connected to the visitor or who is responsible for welcoming people and getting them set up, to go in and make small talk/get them coffee/give them a tour/otherwise stall them for ten minutes. I had a colleague ask me to do this once, and it struck me as the most polite option because the visitor was not abandoned and my colleague was not put in a medically distressing situation. We had a pleasant chat, and no horror occurred!

    2. JSPA*

      “passing digestive issue.”
      “momentarily indisposed.”

      But if it’s frequent or of increasing frequency, monitoring triggers (and/or seeking treatment) is justified, too.

      When I’m left sitting 5 or 10 minutes as a customer, I don’t get wildly bent out of shape, so long as the person doesn’t come in (e.g.) passionately talking sports or smelling like a brewery, without any apology. Do most people? I figure I’m either paying extra for someone to schedule extended down- time between meetings, or else delays can occasionally happen.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I have very rarely had an appointment that started right on time. I DID do an online course through the Church of England where the lectures went to the minute (“it’s 7 o’clock now but we’ll give it another minute as some people are still logging in”) and even finished to the minute, whereas any Irish online courses I’ve done could finish 10 or 15 minutes either way of the intended finishing times. Things like doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, etc, I assume will be at least 10 minutes late.

        I assume that appointments can run over time and are hard to accurately predict and the time scheduled is an approximation. Now when appointments start 30 or 40 minutes late with no warning, I get irritated, but 10 minutes would rarely even register.

    3. Phryne*

      Yes, I can totally imagine OP wanting to avoid any and all mention of their digestive issues, but personally I would be ok with something like ‘I think I ate something wrong/that disagrees with me’ or ‘I have a bit of a stomach bug’. That does bring across the absolute urgency and unavoidability of the situation without being too graphic. It is not a nice subject, but in the end it is one everyone can surely relate to…

      (by the way, as a very minor detail, I would avoid the use of ‘we’ in your sentence. It is not an incident one wants to accidentally bring as being a collective one… :D)

      1. bamcheeks*

        “bit of an upset stomach” is my go-to, which covers “feeling a bit gross” to “watch out world”.

        1. Long Time Lurker*

          Yes- “upset stomach” or “stomach issues” gets the point across without it becoming TMI.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            I sometimes use “I need to visit the restroom, must be something I ate.” Or something like that.

            1. lilsheba*

              Nope….we don’t need to go there. We have managers at my job that always find the need to say they had to go to the restroom if they’re a little late to a meeting, and making jokes about it, and we do NOT need to know any of this. It’s private and should stay that way. Just say you had to step away, that’s enough.

          2. Me ... Just Me*

            I’ve got ongoing digestive issues, which I have been open about with my immediate team (we’re in healthcare, so no need to beat around the bush) — but even with that, I call them “digestive issues” when I’ve been held up or have had to leave early. It is what it is.

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          I also like “I was feeling a little queasy but I’m OK now.” No need to fill in the blanks as to why I’m feeling better.

      2. ecnaseener*

        I would avoid calling it “stomach bug” unless you’re working from home – those are contagious!

    4. Ana Gram*

      I was interviewing a candidate once and that happened! I was embarrassed but tried to channel my inner Allison and just said, “excuse me, I need to take a quick break”…and left them in my office and nearly ran to the restroom! When I came back, we both just acted like nothing happened and carried on with the interview. I think the key was being pleasant and polite so we could both ignore that I randomly ran out mid-interview. What a day…

      1. Sally*

        I had a similar situation when I was teaching a class (of adults), and now that I’m reading the comments, I guess I probably could have excused myself for a few minutes. it was an issue of repeated stabbing menstrual pains, so technically I didn’t NEED to leave the room. but it was difficult to keep the pain from showing on my face.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          I was in a similar situation of teaching a class (of adults). I don’t think I could keep the pain off of my face as I was cramping up through the first hour of class, so when I announced, “Hey, so I’m not feeling well right now. Let’s call it a day and I’ll see you next class!” no one questioned me. Mine was not menstrual cramping though…

    5. londonedit*

      I’ve had the same thing happen in a meeting, but I was freelancing and had gone to meet a publishing contact. I just said ‘I’m sorry, could you tell me where the loo is?’ and then walked as calmly and normally as possible out of the room before absolutely legging it down the hallway. Came back, said ‘Sorry about that, where were we?’ and it was totally fine. I’d have been fine with it if the other person had excused themselves, too – these things happen!

    6. Meowsy*

      This happened to my daughters’ piano teacher a few weeks ago. She simply said, “I’m sorry, I suddenly feel very sick. I’m going to have to let you go.” And ran off to the bathroom. We let ourselves out of the house. She texted to apologize and reschedule later (and assure me it was food poisoning and not something contagious!). It was nothing!

      1. Sally*

        it’s good to see that this is common & doesn’t need to be a big deal. I’m going to remember “a little sick” for when i need it.

    7. BatManDan*

      I use “my stomach is telling me I’ll be a few minutes late logging on” or “My stomach is telling me I need to step away from this meeting for about 3-4 minutes.”

    8. Era*

      I’d add “felt unwell” and “had some indigestion” to the quiver of options — I feel like both cover the general situation without implying you’re contagious.

    9. Expert Monkey*

      My favorite phrasing is “bio break.” As in, “I’m sorry, I need to take a quick bio break!” or “Sorry I’m late. I needed an emergency bio break. All good now.”

        1. Empress Matilda*

          Ha, I’m the opposite! I don’t like “comfort break” at all, but “bio break” is totally fine for me. Different strokes…

          In any case, either phrase is fine for OP. The idea is that there’s something urgent happening in your body that you need to deal with, and you’ll be back in a few minutes. It happens all the time – it’s just a side effect of having a body!

    10. My+Useless+2+Cents*

      I like “Sorry, lunch didn’t agree with me.” Enough info to explain but not graphic. And easy to follow up with “can we reschedule?” if more than just a momentary distress.

    11. Free Meerkats*

      Forty years working in and around sewage has apparently ruined me. If that situation happened around this office, there would be discussion after the interruption about how it went, what the Bristol rating was, etm.

    12. Sal*

      I feel like nausea is less gross than either barfing or pooping, so my go-to is to call it “a little GI drama” wave my hand vaguely between my chest and face. (Relatedly, I miss when you could pass off a GI-related sick day as a cold without unnecessarily panicking everyone about covid.)

    13. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I would say that I was experiencing stomach issues but am ok now too. I tend to be pretty open about my health stuff. And that gives enough context without being icky or tmi. No one needs or wants to know the specifics, but it tells them that it was a genuine issue and not you just being late.

  3. Emily*

    LW # 1: Jane sounds like a bit of a pill. I think Alison’s suggested email response to Jane is perfect. The only thing I wouldn’t do is suggest to Jane that she talk to HR if she needs an accomodation. From the way you described Jane, I would think she is aware that she can talk to HR if needed.

    1. Observer*

      I think that your assumption that Jane knows she can go to HR feels more realistic than it really is. It’s surprising how often people don’t realize that this is the way to go.

      But, the real reason to point Jane in the direction of HR and accommodation is to make it clear that the OP isn’t going to change her routine just because Jane says so.

      1. Emily*

        I realize often people don’t realize that’s an option, but the reason I said that is because LW described Jane as being a bit difficult and as someone who does power plays and in my experience people like that are usually very aware of what their options are.

        1. Channah*

          OK, but why should that mean that mentioning it to her is off the table? That makes no sense to me. If she already knows, saying it changes nothing except to make it clear that OP also knows the process and is willing to follow it.

          What am I missing?

          1. Emily*

            Channah: You’re overstating what I said. I never said it was off the table, I said *I* wouldn’t do it, probably because in my experience HR is often highly innefectual (sp?). If LW knows her HR Department is competent and knows that they will shut Jane down then she should certainly feel free to direct Jane to HR.

      2. Smithy*

        There may also be a way of directing someone to HR in a way that’s can be both helpful as well as having a touch of the passive aggressiveness to it.

        I say this coming from a place where I was in an office getting quite ill from a coworker’s use of perfume and doing things like painting her nails in the office close to mine. The first option from HR was actually to get me a super high powered air filter.

        At the time, I was working in a dysfunctional place and was also not getting along as this coworker on other issues – so certain acts felt more personally targeted rather than someone living their life and also making me ill. It may be that Jane really is getting triggered by this shampoo as well as other allergens in their office and an air filer in her office will help overall.

      3. Ellen N.*

        I have a friend who went to HR to complain about a coworker burning scented candles in the office. The coworker was upset that my friend went to HR instead of speaking to them directly.

        I had a coworker who wore way too much cologne. It bothered the HR person so he talked to the coworker. The coworker threw a tantrum. The HR person refused to talk to employees about scents ever again.

        1. penny dreadful analyzer*

          Apart from the scent issue, I am floored that someone would have a live open flame in an office??

          1. Ellen N.*

            I agree, but I also worked in an office where a coworker burned scented candles. I worked in finance so it was a huge fire hazard.

    2. Captain+dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I wondered if Jane has a chip on her shoulder about accommodations OP received (during cancer treatment) and has now latched on to this…

      1. Mongrel*

        Or maybe just being overly dramatic about not liking the smell?

        Smells are very subjective and what some may find inoffensive and nice others may find nasty and cloying. I’m not defending Jane’s actions but not everything is a soap opera drama, people can just not like smells.

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          Lavender! The world seems to think lavender is a relaxing, pleasant smell. Guess what it triggers for me? Migraines.

          (Also, has anyone else noticed that as THC has gotten more acceptable/legal the smell of the inside of a bong has become something that is out in the world a lot more. I’m not judging those that partake, but some people smell like they slept in a bed of weed.) Not my favorite smell, but I’m in the minority in my family.

          1. sam_i_am*

            Lavender doesn’t give me migraines, but I *hate* the scent. It calms everyone else down and makes me angry because I dislike it so much.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Oh thank goodness I’m not the only one! Lavender smells like feet and I hate having to smell it.

                1. I Talk About Motorcycles Too Much*

                  Count me in the dislikes-lavender-to-the-point-of-it-being-angering club. So many products I have gotten over the years, with the intent of relaxing, have had exactly the opposite effect than what I wanted.

            2. Curmudgeon in California*

              I react badly to lavender, as in coughing and sneezing. My spouse likes it. Because my spouse loves me more than they love lavender, we don’t have it in the house.

          2. My+Useless+2+Cents*

            I am so with you on Lavender! and would like to add just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I need to smell like a floral shop.

          3. Those were the days*

            Back in my halcyon youth I did flower stuff and learned that most people who like the smell of vanilla do not like lavender and vice versa.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Which makes lavender-vanilla lotions ironic… (My kids seems to respond well to lavender as infants and toddlers and the best skin cream was the lavender-vanilla one. The worst was also a lavender, but was all scent and barely any moisturizing benefit. No, I don’t want to *perfume* my kids.)

              My annoyance is that I LOVE the smell of lilac; it’s always been less common than lavender as a scent but it’s gotten rarer and lavender even more ubiquitous. So every time I see stylized clusters of purple flowers, I get a tiny moment of hope… only to be dashed.

              But since I work in my third scent free locale in a row (So far no battles over shampoos, though, just actual perfumes)…

              1. Moryera*

                Another lilac lover here: if I remember right, it’s less common because extracting the scent from the flowers is VERY hard to do, and practically impossible at scale. :'(

                1. TransmascJourno*

                  I still have a lilac pouch that was gifted to me by my next door neighbor over two decades ago—I was a kid living abroad, as she literally dried lilac, asked me if I’d like to design a pouch for it, and tried her darndest to teach me how to use a computerized sewing machine. (I failed, spectacularly.)

                  Her name was Edna, she was definitely in her late fifties, and knew I was having a hard time in a dysfunctional home. Edna was the best, and I’m thankful I still have that lilac pouch.

              2. MigraineMonth*

                I also love lilac! There’s a bush near my apartment building that I stick my face into throughout spring.

                I have had luck finding lilac scent for some local, hand-made soaps, but it isn’t easy.

          4. Kayem*

            I like lavender-the-plant, but lavender-the-fragrance is a whole other level of scent hell. Granted, I can’t stand most artificial fragrances/perfumes without reacting anywhere from sneezing to screwdriver-in-skull migraines, but lavender in products seems to be especially hideous.

            I’ve noticed the same thing with pot smoke. We only have medical where I am, but my town generally doesn’t care about enforcement of recreational. It’s still startling to me to be walking across a parking lot and suddenly it’s like I’ve walked through a weed ghost.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              My spouse reacts to pot smoke – coughing and migraines. I’m in California. They had to stop being a poll worker during elections because of people coming in to vote reeking of the stuff so bad she got physically ill and had to leave. I’m a MMJ user. I buy the gummies.

              1. Bread Crimes*

                My spouse has a similar reaction to weed and cigarette smoke, and it’s frustrating because people always think they’re being dramatic to make a point about disapproving. No! They fully support both being legal! They just have a very uncomfortable physical reaction to being near those smells and would thus like to not be constantly encountering them in public.

        2. My+Useless+2+Cents*

          As with a lot of people with true scent sensitivities, there are so many smells that effect me (anything floral really) that I really have to pick my battles. If I’m mentioning it as a problem, it is effecting me big time. That lilac scented lotion my manager likes to put on after lunch is annoying and only gives me a mild headache but that rose scented lotion my mom will occasionally use means I need to leave immediately or I’m going to be in bed with a migraine for the next two days. Going to HR (if my company had one) would be a waste of time unless I needed the entire office to go scent-free. Going to HR for an accommodation for the random perfume, lotion, or shampoo would be the overly dramatic reaction. Jane hinted a few times that there was a smell the bothered her, then came out and asked OP to stop using the scent. How are Jane’s actions disrespectful or out of line?

          1. Nina*

            I think Jane is out of line (speaking as someone who has a reasonably debilitating non-migraine reaction to many floral scents) because ‘I don’t like that smell’ does not trump ‘I don’t mind that smell and it is the only shampoo I’ve found that works’. If Jane wants OP to change her shampoo, Jane needs to use her words and come up with a better reason. ‘I don’t like that smell and it gives me a headache/migraine/sneezing fit/hives/irrational anger outbursts’ can be reasonably expected to trump ‘I don’t mind that smell and it is the only shampoo I’ve found that works’.

            If I don’t like a smell I’ll say so. If a smell triggers my sensitivity… I’ll say so.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Never thought of this but, sadly, you are probably right. The coworker feels allowed to be pissy about something “minor.”

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          And the reality is that some people like to cause problems/make everything about them/ take out their frustrations on others. Jane could be FINE with the smell, or smell nothing at all, but knowing that smells are subjective have decided to “pick on” the OP in this manner – maybe because she resents the attention the OP got through cancer treatment, maybe because she just doesn’t like her. And you can harass someone right out of the workplace in this manner.

      3. Britchikaa*

        Jane has been demonised here (literally called “evil” upthread), can we not invent fiction about her secretly hating cancer patients just because she’s a bit passive aggressive about others wearing strong perfume?

        1. Lydia*

          Yeah. She is for sure a pill, but I don’t think she’s poking holes in tires of patients at a clinic.

          1. Rain's Small Hands*

            You never know. When my brother in law was undergoing chemo he had it in for breast cancer patients in a serious way – because they got attention and he didn’t.

    3. I would prefer not to*

      I think the point is the politely say “if you have an actual accommodation need, there’s an official process for that, if you just don’t like the smell then you might have to live with it”.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yep. On the very rare occasion I have had to deal with a Jane-type person, providing the right escalation point is basically the conversation-ender. I’ve said my piece/made my decision, so there is no more for *us* to discuss. If *you* want to discuss it further, here’s where to appeal.

    4. Jenn*

      While Jane is not handling things like an adult I’m really having difficulty being sympathetic to LW#1. Essentially everything with a scent causes headaches and breathing irritation for me. I’ve been to an allergist and I’m apparently not allergic to anything. Just sensitive. It’s entirely possible that even though others think the smell is inoffensive, that it bothers Jane incredibly. Kinda like when I need to leave a space because of those damn essential oil diffusers.
      Jane needs to be an adult. But this shampoo could really be an issue that needs to be used after work so the scent has time to fade by work the next day

      1. Curly girl who is also highly sensitive to smells*

        I just can’t believe the number of people who think entirely unnecessary highly-scented home decor things like oil diffusers or reeds or sprays or candles are acceptable in the workplace. You want that in your home? Fine. People love them and if it’s your personal space, that is cool. But in the office? Enough people are sensitive or allergic to highly-scented things that it’s just not ok, to say nothing of the rudeness of imposing your personal preferences on everyone. It’s sort of akin to blasting music or videos on your phone in public without using headphones. The audacity to think the world is your living room.

        1. yala*

          Someone in our office uses one, and like…it didn’t bother me much at *first* (beyond not being able to figure out What That Smell Was), but it’s gotten to the point where if I get a strong gust of it, I want to gag.

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          I am having flashbacks to a work incident involving Glade Plug-ins. They were awful and the coworker who brought them in insisted the rest of us couldn’t object because they were made to make things smell better. She was outvoted in a landslide. Drama ensued.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            For me, it was the boss who sprayed essential oils in the classroom. ALL the students complained. The boss supposedly used soothing relaxing scents… it didn’t help the students to relax in the least.
            The boss also required me to have the radio on for background music, which the students also complained about. I hated it, because either it was music I didn’t like, which is a pain, or it was music I did like, in which case I wanted to pump up the volume and dance and sing along rather than work.
            Of course that was far from the only thing wrong with the place, but it bothered the students. Unfortunately the students were captive in that they were doing a course paid for by the job centre, so they would lose their unemployment benefit if they dropped out, and the boss just did his own toxic thing and nobody could do anything about it, except leave. Which I did.

        3. Lydia*

          But this isn’t that and with the OP’s hair product, it’s not obvious it’s strongly scented. I can only do so much with the changes I make to keep others comfortable and at some point, there will be an impasse. We don’t know if the OP and Jane have reached that point yet, but I don’t think it’s fair to assume that clearly the OP’s hair care products are strongly scented and she’s just blithely going through the day not caring.

      2. Raven*

        Yeah I agree with this. Also, as has been mentioned by others, a scent you can smell several feet away is not a “light perfume”, that’s strong and exactly the sort of thing that will impact anyone with any scent sensitivities. It might be worth OP chatting to any trusted or friendly colleague to get more insight into whete Jane’s coming from.

        As OP as their own office, I wonder if they can open a window or set up a fan etc to help diffuse the scent. The appearance of trying to appease Jane alongside the email should get her of OP’s back. This could also help if it is actually causing people issue.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Yup. Light perfume – and the proper level for wearing in a standard office without anyone scent-sensitive around – is the sort where you have to be essentially hugging someone to smell it, or nearly so. If I can smell you from a few feet away, that’s more of the ‘going out to bars/clubs’ level of scent.

        2. ADidgeridooForYou*

          I am very confused about what product/method LW is using. I’ve definitely smelled shampoos that linger when someone’s hair is wet, or even when I go in for a hug and my face is right next to it, but it’s odd that it would be that strong. Plus usually for curly hair you’re only supposed to wash your hair 1-3 times a week.

      3. Llama Llama*

        My thoughts are maybe Jane is being a pill AND maybe they truly do give her headaches. It’s so odd to me that the solution is that ‘you should go to HR to get an accomodation,’ because I am not going to be the good human and work with you on the problem.
        Getting an HR accomodations are pain and often requires a whole lot of extra work for someone who just doesn’t want headaches.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          But Jane also needs to be a good human. Have a medical concern or condition isn’t an excuse to act like a child, which is what making faces and waving your hand in front of your face is. If Jane had tried to talk with OP about it and work something out, but OP simply shot her down, frustration would be warranted. But Jane hasn’t done that.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            I’m not crazy about the hand waving, which is functional but rude and generally voluntary. But nose scrunching is a protective reflex and might not be entirely under Jane’s control.

            1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

              Yeah, although it certainly understandably comes across as rude, Jane may actually be doing it to avoid the smell, not doing it AT the LW. I will sometimes put my hand over my nose and mouth to avoid smells. I try to make it look natural (like I have an itchy nose or something), but I don’t know if sometimes people might take it amiss.

        2. Kat*

          It doesn’t state anywhere in the letter that Jane is getting headaches. All she’s done is make rude faces and asked LW to ‘tone down the perfume.’ No mention of any medical issue from Jane.

          1. ferrina*

            LW wouldn’t know if Jane has a medical issue. It’s always possible that Jane has a medical issue that she hasn’t disclosed.

            If LW had other hair care options that worked for her, she should find one with less of a scent impact for work without asking a coworker to confirm whether or not there is a medical issue at play (I’m a big fan of medical privacy). But LW has already explored that option. Now the question is if LW should have an unsatisfactory hair care to accommodate Jane without knowing the actual impact on Jane. Redirecting Jane to HR is a way to politely say that the hardship to LW is going to need a stronger reason than “because I said so”.

            1. Observer*

              LW wouldn’t know if Jane has a medical issue. It’s always possible that Jane has a medical issue that she hasn’t disclosed.

              Possible. But we have zero evidence of that, and a lot of evidence that Jane is rude. So, I don’t think that the OP is under any obligation to work under the assumption that there is an actual medical need.

              Redirecting Jane to HR is a way to politely say that the hardship to LW is going to need a stronger reason than “because I said so”.


              If Jane actually has a problem she could easily have indicated this with basic politeness and without needing to divulge a good deal of detail. And, as much as medical privacy is important, you can’t stand on your medical privacy when you are demanding that someone accommodates you in ways that are difficult for them. But if you really need to do it that way, then HR is the way to deal with it.

              1. ferrina*

                we have zero evidence of that

                There’s a whole bunch of health conditions that are known as Invisible Illnesses. These are things that an outsider wouldn’t see evidence of- i.e., fibromyalgia, lupus, EDS, mental health conditions, etc. Patients often have a rough time being diagnosed and accommodated, as even doctors can brush aside their symptoms as being “dramatic”.

                That doesn’t mean that LW should assume there’s a medical need, but she shouldn’t assume there isn’t a medical need just because she doesn’t see “evidence”. This is why it’s important to open that dialogue (with HR if there’s a medical need, because HR will generally have better training on how to handle this conversation)

                1. Observer*

                  There’s a whole bunch of health conditions that are known as Invisible Illnesses.

                  Which is all good and fine. But that doesn’t constitute evidence of there being a medical issue. It just means that you won’t know unless someone tells you.

                  If Jane actually said that she has a problem I would absolutely consider that “evidence” that she has a problem. Even without a diagnosis. But given that she’s willing to speak up but has no said anything about a problem, I don’t think that the OP has any obligation to treat this as a medical / medical-like problem.

                  Having said that, I do agree that if Jane insists, HR is the way to go. Either they will shut Jane down, or they will find out what the actual issue is and work with the OP to figure out what a reasonable solution is.

            2. Education Mike*

              If Jane is having an actual medical reaction, she needs to pull up her big girl pants and tell OP. Nobody’s going to accommodate you for an issue that you don’t raise, just in case, especially if you have a reputation for being difficult for no reason.

          2. Darsynia*

            Yeah, the fanfiction about both LW1 and Jane is all a bit too much for me. It seems that LW1 is concerned that they finally found something that works, only to be getting ‘petty bad smell’ behavior from Jane, which makes Jane’s concerns easier to dismiss. Whether LW1 is being deliberately oblivious or Jane is suffering from a medical condition are a bit too far off the beaten path for me.

        3. yala*

          Yeah, I think Jane is handling it like a child, but also bringing up the “she doesn’t have an official workplace accommodation” thing rubs me the wrong way because, like…do you need one? Do you need to have an Official Accommodation to ask someone not to use strong scents?

          Since Jane doesn’t know that this is OP’s hair product, it’s reasonable that she thinks it’s a very strong perfume, and tbh, from that perspective, I can absolutely understand Jane being frustrated and think OP is the one in the wrong–because wearing strong perfume to work is just kind of a jerk move. But being passive aggressive is solving nothing.

          However, now Jane has actually *used her words* to state her issue. Not as politely as she should have, yes, but now OP has an opportunity to address the issue and let Jane know that it’s not her perfume, and that it’s not just some random hair product, but a very specific one she uses to [insert reasoning here] (mine would be something along the lines of “it’s the only thing that keeps my hair halfway under control” because my straight hair turned to corkscrew curls in my tweens, and then eventually morphed into a thick wavy mass that eats combs and possibly small birds)

          It’s easy to see Jane as an Awful Person in this scenario, but she doesn’t know why OP is suddenly using a strong scent. Honestly, I would’ve been (and have been) reluctant to be straightforward about it, so maybe she was hoping she could…hint at it instead? I mean, it’s a bad idea, and childish as heck, but I can almost see where she’s coming from.

          1. Me ... Just Me*

            Jane is acting kind of awful, though. Rude gestures and hand waving and an aggressive email about “toning down the perfume” is not a good way to approach another human being with respect. And while I think it would be easy (maybe even justified) for OP to be weird and petty back … instead, OP is writing in here, acknowledging that she feels like being a little petty, but also wanting a gut check and some advice. She’s acting responsibly.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Awful people sometimes also need ADA accommodations. We don’t know that’s the case for Jane, but we can’t rule it out yet either, and if it does turn out to be an issue where the scent is making her physically uncomfortable or unwell, she doesn’t deserve to have to suffer that just because she’s being passive aggressive and rude in her expression of it right now.

              I’ve seen a couple of scenarios play out like this in the past between some of my coworkers, and it usually boils down to a person who is really uncomfortable with something a coworker is doing, but not aware of what their legitimate options are, so they turn passive aggressive instead of doing what the rest of us would think is normal and logical.

              1. yala*

                I’d go a step beyond and say awful people also deserve to not have a stinky workplace. It doesn’t have to rise to the level of a disability to be a smell that makes people gag.

                And it may be there’s nothing to be done for it, but whether or not she’s getting headaches, I don’t think there would be anything wrong with–POLITELY (which she wasn’t)–asking a coworker to not use a strong scent

            2. yala*

              I agree that Jane is acting kind of awful. I don’t think a request to “tone down the perfume” is inherently aggressive, but I do agree that Jane is handling this poorly.

              But I also think from Jane’s perspective, OP is the one being rude (because wearing strong perfume at a shared working space is pretty rude). She’s *wrong* about that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that perception is part of why Jane’s behaving so badly.

              Either way, it doesn’t matter. OP can’t control Jane’s behavior or make her be an adult. But now that Jane has actually SAID something, instead of just making faces, OP has the opportunity to clear the air, figuratively, if not literally. It’s possible Jane herself will “tone it down” once she understands that OP isn’t slathering on perfume every morning.

          2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            Yeah, generally, scents are so optional that asking for an accommodation is overkill.

            1. Observer*

              That’s actually not true. As this letter shows – perfume is one thing. Anything else? There are soooo many factors that it’s never a slam dunk to say “just change what you are using”.

            2. Lydia*

              It’s not, though, as entire workplaces have “No Scents” policies in place to accommodate anyone who might have scent issues from the mild to the serious. Their workplace doesn’t have one, which means nobody has approached HR to say it’s needed.

              1. Divergent*

                I work from home an extra day as an (unofficial) accommodation to my scent issues in my “no scent” workplace, because enforcing it to any degree is so impossible.

                1. Lydia*

                  Honestly, when they say “no scent” I take it to mean specifically perfume or heavily perfumed lotions because it is almost impossible to avoid it entirely.

          3. Observer*

            but now OP has an opportunity to address the issue and let Jane know that it’s not her perfume, and that it’s not just some random hair product, but a very specific one she uses to [insert reasoning here]

            Given that the only reason Jane has given for her demand is that “I think you use too much”, why would the OP get into that much detail? I think that Allison’s response makes a LOT more sense – it indicates that she’s not using perfume, and that’s really all the Jane is entitled to right now.

            1. yala*

              Because what OP is using clearly bothers Jane and makes the working space unpleasant for her. If it’s not going to change, then letting Jane know *why* could potentially pour a little oil over that rough water.

              What Jane is entitled to/deserves and what will likely smooth this over quickly and well and keep the peace in a workplace for both people are two different issues.

              Besides, if a coworker is clearly wearing some kind of artificial scent that bothers you to the point that you have to ask them to not, and they just…keep wearing it just as strong… I dunno, I think maybe they actually kind of do deserve to know that there’s a reason you’re not changing it, not that you’re just ignoring the clear discomfort you’re causing.

              1. Lydia*

                Making a workplace unpleasant isn’t really actionable, though. If Jane’s level of discomfort is just that she doesn’t like the smell, then…too bad? Not everything can cater to everyone being 100% comfortable at all times. If Jane’s discomfort is actually a medical issue, even low level, that’s something that can and should be acted on.

                1. yala*

                  I’m legitimately confused as to why Jane’s discomfort needs to be a medical issue before it’s considered appropriate to ask a coworker to wear less perfume.

                  If you mean “actionable” as in “it is not legally required to make a workplace pleasant” then yes, I don’t think anyone ever said it was.

                  But I’m not talking about whether it’s legally acceptable to just ignore Jane’s discomfort. I’m talking about what makes for a good workplace *overall.* I think folks should try not to make an unpleasant workplace for each other, whether or not they’re legally required to.

                  Like I said, I’m not even saying that OP needs to change her hair product. I’m just saying that it would be NICE if, now that Jane has used her words, it would be nice if OP responded in kind, and at least told Jane it’s not a perfume, and it’s something she needs to use, so Jane doesn’t think she has a jerk coworker that’s just slathering on perfume in spite of being asked not to.

                  OP doesn’t HAVE to.

                  It’s just that communication would probably go a long way towards making the workplace more pleasant. Even moreso than just changing the scent.

                  (Also, if that’s explained and Jane still keeps acting childishly, making faces, et al–it could become actionable in another way)

      4. Observer*

        Jane needs to be an adult. But this shampoo could really be an issue that needs to be used after work so the scent has time to fade by work the next day

        Considering that Jane clearly has no compunction about letting her wants be know, what makes you think that there is an actual medical problem?

        When you ask people to tone down the scent, do you tell them that they are just “using too much scent” or do you actually say something like “Hey, I have a strong sensitivity to a lot of scents including yours, and it’s making me sick. Could you find a way to reduce it”?

        Jane is supposedly a competent adult. She’s also clearly capable of saying what she wants. Thus, unless and until she actually says that she has a medical issue, I think it’s safe for the OP to assume that Jane is not you.

        1. yala*

          Ok, but…OP knows that the scent of her shampoo is making the workplace unpleasant for Jane. Jane didn’t express herself in a particular mature way, but it’s still reasonable for a person to not be overwhelmed by Fragrance in the workplace.

          Actually, I think I would go with more of a request to “tone it down” than that full explanation. Someone doesn’t need to have a strong sensitivity to smells or a medical condition to not want to smell a strong perfume (or what they think is perfume) at work.

          Folks say OP doesn’t owe Jane an explanation about why she uses the strong-smelling shampoo that she knows Jane dislikes, but by that metric, I don’t know that Jane owes OP an explanation of any hypothetical medical issues. “I really dislike this smell” is enough of a reason to ask someone you work with to stop using it, particularly if it’s strong enough to smell from a few feet away. And if it *were* just a perfume OP was using, then I think we’d all agree that the right thing to do would be to stop using it at work, because you can’t really turn off your nose.

          It’s not just a perfume, but Jane doesn’t know that.

          1. Yeah, nah*

            This thing is, if you’re rude and obnoxious, people quickly cease caring whether or not the workplace is unpleasant for you (in ways that do not rise to hostile workplace/failure to provide needed accommodation, of course), because you’re making it unpleasant for them. If Jane doesn’t need an accommodation, then she’s asking for a favor, and you don’t get to be rude to people and then ask for a favor. If she does need an accommodation, then she needs to state that.

            1. Yeah, nah*

              And to be clear, I’d think of this completely differently if OP and Jane frequently had to share space, but it sounds like they don’t, so not liking OPs shampoo seems like a fairly minor issue unless it’s causing illness.

            2. yala*

              Bear in mind, that from Jane’s perspective, OP is the one being rude and obnoxious by wearing a strong scent in the workplace.

              This is why I’m saying COMMUNICATE.

              Because both people in this situation feel that the other one is making the workplace unpleasant for them. Jane is the one behaving badly, but that…look, it really doesn’t matter.

              You don’t “get to be rude to people and then ask for a favor?” I mean, ok, but…what does NOT telling Jane get? It just lets this keep escalating.

              A lot of folks here seem to be really focused on a vindictive sort of “fairness” than in what will actually help make the office more pleasant overall. And yeah, pettiness in the face of pettiness feels good, but it doesn’t really help much.

          2. Lydia*

            It really isn’t enough of a reason. I don’t like the smell of a lot of things, but it doesn’t actually give me permission to ask people to stop doing whatever it is they’re doing if it’s not really affecting me. Dislike isn’t a high enough bar for someone to change an entire part of their self-care and have to start investing in expensive research to find something that does work and won’t turn off poor Jane.

            1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              And it honestly might be enough (not to require it, but to ask for it) if they spent all day every day together, especially in a confined space (though I think you’d go nose deaf after a while, lol). But their interaction is so minimal, not liking the smell is not a good enough reason to ask or for OP to accommodate by actually changing her shampoo.

            2. yala*

              “Dislike isn’t a high enough bar for someone to change an entire part of their self-care and have to start investing in expensive research”

              But, again. Jane doesn’t KNOW that that’s what she’s asking. As far as Jane knows, she is just asking a coworker not to wear so much perfume, which honestly…seems like a perfectly acceptable thing to ask?

              I didn’t say OP should stop using the product. I just said that it could be helpful to the situation if OP told Jane that it wasn’t a perfume, and that it’s something she uses for a reason. She’s not REQUIRED to. But it seems like it would be *nice* to, and avoid the situation escalating because now Jane thinks of OP as someone who can’t even be bothered to not wear perfume when asked.

          3. Big Bank*

            I’m a little taken aback that so many people are suggesting Jane should be super excited to disclose a medical situation (if she has one) and that since she didn’t lead with that it must just be preference. Many folks don’t love disclosing their medical details! I agree that it was reasonable for Jane to approach it as a simple request (and she should have done so more politely, of course). Once the fact that it’s not just perfume is made clear to her, now is the time for her to introduce medical necessity into the convo, or drop it.

            1. Lydia*

              We live in a world where migraines, headaches, and most allergies are considered low stakes, as far as medical privacy. Most people talk openly about their allergies, or if scents cause headaches. Jane isn’t being asked to share intimate medical details, she’s being asked to speak up if something the OP is using is actually causing her harm. I’m not inclined to change something I spent a lot of time and effort on just because someone doesn’t like the smell, but if I knew it was harming someone, I would see what I could work out with them. I have a critical illness and I have to advocate for myself; I can’t expect people to guess when I’m having a reaction and that means sharing my medical condition with my coworkers. I don’t like it, but I can’t have it both ways.

          4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Honestly though, it sounds like Jane doesn’t have to be near OP that much in their jobs. Separate offices, speaking to each other maybe three times a week in those offices. If they shared an office, were in side by side cubicles, or even just spent a significant chunk of the work week together, I would think that (assuming Jane could be reasonable about bringing it up) there would be good reason for OP to seriously consider alternative options for her hair. Just on the basis of the smell really bothering Jane.

            But that is not the case. Their time together is minimal and may well be addressed by meeting in a more open and ventilated space. If the smell is not causing a physical problem and Jane just doesn’t like it, she can suck it up or agree to that arrangement. If she has a medical issue, like migraine triggers, that brief encounter three or so days a week, could put her out of commission for the rest of her workday three times a week.

          5. Scout*

            Whereas I very much do not think that “I really dislike this smell” is enough of a reason to ask someone to stop using it, particularly someone you don’t share close space with on a regular basis.

            If I see someone a few times a week in person, for a short amount of time, then I’m being a bit obnoxious to ask them to change a smell I simply don’t like.

    5. Snow Globe*

      In most cases, we’d suggest that a person in Jane’s position speak first with the coworker to see if things can be resolved before going to HR. Going to HR is generally what would be recommended if talking to the person first didn’t work. And I don’t see why the LW would prefer HR to be involved, vs. trying to find a way to work with Jane.

      1. Observer*

        Because Jane is rude and obnoxious about it. If she’d asked like a reasonable person, I think most people would tell her to try to work with her – as Allison notes.

        1. Snow Globe*

          But if HR is involved, they aren’t going to care about obnoxiousness, they will care about whether Jane has a health issue triggered by the scent. And if it goes to HR, it could appear (to HR) that the LW is not taking that seriously.

          1. Lydia*

            Except Jane has never mentioned any health issues, so OP is not obligated to take them seriously.

          2. Starbuck*

            LW has an obvious and easy defense: Jane never mentioned a medical issue, only a personal dislike. Refusing to accommodate someone’s personal taste is not the same thing as resisting accommodation for a medial issue.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      Jane is definitely being a pill and handling this poorly, but being a pill who’s bad at handling interpersonal conflict doesn’t make her ineligible to work in an environment that’s reasonably comfortable (and, if necessary, accommodating) for her.

      I currently work with a great VP of HR from whom I’ve learned a lot, and we’ve had an odd run of challenging people in the past year and have had to work closely with some of the supervisors under me on maintaining objectivity with these folks. It’s very easy to let your personal irritation/dislike of someone taint your perception of their complaints, but you can get in real trouble if they bring you something real/major and you brush it off as it being just another Guacamole Bob complaint.

      1. yala*

        “Jane is definitely being a pill and handling this poorly, but being a pill who’s bad at handling interpersonal conflict doesn’t make her ineligible to work in an environment that’s reasonably comfortable (and, if necessary, accommodating) for her.”


        It’s a shame that Jane isn’t being more mature about this, but I think if we only had the information that Jane has about the situation, we would think it would be more than reasonable to ask OP to stop wearing perfume.

        1. Lydia*

          I think if Jane wrote in and said she had no allergies and no medical issues, she just doesn’t like the smell of shampoo someone she spends little time with, and has their own office, uses, Alison would tell Jane should could ask the coworker to stop wearing it, but ultimately Jane may have to suck it up. And I think most of the commenters would agree.

          1. yala*

            Ok, right, and right now Jane used her words and asked. And if the answer is no (which is also very reasonable), then she needs to suck it up. But in interest of trying to make things smooth…communication.

            I really don’t get why that’s so objectionable.

        2. Starbuck*

          Conversely, having the information that the LW has, I don’t see anything at this point that would compel her to make a change. The issue right now with the information she has, is the same as if Jane thought the color or pattern of her sweater was horribly ugly and she didn’t want to see it and said it “hurt her eyes” or similar.

          1. yala*

            You have a choice to close your eyes or not look at something. You don’t have a choice to not smell something.

            I never said that OP SHOULD make a change. But now that Jane has asked with her big girl words, there’s an opportunity for communication.

        3. Scout*

          Agreeing with others – I actually do not think it’s reasonable to ask someone I see a few times a week, for a very limited amount of time, to stop wearing a perfume or scented product that I simply dislike.

    7. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      That is a fair point actually. I would say that I am really unable to think of another solution, and I cannot simply change my shampoo for a variety of reasons. Then leave it to Jane to work out what to do next. If it is a power move, she will certainly escalate it all on her own, and OP will have the initial email of things she offered to show HR or the bosses, demonstrating that she did try to accommodate Jane in a friendly manner.

      1. yala*

        Yeah, that’s the other thing! OP explaining that it’s not an optional perfume that she applies for fun, but a hair product she needs to use seems like it would play well in OP’s favor if Jane makes a stink (no pun intended) to the higher-ups.

  4. Triplestep*

    LW#1, your co-worker is approaching this with an annoying lack of maturity, but please don’t assume you know how long your shampoo’s scent affects her. I have both curly hair (and use various curly hair methods) and Reactive Airway Disease which is an asthma-like condition. It’s triggered by some fragrances. People’s perfumes and products can impact me for way longer than the time we’re in each other’s presence, and if I have to use my inhaler, THAT can cause a lingering low level headache. It’s hard to know how to approach these things with people, and your co-worker has chosen passive aggression. That would make me want to discount how much my shampoo’s fragrance impacts her but you really can’t.

    Since you use CGM, you know it’s not about your shampoo brand, but your shampoo ingredients. Maybe you can figure out what ingredients are making this shampoo your holy grail and find them in another brand with a less strong smell. There are so many online resources for people subscribing to this method, it might not be that hard to find another product by searching on the ingredients.

    1. Observer*

      I don’t think that this is a realistic approach. Under the best of circumstances, it’s not so easy to actually find the information you are describing, despite the plethora of resources.

      What takes it from “might be harder than you think” to not reasonable is the fact that the OP has zero information to go on. Remember, it’s not just the ingredients the OP wants that she needs to figure out, but what about the smell is a problem for Jane and what ingredients are likely to trigger that issue. And that assumes that Jane actually has a medical problem.

      The point here is not to ignore a real problem because Jane was rude. The point is that not only is it not clear that there actually is a problem, but that even if there is the OP simply wasn’t given any information that would help her try to ameliorate the problem. And Jane’s approach is so rude and almost aggressive that she doesn’t really have any way to open a conversation on how to mitigate the problem.

      1. Triplestep*

        You don’t say whether or not you have curly hair, so I may be telling you something you already know, but curly hair styling has become a huge industry with its own influencers and websites just to check ingredients in products. (Curlsbot, Is it CG and Curlscan to name three.) LW#1 can’t know what scents will bother others around her, but finding your preferred ingredients in products is kind of the basis of CGM.

      2. Science KK*

        It also ignores the fact that one brand’s shea butter, argan oil, seed oil ratio is 10% 7% 5% and another’s is 15% 10% 3%. And most of that is considered proprietary so even if you contact the brand you’ll get an email saying it’s IP sorry.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Also that they can easily be £20 a bottle and working your way through two or three or more to find the one that works gets very ££££ very quickly!

          (signed, someone who thinks CGM would probably work for her but doesn’t feel like spending £80 to find out.)

          1. KK*

            I’ve discovered Living Proof’s curl cream, which works wonders on my hair, but yeah, it’s $36 a bottle…

            1. yala*

              Living Proof’s leave-in conditioner is probably the best I’ve found for mine. The blow-dry one actually let my hair look nice after blow-drying, and the air-drying one works for my regular routine (I do not have the patience or arm-strength to blow-dry my ridiculous mane. It all goes into a braid anyway)

              But…yeah, more than a little pricey, so I don’t use it much.

          2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Yeah, I sometimes resent my hair for being straight and fine and boring (no way to get body in it, cannot do anything interesting with it, resists any attempt to curl it). Then I read about the travails of people with curly hair and I realize I am really lucky! No insane amount of money on products (they make no difference), no insane amount of time on styling (it makes no difference). Just grocery store aisle shampoo and conditioner, brush, dry, go!

      3. Bilateralrope*

        Maybe the letter writer could contact the shampoo company and ask them if a scent free version of that shampoo exists because her workplace might be adopting a scent-free policy. No need to go into details beyond “my job might force me to stop using your product”

        If they do have one, that could be an easy option to try. If they don’t, that’s also worth knowing.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          That’s a very good idea, but hope that the reason the shampoo is scented isn’t because the raw materials without scent smell unpleasant.

          1. I'm just here for the cats!*

            This is so true. I was doing my hair this morning, before reading this, and thought about scents. There is a difference between perfume and a natural scent. Just because someone or something smells (not in a stinky way) doesnt mean that its perfume.

            So if the scent is from natural extracts and not from perfume, there might not be a scent free product.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              True. Coconut oil just smells like that (lovely, to me, but YMMV). If you like a coconut oil product, and it gives a coworker migraines, there’s no unscented version. (And coconut can be a nut allergy level issue, so “it’s natural, not perfumed” also doesn’t always help).

            2. whingedrinking*

              Yup. I used to work for a company that famously makes really strong-smelling products, and even the ones that weren’t meant to be scented per se (things like face creams) usually still smelled like something. The explanation for why we didn’t do “unscented” versions was that we didn’t actually add stuff just to make it smell like that, it was the combination of the ingredients, and taking the smell out was an additional step that might not be possible.

            1. Yeah, nah*

              To you. Given that it’s a pretty common beauty product on its own, it’s safe to say plenty of folks range from not minding it to actually liking it.

    2. Reluctant Manager*

      If Jane is making a scene, I bet good money that others who don’t like confrontation are bothered by it too. If your wear a scent all day long (and like it), you can tune it out.

      This is one of the unsung benefits of working from home. If my colleagues stink, it’s time to change the litter box.

      1. Emily*

        I don’t think that’s neccesarily a fair conclusion to draw. Jane might just be making a stink because Jane is a bit difficult and likes to do power plays. If there are other co-workers who LW is close with and LW trusts to tell her the truth, LW could ask them about the smell, but I think the response that Alison provided is the way to go.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          I think this may be a good move for the LW — yes, her friends said it’s fine but are her friends frequently meeting with her in her office (which is probably smallish, and likely poorly ventilated)? A scent that isn’t strong in your living room may very well be strong under different circumstances.

          1. to varying degrees*

            Oh yeah, Jane definitely could be handling it better. I know that for the most part, the answer is one shouldn’t have to disclose personal info at work, but sometimes actually having a discussion with a person is the best way to go. It may be the Jane just doesn’t like the scent, it may be that smells make her violently sick, nobody know because know one is having a conversation with each other.

        2. to varying degrees*

          Maybe the reason Jane is being so pissy about it is the LW doesn’t seem to care that her scented hair products are too damn strong. Perfume should not be smelt a few feet away.

          1. yala*

            I think that could be a factor. Jane still needs to act like an adult and not make faces like a kid, but I can’t swear on a stack that I wouldn’t feel annoyed if I thought someone was wearing super-strong perfume to work every day.

          2. Someone Online*

            She obviously cares. She has asked others for feedback and wrote into this site trying to find a solution.

            1. to varying degrees*

              Ehh, YMMV but she also wants to go to her or Jane’s boss and comes across more annoyed by Jane and wanting validation than actually caring.

            2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

              We know she cares, because we read this letter.
              Jane doesn’t know she cares, because LW (apparently) wears scent stronger than the prevailing norms and has ignored Jane’s (somewhat rude) visible reaction previously.

      2. Wants Green Things*

        Exactly. A *perfume* shouldn’t even be noticeable from a few feet away, let alone a *shampoo”. That is a waaaay strong scent, well beyond being “light”. You don’t need a medical reason to find that much scent overpowering.

        And I have scent-triggered migraines, so this would absolutely make me miserable. A 5 minute interaction with LW1 would leave me a sobbing, huddled mess as my brain tries to throb its way out of my skull. In my own case, I was able to approach HR and now we’re perfume-free, but seriously, don’t underestimate the annoyance of a strong scent anyway.

        1. ferrina*

          Yeah, I’m pretty confused by this. I use scented shampoo and scented soap, but you definitely can’t smell it from several feet away. You’d need to be about a foot away, if not less, before you could smell my products.

          First thing should be to explore other options, but LW has done that already. The question is if she should change to an unsatisfactory hair care regimen because a coworker wants her to, and what the bar is for having to change to an unsatisfactory hair care regimen. If it was a clear-cut medical issue, the answer is obvious (switch to the unsatisfactory hair- don’t give people migraines!), but it sounds like Jane could easily be doing this as a way to pick on LW. Neither us nor LW know which of these motivations is driving Jane

        2. Mf*

          My mother used the CGM. I can assure you: her shampoo is no more strongly scented than the average brand you’d buy at the drug store. So let’s stop with the speculation that OP is using some nuclear-grade shampoo that can be smelled from a hundred yards away by the average person.

          1. yala*

            OP herself said it can be smelled from a few feet away. That’s not nuclear, but it’s enough to potentially be an issue in a shared workspace.

            1. Lydia*

              OP has her own office that Jane doesn’t come into often. The workspace isn’t really shared.

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I’d be inclined to agree if it weren’t for the fact that (based on OP’s account), Jane is known to make scenes about things in general!

    3. Educator*

      From the letter, I am not even 100% sure it is the shampoo. That smell might be more noticeable to OP because it is new to her, but there are so, so many products that give off potentially irritating scents, and I would be surprised if anyone lives a scentless life without very specifically intending to. (Scented detergents and secondhand scented candle smoke are the smells that are hard on my respiratory system!)

      If I were OP, I would not waste a lot of time trying to hypothesize about what might make this better for Jane, and simply suggest ventilated meeting spaces and going through proper channels if she needs a medical accommodation for something like RAD.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I don’t wear perfume and I use unscented deodorant, soap and detergent. If someone can smell a scent on me, shampoo is the only possible culprit. I’m not actively trying to live a scentless life, but between not much liking strong smells and having a child with sensitive skin, it’s happened that way.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I don’t know, if Jane had no issues until OP started using this shampoo, it is probably the shampoo.

    4. JSPA*

      Also… the cancer aspect doesn’t make this a medical issue. “I am new to curly hair” is unusual in other contexts, but it’s not a medical problem in itself. (“I’m enthused about a certain hair regimen that makes my hair look great” certainly isn’t.)

      1. John Smith*

        I’m not sure you would be saying that if you were in LWs position. True, its not a medical issue, but its an issue to LW. A good one at that.

        1. Danish*

          I think the point is, this ISNT a case of dueling health accomodations, as the person put above (assuming Jane has a scent sensitivity and is not just being unpleasant). LW has a new hair routine due to having lost her hair to cancer, but “i finally feel good about myself again using this method to wash my new hair type ” is not actually itself a health issue.

          1. Plumbum*

            Dueling accommodations was only mentioned in a comment response to the commenter whose medication is scented, not the letter response, so no one is disagreeing with you on that.

            What makes it less reasonable to change a shampoo than stop using a perfume is the greater impact on the shampoo user. It’s hard enough getting curly hair to look presentable/”professional” in the first place, it might not be possible to both change products and follow the unwritten dress code of “well-groomed”, which has workplace impact. Not to mention, people with curly hair tend to need wash it less frequently, so unlike perfume which you can just put on after work you’re stuck with the bad hair for days.

            1. Danish*

              Difficult? Sure. SUPER difficult, such that someone else should just have to suck up their headaches? Dubious. It is, after all, just hair, and curly or not there are so many more options available to solve the problem as compared to scent-sensitive headaches. As someone else pointed out above as well (im very good at getting my threads mixed up and im on mobile so scrolling is a pain, sorry! ), there’s a huge online community devoted to curly hair maintenance these days. LW says herself she’s new to it – it seems likely that options exist thay she hasn’t found yet, and if it were someone she LIKED making this complaint she might be more willing to try. That said, i do understand the reasons LW isnt excited to help Jane out here. I too *love* to consider the opinions of people who make faces at me…

              1. Plumbum*

                The difficulty is disproportionate, yes. We’re talking about less than 30 minutes of exposure a week, compared to a potentially months- or years-long process to find another product that might cause the same issue because we don’t know whether a) Jane even gets headaches from the scent or b) if she does, what specific ingredient causes them.

                1. Danish*

                  Unfortunately i just dont think there is a good way to say “its hard for me to find a shampoo I like, therefore my coworker will just have to deal with having headaches after they meet with me” without sounding extremely precious and/or vain. And if you’re speaking to someone who isnt familiar with curly hair, “it will take me years to find another shampoo” is going to sound frankly ridiculous.

                  Like i would also be resistant – i get extremely het up about any kind of “excuse me my job wants to control what i do in my off time??”, and I understand that curly hair *is* a challenge (and LW has a greater reason than most to get to feel like, finally i like how i look again!) but “i get headaches” vs “my HAIRSTYLE tho” is not going to be a convo where you come out looking good. All of which to say, no, LW cannot just ignore Jane even if shes unpleasant about it.

                  Anyway, as you say, kind of moot when it is not a given that it is the shampoo, or what part of the shampoo, or if there’s somewhwere else they can meet. First step is sadly probably speaking to Jane.

                2. bamcheeks*

                  But the alternative isn’t “so they’ll just have to deal with headaches”, it’s “does she actually need to come in my office, should we meet in a third space which is well ventilated and where the smell of my shampoo presumably won’t be lingering, maybe this could be a Teams chat” and so on.

                  We also don’t know that Jane’s problem rises to the level of a health condition or an allergy– it could be a simple preference.

                  It would really help if Jane had approached this in a more good-faith and solution-focussed manner. But even if she hasn’t, it would be a good thing if LW could respond that way.

                3. londonedit*

                  Yeah, I’m really struggling to work out how I feel about this one. On the one hand, sure, if someone has an allergy to a particular scent then of course every effort should be made to accommodate that. But…as someone with somewhat difficult hair, who has had a lifelong battle trying to find a haircut and styling products that work so that I actually feel good about the way I look, I’d be pretty devastated if someone told me I had to stop using those things because someone else had made a complaint. Especially as it seems that Jane hasn’t actually said ‘Look, I have an allergy that makes it very difficult for me to be around strong scents, and I’m afraid OP’s shampoo is really setting it off’, she’s just making a face and waving her hand around as if to say ‘ewwww, gross’.

                4. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  We obviously don’t know what the impact to Jane (if any) is, but I’d like to push back on the “disproportionate” bit. I have migraines, and scent is a trigger for me. Less the 30 minutes exposure to a strong, problematic scent – like walking into a Yankee Candle store – can trigger a migraine that takes me out of work for three days, and might require an ER visit. Changing shampoos – even expensive, niche shampoos – would not be disproportionately difficult in that case.
                  LW needs a frank and open conversation with Jane to find out what the impact is and mutually find an acceptable solution. If they can adjust work so Jane never has to be in LW’s office, that’s probably the least effort and most mutually satisfactory route.

                5. yala*

                  tbh I feel like whether or not a scent gives coworkers headaches, if they find it to be a strong and unpleasant scent, it seems like it would only be polite to at least try to find some other options.

                1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

                  This. People are arguing this as if Jane is certainly being made ill but there’s no mention of that in the letter.

                2. DrSalty*

                  Yes. People are projecting their own experiences on to Jane all throughout this comments section.

              2. Lydia*

                You’re engaging in fanfic. There’s no indication Jane is anything but annoyed by the smell of OP’s shampoo. She has not indicated she gets headaches.

            2. JSPA*

              The underlying issue is hair-bias. External, and internalized.

              It’s not only naps, locks and twists that get treated as less professional. And it’s not only people with straight hair (or who still have straight hair) who act as if straight hair (and straight hairstyles) are the definition of “kempt” vs “unkempt.”

              Wanting cancer to not have changed things is completely understandable. That’s a large part of why we have the field of reconstructive surgery, breast prostheses, etc. Wanting hair to still be easy, especially when other things are harder…I get that, too.

              But “this stuff is great, and the only thing that makes me feel as kempt and put together as I did when my hair was straight” is nevertheless not–in any way I can understand the concept–a need, in the strict sense of the word, nor certainly, a medical accommodation.

              If there’s any hint that it’s doing actual damage to a coworker–even a coworker who’s tense and a jerk–why spread misery?

              Noting, also, that meopause, pregnancy and post-covid smell distortion can make previously neutral scents overwhelming and (literally) nauseating. (Jane herself may not know what’s up, or that her sense of smell is different than it was; we had a letter at some point where a coworker who was complaining about unbearable strong scents turned out to be unexpectedly pregnant, and over the moon about it!)

              1. Plumbum*

                Who is saying it’s a medical accommodation? Also where is the evidence of “actual damage”?

                What we know is that Jane has told LW they should use less perfume and makes displeased faces when exposed to the smell. If that counts as actual damage, I contend that the mental strain of spending months trying to find an alternative product while looking a mess 24/7, not just at work, is also actual damage. Especially when we are talking about less than 30 minutes per week that this coworker is affected.

                1. ecnaseener*

                  I think a lot of people in the comments got mixed up with Alison’s example script mentioning headaches and forgot that Jane herself actually didn’t say anything about headaches or other sensitivities.

                2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  I mean, a big part of the problem here is that LW doesn’t know what the impact to Jane is. Is Jane making a big fuss about something she finds mildly disagreeable? Possibly! Is Jane poorly handling something that’s causing her actual harm? Also very possible!

                  I know when I’ve needed to ask folks to change their scented products, I haven’t always led with my private medical info. I think folks are jumping to this being a medical accommodation because it so easily could be one, and LW would be much better served treating it as if it were.

              2. Happy meal with extra happy*

                For many people with curly hair, the right products are the difference between looking professional and put together vs looking a mess. While this is still definitely a want, compared to a need IF there is a medical concern, I see asking OP to change her hair products as very similar to a request that she dress in illfitted or frumpy clothes. (Obviously this is a very unlikely hypothetical because I don’t see how nice clothes can trigger a medical condition, but I don’t think others would ever think that that was okay.)

          2. Jackalope*

            On the other hand, it is a hygiene issue; the OP does in fact need to be able to wash her hair and find a way to maintain it. And if she’s tried multiple different products and this is the first one that’s actually worked, then that needs to be taken into consideration as well.

            1. Danish*

              So like, as a trans person i am EXTREMELY SYMPATHETIC to “the way i style myself has a very significant impact on my self esteem and mental health”, but LW does not say it is the only shampoo that can touch her body, just that it is the one that makes her hair look a way she enjoys. I know curly hair is very difficult to make behave, but i dont believe the options are actually “LW uses ONLY this shampoo or she never bathes again”.

              Again, im very sumpathetic to “looking this way is how i feel good about myself, when previously i have felt very bad about myself”, but if Jane is experiencing actual headaches i think that takes presecdence over LW’s preferred hair style.

              1. Happy meal with extra happy*

                It’s not about preferred, it’s about looking professional (likely as opposed to looking tangled, frizzy, and unkempt).

                1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

                  There’s a range of “professional”, and curly haired folks were showing up at work and looking professional long before CGM. This is a preference: a particular method that gets results LW likes. She shouldn’t have to change it if Jane’s issue is merely dislike – but it’s not like she needs this particular hair product, if Jane’s issue is more serious than that

                2. Britchikaa*

                  The idea that this one specific magical unicorn shampoo is literally LW’s only option to avoid looking unprofessional and tangled is really taking wild speculation to new heights. There are many options.

                  Also, as many people have mentioned black hair: assumptions and judgements about natural hair being “unprofessional” exist to put down black people.

                  OP has naturally straight hair and has no prior experience with curly hair and needed to use the Internet to learn about curly hair so she’s very very unlikely to be black.

                  A white woman with curly hair is NOT going to be treated the same way as a black woman with natural hair, and as a biracial woman I honestly find all the “telling curly haired non-black women what products to use on their hair is racist!” comments to be problematic.

                  I’ve worked with curly haired white women who had hair like absolute birds nests and they did not have 1/100th of the shaming and judgements that black women with perfectly neat and professional natural hair deal with.

                  Let’s not pretend a non-black woman with curly hair (especially one everyone has seen go through cancer and hair loss!) is going to suffer professionally because she doesn’t have picture perfect curls.

          3. ferrina*

            As you said, you are assuming Jane has a scent sensitivity. But we don’t know that. If there is a scent sensitivity, then yes, making sure that we aren’t inducing headaches does trump the frustration of an unsatisfactory hair care regimen. But absent a medical reason, what meets the threshold for someone having to put up with unsatisfactory haircare?

            LW has reason to think that this is a preference, not a medical issue. That’s why HR can be useful- they can help weed out if this is a preference for Jane (which LW doesn’t need to accommodate) or a medical issue (which LW would accommodate).

          4. Observer*

            I think the point is, this ISNT a case of dueling health accomodations,

            It’s not a case of dueling accommodations because Jane has actually not given anyone any real reason to think that there is a medical problem at play.

            On the other hand, the physiological (and professional) toll of what the OP is up against is not actually something to dismiss. Dinwar has covered it quite extensively. I *would* have told the OP to make the effort to find something else if Jane had actually claimed to have a medical problem, even though she may not have a formal accommodation. But to expect the OP to make that effort because someone MIGHT have a problem? No.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              The fact that she hasn’t said outright that she’s having health issues with LWs scented products doesn’t mean she’s not. Sometimes people don’t act in ideal ways, and I’m with you on how annoying that is, but I don’t think we can extrapolate from LWs description “Jane in no way has any medical issues that are being exacerbated by scents.” LW just doesn’t have enough information to make that determination at this point.

              1. Observer*

                Sure, the OP doesn’t have enough information to draw any conclusions – which also means that she doesn’t have enough information to necessitate changes in her routine or detailed explanations to Jane.

              2. Lydia*

                And neither do we, and until Jane makes it clear to the OP, she shouldn’t have to make dramatic and expensive changes to her self-care routine.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Someone else pointed out that it could be a mental health issue for OP as a cancer survivor. She lost her hair during cancer, which really affects people, and can affect one’s sense of identity. So having it come back curly was unusual too and could also impact identity. I think many cancer survivors feel very strongly about their hair and having it look nice because they associate the loss of the hair with a really tough and traumatic experience.

        Also, I just have so much compassion for people dealing with really curly hair, as a straight haired person. I couldn’t imagine having to put all that effort and money into my hair! It may not be a medical issue, and it shouldn’t trump a medical issue, but it isn’t a small thing to ask a curly haired individual to change hair care products. Whereas it would have little to no impact on me!

    5. yala*

      “Since you use CGM, you know it’s not about your shampoo brand, but your shampoo ingredients. Maybe you can figure out what ingredients are making this shampoo your holy grail and find them in another brand with a less strong smell. ”

      I gotta admit, I’m kind of surprised that the only shampoo OP can find is a scented one, since I thought those usually have all the extra not-so-good stuff in them. Even without Jane, it might be worth looking into finding an unscented one just to have in case

      1. Hen in a Windstorm*

        But you don’t have to *add* fragrance for something to have its own natural scent. Just think of peeling an orange. The orange oil has a strong scent.

        Someone above mentioned argan oil is a common component in these shampoos. I think that has a particular scent of its own. Dove soap is usually considered a great product for sensitive skin, but I find it has an odd, musty scent I don’t like. I use it anyway, but when I’m done with it, I’m going to find something else.

        1. yala*

          I guess, but I also don’t think I’ve ever encountered any perfume that could be smelt a few feet away from the person who used it

          1. yala*

            sorry, to clarify, perfumed bath products. I’ve encountered PLENTY of perfume that can be smelled across the room.

            1. JLH*

              To be fair, I take all measurements given with a grain of salt but that could just be me having to read deposition transcripts and listen to deposition prep all day and seeing just how (in)accurate people are about things they’re attempting to verbally measure. Your “few feet” could be my “across the table”, and so on.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Dove has added fragrance. Even their “unscented” has a “masking scent” that sets me off.

          The key is reading the ingredients. Added perfume or fragrance is usually listed as “perfume”, “fragrance”, “masking scent”, “natural fragrance” or even “essential oil”. Ingredients that have a smell of their own are also sometimes problematic, like “lavender oil”, “cocoa butter”, “coconut oil”, “orange oil”, etc.

          I have friends who react to citrus scents. They use rose hips based vitamin C and don’t eat citrus. They can’t even be around Earl Grey tea – bergamot is citrus.

    6. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I have reactive airway disease too. It is obnoxious! And scents can be a huge issue!

      That said, I genuinely have never reacted to someone’s shampoo after it is rinsed and the hair is dry! I seriously want to know what this shampoo is now! Just for curiosity’s sake!

    7. Starbuck*

      “One of my coworkers, Jane, makes of show of wrinkling her nose and mentioning how strong it is any time she’s near me. Today she asked me via email to “tone it down with the perfume” after she had stopped by for something. ”

      This is all Jane has bothered to say so far, there’s nothing in that to declare a medical issue or compel LW to do anything just yet. Maybe there is! Maybe Jane will figure out how to make a reasonable request! But until then… I don’t think Jane’s words or behavior *so far* merit so much fuss and consideration from LW. I see a TON of people projecting their own scent sensitivity issues onto Jane, but we don’t actually know that’s what’s happening.

  5. Observer*

    #1 is a perfect example of why broad “scent free” policies tend to be a bad idea, especially if you don’t actually have a person who needs it as a medical accommodation. This is something that has come up here more than once, and the default here has tended to be very dismissive of people who won’t – often CANNOT give up their scented products.

    Yes, stopping to wear perfume is generally realistic. But otherwise? Not so much.

    Which is yet another good reason why good ventilation is so important. A scent that can make people gag in a room with poor circulation can be barely noticeable with good air turnover.

    1. RAD*

      To an average nose, you are correct that a barely detectable scent dissipates with good air turnover. For someone with a reactive airway, they can tell you that fragranced products stick to things like chairs and really do linger for a long time. The fragrance also feels like a chemical in the airway, it has no lovely scent, it just feels like a chemical assault on the delegate airway tissues.

      But if Jane has a reactive airway, and even if she doesn’t, she is handling this poorly. People with reactive airways understand the plight of OP’s journey to find a product that works since there are very very few that work for people with reactive airways since fragrance is in so many products. Usually being around people isn’t a problem aside from perfumes and heavy scents, but the same product can cause horrible problems to a reactive airway when used on themselves.

      1. Observer*

        I realize that good ventilation doesn’t completely solve the problem, but it can make a significant difference for many situations. In most cases, as you note, the amount does matter, and good air turnover helps reduce the amount of whatever chemical in the air and sticking to furniture.

        1. Bagpuss*

          If the issue is that someone doesn’t like the scent, yes.
          But I think you seriously underestimate how much these things linger and how little is needed to trigger a reaction.
          I have asthma an various allergies and sensitivities, and a lot of scented products affect me. I have had issues where people have made similar assumptions to you and think that opening a window or turning on a fan means that the problems goes away. It doesn’t.

          1. Koalafied*

            Yes, this is a thing. Cigarette smoke makes my eyes get itchy and watery and my nose gets stuffed up, and I have the same reaction if I have to say, sit in a car with someone who smoked a cigarette outdoors within the last half hour. Even if they were smoking in open air enough of it will cling to their clothes to set off a response if I have to then be in close proximity.

            1. Observer*

              I happen to have a odd extreme sensitivity to cigarette smoke that started in pregnancy. While I was pregnant, a single cigarette in a LARGE room could set me off. At that point a lot of places were still designed with the idea of as little air turnover as possible and “sick building syndrome” was sill a fairly new concept. What I discovered is that just making sure that there were open windows had a really, significant effect on how badly I was affected (going from being to nauseous to sit) to not so pleasant but definitely tolerable.

              Again, I realize that it’s not going to work for everyone every time. But the point is that it’s something worth exploring because it put far less burden on individuals where it works.

              1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                It is weird the reactions or changes that can start in pregnancy and even become permanent. My best friend had difficulty eating garlic without getting sick, until she got pregnant with her first kid. Suddenly, she was able to eat garlic basically raw with no issues! Even after she gave birth, she still had no problem eating garlic pretty much raw. Then after she gave birth to her second child (they are about 5 years apart in age), she began having issues with garlic again!

                I know that was off point of the main post though, but I do know a lot of women who become sensitive to smells while pregnant, and morning sickness does not help. And better ventilation probably wouldn’t be enough for them!

            2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              Yeah, cigarette smoke gets me to the point that I keep conversations with known smokers short. It really clings to skin and clothing, to the extent that I can often smell it while talking to someone outside in the fresh air when they are not smoking and have not recently smoked.

          2. Observer*

            I’m not making any assumptions. I’m making the point that it’s better to look at other, broader and less individually invasive issues as a starting point.

            Once that’s done, you can look at who is still having issues and deal with it.

            So, if we have good airflow and you come to me and tell me that my scent is triggering you, I will DEFINITELY change what I’m wearing if I can. But if I know that the HVAC system is not working well (and is fixable) getting that resolved is going to be my first (but not necessarily last) step.

        2. Wants Green Things*

          The difference of a good ventilation system is me either getting a migraine in 5 minutes or 30 minutes after exposure – but either way, I’m getting a migraine. And someone who thinks smelling *shampoo* from a few feet awau is seriously downplaying just how strong the scent is. There’s not a vent system in the world that can compensate for that.

          1. Observer*

            Well, if it gets you 30 minutes, a 5 minute meeting won’t be a problem. And the OP says that their meetings tend to be 5-10 minutes.

            And that assumes – with no evidence – that Jane actually does have some sort of actual scent sensitivity.

        3. Lydia*

          Total non-sequitur to follow: It’s interesting that you mention good ventilation. I wonder how many complaints of strong scents will go away because of updates to ventilation brought about by COVID.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            As far as I can tell, very few places have actually upgraded their ventilation. But the consequences of that are a whole other health and safety rant, but that rant includes things like sick building syndrome, indoor air pollution and environmental sensitivities, as well as Covid and other airborne illnesses.

      2. Luna*

        To me, it sounds like Jane has no idea that the scent comes from OP’s shampoo that is needed to care for their now-very-curly hair, and thinks it’s just a body lotion or perfume. If she were told it’s a shampoo that’s necessary, then she might be a bit more tolerant.

        Though in a similar way, I only recently really heard that there are different ways to ‘care’ for different types of hair. I know all the shampoo I looked at has said stuff like “for normal hair” or “for hair that gets greasy fast”, but most of the time I barely noticed a difference or figured it was a menial thing.

    2. allathian*

      I think that the biggest problem is that there are so few truly scent-free, rather than just unscented, products available. Someone with a reactive airway can get a reaction from the basic ingredient of a product, rather than an added scent.

      I actively dislike most perfume smells, but Chanel n:o 5 is guaranteed to give me a migraine, I have no idea why. The trouble with perfume is that most people who wear any at all tend to wear too much of it for my nose to handle. Never mind those who also use scented soap or antiperspirant that clashes with the perfume. Thankfully, I’ve never run across anyone who uses perfume for its original purpose, to disguise the rancid smell of unwashed humans… That would be the worst.

      So I’m happy that our office is scent free, even if it means that I can’t use my favorite hand cream at work because it has a fairly strong, but to my nose very pleasant, scent. That said, I do use salon shampoo, and nobody’s ever said that it smells too strong for them, or for our scent-free policy.

      1. philmar*

        I use perfume to disguise the rancid smell of OTHER unwashed humans. I have often worked in an environment where, either due to the nature of their job or their own lack of personal hygiene, the people around me stank, and knowing I would have to be in close quarters with them, at least I can smell my own wrists.

            1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              Now that is a scent that can actually really get to me. Not sure why, because I like it in food, but vanilla scented candles or products definitely trigger a migraine (not my RAD so much though).

              1. Curmudgeon in California*

                Artificial vanilla scent is awful, and makes me choke. Actual vanilla doesn’t bother me at all. The fake scents, IMO, are worse than the real thing in most cases. I hate any scent in a candle besides natural beeswax or mulberry.

    3. Danish*

      Nah. I can follow people from half a block away outside if they wear any kind of scent. Some people do actually just have uncommonly, inconveniently strong sense of smell.

      1. Jackalope*

        I’ve had to stop using almost everything scented for allergy reasons. I’d previously thought I was mostly using unscented products, but now that I’ve really cut them out, it’s astonishing just how much I notice if people around me are wearing something scented. And it’s so common for people constantly surrounded by scented products to assume that whatever scent they’re wearing doesn’t travel or hang around, when it really does. (Not to say that this is the case for the OP, but it is for many people.)

        1. Danish*

          I dont use scented things for similar reasons (thankfully just skin sensitivity and not headaches/allergies) and it IS remarkable how much body products smell! I fully believe most people dont realize and dont blame them for that – but its definitely extremely noticeable.

        2. Lizcase*

          You’re so right. I’ve had to go as scent free as possible to handle migraines and asthma and I notice smells almost no one else does.

          The bane of my existence is laundry detergent, fabric softeners and scented dryer sheets. Especially the ones that are long lasting.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            This this this. Why would anyone want their laundry to smell for “up to 12 weeks”?

            1. Wants Green Things*

              Winter/summer storage, maybe, keep things from smelling musty. It’s just masking the smell.

              Also the laundry aisle at the store is the bane of my existence.

            2. Starbuck*

              In case you actually are curious – if you’re washing something like a jacket or sweatshirt that doesn’t need cleaning after every wear, and you want it to keep smelling nice/’freshly washed’ until you do launder it again – well, there you go.

          2. Curmudgeon in California*

            This. I get rashes from scented laundry products and body care products, as well as having trouble breathing around them. I can end up with a headache or a coughing fit if I accidentally go down the laundry detergent aisle in the grocery store. I end up itching within hours if my clothing is washed or dried with scented stuff.

            My neighbors are in a small apartment complex, with a laundry room. Some days the smell of laundry stuff is so strong I can smell it inside my house with the windows closed.

      2. Old Cynic*

        I can follow people on the street and tell you if they use Downey, Suave, or Bounce.

        I’ve had colleagues that I couldn’t bear to be around much because fabric softeners make me nauseas. But I also didn’t make an issue of it. I just dealt with it and limited exposure. It didn’t cause migraines or anything, but I also didn’t want to use their wastebasket for my stomach contents.

      3. J*

        My mother-in-law has land on acreage. She was out mowing her giant lawn on a big loud riding lawn mower with headphones, smelled my almond-based hair product and knew I was at her house even though she couldn’t see me or my car or hear me. I was nowhere near her but she’s that good, even with the smell of fresh cut grass on top of it. Thankfully she always says it smells lovely because I’m not changing it. I grew up in a family with 2 brothers with anosmia and I have hyposmia (all pre-Covid, we just have weird smell issues) so I have no understanding of how she does it.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      On the flip side, I think scent-free/unscented policies are a great idea because, if someone CANNOT give up their scented product, they can seek an exception or accommodation for it. If it doesn’t rise to that level, it’s not really a “cannot”, it’s a “doesn’t want to” or “would be supremely inconvenient”.

      I did not fully appreciate how scents can affect people who are sensitive to or allergic to them until I met my spouse. While overall very healthy, he has a keenly tuned sense of smell and will go straight to migraine if in a closed space with or in close proximity to certain scents. I don’t even notice some scents that affect him poorly. Trying to find a disinfectant that doesn’t trigger his scent reaction has been a real challenge.

      1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        Yeah, I was thinking this was really a great example of why most workplaces should be scent-free. Bonus that more companies would make scent-free versions of their products!

      2. Bunny Girl*

        I don’t think that’s really fair to say someone who isn’t willing to switch products just “really doesn’t want to” or “thinks it’s inconvenient.” Scent free products can cost significantly more than your average products and that’s not in people’s budgets. I can understand asking people not to use scented lotion or perfumes before coming into the office but I draw the line at items like shampoo.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          If your shampoo gives me a migraine because we are in an open plan and I can’t work from home, then you may have to change your shampoo. Even if it’s more expensive to buy fragrance free. It’s really expensive to the company if I can’t work, or sue them for not providing me a place where I can breathe properly and not get migraines to work.

          1. Starbuck*

            Yes, but I wish there was a way for that expense to stay with the employer, not the employee. Honestly, if I were told I’d have to switch my lotion, shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, deodorant, and whatever else to a more expensive version for work reasons – fine, I do want to keep my job and not cause anyone medical distress – but I’d be submitting my receipts for reimbursement.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            It’s not even that complicated. There are plenty of bargain shampoos that do not smell like you dumped a vat of perfume on your head. HR is not coming to your house to make sure the bottle says “fancy, organic, fair-trade, fragrance-free shampoo”. At minimum, generic baby shampoo typically has an unscented variety. I live with someone who is incredibly sensitive to smell and prefers the Dollar General price range for most toiletries.

            (PSA: Kirkland shampoo at Costco does not meet the requirement. We got this for our kids, and ended up giving it away because my spouse could not be in the same room with them after they used it. It is strongly scented.)

        2. Starbuck*

          I wish there was a better option – I agree that everyone with scent sensitivities / related medical issues should have those accommodated so they can work comfortably – but the cost to do that should really be on the employer, not fellow employees. Changing what you do *in* the workplace – totally fine, very reasonable. Don’t wear perfume to work, don’t apply scented hand lotion at work, etc. But changing what someone can use at home and/or increasing people’s bills does feel like it’s crossing a line. That doesn’t mean I can think of a better solution, unfortunately.

    5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I have to agree with RAD about the limitations of good ventilation. I also have reactive airway disease, but I can be somewhere very ventilated and certain smells just stick to people. The most obvious one is cigarette smoke, but there are others.

      That said, other than people wearing perfume, people using air fresheners, smokers, and people microwaving fish at work, I have never had to deal with any issues at work, and most people I work with do none of these things. We do prohibit perfume and air fresheners though. And the whole of society should prohibit microwaving fish anywhere outside your own personal residence (and even that should require the permission of everyone else living there)!!! lol

  6. learnedthehardway*

    LW#1 – while Jane’s approach is possibly a power play (which is just downright weird), and while she’s being less than stellar about how she’s reacting, I think you should at least find out whether the shampoo you use comes in an unscented variety.

    Jane might be annoying, but she might also have a genuine issue with fragrances.

    (Speaking as someone who studiously avoids all scented products, as a lot give me migraines).

    1. My+Useless+2+Cents*

      Why is everyone saying Jane is unprofessional or annoying? Because she wrinkles her nose? You know what, I smell a dead mouse, I’m gonna wrinkle my nose and possibly wave my hand in front of my face to disperse the smell. And yes, that cheap rose scented perfume smells like dead mouse to me. As for everyone saying that it’s shampoo not perfume, um, no. It is perfume in the shampoo but it is still perfume.

      1. biobotb*

        You don’t think it’s unprofessional to give your colleagues “you gross me out” signals? Wow.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            It is not unprofessional to use your choice of hygiene products, especially without any way of knowing in advance that someone else might not like the smell. It is unprofessional to use overly dramatic and histrionic reactions to tell a colleague you do not like the smell!

            1. My+Useless+2+Cents*

              So it’s unprofessional to have an involuntary disgust reaction to a smell that is causing you to be physically ill but okay to ignore a coworkers discomfort because you don’t *KNOW* if it’s an actual physical response or if coworker just *doesn’t like it*. Should I feed my nephew peas? I mean I don’t have a MD and I haven’t seen the actual test result, so maybe the hives are just a overly dramatic and histrionic reaction.

              1. ADidgeridooForYou*

                I think there’s a difference between your nephew – presumably a small child – and a person in a workplace. Waving your hand in front of your nose when you see someone is not involuntary, and it’s downright rude. I can maybe forgive the nose wrinkling once, but given that Jane is okay with saying “go easy on the perfume,” she probably has the ability to tell LW why she feels the way she does and talk to her like an adult. At the moment she’s just being passive aggressive, which doesn’t help the problem at all.

              2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

                You weren’t describing an involuntary reaction. You were describing a highly deliberate passive aggressive reaction intended to shame the person (though likely anyone seeing you would be more disgusted with you for the display).

              3. Lydia*

                You’re creating fiction from your biases about this. Jane has given no indication that she is “physically ill” from the smell of OP’s shampoo. It’s best if we don’t embellish what we know.

          2. JustaTech*

            But Jane hasn’t said that the scent makes her ill. All she has said is that she doesn’t like the smell.

            If the smell *is* making her ill, then she needs to state that plainly to LW1 because it changes the situation and the advice. (advice like opening a window, meeting in a larger space, or maybe trying to find a less-strongly-scented shampoo).

            I hate the smell of ripe bananas, but I don’t tell my coworkers they can’t eat them, I just ask them to throw out the peels in the closed compost bin the kitchen (20 feet or less from our desks). I had an issue and I offered a specific, low effort solution. Jane hasn’t been specific about her issue and hasn’t offered any specific solution other than “wear less perfume”.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yes, Jane’s using what OP describes as dramatic gestures to express herself rather than words is a problem, as her direction to OP to “lay off the perfume”.

        The professional way to handle this is to name the problem and seek to find a mutually-agreeable solution to it. Jane could have let OP know that she’s noticed a perfume-y scent when they meeting that’s triggering her scent sensitivities (assuming she’s either not got a medical issue or prefers not to share it), and would it be possible on the days they are scheduled to meet for OP not to wear whatever it is or have their meetings in a well-ventilated/outdoor area or to meet virtually/by phone.

        Had she approached it more professionally, I think OP would feel less like she’s being judged and told to do something versus working with a colleague to meet both of their needs.

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        If you would be that obvious about it, wrinkling your nose and waving your hands openly whenever a colleague walks by, yes, it would be unprofessional. And rude. An involuntary reaction of wrinkling the nose discreetly one time might be understandable, but that’s about it!

    2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I would at least confirm whether she is having a reaction or just doesn’t like it. Because their interaction is so limited really that I do not think OP should trouble herself if Jane just doesn’t like it. If they shared an office or had cubicles right next to each other or just had to be around each other a lot of the time, it might be reasonable to accommodate Jane just for her dislike of the scent, but I wouldn’t bother in this context unless there is a medical reason.

  7. Jujyfruits*

    So many of my meetings have “ran over” because I was occupied on the bathroom. Most people are understanding if you apologize briefly and move on. “Sorry my last meeting ran over. Let’s talk about (meeting topic)”

    1. John Smith*

      Yeah, mostly. My manager would be asking who was chairing the meeting. Is there some systemic reason why they run over. Did I raise this at the meeting etc etc (which is ironic given that his 1 hour meetings tend to last 3 hours plus).

      I think “Sorry, something disagreed with me” or some similar comment Alison suggests is more suitable than a late meeting. If a manager were to find out that there was no meeting, it would bring OPs honesty into question.

      1. CheeryO*

        Agreed, I don’t love that excuse unless you’re <5 minutes late (in which case I don't think an explanation is really needed). I would also prefer to know ahead of time rather than sitting there wondering where you are and if you forgot about our meeting.

    2. FinTech Dev Manager*

      I tend to use the phrase “Sorry, my last call ran over a little” – most people just accept that.

      When I have back-to-back meetings with the same people, I’ll often say “Just going to grab some water, might be a minute late to the next one,” and I’ll try to end the first meeting with 5 minutes to spare to allow everyone a comfort break (and I’ll say that too).

      I rarely get asked for more details about the call that ran over – but if I do, I’ll put a sheepish grin on my face and say “actually [boss] it was a call of nature, and I was trying to be discrete” – I’ve only ever had to say that to one person, and he never asked the question again.

    3. one L lana*

      Mine is either “Have to step away for a moment” (if I’m pushing something back) or “Something came up that I had to deal with.”

  8. JSPA*

    I belive sending her to do the obvious thing (or back off) is the point.

    Plus it’s possible Jane has been to HR, and HR said, “have you asked OP to stop wearing the perfume?” If so, OP does not want it to go back to HR as, “I asked her and she refused.”

    I’m unclear on whether an extra 30 seconds of rinsing (or 25% less shampoo, or both) might fix the issue to everyone’s satisfaction, though.

    1. WellRed*

      Good point! This doesn’t have to go immediately to all or nothing without trying some workarounds.

  9. Paul*

    Ughhhh. One of the toughest things I had to try and mediate as a union rep was a dispute between two employees, both bargaining unit members, where one used a very distinctive type of patchouli oil and the other complained about the smell.

    Complicating it was that they’d had some personal run-ins recently… sigh. Those were the days.

    1. Everything Bagel*

      Patchouli is some of the worst smelling stuff I’ve ever encountered. It would become a major issue if someone was wearing it to work next to me everyday. I might just have to quit if they didn’t stop wearing it. Even outdoors I can’t be near someone who’s wearing a lot of it. I once was at an outdoor restaurant and a woman about 10 ft away from me smelled like she doused herself in it and I could barely eat my food because the scent was so overpowering. It’s not that I have an allergy though, I think I just don’t like it. Sorry, patchouli wearers!

      1. I should be working*

        There’s no such thing as a little patchouli. The tiniest amount provides a strong scent, so if anyone were to apply it as they would a regular perfume… woof. And I love patchouli.

        Someone above mentioned using less shampoo or rinsing longer. I have a medicated shampoo I use from time to time. It contains coal-tar. No matter what I do (including following it with a round of “normal” shampoo) my head is going to stink of coal tar for at least a full day. Perhaps it’s a comfort to others that I’m suffering with the stink along with them!

    2. Meowsy*

      Oof, patchouli. The former occupants of my house kept theirs in a kitchen cupboard where we keep our vitamins and it took years before the smell finally wore off. Every time you opened the door.

    3. Generic+Name*

      So, what was the solution? I actually do like the smell of patchouli, but I never actually wear it, but even to me the obvious solution is to not wear patchouli oil.

  10. Sunshine soup*

    LW 2: I use the phrase “I had an urgent matter come up I needed to take care of.” This can cover many situations, and is both vague and accurate enough that most people can think of a time when they’ve been in that boat. It could be anything such as getting an urgent customer call, having the plumber arrive, or having to sign for deliveries.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I like that. It also covers things like “my cat is about to throw up all over the couch” and “I had a wardrobe malfunction”.

      1. JustaTech*

        Which is certainly better than the “oop, gotta go, the cat’s throwing up” or worse, when my coworker left her mic live so we all got to hear her poor dog be sick.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          My cats make this weird warbling sound just before hacking up a hairball/vomiting, so I know I have 10 seconds to grab the cat and move them onto tile before they make a large mess on the furniture/carpet. Unless I’m in the middle of presenting, I gotta go right now.

  11. Ellen N.*

    I am unusually sensitive to scents; I gag when my neighbors use scented laundry detergent and I’ve choked when opening mail sent by a heavy smoker.

    My reflexes of making faces and gagging around scents are reflexes; they aren’t passive-aggressive. Using my hand as a fan helps to dissipate the scent; again not passive-aggressive.

    The obvious solution would be to have Jane not need to enter the original poster’s office. If Jane is getting things from the office perhaps someone else could bring them to Jane.

    If Jane and the original poster need to communicate they can do so via telephone.

    1. Jackalope*

      In addition to this, I would like to add another solution that might help. One of the things I’ve learned in the last 2 1/2 years is that wearing masks reduces scent intake a lot. This is one of my favorite side effects of masking, as someone else who is sensitive to scents. If Jane wore a mask while talking to the OP, possibly combined with the conversation happening outside their offices, perhaps in a conference room (so that Jane isn’t going into OP’s office which will probably have more of the shampoo scent, and OP isn’t bringing it into Jane’s office where Jane can’t escape it if it lingers after OP leaves) for maximum effect, I’m guessing that would help a great deal.

      1. Luna*

        I agree with this! In Summer, people near my home seem to like to grill. Fine for them, but whatever it is, there is a scent there that is horrendous to my nostrils. It burns, it gives me a headache, and I get nauseated. If it gets into my room, I have to leave my door open and hope it dissipates after a while. But wearing a mask, especially an FFP2/N95 mask, helped a lot! I can be in my room and barely notice the scent, so I don’t feel banished from my room until the smell is gone. (The mask is also really helpful to wear when cleaning, it doesn’t trigger my dust allergy in my lungs as badly. Now I need to find goggles to wear over my eyes for cleaning to keep them safe.)

        1. SarahKay*

          If not goggles, how about sunglasses with a large frame? Or even wrap-around sunglasses?
          As someone who suffers from hayfever (with an allergy specific to actual grass / hay pollen, not flowers or trees), I found a mask plus generous-sized sun-glasses did an amazing job of reducing pollen exposure when mowing my lawn-left-uncut-for-too-long-and-beginning-to-resemble-a-hayfield.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yes, same, a mask has helped me so much in that regard. That could be a good suggestion for OP to give Jane.

          Luna, I bought some inexpensive safety goggles online so my eyes don’t water when I’m making homemade mustard and started wearing them while cleaning, too. I think they were around $10 or less and they seem to work pretty well for that purpose.

        3. JustaTech*

          Goggle suggestions: lab supply companies sell goggles for people who work in labs with splash risk (and for school chemistry labs).
          You could also try “onion goggles” (supposed to keep your eyes from watering when you cut onions) or non-tinted ski goggles (more comfortable than swim goggles).

      2. Danish*

        Yes! I have started to wear my mask inside when i clean the catbox or tend to the compost as well. A great unexpected benefit of masking.

      3. WS*

        Same! I have unfortunate smell sensitivity leading to migraines (though the worst thing is pipe smoke and I honestly don’t know if there’s any pipe smokers left!) and wearing a mask every time I leave the house has hugely reduced my reaction.

      4. Generic+Name*

        This is a great idea! I have a coworker who is very scent sensitive, and even pre-pandemic she would wear a mask to church to filter out all the perfume.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I’ve found that even an N95 mask doesn’t filter out enough perfume.

          Yes, I could wear an elastomeric respirator with organic vapor cartridges, that would handle fragrances, since they are volatile organic compounds.

    2. Clisby*

      This seems like the obvious, easy solution to me. I haven’t seen where the OP has explained why they can’t just stay out of each other’s offices. If their contacts are typically 5-10 minutes, they can’t be doing any deep-dive collaboration. Just pick up the phone, already.

    3. EmbracesTrees*

      Agreed. My kiddo’s friend’s family uses *highly* scented laundry products, which, imo STINK. Honestly, it’s so strong that even in the cold weather, I have to put the fan on in the car if we’re driving the kids someplace, because it gives me a headache.

      I guess people think it smells nice, or are super concerned about BO? I just don’t know, but I so wish people would use subtler scents. Other people generally don’t want to smell you! =)

  12. SoSueMe*

    On Zoom meetings, I’ve used “I have an urgent call I have to take; I’ll be right back.” Then muted and turned off my camera.

  13. Dawn*

    LW2: Have you considered the phrase “I’m dealing with a minor personal emergency and may be briefly delayed this morning”?

    1. JustKnope*

      “Personal emergency” sounds much more dire than is warranted! If someone said that to me I’d be offering to cancel the meeting and be worried about them.

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        I just say I need a bio break. It’s vague enough but also specific enough that there’s not going to be follow up questions. Everyone who’s in meetings all day knows sometimes you need a few minutes and that it can spring up quickly.

        1. Trotwood*

          If I’m going to be late for a meeting, I usually go with something along the lines of “I need to step into the restroom quickly, I’ll be there soon”…I don’t think that’s sharing too many unpleasant details and it conveys that it’s not anything to be alarmed about.

          On the other hand, I worked for a professor in college who would routinely email us “I have horrible diarrhea so I have to cancel our meeting”…I’d recommend against that tactic. I wonder what he’d think knowing that’s my most enduring memory of him ten years later.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I will sometimes be in the middle of a meeting and have to run to the bathroom urgently due to an impending explosion of diarrhea. My go to is “I really have to step away for a few minutes.” I have IBS, it’s frequent.

      2. Moose*

        Agreed. I think even a “minor personal emergency” would unnecessarily worry my coworkers/boss, prompt follow-up questions about whether I was okay, etc.

    2. Office Lobster DJ*

      I’m not sure I’d throw around “personal emergency” in this case, but I do think there’s room for a vague “So sorry, I’m dealing with something and may be briefly delayed” or “Sorry I’m a bit late, something came up.”

      In the case of a video meeting, there may be room for logging on and then sending a brief “Need to step away. Back in a minute!”

  14. Luna*

    I will say that I have a very sensitive nose, so what might be ‘light perfume’ scent for some people, it can give me sneeze attacks or headaches. But if you mention it’s your shampoo and not a perfume, the latter I consider a not ‘necessary’ thing to use, I will tolerate it. Especially if you don’t work close next to each other all day or only for short periods.

    On a semi-related, but also off-topic note, I wish a lot more products would be scent-free. I’ve switched my laundry stuff because that is now as good as scent-free (and not too expensive), so I can wash my laundry and hang it up, without getting knocked out by the heavy perfume smell coming off of it.

    1. WellRed*

      Yeah I don’t think op is doing herself any favors by ignoring this. Time to find out how much of an issue it is and go from there.

  15. Elsa*

    Lw1 as one who is oversensitive towards scents and a cgm user there are many scent-less shampoos/conditioner/gels. I get not wanting to switch a working routine but you might want to start looking if your office bans all strong scents.

  16. Despachito*

    OP1 – Jane definitely did not handle it well, but what can it look like from her perspective?

    She smells something that is unpleasant for her, and probably thinks OP is using too much perfume (which can be easily toned down).

    Problems related to personal hygiene/grooming are always very difficult conversations to have and to keep matter-of-fact, because there is a risk of the person taking them personally. I assume no one comes lightly to a coworker saying “your smell annoys me, do something about it”.

    This said, I think a honest conversation (“I recognize this scent is a problem for you but is not a perfume, it is a shampoo and the only one working for me so it would not be easy for me to change it. Can we think of other solutions that would work for both of us?”) would be the best solution if Jane is reasonable, but is she? (And for me personally, I don’t know whether I’d be able to remain that professional if Jane was so passive-aggressive about it)

  17. Keymaster*

    OP1: I had (have?) a similar situation with a coworker in a department that works closely with mine who really objected to two smells on me: my hair conditioner and incense (I burn it at home, it’s part of my beliefs).

    For the incense on the clothes, I keep two sets of work clothing in the car that haven’t been near the smell and change into those at work.

    But for the smells on my hair – either I washed my hair every day and she complained about the conditioner or I didn’t and she complained about the incense trace.

    So, we worked out a way of working that means her and I don’t need to be in the same (small and badly ventilated) room. Because I couldn’t change my hair stuff and frankly with frizzy hair I’m not washing it every day.

    Decisions are discussed via email, any meetings we both attend have to be either over Teams or in large meeting rooms with good air. There’s an understanding that yes, my smell will cause her problems and that I can’t change it so we’re going to do everything possible to make sure she isn’t subjected to it for long.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      That sounds like a really thoughtful arrangement that involved cooperation on both sides, some actual meaningful effort on the employer’s side to genuinely accommodate both parties, and effort by all parties to consider the needs of the others.

      1. Keymaster*

        I really was lucky that she actually listened when HR suggested the accommodations. I honestly thought I was going to be told to stop burning incense at home or told to get different hair stuff.

        (Mine smells a lot like almond oil I confess, but I have been through literally everything to try and find what works on my extremely frizzy and curly hair. And that includes unscented stuff)

  18. Danish*

    As someone whose roommate also uses CGM i think it just… Smells very strongly. I can usually smell her shampoo for about an hour after her morning shower, even though a) we live on opposite sides of the house and 2) she always dries and styles her hair before she even opens her door. And it is an umpleasant smell – cloying and chemically, i can absolutely see how it would give someone a headache.

    That said, I get why LW isnt exactly leaping to be accomodating to Jane – the wrinkled nose you could say is reflexive, but waving your hand in front of your face is pretty rude in any scenario (the only time i can see getting away with that is if you were also like, “im so sorry, im very sensitive to smells and i think youre wearing something thats setting me off, im not trying to say you stink!” but even then… There are better ways to handle it).

    Anyway, i like Allison’s suggestion because if it is a legit issue Jane will (hopefully?) probably take LW up on the suggestions to meet in better ventilated areas. If she’s just being a pill, well, changing the locatipn you meet is just enough extra effort that if shes not actually suffering she probably wont bother, and LW will have made the effort.

    1. Danish*

      — not relevant at all to the actual point of my comment but I feel compelled to add that my roommate is not blow drying her hair lol! That would defeat the purpose of doing anything else for it, curly-hair wise.

      1. Oryx*

        I’m assuming you mean she’s not blowing out her hair, aka straightening it. Plenty of curly folks use blow driers. They make diffusers for driers specifically for that reason.

        1. Danish*

          Fair enough! Ive lived with her long enough that the effect a hair dryer of any type has on her hair is like a running joke, but true, that’s not universal for curly hair

    2. bamcheeks*

      There’s usually quite a lot of post-wash product involved in CGM — leave-in conditioner AND gel AND curl cream etc– and half the TikTok/Reels are about how you need to use more than you think. IME the shampoos tend to be quite mild because they’re this-free and that-free, and it’s the Everything Else which is a lot.

    3. Workin' for the Weekend*

      My husband does CGM and I agree, I think his products are pretty strongly scented – because it’s coconut, cocoa butter and shea butter – which are all scents I strongly dislike. That said… we have searched and searched different products and very few products seem to work for him. So we’re back to the stuff I don’t like the smell of, with a bin of products that have been used 1-2 times, probably totaling over $100 in products. It’s so frustratingly wasteful. And he does minimal work – just a cowash and leave-in conditioner, no gels, no oils, nothing else. So if OP1 says there’s nothing else that works for her hair, I believe it (which also likely takes into account things like price point and easily available).

      Curly hair is a world I never knew – I have super straight hair that does nothing but hangs straight and shiny, regardless of whatever product I use (which is usually selected solely based on scent).

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        On this note, I really wish more cosmetic companies would offer trial sizes of their products so we’re not stuck spending giant piles of money on products that don’t suit our needs.

    4. biobotb*

      Your roommate just uses strongly scented products. There are plenty of products aimed at straight hair that are also strongly scented (and some that are unscented that are made for curly hair). It’s not the method that’s strongly scented.

  19. Cohen*

    Regarding the 4th point; does the manager display clear signs of favouritism in the workplace; for example giving the ‘best’ projects to the people that she knows best, friends are promoted over you etc.. If that is the case, then you need to be looking for other jobs.

    Unfortunately, especially on a social level, managers will always have favourites. I think that when that favouritism creeps into the office; then it will always make your life incredibly difficult because you are not seen as an equal to your favoured colleague (s).

    1. JustaTech*

      One thing I’ve always really respected about my boss (even though I thought it was weird initially) is that he always eats lunch alone, unless it’s a whole group going out to lunch thing. Part of this is that he eats a lot earlier than my group, but part of it is also a conscious decision to let us have some time to relax without him around.

      But for that to work to boss needs to be pretty strict that it’s either no one from the group or everyone, otherwise you’re right about the favoritism.

  20. Bread Addict*

    As both a curly girl and an asthmatic. I understand the feeling of getting your holy grail products that just work. But the need to breathe trumps that.

    The product you are using is obviously strongly scented or people wouldnt be able to smell it hours later or while in your office. It is possible its a power play but its also possible that the hand waving was to clear the perfume away and was trying to signal to you its an issue. When that didnt work she did the adult thing of asking you to stop wearing perfume. Thats what people normally assume the smell is.

    Would you rather she went straight to HR to complain rather than talking to you about it? Most people would prefer a colleague said something to them directly. The archive is full of people complaining about not knowing who talked to their boss/HR.

    I get that its your holy grail but if you google product name less scented alternative CGM or something like that it should help you find blogs or reddit or forums where other people using CGM will be discussing it. They might have ideas to try all the same.

    As annoying as having to change it might be its not really fair to subject colleagues and others to scent issues just because it makes our curls look better. And she might not be the only one, its possible others have issue with it. I am sure you visit other places like grocery stores, shops, etc.

    Its also not okay to ignore a request from a colleague just because you dont like them.

    1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

      Heh, you’re a combination of me and my housemate. And you have an excellent perspective on this issue, excellently worded.

  21. bamcheeks*

    LW4, I am slightly confused by what “avoiding talking about anything to do with the gathering” means (how much talking is there to do about one lunch you had together? I am struggling to imagine it coming up so often you’ve noticed a clear pattern of evasion!) but is there any chance that she’s been spoken to about the pattern of only having lunch with the reports that she “likes” and she’s interpreted it to mean “don’t have lunch with any of your reports and if you do, pretend you didn’t”?

    1. WellRed*

      I was confused by that and the letter in general. She’s “more than mediocre”? As a boss? But she’s also very likeable. Did they overshare during the meal and now boss is trying to dial it back?

      1. Vinessa*

        Yeah, I feel like there’s context or something missing from that letter. I don’t really understand how the LW feels about their boss or what kind of relationship they’re looking for with her.

        Maybe the LW is an ESL speaker, and something is getting lost in translation?

      2. LB*

        I interpreted that as attempting to say “better than mediocre”, as in a notch above mediocre and below great. But it definitely reads as opposite with the wording!

    2. yala*

      That sounds plausible.

      Though from experience, it’s pretty hard to get someone spoken to about that, since it can often come across as hurty-feelings more than, y’know. Job stuff. It affects job stuff, but in a nebulous way.

      (may say this as someone who’s boss frequently takes meals with only some of her reports. our previous boss had a strict “no meals with reports unless all reports are invited” rule)

    3. MsSolo UK*

      There’s a vibe that makes me think you might be on the money with your last sentence. Maybe there’s a specific employee who’s kicked up a fuss about manager having lunch with other employees in the past, or she’s been warned not to show favouritism and is making a big deal about keeping social lunches a secret to demonstrate that she’s following the rules without giving up her existing friendships (with some of the other details, I’m leaning slightly towards having been warned and following the letter of the rules rather than the spirit).

      1. londonedit*

        I also found it a bit confusing but I think this is probably the most likely explanation – the boss is doing some sort of ‘Lunch? What lunch?’ nudge-nudge, wink-wink thing because she’s been told not to leave people out of lunches and gatherings in the past.

      2. yala*

        Honestly, I’m kind of confused about everything here. Why try to get the manager for a solo social lunch?

    4. Koalafied*

      I was also a little thrown by the note that the manager won’t talk about topics related to the meal “even when not at work.” The front half of the letter made it sound like LW was not among the select few friends that the boss will go to lunch with, hence, “I somehow managed to initiate a one-on-one gathering at a restaurant with her, and she did agree to come.”

      So if the LW isn’t one of the friends that the manager regularly does have lunch with, in what context are they interacting outside of work? And if they do other things outside of work, does that mean the manager really just has an oddly rigid idea about specifically and only lunch/meals, but not about other socializing that doesn’t take place over a meal?

    5. mlem*

      I too was confused about just how often there’s a need to talk about one lunch gathering. Then again, I do know people whose method of connection is to rehash shared experiences every. single. conversation. so that’s where my brain goes.

  22. Gnome*

    OP1, there are already lots of great comments. I’ll just add that you can try a confused, “I don’t wear perfume?” and see if that draws out a real issue. like, if she goes, “I’m smelling something that’s giving me a headache” that’s one thing, but if she doubles down, that’s another. not that this really helps, but it might give you an idea if this is a power play or just poor handling of an actual issue.

    if it’s an actual issue, try maybe rinsing a little longer or using a little less. I’m not a curly girl, but my kiddo is, so I’m familiar with it. even as a non-curly, I’d get annoyed at being obliquely pressured to change my shampoo! and that’s what this comes down to- you are being pressured to do something because some one else doesn’t like it (that is how the pressure is coming across, regardless of whether she is actually having a serious medical issues or not). there is no way that doesn’t suck.

  23. FashionablyEvil*

    #2–just please don’t be like my former employee who informed me that she was late to our 1:1 “due to gastrointestinal distress.”

    (Then again, she also told a colleague she was late to a meeting because she went out to her garden to read a document and fell asleep. She was not known for her restraint/discretion.)

    1. Purple Cat*

      I take your point on the second anecdote, but I don’t have an issue with the first one. I’m less formal so I’d just say “unexpected stomach issues”

    2. Koalafied*

      Huh, I’ve heard people refer to having “GI distress” before and I hear it with pretty much the same meaning as “stomach upset,” just slightly more medicalized, the way some people might say “contact allergy” instead of “skin rash.” If anything the more medical terms read to me as more dispassionate and less graphic.

      1. Sylvan*

        I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t really want that much of an explanation from someone at work. I’d rather just hear they had to go deal with something, but they’re ready to talk now.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, I might refer to an “urgent bio break”, but if people tried to stop me I would rapidly get into TMI territory. (Some folks will do the “just one more thing…” when you have to go now!) Fortunately no one pushes it with me at my current gig.

      2. FashionablyEvil*

        Oh, that’s funny—I definitely heard it as a euphemism for diarrhea which I 100% do not want to hear mentioned at work.

        (The employee in general was a TMI sort—I also knew waaaaay more about her husband’s health issues than I ever wanted to. I tried to focus on the “Jane’s husband is ill; make appropriately sympathetic comments and block out ALL MEMORIES of the details.”)

        1. Bubba*

          I also think of GI distress as either a euphamism for diarrhea or constipation and I agree I’d not want to hear about that at work. I had a co-worker who was like that as well, except she was sharing details of her kid. Every time little Johnny came down with something I had to hear all about his various bodily functions and she didn’t even bother to use euphamisms. I swore when I had kids I would never subject my co workers to those stories, nor would I violate my kid’s privacy that way. So far I’ve managed to stick to it.

    3. Salsa Verde*

      Gastrointestinal distress does not seem like TMI at all to me. Like Koalified, the more medical terminology sort of takes it to a dispassionate level.

    4. CheeryO*

      Interesting, as a manager, I’d much rather people be direct like this! “GI issues” is not TMI to me. If you’re super late to a 1:1 without an actual explanation, I’m going to be worried about your time management skills.

    5. UsuallyLurks*

      Oh, interesting. I think this varies really widely depending on the people involved. I’m in the camp of “GI distress” being clinical and not TMI; but then I also have a relationship with my supervisor where I have said “I’m sorry, my guts are rebelling, I am going to need to take a break for awhile” and that seemed fine.

    6. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I tell my boss that I had an IBS issue, but a) just her, not others, and b) we have that relationship

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        When I say we have that relationship, I mean we have a forthright relationship, and in my job, you cannot be very squeamish about healthcare things. That does not mean that I tell her details of my IBS. She is simply aware of it and that it can impact me unexpectedly.

  24. JK78*

    I had a boss who was VERY sensitive to smells, who retired now and I still have more unscented products than scented left. My co-worker actually brought a new hair product IN to be sniff-approved by the boss. The boss said it was mild enough so when they worked together for three hours daily, it would be fine.

    The other smell story I remember from years ago was the customer who complained the cashier smelled too much of perfume. So the supervisor and I made a point of going up and essentially “sniffing” the cashier and we talked for a bit and the customer was pleased that the issue had been addressed. The customer then went to the other counter and bought cigarettes.

  25. Curly girl who is also highly sensitive to smells*

    I follow the curly girl method. I have one conditioner that I use and that’s it, otherwise my hair looks terrible. But this is not a medical issue. I’m also highly sensitive to smells, both in the sense that I have a very strong sense of smell (not a medical issue) and in the sense that a lot of the scents from perfumes, hygiene products, candles, etc give me headaches and sometimes migraines too (a medical issue).

    So I have sympathy on both sides. But. Only one of these is a medical issue.

    If the scent of your hair product is making your colleague actually ill, you have to stop using it when you are going to be near your colleague.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Not necessarily. First, OP would need to ascertain if Jane is actually going to be ill or if she just dislikes it, because the time they spend nearby each other sounds pretty minimal. If it is just dislike, the plan to meet in a more open and ventilated area when they need to talk or even an agreement to use chat or google meets more for those encounters would be sufficient, and it might even be sufficient if there is a medical issue. There is no reason to believe that OP will have to stop using the shampoo without even looking at other options.

  26. Secret Squirrel*

    Well, I’ve been to see my parents this morning and had to sit outside as my Dad had been using cleaning products downstairs that cause my throat to close up and me not be able to breathe. I’m 46, you think he would have stopped this by now, but he doesn’t believe me. I have every sympathy with a worker who has serious issues with scents/chemicals in the workplace and feel fortunate I’ve never had to address this at work myself. The question is, of course, is Jane suffering a serious issue, or does she *just* not like the scent and I think that is what needs to be established, ideally between you if you can chat about it or by management if you really can’t. A mild dislike rather than health issue should be tolerated as something that arises when people are in close quarters, you can’t control what everyone around you does.

    I’m also curly! And know exactly what you mean about products. I have in fact recently switched to using Only Curls fragrance free range which seems good for me so far, they are a UK company and I’m not sure if they do international sales. The previous brand I was using had a mild scent to it that I didn’t think was affecting me (certainly no not being able to breathe!) but having swapped it is clear that fragrance free is much better for me.

    1. ferrina*

      I react to some cleaning products as well! (thankfully just headaches) My ex-husband wouldn’t believe me, so he’d try to sneakily use the off-limits cleaning products when I wasn’t looking. Like….he thought I wouldn’t notice I had a headache? And I’d inevitably have to avoid that room for a couple hours until the smell dissipated.

      If someone says they have scent sensitivities, believe them. If you can’t/don’t want to accommodate them, have that discussion; don’t pretend like it doesn’t exist.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I will react to scented cleaning products that I can’t even smell due to a stopped up nose! It’s awful to have to live with in a stinkum polluted world.

      2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Yeah, this is like those people who don’t believe in allergies like food allergies, and so they try to slip it into the allergic person’s food. And in some of those cases, the person ends out in anaphylactic shock!

        To anyone who doesn’t believe in other people’s allergies, do not do this, because if you are wrong, it is a crime and potentially a really serious one! Mutter under your breath all you like, but don’t test your theory, because there is about a 99.9% chance that you are wrong!

  27. IndustriousLabRat*

    LW2… In the case of stomach issues, “something came up” may in some cases be quite literal!

    I think “I’m having a bit of indigestion / feeling a bit queasy at the moment, can we postpone for a couple hours?” doesn’t fall into TMI, and it’s truthful, and far from unprofessional. We all have digestive systems and sometimes they just don’t want to behave!

    1. I am not a cat*

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thought that! “Something came up, specifically my breakfast. Well most of it. Can we reschedule tomorrow? No, not for tomorrow. Something else is about to come up and I’m going to have to get back to you later.

      Oh, and I don’t recommend the breakfast special at the diner on Maplewood.”

    2. TrixM*

      Eh, I just feel like it’s too much detail. Not “TMI” in the classic sense – digestive issues happen – but just in the sense that I don’t really need to know any detail at all as to why someone is (momentarily) indisposed.

      “I’m feeling a little unwell and I need to step away for X interval” is perfectly fine for most occasions.

      With close colleagues, sure, I might blame the bad seafood salad, because we’re fairly jocular, but I still wouldn’t really specify what effect the salad is having.

      For people you’re more formal with – and I include the boss in that category despite the otherwise informal team when I’m discussing time away from work – then I feel like a vague allusion to the actual problem area is more than enough info.

      There’s no real problem with being more specific, but I feel like less is more when it comes to health info at work.

  28. Michelle Smith*

    LW2: I think you’re overthinking it, respectfully. I’ve never had a boss not understand or think I was oversharing by saying something like “I had an emergency, my apologies,” or “I am having stomach trouble, I may be late.” I have significant health issues (gyn, GI, joint, etc. etc.) so there’s something going on with me at least once a week. It is what it is.

    1. ferrina*

      This was my take! I’ve had multiple colleagues/direct reports/bosses say “sorry, I need(ed) to run to the bathroom.” It’s a non-issue. Health issues aside, some of the people I work with have so many meetings that they rarely have time for a bio break, and when you need to, you need to.

  29. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    LW1, the fact Jane asked you via email instead of in person makes me think she is trying to make a HR complaint, if she hasn’t already. Which, of course, can backfire spectacularly if HR learns you’re in remission and your hair grew and did a 180° turn.

    1. Elsa*

      So what? Lw1 being a cancer survivor is not a get out of trouble free-card, IF Jane has a medical issue with scents then that goes above any “need” for hair products.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Which, of course, can backfire spectacularly if HR learns you’re in remission and your hair grew and did a 180° turn.”

      Nope, HR won’t care about this in this matter. It’s great, but hair care is not an ADA issue.

      1. Sara*

        Yeah, I think the cancer survivor aspect of this is a bit of a red herring. It’s relevant because it explains the relatively sudden change in how LW1 cares for their hair (and I want to be absolutely clear I’m not blaming them for mentioning it), but otherwise I don’t think it has any bearing on the question.

        Also…this is neither here nor there, but my mom’s hair grew back curly after chemo at first and went back to being completely straight within a year. Apparently it’s pretty common, so if that’s anyone’s situation, don’t assume CGM has stopped working for you if you hair straightens back out.

  30. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

    #3 your manager doesn’t need to get the employer to put any new policies in place to ask this coworker to go home. If this happened to me, I would head home immediately. When I got home, I would email my manager about the situation. I would expect him to have a chat with the coworker and remind her that she can work from home easily, and should if she has any COVID symptoms or is a close contact of someone with COVID symptoms.

    I am lucky to work in a tell (not ask) workplace. I have had coworkers who were in the office not show up for a meeting, and only found out later that their roommate tested positive, so they headed out immediately and didn’t get a chance to tell anyone until they got home and could email.

    1. JustaTech*

      I had this issue between two coworkers (well back before COVID).
      Betty was new, and a contractor, so did not have sick time and wasn’t issued a laptop, so couldn’t work from home. Chrissy was an FTE and did have a laptop, and also was immunocompromised.

      The seasons changed and Betty had *terrible* allergies. Like, ended up getting allergy shots they were so bad. But that took a while to arrange and get started, so she was stuck sniffing and wiping her eyes for days. Chrissy is convinced that Betty has something contagious and is being intentionally unsafe by coming in. Chrissy demands that Betty go home sick, even though this would be unpaid and we all knew Betty’s budget was very tight.

      After listening to them argue for 20 minutes I said to Chrissy “why don’t you go work from home this afternoon, since you can do that and Betty can’t?” It had literally not occurred to Chrissy that she had the power to remove herself from the situation (she was very rigid in her thinking).

      (Every time something like this came up it took me the better part of a week, at least, to smooth it over between them so we could get back to a good working relationship and they’d stop coming to me to complain.)

  31. Percysowner*

    LW1 You might want to ask your stylist if there is anything that will help with the scent of the perfume that you can apply after you do your hair care routine. Years ago I got a perm, and whatever brand my stylist used smelled enough that I was bothered by it. When I asked her what I could do, she said rinse a small can of tomato juice. Damn, but it worked. All those years of hearing that if your dog runs into a skunk wash with tomato juice were RIGHT. So there may be a product, or routine that won’t disturb what is managing your curls and will get rid of the scent.

    1. Percysowner*

      I meant shampoo, but typed perfume, OOPS.!

      Also, chemo curls are a known reaction to treatment. They also often disappear after 6-12 months, so this may become less of an issue for you down the road, I say as I see my formerly straight hair have actual curls and know that next year my hair will probably be stick straight again.

  32. OP#1*

    OP#1 here! I have to get to work shortly, so I won’t be interacting much, but I’ve been reading comments for the last 20 minutes or so and want to address a few things you guys have mentioned. I’ll cover as much as I can!
    It seems a lot of people glossed over how very little Jane and I are in each other’s space. I’d say it’s around 25 minutes a week max, usually more like 15, and broken into smaller chunks only a couple times per week. This is not a situation of “I’m getting daily migraines because of your shampoo.” I’m positive we’d all know if she had a migraine lol. She’s back to her usual self as soon as we’re not together. I do understand she could be getting occasional headaches or it might irritate her airways and I’m sympathetic to that. Thank you to those of you that have kindly reminded me that Jane being a pain and having genuine issues aren’t mutually exclusive.
    I’m surprised by so many suggesting that my shampoo is wildly smelly. You’ve never sat across from someone who ruffled their hair and then smelled “clean hair smell”? Not being snarky, genuinely perplexed! Maybe I have a strong sniffer myself, because that seems pretty normal to me. As other Curly Girls have pointed out, I only wash my hair every few days. Some days Jane is less weird than others about the scent than others, so maybe that’s why.
    Someone suggested writing to the product manufacturer and inquiring about an unscented version of my shampoo. I’ll definitely be doing that (but I can tell you right now that they don’t have one sold in any stores around me. It’s either sold elsewhere or not a thing).
    I only mentioned having had cancer for context, I 100% realize this is not a medical issue for me. It would just be weird without that context to say “I’ve recently gone from straight hair to curly.”
    Frankly reading through all of these comments is making me feel like I’ve blown this out of proportion in my own discomfort. I’m just going to be direct but kind and see where the conversation goes. As I said, Jane and I generally get along! She’s just a bit high maintenance and occasionally obnoxious. Hopefully we can come up with a solution that satisfies us both.
    Thank you to everyone for your help with seeing Jane’s side of things. I think having that perspective will go a long way in making this a productive conversation, regardless of the solution.

    1. Jamie*

      Hi, OP, fellow curly-haired person here. Do you let your hair dry naturally? I have noticed and heard from others that the smell of my hair products is more prominent when my hair is wet. (I do not blow-dry my hair because I get too much frizz and breakage, so sometimes I have wet hair at early meetings.) Even if wet/dry isn’t the issue for you, I wonder if you might get fewer comments if your meetings with Jane could be later in the day.

      1. OP#1*

        I usually diffuse before work so I don’t look like a wet poodle. I’m starting to wonder if maybe it’s my gel and not the shampoo…. not that it changes things as far as Jane and I are concerned. But changing gel would I think be easier than changing shampoo. Wishful thinking?

        1. I'm A Little Teapot*

          That’s pretty easy to test then. Change gels, and switch to an unscented one. If Jane doesn’t complain further, problem solved.

          And fyi, if someone ruffles their hair I don’t get a “clean hair” smell from them. Only if their hair is wet. Try using less shampoo, see if that helps. You’d save some money if nothing else.

          1. Hen in a Windstorm*

            I do! I know exactly what she means by clean hair smell. I think it comes from the hair being warmed by your head, and then it shifts and the scent wafts over. More common from people with thicker, longer hair.

            1. londonedit*

              Yes – maybe it’s because I have thick hair myself, but if I shake my head I can definitely smell my hair (which I think smells clean and which also smells of my shampoo – which by the way is one of those all-natural ones that apparently smells of dragon fruit). The styling product that works best for my hair (noticeably about ten times better than any other styling product) is by Aveda and also has a faint scent that lingers on my hair, which I can smell if I shake my head so my hair moves.

            2. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

              I do know it too, but I need to be pretty close to that person. Like if I am standing next to them looking at their computer screen maybe.

        2. biobotb*

          Yeah, it might be easier to find an unscented gel? Curl Smith has an unscented line, kind of expensive, though.

    2. Rumpling*

      I guess one solution could be to take into account your planned meetings with Jane for your hair washing schedule? E.g make sure your hair is 1-2 days old when you meet with her.

      1. OP#1*

        Unfortunately it’s usually more of an unscheduled, “hey, I noticed an issue with this TPS report,” kind of meeting.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Given the infrequency of these meetings, can you offer to just meet with her virtually and screen-share the report or do phone calls?

          I don’t know if you want to name the behavior to her or just work around it, but you could always tell her that you understand from her comments/email that she has a sensitivity to some sort of scent (not sure what since you don’t wear perfume) and would she like to catch up in way that does not require close proximity? If she continues the drama, it also makes you look like you were trying to be reasonable and helpful.

          I always try to be unfailingly polite to Janes because either they’re going to start reflecting back the politeness or they’re going to out themselves as a jerk.

    3. Elsa*

      OP in regards to “if someone ruffles their hair don’t you smell clean hair” Clean hair don’t smell, if someone ruffles their hair and I can smell it then it’s a stench of perfume maybe other people thinks it smells nice but it doesn’t smell clean.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Agreed. I am not adverse to all shampoo smells, though some are way too strong, but it’s not a clean smell it’s the perfume infused into the products. Maybe it’s associated with “clean” because it indicates someone showered? Just a cognitive connection? But it can set off headaches and such the same as perfume can – because it is still perfume.

      2. Jack Bruce*

        Yes, I can’t ever think of a time where this has happened to me. I have an often too sensitive sense of smell (and get migraines from scents) but can’t recall encountering clean hair smell. That said, my nose may interpret clean hair smell as perfume smell that gives me migraines.

        I think being direct is the best course- that’s what I would do. I’ve had to ask several coworkers to reduce their use of scented lotions and not bring in diffusers to our shared space and it usually goes ok once I mention migraines. Sometimes I do wrinkle my nose when smelling a strong scent, but it’s a reaction I can’t help- mainly linked to anxiety of “oh god am I about to get a migraine cause of this?” Jane is being a bit over the top but I am curious if there’s a legitimate health reason for her reactions.

        1. JLH*

          I think some of these comments are being a little uncharitable- she could have just worded it this way, but it seemed pretty clear she meant if someone’s hair has been freshly washed (“clean”) – you’re likely to catch a whiff of product.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            You’re right but I think it’s frustrating for people with sensitivities (myself included) to feel that is being dismissed as another category than “a perfume or added scent” when that’s still what’s being described.

            It’s unlikely and unreasonable to expect that we never smell other people or the products they use, but if LW is saying something that indicates she may not have a real understanding of what “hair product smell” is, that’s not uncharitable to point out. It’s relevant to the question.

          2. ErinB*

            And I think – as someone noted above – that those scents tend to be stronger when the person’s hair is still wet, which is more often the case with curly hair.

            I like the suggestion to meet on a non-hair-washing day or at least when the hair is dry.

        2. Qwerty*

          It’s probably just whatever scent(s) are most common in shampoos, so maybe something vaguely fruity or floral. Like how a lot of household cleaning products are lemon scented so the brain starts associating a lemon-y room with being clean. Or whatever scent Downy puts in their products that they claim make the clothes smell “fresh”. (Hulu played a lot of Downy ads last night, still don’t understand what Unstoppables are for)

      3. CTT*

        I washed my hair 2 hours ago with a Lush shampoo and now I’m sitting at my desk sniffing my hair and trying to see if it has any scent and not picking up anything (I have work I’m avoiding doing, can you tell?)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Lush products smell pretty strong in my experience but depending on how much you use and your general routine it might not linger much

        2. Elsa*

          People get smell blind by scents they are surrounded by, it often makes people add a second spirits of perfume when unnecessary or think that the food they were cooking doesn’t taste anything even though it does.

        3. Student*

          Your nose is going to tune out any smell that comes from you very quickly. Your brain and sensory organs are really good at that – your ears do it for sounds you make, your eyes do it for small things in your field of vision.

          This is part of why you can sometimes go into a person’s home and find it very smelly, while the owner can’t smell a thing. Since I don’t own cats, I run into it most often with a friend who perhaps doesn’t change the litter box quite as often as her cats need – but I’ve also run into it with people who love scented diffusers, or people who smoke, etc. The owner is used to the smell and their brain just ignores it. The guest notices it right away and takes a long while to tune it out, or can’t tune it out.

          1. penny dreadful analyzer*

            I moved out of a house with cats to live alone and when I went back to pick up some final things I was like “Did this house always smell like this, or is nobody doing the cleaning now that I’m not here?” (It was probably both)

          2. CTT*

            Oh definitely! But I got into that “okay, I don’t smell anything, but what if there is a smell and I’m just used to it, let me take a BIG WHIFF” cycle and lord knows what someone would think if they had walked by.

        4. Someone Online*

          Nose blindness is a thing too. It’s possible you just don’t notice the smell anymore just because you’re used to it.

        5. Just stopping by*

          This genuinely made me laugh out loud, because I did the same! I’m going to bet there was a lot of hair sniffing across the AAM universe today, haha.

        6. TrixM*

          Lush is incredibly strong. It rinses out fairly well, but the smell definitely lingers.

          I have to laugh because I walked past a Lush store today and got my usual semi-nauseated headache from the smell. I never get headaches except from those kinds of smell. Fortunately, when the products are used in the normal kind of way, I’m not so sensitive to the lingering aroma.

          Some perfumes are wicked though. I literally had to get off a bus once due to a young woman who’d apparently bathed in some very allergenic brand. I started sneezing as soon as she sat near me, and while I tried moving to another seat, it kept going non-stop for at least 10 minutes, thus the eventual bus exir.

          At least Lush isn’t that bad, but since it does have a strong smell, I bet it’s one of the worst offenders for people who are truly sensitive.

      4. Martin Blackwood*

        Eh, it hasnt happened to me, but I think it’s fair to say some smells just smell clean. My shampoo smells clean to me, and it doesn’t have added scents, or at least isn’t labeled with anything more than “almond oil” (though it does smell, not labeled unscented). So I can totally see someone sitting next to you who showered that morning did something that made you catch a whiff of something unidentifiably clean. That doesn’t sound insane to me.

    4. Fellow curly girl*

      Hey! Fellow curly girl! Something a friend with scent sensitivities taught me about is doing an apple cider vinegar rinse at the end of your shower to knock the smell out. It may or may not work for you (and it wouldn’t help if the problem is the gel) but maybe something to try!

    5. Nia*

      Sorry that everyone is going to project their scent hatreds on you and Jane. If she had an actual medical need she’d have already asked for an accomidation. She’s just being a baby about a scent she doesn’t like.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        We should not, as a society, encourage the mentality that people have to go through a paperwork process to prove that something bothers them before anything can change in the environment. I would far, far rather have a coworker (even an annoying one) come up to me and say “hey, whatever perfume or scent you’re using is driving me crazy” than have HR come up to me and say “per new office ruling 402-3, you are no longer allowed to use any scented products before coming to the office”.

        1. Observer*

          The issue is not that she didn’t go through a paperwork process, but that she didn’t actually say that there is a problem. If Jane does have a problem, she should say so. Not in great detail – no one needs that. But “you’re using too much” is very different from “This is giving me a problem.”

    6. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Thank’s for the upate OP!

      I wonder if you told Jane that you aren’t wearing perfume and not mention your hair products. Maybe ask her what it smells like to help narrow it down. So if she says it smells really sweet but not like flowers you might know that is not your shampoo which has rose oil in it. But it could be the hair spray.

      I hope everything works out and Jane doesnt make this a problem. Keep us posted

    7. Payne's Grey*

      The amount of time you guys are in contact might or might not make a difference – it really depends what issue Jane actually has with the scent. A really brief exposure COULD be enough to trigger a migraine. It’s not like one of those would stop as soon as she left your office. The trouble is we just don’t know if she has a genuine issue like that or if she’s just being ridiculous about a smell she doesn’t enjoy.

      1. Observer*

        Well, the OP says that people would know if Jane was getting migraines. So if she has an issue it would have to be something else.

        1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

          Realistically, all that tells us is that LW is at full BEC level with Jane. We can presume LW is not telepathic.

          1. Laika*

            Or it could also mean that LW knows her coworker better than we, the faceless commentariat, do? There’s a few people I work with that I could say the same about–they are just very vocal/open about what’s going on with their life, and everyone around them gets treated to a regular commentary of their health/wellness/mood status.

            1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

              Even with my most garrulous, stream-of-consciousness coworkers, I have never been able to confirm that the absence of them complaining about something meant that thing hadn’t happened. Migraines can happen hours after the scent trigger, well after the workday is done. Migraines come with a wide range of symptoms, including some that have significant stigma attached that folks might not want discussed in the office. And even if Jane comes in the next morning and complains about how she had a screaming headache the night before, would LW know about it, given how seldom LW and Jane apparently interact? Would other coworkers connect it to LW’s scent, if Jane didn’t explicitly connect it? Would other coworkers regularly mention Jane’s headaches to LW?

              Jane’s asked LW to tone it down, so LW knows Jane has a problem with her scent. LW has yet to respond to Jane, so has no way of knowing what Jane’s actual problem is or how seriously to take it yet.

              1. Laika*

                My comment was mostly coming from the position that, with the information we have, “OP knows Jane well enough to make this statement” is just as plausible as “OP is at BEC level with Jane”. imo the latter statement is not an especially kind one to make when we know that OP is reading/here in the comments and we don’t really have the kind of information to make that judgement

        2. Payne's Grey*

          Yeah, but OP also says it can’t be migraines because they only meet for a few minutes, and that’s not necessarily how migraine triggers work. No one knows what Jane’s problem actually is (because Jane is being an ass and a terrible commuicator), and whether it does or does not outweigh OP’s needs in terms of impact.

      1. Clisby*

        OP could do the same, and not just drop by Jane’s office. She says in the letter that they both do this.

    8. Hen in a Windstorm*

      OP, could you switch to washing your hair at night? I switched a long time ago to evening showering, which means I can let my hair dry naturally instead of rushing to get it dried so I can get out the door in the morning. You mentioned it seems to be worse on some days, so maybe if it gets to “settle” overnight, the smell won’t be as strong?

      Side note: I also had chemo, lost all my ruler straight hair, and it grew back in curly. However, when I got it cut the first time (into a pixie), all the curls fell out and it’s straight again! Such a weird phenomenon. I’m kind of jealous you got to keep your curls. :-)

    9. Sutemi*

      In a similar situation I added a small air filter to a small shared office that made a huge difference to my sensitivity to the smoke clinging to a coworker’s clothes. Please consider this for your office, it made a huge difference in the number of headaches I had.

    10. biobotb*

      Another thought–if the problem is that the scent is building up in your office, and it does turn out to be a product you can’t find a replacement for, maybe a small air purifier would help?

    11. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Thanks for the extra info! I think you’ve got a great game plan figured out and I hope you and Jane are able to come up with a plan that works for you both.

    12. booboo*

      Hi op, another fellow curly girl here. And sensitive to scents myself (you can imagine the journey to finding the right shampoo was not easy!). I think you should look at solutions where you and Jane don’t have to meet, ideally, even for five minutes if you aren’t going to change your shampoo. I know you said you and Jane barely meet, but for people who are sensitive, even five minutes can cause a migraine. Something that I could smell from a few feet away would make me nauseous and lightheaded for at least a couple of hours, sometimes the whole day.

      Regardless of what you end up doing with Jane, don’t think that just because it’s a short amount of time that it doesn’t matter! Feeling nauseous two or three times a week is… a lot, when you think about it that way. And, for a lot of people sensitive to scents, they’d much rather talk to one coworker about the problem because being the coworker everyone hates for making them go scent-free is NOT fun.

    13. MCR*

      I’m also a curly girl OP! If you can’t find a solution with Jane and need to switch products, I recommend searching on the curly hair subreddit (/r/curlyhair) for “[INSERT PRODUCT NAME] Dupe” or asking the community. They are really fabulous about suggesting what else might work for you based on your hair type.

    14. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Thanks for commenting! I always love it when the OPs join us in the comments! And this was some really good context. I also commented on how little time you guys spend together and that being part of why I think it is a bit much to have you change shampoos.

      For those few meetings, is it possible for you guys to use chat or do impromptu google meets (or zoom or whatever platform you use) meetings? You can even screenshare in that situation! The world became very adept at using these platforms quite effectively during the lockdown!

    15. e271828*

      If at any time I can smell someone’s hair without having my nose in it, they are using a too-strongly-scented product.

      No, the odor of products wafting off someone’s hair is not “clean hair smell,” it’s perfume from the products and it’s increasingly viewed as inconsiderate to fill everyone’s air space with personal odors.

  33. Octopus*

    As someone tangential to CGM, and on purpose, there are other shampoos. The method is a bit of a strict, mean-girl, overzealous focus on perfectly defined Shirley Temple style ringlets that may or may not even be appropriate for LW. And probably not actually good for her hair or scalp long term.

    Jane asked, and apparently reasonably, for less scent. Jane needs to go to HR if she really needs less scent. CGM isn’t a disability or accommodation, either, and Jane’s needs might not rise to that level.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      They probably don’t. From the details here, neither party is owed an accommodation (unless Jane gets a doctor’s note), and it’s an interpersonal issue. HR might mediate or offer ideas but it’s highly unlikely they would direct a specific action.

    2. OP#1*

      You’re right that there are many CGM shampoos, but they’re not all created equal. There are different balances of protein vs moisture, heaviness, etc. And yes, the CG community can be very mean girl. That doesn’t really have anything to do with me or my situation though. I’ve found that this particular product combo and routine works for me and what I want from my hair. Whether or not others that are deep in the community aspect of CG need to lighten up and do less gatekeeping is irrelevant.

      1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

        This is very true. You’re absolutely right to not accept scapegoating for the imperfections of the CG community.

    3. ErinB*

      There are a multitude of options – many mentioned here – for Jane and OP#1 to work this out, none of which involve third parties weighing on whether OP#1s curls or the method for caring for those curls are “appropriate” for them (???).

      1. Octopus*

        sorry, just noting the overzealousness of the movement. shouldn’t be an issue except to those there.

  34. Sotired*

    LW1 – I do not see the shampoo as a medical need. It is a styling preference. As to whether the coworker has a medical need, she may get a DR letter on that, but many people do not like perfumes.

    1. Nia*

      Not liking perfumes is completely irrelevant. Unless Jane has a legitimate medical need(and since their office isn’t already scent free she probably doesn’t) she needs to suck it up.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Well, no, she doesn’t. Even if it’s a social issue versus a medical/legal issue, Jane is not required to be in a situation that makes her uncomfortable. She made a personal request by email, she can choose to check-in less in person, she can even comment every single time she encounters it if she wants to. Different ways of handling this are more ideal than others, but the social contract does not require people to sit in discomfort just because they don’t have a medical issue. The lack of one just means it’s not HR’s problem.

        1. Nia*

          If their job requires in person conversations then yeah she does need to suck it up if she’s just whining about a scent she doesn’t like.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            It doesn’t sound like it does, the check-ins she describes could be done by email. And that’s ultimately up to the manager, who may decide in either direction. She’s not handling the situation well, which is another matter, but avoiding scents someone finds unpleasant is a pretty normal part of maintaining a working environment as long as it’s not creeping into a different violation: i.e. banning all fish in the microwave vs banning a cultural cuisine.

            1. Clisby*

              That’s my take on it. They should avoid each other’s offices, and email/Teams/Zoom/whatever.

        2. ferrina*

          LW would be uncomfortable if she has an unsatisfactory haircare regimen that left her feeling self-conscious about her hair. So it may come down to “Who needs to be uncomfortable?” Which is a normal social question.

          This is why it’s usually considered “polite” to minimize discomfort and “rude” to knowingly cause discomfort. Some discomfort is necessary (like calling out racism/sexism), but some is not (like having a meeting in a poorly ventilated area with a scent you don’t like). It sounds like there’s some easy compromises here- it will be interesting to see if Jane accepts a compromise, or if she insists that she needs to make LW uncomfortable by constantly commenting on the scent (again, assuming there is no medical issue)

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yep exactly. We navigate these things in a social context all the time. This is really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things and there are a lot of solutions – neither party needs to just “suck it up” though.

        3. Scout*

          Okay, so Jane is not required to be in a situation that makes her uncomfortable, and Jane is not required to be in a situation that makes her uncomfortable, and can comment every single time if she wishes . . . but isn’t that likely to make the OP uncomfortable, and she is also not required to be in a situation where she is uncomfortable, and now we’re just going in circles.

          I think the social contract DOES require people to occassionally sit in discomfort, particularly when mere preferences are the issue. Disliking a scent that causes no health issues, and that you encounter a few times a week for brief periods, should not cause a grown adult meaningful discomfort. People cook things in the microwave that I think smell absolutely disgusting – as an adult, I manage that for myself, and don’t ask others to eat a different lunch because my culinary preferences are different.

      2. Firecat*

        An office not having a scent policy doesn’t mean that a coworker doesn’t have a scent allergy or experience pain in result to certain scents.

        You assuming Jane doesn’t have physical issue because it’s not “official” is pretty gross.

        I’m also really curious where all these folks who think getting an official diagnosis for scent sensitivity is an easy least thing live. I have a measurable disorder, low platelets, and it took over a year of appointments with different specialists to get a diagnosis. I can’t imagine how chasing down a nebulous scent allergy to 1 or more compounds when you don’t know the ingredients and often don’t know what brands or even products are involved would be feasible. I once brought in a lotion that triggered my scent allergy to my physician trying to get an official HR accomodation and asked about getting tested to find out what compounds I was reacting to and even then my PCP said it wasn’t something they would pursue since I didn’t have a skin reaction.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      The LW is not saying that the shampoo is a medical need. I keep seeing coments like this. The first commenter said that they themselves have a medical lotion that has a scent and so if someone was sensitive to scents there would be a conflict in their office. Nowhere do I see in OP1’s letter anything that she says HAS to use the shampoo because of medical reasons. She only talks about the cancer to explain why she has changed her routine, because her hair texture has changed after chemo.

  35. Eldritch Office Worker*

    #3 without knowing more details about your job I don’t know what advice to give besides “talk to your boss”, but I hope you have a reasonable employer who is willing to have a conversation about this. I hope they immediately let you work from home, best case, but also that they revisit their COVID policies to encourage safer behavior in the first place.

  36. CharlieBrown*

    #1 reminded me of Terry Fox. I didn’t realize that this is a common thing after chemotherapy.

    RIP Terry.

    1. OhIDon'tKnow*

      Yes, I remember him! My dad had straight hair before chemo, and after, half of his head (the left side) was curly but the right side was still straight. Weird.

      I have heard of women with straight hair developing curly hair during pregnancy, that stays curly after the baby is born.

  37. Canadian Girl*

    As someone who has severe scent allergies I can sympathize with your coworker, even though she is handling it very poorly. My allergies cause an allergic reaction like those who have a peanut allergy. I swell up, get very itchy skin, migraines and loose my ability to breath, and more. I have been hospitalized due to being this in the past it is so severe.

    My workplace was already fragrance free, however many people choose not to abide by it. Now they are enforcing it and sending people home to shower or change. No scented products in my office extend to shampoo/conditioner, deodorant, hair products, laundry soap, lotions, etc.

    I personally think the both of you need to be approaching this differently and perhaps HR does need to be involved to help settle this issue as you both seem to be digging your heels in.

  38. PsychNurse*

    I have never in my life been able to smell someone’s HAIR (unless I was kissing them). If your coworker can smell it, it is too strong. And I wouldn’t trust the opinion of your friends!— if you were my friend and you asked me, I’m sure I would say “Well it’s slightly scented but it’s fine” but that isn’t necessarily the most objective feedback.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I have a very strong sense of smell and can smell things other people can’t, so using someone’s ability to smell a thing is not a very accurate way of gauging whether the smell is too strong.

      1. Firecat*

        In addition, post Covid I have a reduced sense of smell, but I’ve gotten scent headaches from items I could barely smell. It’s a specific type of headache I get so I know when it’s a reaction headache but you can bet your bottom I don’t tell anyone that something I can barely smell is still setting off my scent allergy. I suffer silently until I can get a mask on or take a break outside.

    2. biobotb*

      Funny, I’ve found that people’s shampoo and conditioner are often easily detectable from a couple feet away.

    3. JustaTech*

      I had a classmate in college who commented on how nice my shampoo smelled one day when he’d driven me to the hardware store. I knew he wasn’t into me, but I was still super self conscious that my shampoo (which was the same I’d used all year) was suddenly super strong. Nope, it was just the enclosed space of the car, because I asked a lot of people (roommates, other classmates) and no one else could smell it.

  39. margaret*

    As someone with an accommodation for IBS one of my go-to’s has been, “sorry, need to be a bit late, having some stomach trouble”.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      yup me too. It’s not too much TMI and it explains the reasoning. I also like “i need a bio break” for in the middle of long meetings.

  40. Spicy Tuna*

    #1, as a fellow Curly Girl, I feel ya. There is an added layer here because, in my experience, curly hair is seen as less “professional”, so if you’ve found something that works, it would be frustrating to give it up. In my years of working in an office, I never found anything that worked for my hair so I would just scrape it back into a bun with cheap gel to tame the frizz and random strands – care to share your find?!

    #2 there is nothing to be ashamed about regarding illness or bathroom emergencies in the workplace! We spend the majority of our waking hours in the office…. people get sick, people have to use the bathroom. My boss was scheduled to have a colonoscopy before having a foot of his colon removed. He was home prepping and we had a call with his boss regarding something extremely urgent at work. He took the call and made it clear that he would possibly need to hop off periodically. We all understood!

    #4 I don’t think you did anything wrong, but many people like to keep work and social separate. When I was working in an office, I never, ever socialized outside of work with colleagues. I never attended any work functions unless they were unavoidable (like having dinner with colleagues while on a business trip, or an annual meeting combined with a holiday lunch). I never would even have lunch with co-workers. Too much room for misinterpretation of things, etc, etc.

    1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

      Spicy Tuna, I’m not LW#1 but I’ve liked Brown Butter Beauty’s products (from Etsy) and Oyin’s (they have some unscented ones).

  41. Ann J.*

    LW#1: I was reminded of another letter-writer (at AAM) some years ago that tried to accommodate a colleague that was complaining that the letter-writer smelled too strong. That letter-writer really went out of her way to become scent-free (how that is even possible), but the colleague was really bullying. Finally, the letter-writer had enough and told the colleague to go to a doctor – she might be sick or pregnant. It turned out it was the latter! Don’t miss the update!

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Does anyone remember the letter where when she was a teenager she worked for some lady who made her shower and change into different clothes every time she worked at their house??

  42. Not Again!*

    Working at home for the win (if possible)! No way to juggle everybody’s entitlement to an irritation free environment.

    No way I would change my personal grooming products. So many things to consider: price, formulation, medicinal needs, effectiveness, such as with OP here. Personal preference is a valid selection criteria also, believe it or not, some of us like fragrance. I think it is obnoxious to ask someone to make such a change. Perhaps the complainer should wear a mask or not come into OP’s office. OP, you are kind to even worry about this. I know the trial and error needed to find hair care products that work (very curly hair here). Your coworker sounds annoying and controlling.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Just here to agree 100%. I am a fragrance lover (perfume) and have a large collection. It’s one of the small joys each day to choose a different scent and getting occasional whiffs throughout the day always brightens my day (as crazy as that may sound). I’m frankly tired of the expectation that one must change their habits to accommodate another’s irritation. There are many smells that I don’t care for, including some that do give me a headache, but I would never dream of saying a word to my cubicle neighbor that loves to heat up Indian food or the one that cleans their cubicle top to bottom every other day with an ammonia based cleaner. I suck it up, pop an Advil, and keep it moving. I agree that OP is kind to even consider what I’d term nonsense.

    2. OhIDon'tKnow*

      Agree 100%. There’s reasonable and then there’s “You have to give me whatever I want and rearrange your life because I said the magic word “sensitivity” or “allergy”.”

      And I say this as someone with asthma and multiple allergies. I react badly and sometimes very strongly to certain scents (fresh cut grass is one of them, which happens to be a smell I love – oh well). I carry an inhaler and benadryl and itch cream everywhere I go.

      What I don’t do is use my medical conditions to control those around me all day, every day.

    3. Scout*

      You stated this perfectly; an irritation-free environment does not exist, when more than one person is in that environment!

  43. That One Person*

    1 – That first one is rough. I’m sympathetic because I don’t like the taste of a lot of perfumes, and for whatever reason I can taste a lot of them from smelling – guessing it’s some specific chemical or set of chemicals because I’ve had others I can’t taste. I also find very strong scents overbearing personally, but I take that more as a queue to get away not make faces at people. Going to give the benefit of the doubt that the routine doesn’t make OP’s hair smell something like day old fish, burnt popcorn, or anything else pretty universally unpleasant but maybe there’s a way to remove some of the scent…somehow. I’m not as good with recommendations without harder data like if the scent is very chemical or if it’s just that Jane hates the smell of coconuts and is being a weird butt about it. It’s possible though you’ll run into people you actually like with “scentsitivities” so may not hurt to at least consider how strong the smell is and what it smells like, and if there are ways to reduce that without hindering/hampering the routine (maybe this involves a different gel if you use any, maybe trying to sub something else that is particularly strongly scented and not as central to the routine for a bit just for the sake of tweaking, adding a more natural and soothing scent to see if it helps mask or if it becomes a confusing mess – this is the one I hesitate more without knowing the routine or smells involved).

    2 – Thank you for asking this. Sometimes my system seems to kick me like this and luckily I don’t have days where it’s nothing but back-to-back meetings like my mum does, but in case I get into a job where I’m expected to join meetings it’s nice to have some wording just in case I have an ill-timed need for the porcelain throne.

    1. Not A Manager*

      I don’t “taste” scents, but many scented products (even on other people) make my lips and tongue either itchy or numb. And no, I am not licking them.

      1. That One Person*

        I appreciated the momentary mental image, but I promise I’m also not licking them either. Some formulas just seem particularly potent in the air and sometimes the person applied too heavily. However some are pleasant and don’t come with a taste and I don’t know what it is… My favorite thus far was one that smelled like freshly watered roses and it smelled genuine enough I almost thought there was a fresh bouquet somewhere nearby, but was indeed just an applied scent.

  44. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    There are a lot of comments today that seem to amount to the idea that since Jane was rude/immature, the LW can be rude/immature back. Jane didn’t open the conversation well, so now LW can do that. This is how conflict works. It’s not LW’s fault that her holy grail shampoo smells strong, and it’s not Jane’s fault that she has a reaction to it, even if that reaction is just that she finds it really unpleasant. The smell may also cling to her and follow her into her own space. A conversation is necessary, not a tit for tat.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think sometimes the internet anonymity mixed with a scenario that stirs up bad feelings drives people to suggest what they wish they could do vs what they would actually rationally do in a similar situation.

      I’d argue there’s space for both – it can be cathartic, both for the LW and the commenters, to acknowledge it’s frustrating to have to be the bigger person all the time. But you’re right that we need to note the difference between what’s reasonable and what’s a nice fantasy.

    2. STG*

      Yea, but you don’t approach your coworkers in this manner regardless and I think you are giving bad behavior a pass by acting like it can’t be called out.

      Jane DOES have fault for how she handles her reaction to the smell. I don’t think it’s tit for tat but I’d be hard pressed to stretch myself for a coworker who acts like this. I’d likely be forcing the HR accommodation sooner rather than later in this instance.

      1. danmei kid*

        I would love to know your secret for “forcing” an HR accommodation for fragrance sensitivity as I have family members, friends, and colleagues (it’s more widespread than you think) who have been trying to get this for YEARS.

        1. STG*

          Me forcing an HR accommodation would be me telling Jane she needs to talk to HR about an accommodation if it’s an issue. The way that Jane approached this would eliminate most of my good will towards them and turn it into a ‘you’ problem vs an us problem.

          Had Jane actually handled this appropriately, I would be a lot more open to trying to figure out a compromise but she threw that out the window with her attitude.

      2. yala*

        “I think you are giving bad behavior a pass by acting like it can’t be called out.”

        I don’t think anyone is doing that?

  45. Firecat*

    #1 Scent stuff simply sucks.

    I have scent sensitivities, and eve short exposures, like a 10 minute meeting in the office, can trigger a headache that lasts the rest of the day. Prolonged exposure, such as the next cube over wearing perfume, or being near an office with the door open will progress to a debilitating headache with nausea that sends me to bed when I get home.

    Despite this no HR has ever given me “an official accomodation” they all want a Dr. note and every Dr. I’ve worked with will only accept an allergy test to provide a diagnosis, and allergy tests are subcutaneous. My skin doesn’t react to parfume, but I’ll have an awful headache if I wear it.

    Sadly no one has ever been kind about me asking about perfume either. “Ugh I’m so sick of being asked to accommodate every little thing that bothers someone – where’s the line!?” is a sadly common reaction ime. Pre-Covid I was even given guff for wearing a mask and mentioning my scent allergy. People just take it so personally if you are allergic to their preferred products. :/

    My answer has been to use a fan at my desk, take my breaks outside, and thankfully post Covid I can wear a mask and feign a sore throat I’m protecting others from. The surgical mask spares me from most symptoms.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with this. You’re right, people take things unnecessarily personally sometimes and it sucks for the person trying to get through their day.

  46. Qwerty*

    OP#1 – I think your dislike of Jane is coloring the situation. Can you imagine if someone you liked more had said they were bothered by the strength/radius of the scent? You’ve confirmed that it is detectable from a few feet away, so it is likely that you are affecting people with scent sensitivities either at work or out in public. If I stood next to you in line at the grocery store (5min), I might go home with a migraine depending on what chemicals are involved. A few feet away is a larger radius than normal, especially for a hair product. For comparison, my sister regularly wears a variety of light perfumes and I can’t smell it unless I hug her, therefore I’m almost never triggered by it.

    You say that you think Jane is making a power play but unfortunately so are you! You’ve known from her reactions this was an issue and ignored it, want to ignore her email directly naming the issue, cite that she doesn’t have a medical accomodation, cite that the workplace doesn’t forbid scents… I’m assuming you’re usually more approachable than this.

    However, there is a lot of middle ground here! Stuff that immediately comes to mind:

    * Could two of your products be interacting poorly? Gels and mousses come to mind as magnifying the underlying scent or being overly scented themselves. I love my Garnier curl gel and my Garnier shampoo individually but I cannot use them together or I smell like a fruitbasket.

    * Sulfate free shampoo/conditioners can be difficult to rinse out. Any chance that a more vigorous rinsing could clear this up?

    * Hair scents are stronger when wet, can anything be done to help your hair be more dry? I find that the middle layers retain moisture longer since they are insulated so that my hair can look dry but still have sections that aren’t cooperating

    I didn’t last long in the curly game because the scents bothered me so that’s all I have but I’m sure this is a common problem that other curly people have run into.

  47. colsty*

    LW2: You can’t use this constantly, but I’ve also done a “I’m so sorry but my crappy apartment internet has gone out. I’m trying to get it up and will log on in a few minutes” if you feel the need to give a reason but don’t want to be too honest!

    1. CharlieBrown*

      It’s never a good idea to invent stories, and since reliable internet is often a requirement for working remotely, this one could get you pushed back to the office or worse.

  48. Caryn Z.*

    Sorry but there is no hair product I’ve ever smelled that smells THAT strongly. Especially shampoo, which is rinsed out!

    1. Laika*

      Okay but this varies wildly by a person’s sensitivity to scent! I often will comment on a specific smell only to have other people say they can’t smell anything or have to get way closer to the source to smell it at all. Different folks, different noses

  49. Observer*

    #1 – Scent.

    OP, I want to highlight something. You say that “Now for the problem … the shampoo that works best for me is scented and noticeable from a few feet away like a light perfume would be.

    Even with all of the assurances from your friends, that’s a LOT of scent to be bringing in to the workplace. The fact that you and your friends don’t consider it a “bad” smell doesn’t mean that other perfectly reasonable people would agree.

    Given the current situation, I think that Allison’s advice is good. But the people who are pointing out that maybe you should try to figure out something that’s less scented have a point.

    1. PinkCandyfloss*

      Even good smells can be bad. I am legitimately allergic to lavender (the plant) and have tested so by an allergist. Lavender is EVERYWHERE and everyone loves it, but for me, it can mean hours of lost time recovering from a breakout of extensive hives, needing to use inhaler, or whatever I have to do to counteract the result of being exposed to this “good” smell.

  50. Ann Lister’s Wife*

    Agree with Allison on the last OP that the boss shouldn’t treat her friend-reports different than her non-friend reports. BUT, as a manager myself I make a policy not to eat lunch with my direct reports UNLESS there’s a business reason to do so.

    They need their space and time to relax without the manager around, so I try to respect that.

    Occasionally I’ll take someone out to lunch for a 1×1 or welcome meal, but ONLY if they agree to it and it’s very clearly not a social meal- strictly business. Some decline and I find other ways to accomplish the purpose, and that’s fine!

    1. JustaTech*

      This is what my boss does (even when everyone else ate in the lunch room he’d eat at his desk, which I really appreciated on stressful days), though he extends it to not doing one-on-one lunches either. Group lunch or nothing.

  51. Can Relate*

    I realize this is too little too late in a thread this long, but as a person with super curly hair (4c) I think the people who are just saying “This isn’t a medical accommodation” and “just change products” are probably not aware of two things:

    – Not using a product thats not right for your hair if its thin and curly is not just “an aesthetic thing” It can cause it to break and fall out in mass. Large parts of my hair have been lost when switch products and my hair takes 2-3 years to get to a length where it looks nice. Theres a lot of strain on it when you do simple things like comb and manipulate it.

    – Curly hair is often still subject to discrimination! Women get this doubly, but if you are using a product that helps your hair feel more manageable and well kept, and this is the only option for your head of hair, that is not easy to change. This is not easy for people with strait hair to understand, as I’ve worked in a place where my coworkers could walk in with her hair still sopping from a shower, but having mine in a protective wrap would get looks and question if I was ready for a conference call.

    Having a bald head, or having a buzz cut as a woman can also be harshly judged professionally, and socially in general. I can tell many stories about how weird people were about touching my head, as well!

    (if that smacks of casual racism, it’s because it is.) And if you’re thinking “I never judge people for their hair”, good for you! But just like with casual racism, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.

    – Not many products are made for this hair type! All the comments that seem to identify the product despite it not being mentioned in the OP is not a coincidence! Theres a handful of things that work, and these bottles and routines can be quite expensive. To keep switching and trying shampoos to fit in with social and professional norms is already an additional burden just because your hair texture.

    – I’ve moved to locing my hair to stop the cycle of breakage, which is still something that is not looked on favorably by many people (see- Wrestler who was forced to shave his locs before a match by a racist jerk as an extreme example), and I consciously made the switch after a successful interview and I signed an agreement, because my previous style was more “professional” and I did not want to be harmed by my baby locs in an interview. Some people have much thinner hair, and cannot opt for this style mechanically (or culturally) further limiting their options to mitigate loss.

    Again, if you don’t have hair that people have a lot of opinions about, you cannot know the weight of making these changes, medical or not! Not saying that we get a blank slate to smell however in public spaces, but a little more empathy than wrinkled noses and caddy comments would do a lot for the world.

    1. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

      Yes, this. I was going to write this comment but your version is definitely better. I couldn’t help thinking of the post a couple days ago where people said, “maybe this young man is being judged as threatening because he’s Black” — curly hair is a case that is far more certainly linked to how our society judges Black people, even when the person with curly hair is seen as White or another racial group. I’ve been thinking of getting locs myself and experiences such as yours are some of the major reasons on the “nay” side.

  52. Atalanta0jess*

    I don’t know if this is too off topic, but as someone who was on the Curly Girl train back when there was only a book (!!), I must note that it doesn’t have to be expensive. There ARE inexpensive products that are “curly girl approved.”

    (E.g. I use no shampoo, a suave conditioner, and LA looks gel. All curly girl approved. I do use a curl cream that costs around $10 a bottle, and that is by far the most expensive part of my routine.)

  53. Amorphous Eldritch Horror*

    LW#1, I have so much sympathy for you, not least from my experiences having Black hair. When I went “natural” (stopped straightening my hair) I had to relearn how to care for it, and I learned quickly that most of my options were judged pretty harshly by my White coworkers and superiors. (I will never forget being told that Pink Oil smells “like dirt” and “like you never shower”).

    Still, we have to live in this society, and I live with someone I’m very fond of who is extremely sensitive to scents, so one thing I did once I found products that worked for me was to dissect them, as it were, to figure out the active ingredients. This can be time consuming — for awhile I made my own conditioner out of shea butter, aloe gel, and a little lanolin — but I think it can help reduce your “scent footprint”. If Jane is actually being made ill you can point out the lengths you’ve gone to to accommodate her, and if she’s not you’ll have removed anything she can complain about.

    Good luck and keep on healing up!

    1. Just Another Starving Artist*

      The outsized reaction to Pink Oil and other of our hair products is so real and so hurtful. I have so many thoughts on how “clean” scents are those commonly found in white households, while those more frequently found in non-white cultures often get categorized as “dirty” or “gross,” but this site is likely not the place for that conversation.

  54. PinkCandyfloss*

    Re: LW #1 as a person with chemical and fragrance sensitivities I thank you for responding with a compassionate view towards Jane. She isn’t handling the situation properly or well, but I have had the experience many times where co-workers aren’t aware just how much scent they are giving off (even sometimes with “unscented” products) and how much it affects my physical well-being. My company has been proactive enough to give me an accommodation to work from home and my manager is OK with me dialing in to some meetings rather than sitting in an enclosed conference room where the blend of hair products, laundry soap, hand lotions, sanitizers and deodorants is often overwhelming or has me coughing/itching with hives/headachey by 15 minutes in. But not all companies take this seriously, and Jane may struggle in ways that LW doesn’t fully understand. Fun fact, irritability and moodiness is a side effect of many antihistamines, leukotriene inhibitors (like Singulair) and other medications we often take when we are chemically sensitive, which is no fun for anyone including us <3 thank you again for being so balanced in your reply.

  55. Curmudgeon in California*

    Okay, I know where I reflexively come down on this, because I’m one of those people who has a physical reaction to artificial and some natural fragrances. My physical reactions can quickly get to the level of being doubled over coughing and have to stumble quickly away into fresh air, or other scents can cause me migraines. “Air fresheners” (scent spewers) in bathrooms can be life threatening to me if I’m not careful. I’m definitely team fragrance free.


    If Jane merely dislikes it? So what! She has her own office, so do you, this is solved by neither of you going into each other’s office. With her theatrics, it apparently doesn’t rise to the level of harming her, or she would have been an adult and said something like “Can you please not wear/use that scented product, it gives me migraines”.

    If it actually causes Jane a physical issue past mere dislike, then you will need to change it or find a way to not impinge on her breathing area.

    IMO, as a fragrance reactive person, I consider artificial fragrances “evil”. They are too strong, I doubt they do any good for the environment in their manufacture or release, and I react very severely to the chemicals in them.

    This started for me in the mid 80s, when it was all but impossible to find fragrance free body care and cleaning products. It cost me a hell of a lot of money and effort to find stuff that didn’t give me a rash, or make me choke and cough, to be around it. I understand the “months to find a product” part, because I had to do it to find stuff I could breathe around.

    It took me years to find an actual perfume I could wear, and I have to go with the stuff from BPAL that has ingredients I don’t react to and that my spouse doesn’t react to. That is a surprisingly small set. I seldom wear perfume at all because of it.

    I would suggest asking Jane what her actual problems is, and then work out appropriate ways to solve it. If it’s just that she dislikes the scent, then she can just not come around you.

  56. Apt Nickname*

    For LW #1, just know that the pleasantness of the scent doesn’t matter, and the enjoyablity of a scent is completely subjective anyway. There are plenty of scents I enjoy that still give me a raging headache and nausea for hours after I’ve encountered it. And I honestly wouldn’t care what the the source was if it was making me sick.

  57. EGD*

    I am a business owner.
    I was born with a severe facial birth defect that was only partially reconstructed surgically, leaving me with evident scarring, distortion, and the need to use prosthetics to provide what nature and medical intervention could not. Parts of my face are entirely surgically created and have minimal reliable sensation, like my upper lip. This makes eating and drinking in public rather stressful, as I can’t tell if I have food sticking to my upper lip or collecting at the corners of my mouth. It can be embarrassing and awkward.
    The prosthetics themselves are hot and uncomfortable and can contribute heavily to skin breakdown, especially around the jaw, where the motions of eating cause some chafing between my skin and the inner surfaces of the prosthetics. The motions of eating can also cause the adhesive that is used to keep the prosthetics attached to my skin to fail, especially on very hot days, and there have been times that pieces of the prosthetic have completely detached from my skin and fallen off, leaving the disfigurement on unwanted display while everyone else is trying to eat. This is always mortifying for me, so I try to avoid eating when I am wearing the prosthetics and take my meals at home before I have put the prosthetics on or after I have removed them. Sometimes, though, I have little choice.
    I have also had, over my life, many situations where people complained about and mocked my appearance (I have even been physically assaulted because of it), and said having to watch me eat was grotesque. Those comments still play in my mind, like a tape player from the 5th circle of Hell, and this has made me very nervous about eating in front of others, especially those I don’t know well. My company is fairly large, around 250 people, and I can’t know all of them well enough to know whether they will consider having to witness me eating disgusting.
    There is a small core group of people who have been with the company for a very long time, whom I have come to trust around things like eating in their company and making quick repairs to the prosthetics while in their company, and I will sometimes eat with those people.
    I am sure, to someone who is outside that core group, my eating solely with these people (people who I trust deeply and consider great friends as well as colleagues) and no one else looks like special treatment, cliquishness, or even snobbery, but this is not the case. I would love the freedom to eat whenever and wherever I want, in the company of anyone, but circumstances and people’s negative reactions have made this impossible.
    Sometimes we have no understanding of what is going on for others we work with. Perhaps there is a reason that this manager does not eat with everyone. Perhaps she has something about her physicality that makes eating with others fraught with anxiety and fear. Perhaps she has an eating disorder or has been through a medical problem that has had the result of making eating difficult or potentially unpleasant for others around her. Perhaps she has been mocked/shamed for eating certain things or the way she eats/looks when she eats. Perhaps she has been shamed for her weight and food choices. Perhaps she wears a denture or partial that is not fitting well, and is making eating with others distressing for her. You may never know. It is likely not personal and not meant to be exclusionary.
    If I was the manager is not eating with anyone but a select group, and this was bothering an employee, I would hope that employee would be at ease enough with me to approach me directly and ask about it.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I think this is a great way to remind us that we don’t know what’s behind people’s social decisions and we need to leave people to their own devices socially. (I also think it’s fairly unlikely that anyone actually mocking you, or using words like “grotesque” (or attacking you!) is genuinely bothered or disgusted by you to any great degree, but are just those types of people who like to activate shame and misery, because they understand little else)

      1. EGD*

        I admit, most of the worst of the situations where people have mocked, belittled, and attacked me were when I was a schoolboy, and later, when I was a uni student. Pre-teen and teen boys are a menace, especially to anyone who does not or cannot conform to the will of the group. I had the added misfortune of attending a boarding school, so I could not easily escape my tormentors.
        But there have still been too many incidents where these things have happened in my adult years as well, and while I know that most were due to the offender’s own inadequacies and ignorance and not genuine disgust, there have been more than a dozen that I do believe stemmed from genuine shock and revulsion over the way I look. I know my appearance is shocking to some and disgusting to others. I try very hard to limit my exposure to the general public and anyone I know to have been nasty in the past. It is exhausting.
        I truly would hate to find out that anyone on my staff thought I was being deliberately exclusionary or snobbish in my taking meals only with the core group of trusted friends and allies I have had the good fortune to find at the office. When one looks as strange as I do, true friends are sadly rare and long-lasting friendships even more scarce. I have come to value the little group of workplace friends very highly, but I am totally open to forming new friendships, at the office, online, or anywhere.

  58. OhIDon’tKnow*

    I have a co-worker who is constantly demanding accommodations, for room temperature, lighting, acoustics/noise, ventilation, scents, etc. No doctor’s notes, just demands.

    In this case in my office, they are definitely doing this as a power play; to try to get a certain desk that they wanted, for example, which hasn’t worked, so far. (They were very angry and claimed they were being treated with “intolerance” when they were told “no”.) They’ve also tried to get dual monitors for their desk, which they have no real need for (that also has not yet worked).

    They also use these “sensitivities” in a retaliatory way. When another coworker said something which revealed that “sensitivity” co-worker didn’t know what they were talking about (they are constantly bullsh*tting, pretending to be an expert), they (sensitive one) accused the other staff member of smelling bad and triggering their sensitivity to smells. In front of others. It was a nasty thing to do.

    It is manipulative and beyond exhausting.

  59. Moose*

    For what it’s worth, it’s pretty intense to be able to smell someone’s shampoo from even a small radius around them. Most scented shampoos and conditioners still aren’t noticeable unless you’re an inch from someone’s hair or only in quick whiffs. Your coworker didn’t handle it well but it could be legitimately bothering her, and smell sensitivities don’t always rise to the level of needing formal accommodations.

  60. ABCYaBye*

    LW1 – Congratulations on kicking cancer’s ass! I am absolutely on your side when it comes to finding what you need to take care of your new hair. There can be a lot that changes post-cancer (I don’t taste salt the same way I did before, and the same way my wife does, for instance, so I tend to over salt when I’m cooking). I’d definitely lean into what Alison suggested to see if there are ways to be helpful to Jane if she’s sensitive to the smell of your shampoo. And while there are definitely concerns regarding headaches, etc. I have worked with someone in the past who was very vocal about any smell she didn’t like. It wasn’t a migraine thing, just a her thing. Which was funny because she dang near dipped herself in her perfume. She was like Jane in that she made faces and even went so far as to vocalize her distaste for someone’s cologne or perfume that she didn’t particularly care for. So perhaps it is something for Jane and the ideas about meeting elsewhere or having a fan or air purifier are good. And perhaps it is just Jane being Jane. But if your interaction is not regular and lengthy, I’d sure hope Jane is reasonable if you’re offering a reasonable workaround.

  61. Olderandalittlebitwiser*

    I understand sensitivity to scents; in my younger, migraine-prone years, any perfume could set off migraines so bad I could only lie still, hoping I could sleep it off. And even now, when scents just “bother” me, but don’t cause migraines, I prefer not to be near people wearing highly scented products, whatever they are.

    However, that being said, I don’t understand why the “Jane” just doesn’t stay out of the OP office. They both have offices, they don’t need t interact much and when they do, then just meet in a neutral area and stay apart. No need for drama all the time. Just commonsense and respect. It sounds like the OP is open to options.

    And feel good about yourself and how you look after cancer is not trivial.

  62. JaneAustensTeaCozy*

    OP #1 as someone else who does CGM, I’d bet money it’s the gel/mousse rather than the shampoo. My gel stuff has a noticeable scent that lasts for 3-4 days after I put it on. For me this is a feature, not a bug, but changing gel is easier than changing shampoo if that’s something you’d want to do. Honestly seems easier for Jane to just not…come into your office.

  63. Xaraja*

    Like many others, I have a problem with scents, where they cause migraines AND asthma attacks. Unfortunately, I also have a rather more unusual issue in that I can’t smell what the scented products smell like. I experience them as a burning/choking sensation in the back of my throat and a visual of lurid polka dots. it’s the same thing I experience with ammonia, and it happens with almost every kind of scented product under the sun, so I cannot tell if it’s perfume someone is wearing, or a heavy duty scented cleaning spray or anything in between. So I have often had to ask the room in an open office, “What’s that smell?” and remind them I can’t breathe and yes, it’s still bothering me today like it was yesterday. (That was a group of coworkers who really liked to push boundaries and would apply scented products within a few feet from me.) So I could possibly be someone who would make faces and/or cough because I didn’t know what I was smelling. I am very careful about explaining the problem to people, though, so the OP would know my issue and we’d have talked about it, if we worked closely together or something she was wearing was causing me issues.

  64. YouDontGoStraightToAccommodation*

    I find the idea that people expect someone to go to HR or start an accommodation request for something that in most circumstances should involve a coworker asking for a minor adjustment that happens weird. Accommodation processes are hard, long, difficult, involve revealing a lot of personal information, and usually used for major requests only. It would be total overkill 99.9% of the time someone was in this situation (and 99.9% of the time I would expect a simple request to work regardless of whether I was asking for a medical reason or not). I would be upset and resentful if I felt like I was being forced to go the accessibility route for something that any coworker should do for another in most circumstances. I have been in that exact situation before and, while I was able to resolve it by saying I didn’t want to have to invoke an accommodation request, I had to go into nearly the same level of detail about my medical circumstances with HR and my boss and I did resent it. This was precipitated by being repeatedly ignored when I told two of my coworkers that the working environment they preferred didn’t work for me when they kept suggesting I use it instead of the doing the simple thing I asked them to do that would actually solve the problem (without any pushback that it would be difficult or problematic in any way) and finally losing my temper in a staff meeting when it was suggested for the fourth or fifth time in a two week period (and thus being forced to explain why I reacted so strongly).

    Perhaps Jane has a medical issue, perhaps she doesn’t. Maybe she’s gotten her head bitten off before when asking people to tone down scents so she’s hoping some obvious passive aggressive dislike will be sufficient. I agree it’s a bit jerky, but OP’s attitude seems jerky to me too and I wonder how Jane would describe these interactions.

  65. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    I’ve reread #1 several times now and I’m not seeing anything about Jane having bad reactions to scent, only that she’s making a big deal about not liking it. This seems like a pretty big conclusion leap.

  66. Nora*

    Ask your workplace if you can add an air purifier. I have one in my classroom because I work with middle schoolers and the amount of vanilla perfume and ax body spray on the children could kill all insects in a mile wide radius.

    Bonus, keeps the air fresh and less germ filled.

  67. emrgfgf*

    I use scented products and have type 4 hair (I am Black), if someone asked me not to use these products I would continue to use the same products. I don’t have the luxury to change them and risk damage: hair not maintained properly. It has taken me years to find the right products that do not destroy my hair. The scents do dissipate though, unless a nose is in my hair they are not overtly fragrant.

  68. Pyjamas*

    Note to self after reading comments: switch to unscented hair products—use prose, which luckily has that option—especially products I leave in my (very fine, very dense, straight hair)

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