is it reasonable for our office to go so fragrance-free that we have to change every product we use at home?

A reader writes:

I work in a government office which is currently almost exclusively remote. We recently received an invitation to a not-quite-mandatory large (~50 person) in-person event which came with a note:

This is a fragrance-free meeting: Please help us to accommodate our coworkers who are chemically sensitive to products with fragrance (scented). Thank you for not wearing perfume, aftershave, scented hand lotion, fragranced hair products, essential oils, scented laundry products where the scent has not washed out, or other similar products when attending in-person meetings or visiting at [workplace].

Overall, I support the desire for low-to-no fragrance workspaces — no one wants to smell 15 different perfumes and colognes clashing with one another. It seems perfectly reasonable to ask that an employer ensure that soaps, lotions, and cleaning products used or provided in the workplace are fragrance-free, and to ask that employees not bring their own scented products into the workplace.

However, this note was followed by a link to a “fact sheet” with “tips on going fragrance free and why it’s important.” (For what it’s worth, the document was put together by the employee who made the fragrance-free request, not by HR or an advocacy group.) It is extensive, to say the least, recommending that employees should refrain from wearing fragrances to work and from using fragranced products at work. That much seems reasonable. It then goes on to ask that employees switch over personal care products to (more expensive) fragrance-free versions, including changing out laundry products (detergent, dryer sheets, softener, and stain remover), deodorant, haircare products, and lotion. That’s a bridge too far … right? Is asking every employee to change not only products they use in the workplace but also their personal care and home cleaning products really a reasonable accommodation?

Yeah, that’s not reasonable or realistic.

It absolutely is reasonable to ask that employees not wear perfume or cologne at work, and that they not bring in fragranced products like air fresheners or candles.

But asking people to change all the products they use at home is overreaching. There’s the expense, as you mentioned, and there’s also the fact that many people have chosen their products for a reason — because it’s the only lotion that works for their eczema, or the best shampoo for their scalp, and on and on (and often their product choices are the result of extensive experimentation). It also just reaches too deeply into people’s home lives; expecting an entire household to change their laundry practices, for example, isn’t reasonable.

If an employee’s fragrance sensitives are so strong that a basic “don’t wear added scents to work” policy won’t suffice, the right move is to look at different accommodations — generally accommodations that will allow the person to work remotely or from a more private space, rather than trying an almost certainly futile attempt to get dozens/hundreds/thousands of people (depending on the size of the company) to change every product they use on their hair, bodies, and clothing. In fact, the Job Accommodation Network, which helps people with disabilities find reasonable accommodations, notes that under the ADA, it’s probably not reasonable for employers “to have and enforce a total no-fragrance policy because it is difficult if not impossible to enforce.”

All that said, it’s not clear to me that your office is actually instructing people to change all of their personal care and laundry products. It sounds like the instructions from your employer were more toward the “don’t wear perfume” end of the spectrum, and the attached factsheet might have been suggestions from the employee, but not requirements from your employer. Whether or not this is reasonable would hinge on that.

Read an update to this letter

{ 703 comments… read them below }

  1. Michelle Smith*

    Hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes have a horrible harsh smell to me, so I use a scented version that doesn’t make me want to cut off my hands. I’d probably (personally – not advice) just stay home.

    1. throwaway name*

      I have psoriasis, so I must be careful which products I use on my hands, scalp, and face. For the most part, such products are fragrance-free, but some contain chamomile, tea tree oil, or other light botanicals that are a part of their therapeutic oomph. This list includes hand sanitiser, shampoo, and moisturizers that I have to regularly rotate through depending on the severity of a flare-up at any given time. This employee-generated list would directly contradict my physician-supported therapy plan for the daily management of an autoimmune disorder. All I can say to the coworker who made the list is, good luck sister. You may get someone to keep off the spray scent, but if you come between me and my tea tree oil I will personally come and make your desk look like a dry skin snowscape.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        As a fellow psoriasis sufferer I agree with you and this is my hill. It’s taken years to find products that work on my skin. Most of them are unscented but the one that I’ve had the most success with has a slight coconut scent. Interestingly, I’m allergice to tea tree oil but some people swear by it, I’m glad it works for you. I can also flake like nobody’s business when I have an outbreak and it is not pretty.

    2. desdemona*

      I have a scented hand sanitizer – because it has coconut oil in it and doesn’t dry out my hands as badly as regular hand sanitizer. If they made an unscented version, I’d buy it, but I’m pretty attached to my hand sanitizer (as it means I’m not constantly moisturizing my poor eczema hands!)

      1. COHikerGirl*

        What is this magical hand sanitizer?! I don’t use it often (I don’t go out often!), but when I do, I hate using sanitizer due to it drying my hands.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          I’d like to know too! I need a sanitizer with moisturizer for my dry skin and no chemicals to not make me sick. They were easy to find in 2020, but now they all have chemical fragrances. :p The last thing I need is more allergies from the toxic chemicals.

          1. Allston*

            Vaseline makes a hand sanitizer lotion! not as good as regular lotion, but it is awesome as hand sanitizer. And no strong smell that I notice!

        2. Allston*

          Vaseline makes a hand sanitizer lotion! not as good as regular lotion, but it is awesome as hand sanitizer. And no strong smell that I notice!

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I also buy and use coconut oil, the same oil that is used in cooking. It’s cheaper in the grocery store than the health food store and it’s the same product.

    3. Moira Rose*

      I have a bit of a conditioned nausea response to those scents because they remind me of terrible times spent in hospitals. Masks are actually great for blocking out that unpleasantness.

      1. NotBatman*

        Masks are awesome for blocking unwanted scents. I mentally thank the KN95 inventors every time I meet with my cigarette-smoking coworker.

        1. arthur lester*

          Haha, this is how I ended up having a mask handy before covid started at all– I got one to wear on public transportation to minimize the amount of other people’s smoke I had to smell

        2. wanting Spring in Ohio*

          Ugh, I feel for you. I had a supervisor who was a big smoker and coffee drinker. She had no idea how bad she smelled.

      2. J*

        Agreed on both counts. A lot of people will suggest an alcohol wipe for an anti-nausea response but I’m the kind to be triggered by that because it takes me right back to the chemo ward. The funny thing is that I have hyposmia but had a normal sense of smell during chemo so everything hospital triggering is twice as bad since it’s the only time I had memories associated with smell.

      3. Anon Supervisor*

        I work in health care and I gag when the bathrooms have that handsoap that smells like bandaids. It’s the germicide in it that just makes me want to barf. Thankfully, there has been advancements in antibacterial soaps, but every so often I find it.

    4. NotBatman*

      Conflicting access needs!

      That’s the disability-studies term for when (for example) a kid with ADHD is helped by having a fidget toy, but a kid with ADHD is also harmed if their neighbor has a fidget toy. So if there are two kids in the same class who both have ADHD, the perfect solution doesn’t exist.

      I’m also the person who gets horrible sunburn-like rashes from 99% of skincare products… and most of the remaining 1% contain menthol. There’s never going to be a perfect solution for my psoriasis *and* a cowoker’s scent sensitivity, but remote meeting options are a good start. Again: if I was in this situation, I would stay home.

        1. OfOtherWorlds*

          Except if both kids use a fidget spinner but get distracted by their neighbors fidget spinner! That’s actually not uncommon.

    5. WildChild*

      I literally can no longer buy my Deodorant fragrance free. The same product only comes in scents now. I try to stick with simple ones…but why is it so hard to find fragrance free Deodorant? it’s not even that the smell bothers me per se…but WHY would anyone want to smell LIKE DEODORANT?
      thank you for letting me vent lol

  2. Minimal Pear*

    Please do try to be as fragrance free as is feasible for you! I’ve had people act like it’s a Huge And Horrible Burden for them and I get it, but it’s also pretty sucky to be on the allergy end of things.

    1. HomebodyHouseplant*

      I just don’t understand why people feel entitled to tell other people what products they should use. Obviously don’t “bathe” in axe body spray but nice smelling lotion has been great for managing my depression. I get to use nice smelling lotion after I shower, I get to feel pretty and clean and it helps motivate me to stick to a good hygiene routine which can be hard for people with mental health issues. Aromatherapy is also a thing. I am generally on the side of accommodating peoples issues but…you can’t control what other, completely autonomous individuals do around you and it’s unreasonable to expect to be able to.

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        It’s not really convincing to say you’re “generally” on the side of accommodating people while also labeling the need for accommodation as “entitlement.” Please be real that you’re saying it’s ok to make people sick and incapacitated.

        1. HomebodyHouseplant*

          It’s okay for an individual to do what is best for them in a reasonable environment at a reasonable level, which using their preferred hygiene products undoubtedly falls into. If someone’s level of sensitivity means that another person having lotion on makes them “sick and incapacitated”, they need a different accommodation, one that maybe means not having to be around people as much. You cannot control people’s personal autonomy. A coworker gets migraines and needs those around them to use headphones, or keyboard dampeners, or dimmer lighting, or what have you that is reasonable for the work environment, absolutely! A person wants me to not use my lotion? I don’t think that’s reasonable, sorry.

          1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            You are allowed to have your own opinion. I just want people to be honest that they think their own preferences are more important than other people’s health.
            Many people with migraines are triggered by artificial scents, it’s not that rare.

            1. arthur lester*

              And many people with migraines are triggered by strong natural scents as well! One of my friends is fine with artificial scents, but chamomile is hugely disruptive for her.

              These sorts of triggers are personal, not universal. (Much like how I have a digestive condition that’s triggered by fructose, which means I try to avoid fruit, but does not mean nobody should eat fruit ever or that fruit is bad for everyone.)

              1. I have RBF*

                You eating fruit does not forcibly insert that fruit into someone else’s stomach.

                If I can smell your foofoo 6 feet away? You are a walking, talking nasal assault unit!

                1. Alexander Graham Yell*

                  I stopped going to a church in part because the pastor’s wife sold Doterra and decided she needed to be a walking, smelling billboard for them. I could smell her anywhere in the room, and decided that going to church wasn’t worth a weekly migraine. And I’m not even that scent-sensitive! But since I didn’t have to be there, I stopped going. It wouldn’t be as simple at the office.

                  That said, there has to be a balance between “I use this at home because I love it” and “I bring super floral hand lotion into the office.” If I work next to somebody and something I use triggers their allergies, I’d want to know! But if somebody generally said, “Hey, replace everything you own,” I’d have a little more trouble – partly with the expense and partly because I choose products that work for me. If I know a specific scent/ingredient/product that triggers an allergy, I’ll do my best to change, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what the LW is dealing with.

                2. Hannah Lee*

                  Some people don’t understand when and where intense “sillage” is okay. It’s one thing to wear a scent that stays close on your skin. It’s quite another to waft it where ever you go in the workplace.

                  I used to work at a company at a ~ 25,000 sq ft facility outside Boston. At least a couple of times a year, I’d come into work in the morning and think to myself:

                  “Oh, wow! Sharon from Chicago must be here”
                  “Hey, Bob from NYC is here … I wonder if he brought NY bagels again … must go to break room on way to my office”

                  Both of them were sales reps, who did not go anywhere near the finance department where I worked. The way I knew they were in town is that I could smell their “signature fragrances” … in the lobby, in the upstairs hallway, in the downstairs back hallway, in the cafe, etc Even if they hadn’t been near those areas for an hour. It was too much.

              2. Worldwalker*

                The smell of lilacs would send my father into a massive sinus attack. He was an elementary school teacher, so in the spring he couldn’t even walk into certain other teachers’ classrooms because they would have vases of lilacs that their students brought in on their desks.

                The first person who should be doing something to mitigate a person’s problem is *that person*. Noise triggers your migraines? Try noise-cancelling headphones before you insist that everyone else in the office be totally silent. Air contaminants of some type? Start with an air purifier. Only when one’s own mitigation efforts are not sufficient to prevent the problem, and no other solution (WFH, a separate office, whatever) is possible, should a person even think of imposing mandates on other people. It’s not fair for me to make my problems everyone else’s problems, at least not until I’ve done everything within my power to deal with them first.

              3. Wendy Darling*

                I’m allergic to lavender, and it sucks because it’s a super common allergy but since it’s natural people assume it’s fine to use everywhere. I had an asthma attack during an interview for my current job because someone had just cleaned the conference room with lavender scented cleaner.

                My general thing is if I can smell you if I’m further away than handshake distance, the smell is too strong. I have absolutely no problem with scented lotions, etc in principle, but there are lotions with an absolutely outrageous level of fragrance, like “I can smell that someone wearing scented lotion was in this elevator five minutes ago” level fragrance, and that is not cool. I’m already on three separate antihistamines so short of never leaving my home there’s not a whole lot more I can do from my end.

            2. Just Another Zebra*

              I’ll say it – yes, I do think my “preference” to not be itchy and covered in hives, or smelling like I haven’t bathed in a month, or with hair that becomes damaged and unmanageable and unprofessional in appearance, is important. My preference to wear perfumes does not supersede someone else’s medical conditions, but I’m going to prioritize my health first.

            3. AA Baby Boomer*

              Just get me around someone with Opium perfume or strong musks. It’s not just a migraine, it’s trouble breathing; hands & the area around my eyes swell up; vertigo, and choking.

              I loved that strong stuff when I was in by 20’s. Things changed after I hit menopause. I now, know why my dad would complain when Mom and I wore perfume. We refused to stop using it; now I feel so sorry for him since it’s my issue now.

            4. Antilles*

              One complicating factor is that many “fragrance free” products aren’t *actually* completely scentless but instead a mix of a bunch of different scents/chemicals to neutralize the smells.
              For some people with migraines, this works just fine but for others (raises hand), “fragrance free” products are often worse than something with a blatantly added scent like orange or lavender or etc.

              1. Hazel*

                I think this might be confusing unscented with fragrance free. Where I live, unscented means perfumed to appear neutral. Fragrance free means just that.

                1. nona*

                  +1 – “unscented” and “fragrance-free” are not the same. And “unscented” is the one with the neutralizing fragrance additives. Fragrance-free means it’s going to smell like whatever it actually is (which may or may not be neutral), without any *added* fragrances.

                2. Antilles*

                  At least in the US, the labeling for “fragrance free” seems to be defined by the EPA, which uses the following criteria:
                  1) the product only contains ingredients on or eligible for the Safer Chemical Ingredients List (SCIL) and 2) the product does not contain chemicals on the International Fragrances Association (IFRA) Transparency List of fragrance chemicals intended to impart or mask a scent. (…) It is important to note that products that qualify for the Safer Choice fragrance-free certification may still have an odor and not be on the IFRA Transparency List.

                  So “fragrance free” certainly could be noticeable depending on what the may-still-have-an-odor is.

                  Of course, practically speaking, the average consumer isn’t doing this sort of research on the product labeling definitions and requirements. They’re not going to recognize the difference between unscented and fragrance free AND they’re likely to make their decision purely based on their nose rather than the legal definitions. And certainly OP’s workforce if they enforced this isn’t going “let’s see the legal packaging”, they’re just sniffing and letting that be the judge.

              2. I have RBF*

                Yeah, I found out about that the hard way when I first because allergic. I bought an “unscented” product, but didn’t read the label. I reacted badly. I then read the label and saw “masking scent” or some such. Now I read the labels, because people who do the marketing of this stuff don’t realize that it’s an allergy thing, not a “I don’t like smell” thing.

              3. Sal*

                interesting–I had heard this but about products labeled “unscented”–my understanding was that “fragrance-free” was supposed to actually be free of fragrances. Yikes, one more thing to be on the lookout for.

              4. Jack Russell Terrier*

                What you’re looking for with detergent is ‘free and clear’

                “What Is Free & Clear Laundry Detergent? Free & clear laundry detergent refers to detergents that are completely free of additives and irritants such as fabric softeners, dyes, colors, fragrances and brighteners. If a laundry detergent is free & clear, that’s a good indicator that it’s safe for sensitive skin.”

                1. Just Another Zebra*

                  And yet everyone in my household has a reaction to the free and clear detergents *shrug*.

                  In many ways, the fragrance debate is a no-win situation.

              5. Nina*

                I learned this one the hard way (I have horrible respiratory allergies to a whole raft of fragrances) – ‘unscented’ means ‘we have added stuff to cover the scent of the naturally-scented ingredients to trick your brain into thinking it’s unscented’, and ‘fragrance-free’ means ‘we have used low- to no-fragrance ingredients as far as possible for what this product is and we have not added anything to add to or subtract from the minimal fragrance those ingredients have’.

                I can use fragrance-free laundry liquid. I cannot use unscented laundry liquid.

            5. Observer*

              I just want people to be honest that they think their own preferences are more important than other people’s health.

              This is not just rude, it’s utterly dishonest. If you bothered to read the message ges up-thread of yours, you would see that people are actually talking about THEIR health, not preferences. You don’t get to decide that YOUR migraines are more important than someone else’s depression, psoriasis or other health condition, and you certainly cannot pretend that only your health is actually a health issue, but everyone else’s is is just a “preference”.

              I mean you can think whatever you want, but if you actually try to act on those ideas, you’re going to run into trouble. And if you express those ideas, you will lose any credibility you might have.

        2. Colette*

          Competing requirements are an issue, though. HomebodyHouseplant says that scented lotions help with her health issues, even though they are not good for other people’s different issues.

          Similarly, someone with a skin condition might have found one – and only one – lotion that helps, and it has a scent. They should not be expected to harm their own health for someone else.

          1. anonforthis*

            I have two on-site colleagues in a bad situation like this. One of them has 3-4 unpredictably timed migraines per week, sometimes while in the office, and gets moderate relief only from menthol. The other has a severe mint allergy.

            In practice, we keep them apart and (with everyone’s permission) warn people about the severe mint allergy and point out a bunch of things not allowed in the office as a result except for Colleague 1, and include the need to be very careful if anyone needs to talk to Colleague 1 then Colleague 2 in that order.

            1. minty fresh*

              I’m also a chronic migraine/headache sufferer and a bit of diluted peppermint oil on my temples is my go to. Sometimes works better than a pain reliever.

              I honestly don’t know what I would do if I was told I couldn’t use it at work anymore.

            2. BethDH*

              This sounds helpful.
              We had a directive to try to be as fragrance free as we reasonably could, and they gave us a couple of helpful practical parts that included prioritizing what we brought/used in-office over what was used at home, noting which conference room had the best air circulation, and asking people to avoid applying lotions etc. right before they went into a meeting to allow scents to dissipate.

              1. Hannah Lee*

                Yes! It’s approaching it cooperatively as human beings who all want things to work as well as they can. Do what you can to be kind and accommodate others, use common sense, take advantage of time and space and ventilation systems to make things go as smoothly as possible, don’t try to rules lawyer your way around things just because you can or think you should be able to on principal.

          2. Worldwalker*

            It’s the old question of what happens when one person has an emotional support dog and another person has a phobia of dogs. Whose mental health gets priority?

            1. UKDancer*

              You find a work around that works to the best extent possible. So I’m allergic to dogs and one of my colleagues in my previous company had a guide dog. The work around was that we had desks a reasonable distance apart, met mainly on Zoom (easier than you’d think as our work didn’t significantly overlap) and didn’t meet in enclosed spaces. When we had large group meetings I made sure I wasn’t sitting near her.

              My colleague’s life would have been easier if I weren’t allergic and mine would have been easier if she didn’t have the dog, but compromises were possible.

        3. Gerry Keay*

          I mean if your allergy is that severe, a reasonable accommodation would be being allowed to work from home or in an office with a closed door with an air purifier. Unless you’re saying you think that everyone in every circumstance should use the products you think they should use? in which case, yeah, that comes across as pretty entitled because it implies you think that your allergies are more important than anyone else’s needs.

        4. CommanderBanana*

          I think there’s a huge difference between “a coworker has a serious allergy and can’t be exposed to X, so we’re moving to an X-free office space” to “never ever wear anything scented ever” and your conflating the two is really not helpful.

          1. arthur lester*

            Yeah, I’m happy to make a change for a specific person (and have a friend with specific allergies that I can know to avoid) but saying “cease all scents, you chemical laden beasts, don’t you know the scented stuff is actually poison and you smell terrible and the chemicals are going to kill both of us” isn’t reasonable.

            1. CommanderBanana*

              Right, and also, a big difference between, “I know I will encounter person with a known allergy at work or a specific place vs. encountering all the people, everywhere, all at once.”

              1. arthur lester*

                Yep, exactly! (And humorously, I couldn’t even use most “unscented” or “natural” products around my friend with sensitivities, because what they use to get that neutral scent aggravates her migraines like nothing else. Someone will be allergic to everything.)

        5. Anon for Details*

          There’s a reason that the ADA refers to the need for reasonable accommodation and to avoid undue burdens. As much as it sucks there are going to sometimes be cases where it is not completely possible or reasonable to accommodate someone in the exact way they want.

          I think a similar concept applies here, where it is reasonable to ask for some accommodation from the people around but unfortunately sometimes what is reasonable isn’t going to be your preferred solution.

          For instance, I’m a bit autistic and I have a very direct communication style. A coworker has other specific things going on that mean that she sometimes feels direct communication is a personal attack and disagreeing with something she’s said means you think she’s stupid. For us, we’ve compromised on me saying, “I’m questioning that because X, Y, Z” (which feels less personal to her) and she had compromised by trying to be more clear when she needs something specific. Both of us have to do some of the accomodating on our own end to make it work rather than having the situation be exactly what is optimal for us.

          I think it’s not contradictory to both support accomodations in general and to still disagree with each other about where reasonable accommodation ends.

        6. Aurora Borealis*

          Who makes that decision- allergies take precedent over mental health? Or vice versa? Homebody Houseplants needs are just as important as the next person. Being hateful is not helpful. They did not say it was ok to make people sick and ‘incapacitated’.

        7. Warrior Princess Xena*

          It’s reasonable to say ‘please don’t wear perfumes/spray air freshener/deliberately inject additional scent into the air’ in the same way that is it reasonable in an open plan office to say ‘please take calls on a headset/don’t listen to music’. That falls under ‘don’t deliberately make life harder for your fellow humans’. But there’s also a point at which you start shifting the burden of accommodation unreasonably. In the case of scents: a lot of people may also have medical needs that are controlled with products, some of which may also have scents. There’s also a question of cost – ‘unscented’ products are often far more expensive than their scented components, and asking people to switch to those items is moving an unfair burden of costs onto them, if they can even be found in a given location, and they may not be as effective.

          To be clear – this sucks. Having a scent trigger sucks. Having any sort of chronic or medical condition sucks. Having people act in a thoughtless, careless, or malicious way to make one’s life more challenging sucks, and if there’s a simple way to not be a jerk to your fellow human I’m all for it (don’t spray air fresheners! Don’t wear perfume!). But there comes a point when it just sucks, and you end up having to make the hard decision of ‘will my quality of life be better if I make a shift to a remote position or a remote job’.

        8. Avril Ludgateaux*

          Asking people to change their entire, day-to-day hygiene routine for the few minutes or maybe hours a day they might be around you is entitlement, though. If a colleague who was horribly allergic to dogs (or cats, or whatever chosen pet you have), asked you to get rid of your dog (etc.) because having even a hint of dander on your clothing would cause them to have a dangerous anaphylactic episode, would you categorize that as a “reasonable” request?

          1. Distracted Librarian*

            This is a really good analogy. “Don’t bring your [non-service] dog to work,” is reasonable. “Get rid of your dog,” is not.

        9. Siobahn*

          “Please be real that you’re saying it’s ok to make people sick and incapacitated.”

          False premise. Please don’t do that.

      2. I don’t post often*

        Hmmmmm. What if smoked a cigarette and blew the smoke in your face? Continuously at work? American society has decided this is a horrible thing to do and passed laws against it. Understand that those of us with reactions to perfume often have instant migraines, body aches, ear aches, and sore muscles for days. Now, do we know the long term impact on everyone? No. But we know that second hand smoke causes health problems. So please understand that wearing a smelly perfume or strongly scented lotion does the same to me as if someone had blown cigarette smoke on my face. If you are fine with me being unable to work because of a migraine due to a product you worse, Carey on!

            1. Colette*

              Because cigarette smoke is bad for everyone’s health, whereas scented products can be good for some people’s health and bad for others.

              1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

                What’s your source that they are “good for people’s health?” I don’t think that’s supported by science at all.

                1. HonorBox*

                  If my shampoo is good for my scalp health, and is prescribed for me by a dermatologist, that’s science, right?

                2. Totally Minnie*

                  I get respiratory symptoms from strong scents, but I am aware that aromatherapy is a thing and that some people do feel an improvement in their mental or physical health from being exposed to certain scents. I’d never want to take that benefit away from them. I’d hope we could come to an arrangement where they enjoy those scents when I’m not present, but I won’t deny that there are people who benefit from scented products even though I’m not one of them.

                3. Ellis Bell*

                  Plenty of medicinal skin products are highly scented. It doesn’t have to be added after the fact perfume, sometimes the essential ingredient has a scent.

                4. Worldwalker*

                  I don’t get many migraines anymore (getting older has one benefit, anyway!) but one thing that helped with them when I did was the scent of lavender. In one memorable case, I was in Cambridge when a migraine came on … I figured hey, this is Cambridge, there has to be an herb shop near here somewhere, and there was. I bought a couple of ounces of dried lavender and just stuck my face in the bag and inhaled. It didn’t end the migraine, of course, but it did make it back down to where I could function.

                  Lavender potpourri reduces headaches for me even now. I’d call that good for my health. And I know there are people who would *get* a headache from the smell of it. (is there a Law of Conservation of Migraines, maybe?)

                5. yala*

                  When I had an excruciating cut in the back of my mouth last week, about the only thing that brought me any relief was mint tea and menthol drops.

                  We literally had a letter not that long ago where one person was being asked to change her haircare routine because the other disliked the smell–but said routine and products were the things that worked best in her hair.

                  It happens.

              2. I don’t post often*

                Errrrrrr. Welllllllll. Have there been studies on the long term impact of using chemical fragrances? We know that the United States generally allows more chemicals than other countries.

                I could go on, but I’m not aware of any long term studies. I do know that the the short term impacts for me are the same. I also know people that smoke tobacco (or weed for that matter) to calm nerves. Is my migraine more important than their nerves? I believe the commentator above states they have depression.
                If you know of any long term studies of the impact of chemical fragrances, please share! My family has been dealing with sensitivity issues for 50+ years. It’s only within the last 20 that it seems to be more mainstream

                1. arthur lester*

                  C’mon now, this is moving goalposts and you know it. Suggesting that fragrances are somehow inherently harmful to everyone because Chemicals Bad is not actually helping your position here.

                2. Ferret*

                  Using the term “chemicals” like it is some kind of scary poison does not make you sound more reasonable. You might as well talk about molecular fragrances

                3. I have RBF*

                  I used to work in indoor air quality. IIRC, most artificial scents use carriers that are aldehydes and ketones. While these are generally considered “safe”, I don’t believe they are. OTOH, because they are so ubiquitous in American society, it’s hard to get a good study design to assess the damage they might cause – because there’s no “no fragrance exposure, ever” control group.

                  It took them a long time to realize the health effects caused by leaded gasoline and lead paint. Only by banning leaded gasoline and lead paint because of acute effect did they realize the long term effects it was also causing.

                4. Lavender*

                  Everything is made out of chemicals. Some are harmful and some aren’t.

                  You also can’t prove a negative, so the fact that no studies have definitively proven that artificial fragrances aren’t harmful doesn’t necessarily mean they *are* harmful. It just means there’s no known correlation.

                5. Lady_Lessa*

                  As a chemist, though not in the area that is involved with scents. Even natural materials need something to carry the material from its source to the person smelling it. I suspect that a good analytical chemist could find more compounds from a rose that is outside than a man-made rose odor. The man-made is probably simpler and made with materials that are purer.

                  I feel for those who have problems with various smells, etc.

                6. Colette*

                  As other people have pointed out, everything is a chemical – including “natural” scents like those released by skunks.

                  But you’re requiring perfection of people who live in reality.

                  Let’s assume that scents added to products are unnecessary and dangerous. Let’s further assume that soaps and skin care products naturally have no scent.

                  If I know that and I find only one product that relieves constant itchiness and it’s scented, it’s still my only choice.

                  If I find only one laundry detergent that doesn’t make me break out in constant hives and it’s scented, it’s still my only choice.

                  People can only choose from products that exist, not the hypothetical unscented ones that don’t. And we do that all the time. We use cars, which have been proven to have many health risks, for example.

                  If you want all added scents removed from all products, you need to lobby your elected officials. In the meantime, those around you will continue to make the best choices available to them.

                7. delazeur*

                  “We know that the United States generally allows more chemicals than other countries.”

                  “We know”? Who is “we” and how do they know? In my experience with environmental and consumer protection regulation, you’ll find that comparing the US to any other country there will be some things one country regulates that the other doesn’t and vice versa. There isn’t really a strong trend of under-regulation in the US.

                8. I don’t post often*

                  I seriously wish we could all this conversation in person so you could see that I am being sincere and not tendentious.

                  I typed out this huge response, but in the end, I truly hope none of you ever have a doctor look at you as if you are crazy and presume you are lying.

                  Just as the impact of cigarette smoke was not acknowledge 100 years ago, I wait for the day our society acknowledges that certain man made chemicals do cause harm and should be banned from certain products. Will it be my lifetime? I sure hope so. But we shall see.

                9. Lilo*

                  I know someone who switched to diffusing/cleaning with “natural plant oils” to avoid “chemicals” and almost killed her cat. Natural =/= safe. Chemical =/= bad.

              3. Ex consultant*

                Also, there is a massive body of research to show exactly how cigarette smoke is bad for everyone. Not so for scented products broadly. The whole “sensitivity to scents” thing encompasses a lot of health issues that are not well understood at all at this point- many of them may even be psychosomatic, which doesn’t mean they’re not valid, but it does mean strict scent-free policies may not be that helpful in the long run.

                Look, commercial air fresheners aren’t great for us. Dousing oneself in heavy perfume and forcing everyone else to breathe it in is inconsiderate. But I do think some people go too far. I remember once a few years ago I had really chapped hands in the office and the only hand cream in my purse was scented. Within 30 seconds, an admin from down the hall was carrying on like a bloodhound on a manhunt, demanding to know who dared pollute the air. It was humiliating and unnecessary.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              This. Cigarette smoke is universally unhealthy. Various products that also have scents aren’t (see the example below of the husband who is allergic to all but one laundry detergent, which happens to be scented).

            3. Eau de dog*

              @I don’t post often, you need to stop being so tendentious. It is obvious that cigarette smoke is carcinogenic to everyone. That is not true with fragrances, and indeed some fragrances may be beneficial to most people’s health.

        1. Roland*

          No one is demanding to be able to spray Axe at you. They’re saying their personal grooming habits are off the table and for your equivalency, fyi smoking at home and coming in to work smelling like smoke is legal in most places. I hate the smell of cigarette smoke on people! But that’s where we have drawn the line as a society for now.

          1. I don’t post often*

            Except that the impacts of axe aren’t that “I don’t like it/ I hate it”. The smell makes me physically ill.

              1. ecnaseener*

                And now we’ve come back around to the true equivalency. Under the ADA, is it a reasonable accommodation for an employer to make Employee A quit smoking altogether because the lingering smell of smoke makes Employee B sick?

                1. Chirpy*

                  The smell of smoke on a coworker’s jacket that is strong enough to transfer onto MY jacket in the coat room causes me breathing issues in my car on the way home. The easiest accommodation would be to have a separate room for hanging up smokers and non-smokers coats to avoid cross-contamination (much as I’d rather they just quit smoking).

                2. Michelle Smith*

                  I think the answer is: of course not. There are other accommodations that would be reasonable that do not require Employee A to magically overcome their addiction overnight and stop smoking. They could be separated as much as the office allows, they could alternate who comes to the in-person meetings (or maybe one employee wants to be there more than the other so they just pick accordingly), they could nix the in-person gatherings altogether and just stay a fully-remote team, etc. In the most extreme situation, perhaps Employee B cannot be accommodated and then might look for another place to work. But keeping in mind that Employee B cannot get accommodations in every aspect of life (e.g. they can’t dictate who they pass on the sidewalk, get seated next to on an airplane, or checks them out at a store), Employee B must accept that they cannot end all smoking everywhere they might go and accommodate themselves as much as possible accordingly – like perhaps only driving their own car everywhere and double masking in public.

              2. I have RBF*

                My wife gets migraines from the smell of weed smoke. My roomies toke. Our solution is that all smoking is done outside, albeit in a covered area, and they start out long enough that the smell dissipates.

                1. Michelle Smith*

                  I don’t know if you use these, but air purifiers also help me with this. I have a similar problem with marijuana smoke and my neighbors. It was coming in through the gap in the front door and the window, it was so strong to me. A carbon filter on my window for when it’s open (long story short, I have to keep it open all winter because of the radiator) and an air purifier near the door changed my life.

            1. Colette*

              Bell peppers make me physically ill – even just the scent. Should I request that no one bring in anything containing them to the office, as well as stop eating them outside of the office? Should I insist that no work lunches take place at restaurants that serve peppers (or ingredients that contain them?)

              Of course not, because other people are not me.

              I realize that scents are different, but there is a limit to how much you can expect people to change what works for them to make things easier for you.

              1. Avril Ludgateaux*

                Should I request that no one bring in anything containing them to the office, as well as stop eating them outside of the office?

                My nephew got sent home from school with his lunch – which he wasn’t permitted to eat – because it had some ready-made oatmeal stuff that was made with almond milk. Instead of having a “no food sharing” rule, they’ve decided it’s better to let a kid go hungry because of a blanket “nut free” rule despite no known tree nut allergies in the classroom.

                1. Colette*

                  Nut free rules are pretty common in schools. At face value, this seems like an overreaction, but the details we don’t know matter.

                  But while it’s reasonable to ask people not to bring a common allergen into an area lots of people use, it’s far less reasonable to ask people not to use it at home.

                  So prohibiting perfumes worn by people is reasonable; asking people to not use any scented products is not.

                2. iliketoknit*

                  Nut allergies are pretty common and often life-threatening, though. The risk of kids ignoring a “no food sharing” rule is greater than the risk of one kid being hungry for a few hours. And nut contamination can spread really easily, even if there isn’t a kid with nut allergies in that classroom. I can’t really blame schools for making that blanket rule – which, as Colette points out, isn’t the same as being told what to do at home.

              2. Scooby Snax*

                There was something here about this very issue not long ago, where the person was pregnant and the smell of onions made her gag. I got totally reamed for saying I would take issue with being asked not to bring in a sandwich with onion, as I love onion and consider my lunch a pleasurable point in my work day. EVERYONE thought I was a horrible person for saying I would struggle with never bringing food with onion to the office.

            2. boberta*

              Lots of things make people ill. It does not follow that it is reasonable or fair to ask people to strike those things from their lives.

              Look, I get it. The smell of bergamot gives me migraines. But while asking people to stop dousing themselves in bergamot-scented perfume is a fair accommodation, I can’t expect someone who is allergic to all detergents but the bergamot one to give that up, or the person who is profoundly depressed whose bergamot-scented tea light gives them joy to stop indulging. That’s centering my needs above everyone elses and, guess what, that makes me a dick. I can ask nicely that they work with me, but at the end of the day, trying to control everything they do and calling it a crusade for justice is just selfish.

            3. GarlicBreadAfficianado*

              OK, so let’s take your example. I have unbelievably sensitive skin. Think, “sleeps on hotel sheets and will be in hives” The ONE AND ONLY detergent I can use has a very slight scent.

              Is it fair for me to be to be covered in full body hives and require medical treatment and high doses of benedryl because I’m going to go in the office ONE TIME?


        2. doreen*

          There are indeed laws against smoking at work – but so far as I know there is no law anyplace that prohibits smoking outside of work because your coworkers might be able to tell by the smell that you smoked. Prohibiting actually using scented hand lotion and air fresheners at work is one thing but expecting people to not use scented products at any time because the body lotion/shampoo/detergent they used hours/days before they get to work might give someone a migraine is going too far. And I have to say , I wonder how people who really need to avoid scent to that extent cope with life in general – if a coworker truly needs me to switch to unscented laundry detergent so they don’t get a migraine or allergy symptoms , what do they do when they are anywhere other than work? You can’t exactly keep everyone at the supermarket from using scented products.

          1. I don’t post often*

            I’m specifically discussing heavily scented perfumes and lotions (lotion normally disapa

            1. I don’t post often*

              Comment section acted a bit crazy there. I’m specifically discussing heavily scented perfumes and lotions. Most lotions dissipate after a while, but some do not. If you spray your perfume at home and come to work heavily fragranced, this is an issue.
              If I am somewhere in public and the fragrance is bothering me, I simply move. (Think: grocery store line, movies, etc). We agree on the laundry detergent question. Although know that if you purchase again Mountain breeze or mountain spring, you do not, in fact, smell like that.
              I have received hand me down children’s clothes that we immediately just had to take to goodwill because the laundry smell would not come off. I do not purchase secondhand clothing for this reason.

          2. FD*

            I think this is the more equivalent statement.

            Don’t smoke at work is very different from don’t smoke outside of work. It’s much more reasonable for an employer to say the former than the latter.

          3. Worldwalker*

            Or the supermarket itself. If I’m on the verge of getting a headache, the laundry detergent and air “fresheners” will push my head over the edge. And I’m not unusually sensitive to them. Plus there’s always that one person in the checkout line who seems to have bathed in cheap perfume. The wisterias are blooming right now, and you can smell them as you drive by. I have a fairly sensitive sense of smell, so I might notice things more than average, but the world is full of strong scents. Those flowers blooming over there. That parking lot they just repaved. My neighbor who burns garbage. The Yankee Candle store on the upper level on the other side of the mall. If someone is really so sensitive to scents that everyone around them has to use unscented laundry detergent, how on earth do they live in a world full of smells, scents, and stenches? (and people all around them who in fact use regular laundry detergetn)

            1. I have RBF*

              They stay home, they WFH, they shop at times when the stores aren’t crowded, or have someone else shop for them.

              This is my life. I buy the laundry detergent and unscented dryer sheets for my whole household so they won’t go get some cheap stuff loaded with perfume. Same with dish soap.

          4. Punk*

            The forced proximity and duration of work is different than passing by different places and people at a quick pace. My manager once asked me a similar question – if I couldn’t handle the one particular scented candle she had chosen, how on earth did I function in the world? In no other context am I subjected to scents that are not of my choosing, nine hours a day, five days a week.

        3. AngryOctopus*

          But it’s not a *reasonable* accommodation for you to tell me that I have to change the products I use at home. Don’t wear perfume? Fine, reasonable. Don’t use the scented lotion I like in the winter? Nope. That lotion was found through trial and error of testing products, and it means that my skin isn’t continuously itchy in the winter or when it’s dry. I’m not going to change it because you’re super sensitive to fragrances because again, it’s not reasonable. If your migraine triggers are so severe that my lotion does it, it’s not the only thing, and you yourself need a different accommodation.

          1. Another JD*

            That’s not how the ADA works. You don’t get an accommodation for itchy skin unless it has a substantial impact on a major life activity. Certain fragrances impair my ability to think and breathe even when reasonably medicated, therefore they aren’t allowed in my workplace. My migraines and asthma persist long after the trigger fragrance is removed, so it’s not as easy as leaving the room containing the scent.

            Fragrance sensitivity also has nothing to do with whether you like the scent, and not all scents trigger symptoms. Co-workers going completely scent free for all products isn’t a reasonable accommodation, but refraining from particular scents that are identified as triggers is if you’re going to be around someone who is sensitive to them more than once in a blue moon.

            1. Just Me*

              Yeah, but that’s not how the ADA works either. Telling a co-worker they need to make changes to their home life is not reasonable. It’s not like a one for one trade off between employees, it’s an agreement made by the employer with the ADA covered employee. They can’t impact the lives of their co-workers in the way you’re suggesting. The accommodation that would be reasonable for someone who can’t be anywhere near lavender (as an example) is to work remotely, not ban lavender from everyone’s homes they may possibly be in the same room with. You can ask your co-workers to make changes, if they don’t mind, but that’s not the ADA’s purview to enforce.

              1. Another JD*

                That is actually how the ADA works. As an employer I can ban anything lavender-scented from coming into the workplace. And that’s the key – if the employee uses all the lavender candles and lotions they want at home but the smell doesn’t enter the workplace, then the employee can continue doing whatever they want at home. It’s the workplace impact that’s regulated. I can discipline and fire an employee for wearing something lavender-scented to work even if it’s applied at home.

                1. Observer*

                  But the ADA does NOT require that as a reasonable accommodation. It does not consider getting that involved in people’s home lives a reasonable accommodation. Even if it’s something that the employer CAN do, it’s not something they HAVE to do.

                  No lavender scented stuff in the workplace, generally a reasonable, and thus required, accommodation. Even there, there may be exceptions, as noted. Banning any use of such products even in the employee’s home, if the scent slings at all to anything when the user comes into the office? No, never considered a reasonable accommodation, therefore never required.

            2. DanniellaBee*

              This stance is so over the top. It is not the job of other people to change their lives outside of work to accommodate you. AngryOctopus using a lotion in their own home after a shower is not your business. If you need that level of no fragrances in your life, you should be wearing a gas mask everywhere you go. There is a woman who lives in my community who does exactly that. It’s her heath and she took it upon herself to do what she needs to do rather than expecting the entire world to change around her when it comes to scents.

      3. metadata minion*

        Because we live in a society and share the same air. If your actions make other people sick, it’s reasonable for them to ask you to stop. It’s also reasonable for you to say “this is necessary for me; what can we do to keep both of us healthy?”.

        1. FD*

          That might be true but it’s but unreasonable for them to say, “These are the products that work / are affordable for me and I can’t change everything in my life for this. It sounds like this is a huge challenge for you–why don’t we meet by Zoom so you can be in a fragrance free environment and we can still connect.”

          It’s not reasonable to expect others to replace every hygiene product they own. Even if it was, I’m prepared to bet you could never find a product that’s 100% effective for everyone and causes no problems for anyone.

          1. DanniellaBee*

            This is exactly my experience with the entire scent free crusade. Changing every product in my life to accommodate someone else, having it not work for me personally (rashes, dry skin, dry hair, the return of KP and acne), and then ultimately reframing from perfume and just going back to my trusted products for everything else.

            Don’t even get me started on the “all chemicals are bad” nonsense. Ugh.

      4. Minimal Pear*

        This attitude is exactly what I’m talking about in my comment. I didn’t say “be completely fragrance free”, I said “TRY to be as fragrance free as is FEASIBLE for you”. Especially since this is a one-off event, rather than an everyday thing–I would definitely feel different if it was an everyday problem for LW/their coworker.
        I understand that your scented lotion is a disability aid for you–this is a case of conflicting access needs! An accommodation in this case might be to seat Hypothetical Scented Lotion Coworker and Hypothetical Allergy Coworker across the building from each other. (Plus five million other ideas I’m not going to list here.)
        But when I complain mildly about people acting like being fragrance free or fragrance light is “a Huge And Horrible Burden” this is what I’m talking about. It’s not “entitled” and “unreasonable” to ask for disability accommodations. Especially when, again, like I said in my comment, I’m not taking a hard line. (Much as I wish I could some days…) I’m just asking that people think about what they really CAN do, because I’ve had experiences with people being extremely unimaginative and claiming there’s absolutely no way they can give up their perfume. I’ve run registration at multiple disability conferences and was the person explaining the fragrance policy, so believe me, I’ve heard it all and it gets exhausting.
        Also, “you can’t control other people” is an argument I often see used in favor of rejecting disability accommodations. You can’t dictate other people’s every action, but you can ask for a certain amount of courtesy, and I think other people owe you the consideration to make a good faith attempt at doing what they can. (Again, I’m talking more on the end of “not wearing perfume”, not “going completely scent free in every aspect of your life just for one coworker”.)

        1. Worldwalker*

          But this *is* talking about “going completely scent free in every aspect of your life.”

          Nobody is objecting to not wearing heavy perfume, etc.

          1. Minimal Pear*

            This was specifically in response to HomebodyHouseplant’s reply to my comment, where I was saying that it would be nice for people to cut out more than perfume/cologne for this event IF THAT IS SOMETHING THEY CAN DO, and HomebodyHouseplant responded to imply that this is entitled.
            I would LOVE it if I could ban All Fragrances Forever from the world, but I recognize that would be a ridiculous overreach, so that situation is not what I’m discussing here.

        2. Spencer Hastings*

          “This attitude is exactly what I’m talking about in my comment”

          That isn’t what it sounded like to me — it seemed to me like your original comment was scolding the LW for suggesting that what was being asked of her wasn’t entirely reasonable.

          1. Minimal Pear*

            “Please” = I am asking politely
            “try” = I am not asking you to do this fully/be perfect, I am asking you to try
            “as is feasible for you” = do what you can
            If I had been spelling out every one of my thoughts, I would’ve put a sentence in here saying something about how some people stop at “well I won’t spray perfume on today” and don’t think about anything else, and how I would love it if they would think outside the box.
            “I’ve had people act” = this is, factually, an experience that I have had, although I am not saying it’s what’s happening here
            “I get it” = I understand why they feel that way
            “it’s also pretty sucky” = I get why it sucks for people who’re being asked to change products, it also sucks for me, it sucks for us all, let’s be considerate of each other
            That’s what I was thinking with my word choice! I was also aiming this at the general population of people who may end up in similar situations, not so much directly at the letter writer. I agree with Alison’s “verdict”, which is why I didn’t really address that directly. I was definitely typing quickly so there wasn’t a ton of detail, but it certainly wasn’t meant to be scolding. I hope that helps clarify what I was trying to get across! :)
            I was, however, a little taken aback by the reply to what I felt was a relatively mild comment saying that asking people to try making the changes that are possible for them is entitled.

        3. Observer*

          This attitude is exactly what I’m talking about in my comment. I didn’t say “be completely fragrance free”, I said “TRY to be as fragrance free as is FEASIBLE for you”. Especially since this is a one-off event, rather than an everyday thing–I would definitely feel different if it was an everyday problem for LW/their coworker

          Yeah, but the “fact sheet” and request that the OP got WAS a request to be completely fragrance free. And the fact that it’s a one off isn’t really helpful. Because you’re asking people to upend their entire routine not so that someone can keep their job but so that they can attend ONE meeting.

          But when I complain mildly about people acting like being fragrance free or fragrance light is “a Huge And Horrible Burden” this is what I’m talking about.

          Yes, and they shouldn’t. But they are because SO many people do actually try to impose a Huge Burden on others when they start with this. Look at this very thread. The people who are saying that the scent sensitive person has a HEALTH issue, while *everyone else* merely has a PREFERENCE. And the people who are saying that it *is* necessary to go to fairly significant lengths – the absolutely do NOT mean “where feasible” or they stretch the term to a point where it’s meaningless.

          I think you would get more traction if you recognized this problem. Yes, people SHOULD be considerate. But ALSO, people who are scent sensitive need to recognize the limits of what is reasonable. If more people did both, everyone would be better off.

          1. Minimal Pear*

            I agree with Alison/her take on the situation, which is why I didn’t bring up the fact sheet–it sounds like it’s optional, and if it isn’t, it’s definitely too much. I’m not asking people to upend their entire routines. Once again, I’m saying, “Hey, it’s nice if you can do what you’re able to for this one event!” Changing every single product you use is far outside the realm of what people are generally able to do and therefore is not what I’m talking about.
            (Next paragraph is a new thought about your second point, not a continuation of the previous thought.)
            I’m also going to have to disagree with you a bit on what constitutes a Huge Burden here, because I’m all about accommodating disabilities. If someone has a health problem, and someone else has a preference, then yeah I do care a little more about the person with the actual health problem. If both people have health problems, then it’s a conflicting access need, which is a well-known issue, and there are solutions to that.
            Honestly, I do want to live in a society without scented products. I do think that that would ultimately be a huge step forward in accessibility. I do think that most scented products don’t need to be scented. I just recognize that that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
            I’m not really trying to get “traction”–my “career” as a disability activist was hell on me and I’m not eager to pick that back up again. I do want to push back a bit on some of your statements here, because ableism is often justified by saying that it’s unreasonable* to ask for a certain accommodation, that people need to see “both sides”, that disabled people are asking for too much. I don’t think you mean it that way! Going to be a goofy hippie type for a second, but I just want everyone to use their imaginations to picture a perfect, disability-accommodating utopia… and then think about how many steps they can actually take to get closer to that goal. :’)

            *not talking about the legal/ADA term here

        4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          “As is feasible for you” seems pretty straightforward, in part because you aren’t telling them Do This, Don’t Do That.

          I would have said that not putting on perfume in the morning before going to work is easy, and a lot more people use perfume than need a scented lotion or oil for their eczema. But I didn’t expect so many people to think “wear a mask when you go to the doctor’s office” was an unreasonable request, either.

          I have made a bunch of those changes, at home, but that’s because a lot of scents are migraine triggers for my girlfriend. She can reasonably tell me to get in the shower because the hair product my stylist recommended is one of them; she doesn’t expect the rest of the world to do the same.

          1. Minimal Pear*

            Honestly, a lot of the time it’s not about switching products, it’s about leaving something out for that one day/load of laundry/whatever.

      5. I have RBF*

        It’s very simple: If you use a product that outgasses stuff I’m allergic to, your “hygiene” is damaging me. If you’re standing next to me and I start coughing and wheezing, your choices no longer affect just you.

        I’m lucky – if it’s actually most essential oils, I’m not bothered by them. But dryer sheets and most laundry soap? Then add hair products, after shave and all the rest? Most fragrance people have so many conflicting scents that they just smell nasty, and it’s really hard to talk to people when they wear so much foofoo that your eyes water and you’re coughing all the time.

        1. Pippa K*

          “Hygiene” in sneer quotes, “smell nasty,” and “foofoo” – this is a pretty harsh response in a discussion where people have pretty much agreed that optional colognes are easily avoided but other scented products might not be. It’s not like anyone here is proclaiming “damn you all, I insist on going through life using a SuperSoaker to spray my surroundings with cat pee and Gain laundry beads!” Most people seem willing to try to balance their needs and others’ needs.

          1. Three Flowers*

            Thank you. It’s not just selfishness.

            I have very hard water. Hard water impedes soap and shampoo from lathering or doing its job. Therefore, in addition to a marginally effective shower head filter, I use slightly acidic soap and shampoo, and because *I* hate artificial scents, these items are made with citrus and vinegar.

            If I was told I could not use citrus or vinegar because of the scents, I *literally would not be able to get clean*. That demand would *literally* be that I either quit my job or pay tens of thousands of dollars to have my crawlspace excavated and install whole-house filtration. Absolutely preposterous and *way* over the line of a “reasonable accommodation” for a coworker.

            (And I agree that perfumes are wildly unnecessary and dryer sheets worldwide should die.)

          2. Zoe Porphyrogenita*

            It has taken me until now to realise that “foofoo” refers to fragrance, which does make I have RBF’s original comment *much* less offensive than I thought.

      6. Over It*

        I’m sorry, but you’re not correct here. It’s perfectly reasonable and legal for an office to ban someone from using a particular lotion if someone else is allergic to it. There are many ways to manage and treat depression, and there could even be ways for you to incorporate aromatherapy that don’t cause someone else to have an allergic reaction, but there is no way to make someone un-allergic to something they’re allergic to. The ADA requires workplaces to work with you to find reasonable accommodations, but it doesn’t require them to provide the specific accommodation you ask for, and asking to use a lotion someone else is allergic to would very likely not be granted. Hopefully this is all hypothetical for you, but sometimes one person’s accommodations really do trump someone else’s.

      7. CJ*

        The problem is that “nice-smelling” for one person is “triggering” for another.

        Case in point: a lot folks love rose-scented body and hand lotion. My mom loved it too – so much so, in fact, that it was the only type of lotion she allowed to be used when she was in home hospice for cancer. So to my hind brain, rose lotion is now a depression trigger, regardless of how soothing aromatherapy says it should be.

        In a different vein, I am very allergic to lilies. I’m not allergic to lily aromatherapy…but it certainly makes me tense until my brain sorts out “flower or chemical”. Likewise chamomille. I have removed myself from meetings and office spaces because of both scents.

        Trauma shower aside, the point is that, even without direct medical impact, a scent that is calming may have a wildly different emotional result in another.

      8. AA Baby Boomer*

        For someone that is scent sensitive I can understand where the employee is coming from; but it’s a huge request. The request stops when you clock out. But there is one thing that should be listed. No vaping at work or outside the entrances to the building. We had some students vaping in the bathroom. It stunk, gave me headaches, etc. I had complained but I do not believe the request filtered down to the students. The odor was going up and down the hallway but the restroom was the worse. Vaping is not allowed at work; but 2 – 3 individuals were vaping in the ladies room towards the end of the day. I went into Anaphylactic Shock when I went to the bathroom. It was terrifying, and nearly killed me. Originally they thought I was having stroke. I could breath, my face, hands & throat swelled up, couldn’t talk; was vomiting like crazy and couldn’t stand or sit up. I was laying on the floor of the bathroom. I had to scoot across the floor and stick my head out the door to ask for help. It scared everyone. Vaping is just as dangerous as smoking if not more.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          The requirement to not be noticeably perfumed ends when you clock out… but if the things you do off the clock mean you come to work wearing a lot of fragrance, that still matters.

          I think it’s completely reasonable to say employees should not be coming to work with fragrances noticeable from a normal conversational distance. That might mean they have to change certain products out for less scented ones, or change the way they use the products so less residue is left by the time they get to work. If, as in LW’s case, there is a specific medical need for a particular scented product, that should be handled on a case-by-case basis the same as any other conflicting accommodations.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          So sorry you went through that!

          I have some scents I dislike and have trouble focusing around because they “bug” me. But there are other things that cause a physical reaction – some cause itching, hives, etc, some cause eye and nose irritation (dripping eyes, swelling eyes, sneezing or itching) and others cause wheezing, though fortunately nothing as bad as what you experienced.

          It seems that there are some people who approach any requests to refrain from using xyz scents or certain products as though ALL those requests are because of the first thing, that the product, fragrance “bugs” someone.

          Sometimes it is difficult to have them come to understand, accept that it is often the second thing – an uncontrollable negative, detrimental and or even as in your case, sometimes life threatening, physical reaction.

      9. Falling Diphthong*

        This comes into the waving arms/end of nose umbrella: We share the atmosphere, and so if I am sitting next to, for example, someone who is smoking, that’s going to trigger my asthma and I will be mad. No matter how good smoking makes you feel, it affects the people around you. (And I’m talking here about triggering immediate health issues that can result in a trip to the emergency room.) Strong scents affect fewer people, but that effect is usually of the wheezing/rash/misery variety–it’s real and it’s physical.

        Aromatherapy is an interesting one to cite, as someone who has to tell massage therapists that triggering my asthma with a powerful scent will not relax me. Inflicting aromatherapy on everyone around you because you think a potent lavender perfume should make everyone feel soothed is not thoughtful or empathetic. (And I have this conversation because the massage therapists all know to start out with discussion of scents and whether that is relaxing to me or not–they don’t just spring them on the naked person lying face down as a lovely surprise.)

      10. Aspie_Anything*

        My workplace has a very hardline stance on scents. No perfume, scented lotion, air freshener, etc. We don’t go into detergent or shampoo and such unless someone is noticably fregranced but didn’t use perfume. Then we help them figure out the source. We don’t care what you use as long as we can’t smell you, but if we can smell you, you’ll be asked to leave until we can’t.

        Very fortunately, the ADA doesn’t take into account how on the side of accommodation you personally are *shrugs*

      11. MeepMeep123*

        If your products only affected you and did not dissipate through the air, this would be a reasonable stance. If you are sharing air with your coworkers, though, it is on you to avoid putting substances into that air that would hurt the coworkers – the only way you can be a “completely autonomous individual” here is by wearing a full-body hazmat suit to contain any volatile substances emanating from your body.

        If the lotion that you use to “feel pretty and clean” can give someone an asthma attack and put them in the hospital, are you going to pay their hospital bill? Or do you think that the asthma patient should just become a shut-in so that you can “feel pretty and clean”?

    2. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      nod. like I don’t like scents ( do not worry! I just eat the 2 day headache!) and while it is annoying to have to shop online, it certainly is just as annoying as many ‘ normal’ demands. ( I’m still annoyed I can’t get as much stuff done because of in person meetings or have to miss work due to illnesses)

    3. Some Dude*

      All I’ll say is that the few times I’ve worked/lived with someone with a severe scent allergy, they acted like the rest of us using mass-produced hygiene products that millions of people used was an act of violence and aggression and a moral failing on our part. And while I can understand their frustration at how the whole world is using scents that give them migraines, those are literally most of the products they sell at the store. 90-95% have fragrances and maybe 5-10% don’t. I am fine to not wear cologne and I try not to wear many scented lotions, but my deodorant is the one deodorant I have found that simultaneously blocks odor without giving me a terrible rash, my hand lotions keep my hands from being cracked and blistered, etc.

      1. Minimal Pear*

        I gotta be honest, some days it really does feel like that! I think that when we’re VERY sensitive to fragrance, it can really be hard to understand that other people just don’t notice it that much.
        And honestly, past a certain threshold, I do think you’re just automatically being inconsiderate. But we’re talking, like, teen-boy-who-just-discovered-Axe levels.

        1. I have RBF*

          Yeah, I have found that I will start coughing around artificial fragrances before I can even smell them. This causes me no end of consternation when I’m sitting in my room, minding my own business, and the overpowering scent of cheap laundry detergent from the apartment building next door comes wafting into my home – I start coughing before I even smell it, but if I actually smell it? I have to go into another room in order to breathe.

          If you think finding fragrance free stuff is too expensive now, it was much, much worse in the 80s when I first started developing a rash from scented laundry and personal care products. There was maybe one or two very expensive brands that were actually fragrance free.

          My general rule is: If I can smell the person six feet away, I need to be somewhere else. If this is in a workplace, often I can’t be somewhere else, and so I suffer.

          That’s part of why I am glad to be remote, and push back on people treating it like an entitlement. For me it has ameliorated so many disability symptoms that it has changed my life.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I find it pretty ridiculous, but it’s the companies who are being ridiculous not the people who buy it. As you say, there’s incredibly little choice and we’ve struggled to get unscented stuff that doesn’t cause migraines for my partner, and I don’t expect someone who doesn’t suffer to do The Search. I’m unaffected, but I certainly don’t need my laundry to smell like tropical diamonds or any of that faff. I have my own perfume which doesn’t smell mass produced, so please stop fecking up what is basically just soap, detergent companies!

        1. I have RBF*

          Seriously. Even when I could use scented stuff, I hated that awful “laundry smell” that they put in every detergent and dryer sheet out there. It clashed with every other scented product I used, and turned really gross when up against my skin. I would have to use a second rinse and no dryer sheets just so I wasn’t inundated by it when I brought my laundry into the house. Some of that smell won’t even wash out even after two washes, which means if I get clothing washed in it I have to store it outside and possibly get rid of it.

        2. Worldwalker*

          I would prefer my pits didn’t smell like a glacier, too (what does a glacier even smell like?) but unfortunately the only unscented deodorants I’ve tried did not, in fact, work, leading to a universally disliked smell. (including by me, the person attached to it)

          I wish the makers of detergent, body products, etc., would put half as much effort into making unscented versions that work like the rest as they do into making ten different smelling varieties of the same stuff. That would cut down on the smell overload for the sensitive people, and be an improvement for those of the rest of us who don’t want to smell like glaciers.

        3. Rex Libris*

          This. I’m quite sensitive to scents myself, which often trigger sinus issues for me. I buy practically everything unscented, but even I can’t find an unscented aftershave that A)works for me, and B) costs less than 3-4 dollars an ounce. I found a reasonably mild one that dissipates quickly, but unscented does not exist.

          I’m not sure why the American laundry and personal care market is so convinced that everyone wants to smell like Extreme Mountain Stench, but it’s insanely tiresome.

      3. Fake McCoy*

        I’m trying to think how I would even get rid of all scents from my life and it would involve not only a series of costly replacement purchases by me for me, but also by me for my children, and also by my non-live-in romantic partner, since he will wash clothes I leave at his house, I sleep in sheets he washed, etc etc. I shudder to think what the total expenditure would be all told.

      4. I have RBF*

        … they acted like the rest of us using mass-produced hygiene products that millions of people used was an act of violence and aggression and a moral failing on our part.

        Honestly? When you are coughing so hard you can’t catch your breath because of someone’s fragrance it feels like an assault, deliberate aggression, and physical violence. It may not be rational, but when you are gasping for breath you aren’t rational! Same with scents that cause migraines – it’s like being ambushed by someone with a club upside your head, you have no way to see it coming, and your head feels like it’s going to explode. It feels like you’ve been clubbed in the head.

        I used to love certain Avon scents. I had to discard some very collectible bottles when this started happening to me, as well as changing out all my personal care and general cleaning products. It just sucks all around.

      5. Bear in the Sky*

        It actually IS an act of violence and aggression and a moral failing if you KNOW that what you’re using will cause someone you live–LIVE WITH, not just encounter out and about–a severe allergic reaction and you choose to use it anyway. That’s as if you had a diabetic housemate and knowingly snuck sugar to them.

        If you can’t live without that thing that causes your housemate a severe allergic reaction, then you need to not live with them. You have a choice. They don’t.

    4. Lizcase*

      It is really sucky to be super scent sensitive (for me it’s asthma and migraines). if I has to ask people to cut out one thing, it would be scented dryer sheets. I usually can’t smell lotion, deodorant or shampoo from a distance, but I know if the person doing your laundry uses dryer sheets, especially long lasting ones.

      I cope by wearing a N95 mask everywhere I can, and avoiding certain places and keeping distance. the one good thing to come out of Covid for me is that I now know what a difference a mask makes and it is now socially acceptable to distance oneself.

      1. Minimal Pear*

        Yes, I lucked out at the beginning of COVID because I already had a reusable mask I bought for my allergies! And yeah, laundry stuff is FAR worse for me than a lot of personal care products and it’s so annoying because I don’t want to go around telling people how to wash their own clothes. But yeah laundry detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets? Terrible. Would love it if people cut them out.

        1. I have RBF*

          I can usually cope with hand lotion and mild hair care products on people around me. But strong laundry stuff just drives me into another room with coughing. It’s actually scary to cough so much I can’t catch my breath.

          I wish to hell the companies that make this stuff with the cheap artificial scents would just cut out the scent. It is not part of the cleaning process. It is probably not very good for the environment, either – all those artificial scents are VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and are a component of smog.

 This is a pretty good overview of why VOCs, including artificial perfumes, are a problem for both indoor and outdoor air quality.

      2. Yellow*

        Do dryer sheets actually do anything anyway?! I can smell neighbors 3-4 houses away using dryer sheets in their dryers, from the air that vents outside from the dyer. It’s so gross.

    5. Bad News Bear*

      This isn’t commonly known but even “unscented” products have fragrance in them to make them not smell like anything. If they had no fragrance they would smell like the base formulation which smells gross. I know this because I work for a large consumer goods company. There truly is no way to avoid fragrance.

      1. Just Me*

        This is a silly comment. Tons and tons of products are truly fragrance free. I have a contact allergy to fragrance and have found plenty of products that are actually fragrance free, vanicream is a pretty common one. Unscented and fragrance free are two different things, but both exist.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          Just Me,

          There is a whole line of materials that are called “masking scents” that are designed to cover up the nasty smells of many raw materials.

          Some may be in the various materials that you use might have some of them as part of the package.

      2. I have RBF*

        Wrong. Only some products need a masking scent, and I have to avoid those.

        You are, essentially, saying that since people can’t actually avoid fragrances they shouldn’t bother to try, and all the fragrance allergic people just need to suck it up and deal, no matter the level of discomfort, or life threatening reaction.

        It’s the attitude of “There truly is no way to avoid fragrance.” at big consumer goods companies that are why this problem persists. If a bit more effort was put in to reduce the “need” for fragrances we’d all be better off, especially since the VOCs in fragrances do contribute to smog.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          I think that we are just looking at the issue from two different viewpoints. You are saying these things bother me, and I am NOT disputing that.

          All I am saying is that the chemists who formulate the materials MAY have different definitions of “masking scent”, and “scent-free” and “scented”

          I am also trying to point out that “natural” scents are probably more complicated chemically than “man developed” ones.

    6. Lee*

      This comments section is wild. Nobody should be able to smell you unless they’re within inches or hugging distance. If we were talking about the right to have BO we’d all be in universal that no one should be able to smell you. That still holds true even if it’s a “nice” scent. It’s not so nice for people with sensitivities!

  3. SuperAdmin*

    My husband is allergic to literally all but one brand of commonly available laundry detergent. No I will not be swapping it for an unscented detergent.

    As a migraineur I understand how triggering scents can be, but anything beyond ‘don’t use strong scents in the workplace’ is overstepping.

    1. Ella Kate (UK)*

      Oh god so is mine. Thankfully its a cheaper brand, but yeah, it has a disctinct scent to it.

    2. Lilo*

      Yes, I get hives from particular soaps and cleaning products and have since I was a child. like my parents had to petition the school to switch cleaning products used on my desk because my forearms were covered in hives and they kept sending me home from school. And sometimes those hives come from unscented products. I have been specifically warned that my allergic reactions could escalate and I have an epi pen as a result.

      I won’t wear cologne or perfume, but I’m not switching to products that could quite literally kill me.

      1. I have RBF*

        As noted above, “unscented” does not equal “fragrance free”.

        But in general, chemical sensitivities suck, and fragrance sensitivities are a subset of those.

        1. Lilo*

          Yes I was actually a Chem major in college and I know I’m not allergic to “chemicals”, there’s a very specific thing or things I’m allergic to that I have simply been unable to identify. but because of that, I’m less comfortable switching products.

    3. CL*

      Yup. My kid breaks out in hives and eczema from anything but regular Tide and one other laundry soap. Tide free and clear, Dreft, and other “free” detergents don’t work. I get that fragrances are a huge issue but this is where accommodations rely on an interactive process…not a mandate.

      1. Casper Lives*

        I know the struggle. I’m amused at your comment because I get hives from all Tide detergents. I don’t know why but something in the mix is bad. I’m lucky I can use OTC lotions & “free & clear” products to treat my eczema as an adult. Not so as a kid.

    4. This Daydreamer*

      Ugh. I get migraines from any lemon-scented cleaning product. Some of the anti-plague measures at work have been a literal pain.

  4. Rara Avis*

    I really wish unscented laundry products were less expensive. They are my hugest trigger (I have trouble walking down the laundry aisle at the grocery store) and I struggle with them, especially at the gym. They wash their towels in strongly scented detergent, and when the washer or dryer is running I have a reaction. Then everyone who exercises in their freshly-laundered workout clothes starts releasing scent as they sweat. I start coughing and hacking and get ugly looks. I guess I need a t-shirt that says, “It’s not covid — it’s your laundry detergent.” At work, however, coworkers seldom get so warm that I can smell their detergent.

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      Definitely agree. Not just laundry, but other products, too! I get super annoyed at something that’s labeled as “Free & Clear” but they really only mean of dyes but it still has a fragrance but they don’t make that obvious unless you hunt for it.

      I’m not sensitive to scents, but my husband really dislikes artificial scents and I don’t care so we try to find scent-free stuff and it’s just way harder than it should be.

      1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        I go to the laundromat first thing in the morning and recently, didn’t check the washer I always use for scents because it never has been an issue. Someone the previous day had used Unstoppables in that washer and all of MY clothes smelled like that for the next week. I can’t imagine what that person’s clothes smelled like. To be fair, they might be used to it- I use all fragrance free products, so I’m definitely not used to the scent- but man, it was so noticeable to me; I imagine they must be drenched in the scent.

      2. spcepickle*

        Agreed – They are terrible! I am not sure how anyone uses them.
        Last time I stayed at an airbnb I had to wash all the sheets before I could sleep in them because of the terrible “fresh spring” smell.

        1. Daily Fan*

          I have an Airbnb room in my house – seperate room/private bathroom. I had not noticed any scent in my laundry products as they were pretty mild. I really dislike strongly scented products of all kinds. One guest told me she couldn’t sleep because the scent of the sheets bothered her. Since that time I have switched to unscented products for all of the Airbnb linens, towels, soaps, and shampoo. I just wish she has inquired before booking and I would have been alerted (AND possibly gotten the 5* review we aim for!)

          In the office setting…I shared an office with someone who was sensitive to scents. The only accommodation she asked of me was to change my shampoo. I was in the habit of always running late and often my hair was still damp. The smell triggered her allergies. We had a polite discussion, I switched shampoos (and tried to give myself more time in the morning) and all was well. Years later we are still friends.
          In both cases, polite professional communication is key!

          1. Daily Fan*

            Forgot to add…I also changed my deodrent to an unscented brand and have used that ever since.

              1. my cat is the employee of the month*

                I use a brand made by a large company famous for baking soda. It’s available in a multi-pack from another large company famous for many things including being named after a large river. It’s a men’s deodorant, and it works great.

                1. Lily Rowan*

                  Not sure why you’re being coy? Are you talking about an unscented Arm & Hammer men’s deodorant you can get at Amazon?

              2. Daily Fan*

                Secret – I have to be sure to get a good amount on but it works for me. Secret brand – not it’s a secret!

          2. Not A Girl Boss*

            AirBnBs are so hard for me because so many of them use scented laundry detergent! And don’t me started on one that had Glade plug ins in every room of the house… I had to unplug them all and open all the windows to air out the house… in January… in Pennsylvania.

            I do agree on wet hair, I had a boss that would come in to work with wet hair and the smell drove me crazy, it would even linger in the elevator after she got off. But by the afternoon when her hair was dry, I didn’t notice it at all.

      3. Mmmm Flowers*

        I love the Unstoppables and I can smell things most people can’t. the pleasant smell makes me feel good and hides odors I don’t like.

        1. Oh Snap!*

          you may love them but they bother many many many people. that particular product alone bothers people more than any other. I suggest that at the very least you examine your justification that it is fine because you have a good sense of smell.

          you don’t – not about this. you are used to the smell and don’t realize how strong and horrible it is for those around you.

          1. btdt*

            Agreed! Using strong scents is just like smoking- you never realize how strongly you smell of fabric softener/cigs until you quit using/smoking.

        2. Engineer*

          If your clothes have picked up such a lingering bad order that you feel the need to mask so strongly, you should *really* be looking into a deep clean of your washer. Clearing out any accumulated mildew and grime will fix around 90% of the issue, and the rest can be solved with a deep soak of the worst-offending garments in either vinegar or baking soda.

          I get it, we all have scents we like, but if you’re using to mask a consistent bad order then you really need to solve the underlying issue because it will get worse.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            This happened to us, and omg the horror. At first our clothes just kept coming out smelling mildewy. So I ran some empty loads with vinegar. These flakes of… something… kind of like dry leaves started showing up in our clothes. I tried more vinegar and bleach in increasing levels of hysteria and soak duration. Finally, I took top impeller thing of the washer off. Peering down inside with a flashlight, there was a solid 3″ of slimy mold coating the bottom of the wash basin. There was no saving it, we had to get a new washer. Turns out its a known *design flaw* with the Samsung top loads…. shudder.

            1. shedubba*

              Just a note, check your washing machine manual before you use vinegar in it. Some machines are built to withstand it, and some even recommend using vinegar in a cleaning cycle. But other machines are not built for it, and it can destroy those machines by drying out seals, damaging parts, etc.

      4. Allison*

        they’re also not good for your clothes or your washer, they leave a waxy residue on everything just like dryer sheets and fabric softener. I used to use them to infuse my bedding with a relaxing scent, but they didn’t work very well, I’ve found it’s better to just use a good detergent with that smell. Leblanc’s linen wash is my go-to, nice scent but not overpowering, and no waxy residue.

        1. Starbuck*

          Yeah, I used scented dryer sheets for ages because I love lavender and found some lavender-scented ones I really liked, but I read about how bad they are for fabrics (breaking them down) plus the environment, so I just quit using them. Turned out my detergent was already doing enough to scent my clothes, so I didn’t notice a difference there; and I was also surprised to not really notice any difference in the softness of my clothes – they still felt fine and weren’t noticeably stiff or had any issues that dryer sheets would have helped with.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      Agree on the scented laundry detergents (and dryer sheets) – they are the single worse triggers of migraines for me, and the least reasonable to ask people to switch out. I even have issues when I’m out walking in our neighborhood and multiple houses have their driers going. I cant help but wish that more people would realize how terrible artificial fragrance is for humans and create market demand for more affordable fragrance-free options, but I also get that its not my call to make.

      Just a little plug for anyone looking, Whole Foods 365 powdered Laundry Detergent is only $13 for 80oz (160 loads in an HE machine). By comparison a $13 / 92oz container of Tide
      only does 64 loads. I was worried about powder, but it works great even on cold water washes. And I have a husband who works in the trades and I do a lot of sweaty exercise, so trust me it gets tested thoroughly.

      1. AnonAgain*

        I highly recommend Molly’s Suds. Comes to about 0.19 cents a load. Organic, vegan, safe for the environment and no junk. They have a whole line of laundry products in mildly scented and unscented. But even the scented products really only smell in the container and doesn’t transfer to your clothes. And now they make dishwasher tabs that work great. I have been using them for close to 10 years and have tried almost everything they make. No duds.

        1. Lanlan*

          I have Molly’s Suds on my wishlist — but the one scent I covet is Thrive Market exclusive! Not funny, Molly! I can’t afford Thrive Market just for detergent!

      2. Lizcase*

        I’ve been given clothes for my daughter (10) that I have to wash several times before I can be near here wearing them. Her best friend’s mom uses something scented that lingers forever, and I have to mask up or be on a different floor if she comes over. and then air out the house.

        I hold my breath if I have to go down the detergent aisle.

        1. Yellow*

          Same. If any of the grandparent’s wash my daughter’s clothes while she’s at their house, I can smell the Tide on her clothes for 3-4 washes after she’s home. It’s terrible.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            I once desperation washed a pair of jeans in Tide at an AirBnb, it was one of those super boost gel packs and the jeans were the only thing in the wash, so it got extra saturated. After 3 washes I gave up and threw them out. It even changed the texture of the denim??

        2. Dahlia*

          Try soaking it in some cold water with vinegar in it for a few hours before you wash it. I’ve found that can really help.

      3. dude, who moved my cheese?*

        I am #teambabydreft forever and you can get 128oz for $23. Bc I am also #teammysteriousrashes forever.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          We love Dreft in our house… but it isn’t fragrance free. So if we’re going by the benchmark set by OP’s coworker, you would need to change your detergent.

      4. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

        I live down the street from a laundromat. The last couple of years, I have been unable to open my windows or be in the yard for very long between the hours of 7am and 9pm, every day (except Christmas and Thanksgiving.) It’s hell. I’m working on moving… but for now… sheer bleeping hell.

      5. sundae funday*

        I never used to use dryer sheets because I heard they were actually worse for your clothes because they leave a residue.

        Then I got a husky. She sheds so much, all over my clothes. I’d lint roll everything before I put it in the washer (which was extremely time-consuming) and still ended up with so much hair in the washer that I was afraid I’d break it.

        So now I use the Bounce Pet Hair dryer sheets. I put my clothes in the dryer on air dry for 10 minutes with a dryer sheet before washing, then wash the clothes, then put them back in the dryer with another dryer sheet… and it’s so much better. I’ve looked for unscented, but they don’t have unscented ones for pet hair.

      6. saf*

        Arm & Hammer sensitive skin free and clear often goes on BIG sale around here and we stock up.

    3. Jess*

      Ever since my first pregnancy, the smell of Tide laundry detergent makes me nauseous and my oldest kid is sensitive to fragrance, but I just do my best to stay away from the laundry aisle. I can’t imagine asking someone to switch their detergent.

  5. Don't kneel in front of me*

    Perfume and cologne are one thing. There are WAY too many people with weak olfactory glands that keep spraying until they can smell it. Its reasonable to say “no perfume or cologne in the office. The rest of us can smell you coming from 100 yards downwind.”

    But trying to dictate scents in lotion, dishsoap, detergent? Personally I would love to abolish all those scents, but unfortunately the world doesn’t revolve around me.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      Lotion can be a problem, though. Some lotions are as strongly scented as a perfume (looking at you, Bath and Body Works), and I’ve had to have talks with coworkers who sit near me asking them not to use their lotion if I’m at my desk. I’d never dictate what they can and can’t use when they’re outside the office, but strongly scented hand lotions at work can knock me out.

      I’ve had good success with buying a big bottle of unscented lotion with a pump and keeping it on my desk. That way, if I have to ask a coworker not to use theirs, I already have an alternative to offer them.

      1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        Yeah, I had to ask my team not to use scented lotion because it was triggering migraines.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Bath & Body Works lotions are SO strong. I like a light scent, but I can’t wear those. Whew. I primarily use an unscented lotion at home, but I do have a few tubes of (much more lightly) scented hand lotion. Which I would be glad to give up using at work if someone let me know they were a problem.

        1. Not my real name*

          Unfortunately, Bath & Body Works lotions and hand sanitizers are the only brand that won’t trigger contact dermatitis for my daughter.

          1. yala*

            Yeah, my friend in high school was the same way. Allergic to everything under the sun except the Sweet Pea lotion. I can’t stand them, but I guess they’re doing something kind of right?

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Man, Sweet Pea. Always a fascinating grace note to that middle school locker room chorus of Cucumber Melon.

              Not my style, but you are right, something is actually quite compatible with BBW products. I’m highly attuned to smells and they do tend to merge well with body chemistry. Even smells like Twilight Woods (a heady as hell woodsy fragrance I would recommend only if your go-to is an oud) settles remarkable well on certain people, despite being a nightmare in the bottle.

          2. Michelle Smith*

            And it’s the only brand that actually penetrates my skin. I used some again for the first time in years when I traveled in February (because they have little tiny bottles that fit in the TSA size bag and no, I did not use it on the plane so please don’t yell at me folks) and it was like night and day. My hands finally stopped sloughing skin and actually felt soft again. I’m starting to think there isn’t a solution that will make everyone happy. :(

        2. yala*

          I used to work at Bath & Body Works. I hate their lotion so much. Soap, candles, the rest? More or less fine. But their lotion, whatever the official fragrance, all has this weird smell under it that makes me sick.

          I’ll never forget the time I had to clean up a spilled bottle of the one lotion that I thought wasn’t really that bad (Sea Island Cotton). Cut to HOURS later, at home, still doing my best Lady Macbeth impression because the smell. Would. Not. Go. Away.

          1. Nope.*

            The thing that got me while working there was the concentrated home fragrance sprays. I get migraines, so I was a tiny bit worried about taking the gig there, but it was never an issue surprisingly – until someone would test out one of those damn sprays! Literally anything else in the store was fine, and it didn’t matter which scent or if it was a scent I liked in other formats.

        3. iglwif*

          My mom starts coughing like 250m away from a Bath & Body Works, Body Shop, or Lush store.

          I’m OK with passing by BBW or Lush, but can’t go in. I can go into Body Shop but can’t stay more than about 10 minutes; I can use a narrow range of their scented products, specifically the ones that smell like certain fruits but definitely NOT the ones that smell like flowers. No idea which specific ingredients are the triggers.

          1. allathian*

            I love Body Shop products, especially their mango body butter, but I can’t go near a Lush store. And why, oh why can’t IKEA put its scented candles in a section on the side so that you can walk past it without going through it? Luckily the vast majority of strong scents only make me slightly nauseous, and the nausea passes as soon as I can no longer smell the scent. My two guaranteed migraine triggers are Chanel n:o 5 perfume and Fahrenheit aftershave lotion. I also can’t stand patchouli, or the incense used by some immigrant groups. I’ve had to leave my seat on the commuter train when someone wearing a strong incense scent sat down near me because the scent made me nauseous and triggered my migraine, and I’ve had to do the same for people who wear Chanel n:o 5 or Fahrenheit…

            I also avoid the cosmetics department at general stores.

            My office’s nominally scent-free, but that only means that employees are requested not to wear perfume, scented aftershave, or cologne to work. Scented lotions are fine to use at home before coming to the office.

            I have very dry skin, and my favorite lotion that I use at home has a scent that the coworker I share an office with can’t tolerate. I bought a new tube once on the way to the office, and without thinking put it on after washing my hands. But when my coworker told me it bothered him, I brought in a tub of scent-free Working Hands lotion instead, he was fine with that because he uses it himself.

      3. Mbarr*

        I came here to jump on the anti-scented lotion bandwagon too. I find that even “lightly scented” lotions are just too perfume-y for me and burn my nose.

      4. DataSci*

        Yeah. A little scent because your lotion has coconut oil or cocoa butter or other functional ingredients that have a smell? As someone who’s sensitive to fragrance, I’m fine with that. But perfume mixed into lotion is still perfume.

    2. ferrina*

      Agree. There’s degrees of reasonableness. My daughter has curly hair, and the one conditioner that’s worked for her is scented, and you can smell it from about 6 inches away. I would be quite annoyed if I had to go back to fighting with her hair for 30 minutes each morning without the conditioner (which we only use twice a week).

      She also loves strongly scented lotion, but I’ve banned her from wearing those at school. There’s scent-free options that work just fine for her, and she can enjoy her smelly stuff once she gets home after school.

      1. sundae funday*

        Yeah, it’s the curly hair thing for me! I’ve spent years curating the products that work for my hair…. I’d have to somehow find, through trial-and-error, unscented versions of shampoo, conditioner, hair mask, leave-in conditioner, whatever that cream I put in my hair actually is, and gel. It’s not reasonable!

    3. SarahKay*

      The other thing about perfume is that people become nose-blind to their own preferred fragrance.
      I have an excellent sense of smell, but once I’ve been wearing a fragrance for more than a week I can really only smell it when I apply it in the morning. By the time I’ve left the bedroom after dressing I can’t smell it on me any more. Now, I’m aware of this effect and so only do a single spray, regardless of what I can smell, but that may not be true of everyone.

      (And since it’s just me at home I also check in with my mum when I see her as I know she will be honest if I’m smelly, whether it’s not-clean or over-perfumed. She lives far enough away that I only see her every few weeks so I’m confidant that she won’t be nose-blind to my scent/smell.)

    4. sundae funday*

      I think I could switch out most of my products (slowly… I’m too frugal to just throw everything out and buy new) for unscented versions, but not everything.

      I have curly hair, and like most people with curly hair, I’ve spent years curating the exact right combination of products to tame my hair. All of those products are scented, and some are scented quite strongly. I would prefer they were unscented! But they’re not.

      I’m not willing to damage my hair by using heat or chemical straightening… and I’m also not willing to come to work with a giant frizz ball of hair.

    5. morethantired*

      I used to work at Sephora and fragrance experts recommend skipping days or switching up the fragrance you wear specifically so you don’t go nose blind to it. If you’ve work the same perfume for years nearly every day, you stop noticing it and the scent can linger and build on your clothes. I’m reminded of it every time I put on a coat I only wear to parties and it still smells like the perfume I wore that night, even up to a month later!

  6. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    That’s just…beyond the pale of unreasonable. Asking people to refrain from wearing perfumes/colognes the day-of is fine; many workplaces have a ‘no candles/air fresheners/wax warmers/etc.’ policy which is perfectly reasonable, but ONE co-worker doesn’t get to demand that 50+ people completely upend their personal hygiene routines because that co-worker is sensitive to smells.

    1. fieldpoppy*

      I was at a conference once where the conference organizers asked everyone at the conference not to use the products of the hotel that we were all staying in. That was a challenge.

      1. A Poster Has No Name*

        I hope they put out that request before the conference started. I imagine there are people who don’t bother to pack shampoo & conditioner (especially with the liquid rules on planes being such a PITA) assuming they’ll just use what the hotel provides.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes I don’t always bring stuff especially for 1 night and just use what’s there especially shower gel and body lotion. (I don’t wash my hair every day but tend to bring my own stuff because I have dandruff). If they want people not to use it, that needs to be communicated in advance.

          The last hotel I was in had White Company products which I quite liked trying. It’s part of the fun to try the new stuff.

          1. fieldpoppy*

            Nope, it was while we were there and suddenly they realized the products were scented. It was a challenge.

            1. Massive Dynamic*

              Yikes, I hope you all submitted expense reports for the things you had to buy instead.

            2. Tierrainney*

              wow. That would be a challenge. I generally don’t pack any of that stuff becuase of airline rules. I’d be the body-odor stinky person if I wasn’t allowed to use Hotel soaps and products.

            3. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Yeah, this is some malarkey. The conference organizers clearly had some awareness that the conference had to be allergen/sensitivity friendly. Either they failed to ask the hotel about this or the hotel ignored it.

              And yeah, this is just a PITA to have to go buy (and get reimbursed for) whatever cheap non-comedogenic, fragrance free soap, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, lotion folks can source at the local Walgreens, but what if this was like an anaphylaxis level issue?

              I would be very concerned that if someone (either the hotel or the company) dropped the ball on this they might need to be made aware if they drop the ball on “Susie is going to be at the conference. She will die if she inhales peanut dust. She has an epi pen, but still” the results could be worse.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Especially since having to bring your own products means either having to buy trial sized things, which often aren’t the brands I want to use, or buy trial sized containers, or pay $60 or more for checked bag fees.

      2. BellaDiva*

        I was in a similar position last September, except I am the one affected by fragrances (it affects my vocal cords). I asked at the desk if they possibly had fragrance-free hand soap (I had brought my own shampoo and conditioner), and they brought up a soap, lotion, shampoo, etc.

      1. A Poster Has No Name*

        Presumably because the LW said it was one employee and said employee put together the “fact sheet” that encouraged people to change up their entire personal care routines. Maybe the employee isn’t demanding they all be followed, but since the employer sent out their “fact sheet” I can see why the LW and others might see it that way.

  7. ThatGirl*

    I use a very lightly scented body spray daily and have lightly scented hand lotion at my desk. If either of those bothered anyone, I would be glad to do without. But antiperspirant, shampoo, conditioner, etc? No, I won’t be changing those for you, sorry.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      FYI, the body spray and lotion probably would bother me. Pay attention – does anyone start sneezing, watery eyes, or blowing their nose after spending some time in your presence? If yes, they’re allergic to you and they don’t want to fight that battle.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Should have guessed someone would jump to wild conclusions, as is this comment section’s wont.

        The lotion you can smell a little. The body spray you can’t smell unless you hug me and inhale. (My husband and multiple friends have confirmed this.) And no, nobody has ever started sneezing or blowing their nose only after spending time in close quarters with me.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Also – I did say that I would be happy to stop using one or both of these products on workdays if I thought they were bothering anyone.

      3. Critical Rolls*

        Someone who’s having that reaction needs to use their words and not expect others to magically intuit that it’s not hay fever or any of a dozen other explanations.

        1. I have RBF*

          I’m so sorry, it’s really hard to use your words when you are coughing.

          Half the time I don’t figure out why I’m coughing until I get away from the person and the coughing stops. Then the coin drops. I often can’t actually smell what I’m reacting to, I’m often too stopped up, but my lungs still react.

          I will try to say something remotely to the person later, but my first impulse is to get somewhere where I can breathe.

          1. ADidgeridooForYou*

            I mean, you can use email or something. And if someone starts coughing suddenly near me, I would jump to sickness or allergies as a reason. I don’t know anyone who would automatically think it was their lotion (or who would even have that occur to them).

            1. I have RBF*

              Yes, that’s what you end up having to do.

              I only realize it when it “Hey, I always have an allergy attack when I’m talking in person with Cersei” and “Oh, wait, I think Cersei uses a strong laundry soap.”, but it will often take multiple incidents for a pattern to emerge. So it isn’t always easy to figure out what causes the reaction, and I often have to talk with others to put it together. In the meantime, if I keep having coughing fits around Cersei, I am going to start avoiding her.

              1. Critical Rolls*

                But it seems like you understand that it isn’t reasonable to expect Cersei to figure it out, which is what Teapot seemed to be suggesting. I would want to know if my hand lotion was a problem for a coworker! But I’m not going to draw that conclusion from vague symptoms without assistance.

              2. Kel*

                If it takes YOU time to figure it out, why do you assume Cersei would figure it out for you?

          2. Hey Anonny Nonny*

            Hi. It’s me. Your colleague on the spectrum. I’m the problem.

            Please use your words. And feel free to be as direct as you want under the circumstances. Like say “Your hand lotion means I can’t f$%!ing breathe!” HR may object, but please, just try and make your needs clear and don’t rely on weird social contracts. This is your health, your life. You have a right to advocate without having your needs obfuscated by some pantomime that presupposes the neurotypicality of all the players.

            I promise I won’t find you rude because I barely understand rude. I do understand directness and I prefer it to expecting me (someone who does not understand inferences and cannot actually “take a hint”) to see you coughing and expecting me to connect it to the fact my hand lotion has a smell (which all lotions do, I don’t understand all y’all who think fragrance free lotions don’t smell clearly of their ingredients).

            Going through life constantly being bombarded with sights and sounds that overwhelm your brain and that you are physically incapable of processing makes you acutely aware of what it must be like to feel personally victimized by ylang ylang when everyone else is going “why are you acting like this is a big deal? It’s just dry shampoo”.

            I do all I can to make my own universe more tolerable. I am more than happy to try and make yours more tolerable for you if I am able. Also, let’s face it, we likely have same the personal nightmare of being stuck in a room full of people that have bathed in knock off CK One and who all make far too much eye contact.

        2. yala*

          I dunno, it actually took me a while to suss out where the “ugh, where is that nauseatingly sweet smell coming from” in our open office. And when I did suss it out, it turned out to be someone it was not worth the social capital to potentially antagonize.

        3. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

          This. I frequently sneeze and have watery eyes and its outdoor allergens and dust, not fragances.

          1. I have RBF*

            I am allergic to pollen, dust and fragrances. But if I’m not reacting outside, but I start reacting inside, I’m pretty sure it’s not pollen, and if there’s little visible dust inside it’s probably fragrance.

            The intensity and types of reaction are different – some fragrances cause migraines, others cause coughing like an asthma attack. Most highly scented cleaning products cause the difficulty breathing, but some perfumes/after shaves are migraine triggers. Plus, the level present affects the reaction.

      4. Nodramalama*

        It’s not people’s responsibility to try and intuit what people’s reaction is. I sneeze a lot because I get hay fever and live in a high pollen area. Because I walk to work it’s usually worst when I get in and am around people. Not everyone is you.

        If you have a sensitive to scents you need to say something. Expecting people to magically know that’s what happening is frankly unreasonable.

  8. I'm just here for the cats*

    I think the employer should have looked better at the fact sheet before sending it out because it does make it seem that they are endorsing the fragrance free at home.

    1. JustKnope*

      Agree! Even if the employee made it, the workplace sending it out is an endorsement if the content.

    2. MsSolo (UK)*

      Yes, I have a suspicion the fact sheet is probably a generic one aimed at the impacted person, to help them eradicate scent in their own home (because there are products people just don’t think about), which they’ve shared with the employer, and it’s been passed on without consideration of the target audience.

    3. Khatul Madame*

      Yes – and as the government organization they should certainly be wary of promoting views that may or may not be scientifically sound.
      Not quite as egregious as religion at work, but still not a great look.
      They should have stopped at asking attendees not to wear scents the day of the event.

      1. Sassafrassia*

        I said this downthread, but when I was a fed, it was totally verboten to even *ask* people to not use scented products in the privacy of their own home. It seemed to be OPM settled law, so to speak. So this really evaded some filters.

    4. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

      Yes, that’s the problem here. Attaching it to the email gives the impression the employer is endorsing these guidelines.

      1. Justin D*

        “many people have chosen their products for a reason — because it’s the only lotion that works for their eczema, or the best shampoo for their scalp, and on and on (and often their product choices are the result of extensive experimentation).”

        Or they just like them and don’t want to be told what to use in their own homes.

  9. Meg*

    This is always so interesting to me as someone with both dandruff problems and curly hair. I’m at the mercy of whatever shampoo happens to be working on my scalp at the time…I have zero flexibility in that, even for shampoos that are better for my hair. For a while I was using a shampoo that *I* loathed the smell of, but it was the only thing keeping my scalp under control. And products tend to stop working after a while, so even if I happened on a scent free shampoo, odds are really good that it won’t work in another couple months.

    Curly hair is also it’s own giant pain in the ass…I have an entire graveyard of partly used products that don’t work. Hair stuff always stands out to me with scents because I know that there’s products I use that I can smell hours later. I think curly hair can feel more frivolous than a medical concern, but there’s a lot of other…baggage, for lack of a better word at the moment, that gets tied up in hair. Not to mention racial implications.

    This is all to say…I agree with the LW that those guidelines are unreasonable. I also don’t love the organization sending them out, because there are a lot of people, particularly young/very early in their career, who are going to think there’s no room for flexibility. I’d likely just go the no perfume route and ignore the hair stuff, but when I was 21 and brand new to the working world I’m not sure I would have thought I could.

    1. UKDancer*

      Same. I am happy not to use perfume or fragranced body spray but I need to use the shampoo that works on my hair to control my dry scalp. At the moment this is one smelling slightly of mint and it works really well. I don’t think you can smell it unless you’re standing over me sniffing my hair (which most colleagues are usually not doing) but I am not willing to change it.

      I also use Fairy laundry powder because it’s the one that doesn’t make my skin itch and wouldn’t want to change it. I don’t think it has a strong perfume but might be wrong. The specifically “fragrance free” brands are significantly more expensive so I don’t think I would use them because it seems an unnecessary expense in a time of austerity.

      1. Tiny Scot*

        Yes, Fairy is the only washing powder I can use too! (There’s also a Boots hypoallergenic one that I can’t find for love nor money anymore). I tried to go all-natural-products once and it was a Bad Time.
        I use mostly hypoallergenic stuff, and often it’s unscented but sometimes it isn’t, and clinical grade antiperspirant, and not using that is not an option for me at all. These requirements would be impossible for me to fulfil completely.

      2. Annika*

        Wavy hair and dandruff that can only be helped by salicylic acid (or steroids when it gets completely out of control). There is a minimal selection of shampoos that work for both. I cannot smell the shampoo after I use it, but I do not know if others can sense it.

        I totally understand not wanting to be around scents. I used to work with a Young Living Oil salesperson. The smell was so strong that it felt like an assault.

    2. le teacher*

      Came here to say this. I have very curly hair and the only way to keep it nice is with VERY specific products. If I had to stop using those products, I probably would never be able to wear my hair down. I get migraines so I totally understand scents being a trigger, and I’ll do what I can to accommodate coworkers. But some of this is really over the line.

    3. Minimal Pear*

      Ugh, yes, it’s such a conflict for me! I have a flaky scalp (which, to be fair, may be linked to my Weird All Over Everything Allergy-Like Bullshit) and wavy hair and a lot of fragrances set me off. It’s been SUCH a struggle to find hair care products that work for me, and I’ve had to compromise with myself and not go completely scent free with them. (Although most of the scented stuff is the kind of stuff that’s a “once every week or two” treatment, thank goodness, so I can be actually fragrance free for an event if needed.) I’m sure there are products out there that would make my hair look Even Better, but I have to rule them out because of the fragrance in them.

    4. many bells down*

      Fellow curly girl here, and my daughter works in a beauty supply store. I’ve tried so many products that were highly recommended, only to find myself unable to tolerate the scent of them. Navigating curly hair care is its own struggle!

    5. JP*

      I get sinus inflammation easily from some scented products, and I have curly hair. The stuff that works best on my hair like shea butter or argan oil might not have additional fragrance added to it, but it does have a scent. Even the lotion I use for my eczema has an odor to it. There’s only so much I can reasonably do to accommodate other people’s sensitivities before it starts to negatively impact me.

    6. grocerystore*

      Another curly girly here who cannot “just change products”. My hair would go haywire from the change and I would have to wear it up the whole time.

    7. Soprani*

      Curly girl here with a scent allergy. I discovered Curlsmith’s Shine fragrance free line last year after a frustrated, expensive 2 year search. Fragrance free and works for my mop? Yes, please!

      1. Soprani*

        reasonable = asking that products with strong perfume not be applied or used in the office
        not reasonable = asking all office goers to change to fragrance free laundry and personal hygiene products

    8. ferrina*

      Joining the curly girl brigade on behalf of my young daughter. We finally found a conditioner that works for her hair, and it’s scented. Obviously we’re not trying to cause hardship for cosmetic reasons- I don’t let me daughter wear scented lotion to school when unscented lotion works just as well- but this is the product that works for her hygeine.

    9. Giant Kitty*

      When I was 21 I was firmly ensconced among the working poor and could only afford personal hygiene products from the .99 cent store or Pic N Save/Big Lots. I picked whatever didn’t smell gross to me. I couldn’t have afforded to make a change even if my coworker dropped down dead from the scent.

    10. sundae funday*

      Yep, it’s the curly hair thing for me! I’ve spent years curating the perfect products. I don’t even like the smell of most of them, but they’re what work for me. And hey, if I could roll into work with my natural ball of frizz and look professional, that would be cool! But that’s not reality.

      I’d be happy to switch to a fragrance-free body wash (after mine runs out) and I already use fragrance-free lotion because heavy scents annoy me, but don’t come for my hair products!

    11. kiki*

      Also have a scalp condition and curly hair. The best shampoo for me has tea tree oil in it, so it has a fragrance. I can skip using it for a few days for sure, but I could not be able to do it indefinitely without scalp issues coming back.

      I think this is part of why I really appreciate working from home– I can do my own thing and not worry at all that I’m triggering somebody’s allergies. I miss the social aspect, but then I realize how much I changed my own routines and preferences just to be in an office.

  10. Llellayena*

    There are some conditions where the scent allergy reaches anaphylaxis levels and anyone in the same space needs to follow stringent scent-free product guidelines. I have a friend that when I visit her I have a specific fragrance free soap and deodorant and I shower and rinse my hair with NO product to get any lingering scent from my shampoo out. I already use fragrance free laundry products for my own sensitivities, but I would happily keep a set of fragrance free products for the occasional wash of what I plan to wear if that wasn’t the case. Her home health aide needs to follow these guidelines too on any day they visit. Otherwise she ends up using an epi-pen daily. In an office, this isn’t something that can be enforced daily (someone that sensitive probably needs a work-from-home accommodation), but you might be able to get close to this for an “event” so a fragrance-sensitive employee can attend.

    1. RagingADHD*

      That is way too high risk. Anyone with such severe health issues that they need a home health aide surely isn’t going into an all-hands meeting anyway?

      1. Lavender*

        Disabled and chronically ill people can have jobs. I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss someone’s accommodation request because they sound too high-risk to be attending anyway. I think the answer is to determine what accommodations can reasonably be made, and then let the employee decide if they want to assume that risk.

        1. RagingADHD*

          Yes, thank you, I am aware that I (a chronically ill person) have a job.

          I meant that I think the friend in this scenario should be accommodated by not having the meeting be mandatory.

          I assume anyone with such extreme risk would realize that there is no realistic way to guarantee their safety in an office building with (presumably) a public lobby, parking lot, elevators, outside visitors, and other areas where this intense level of environmental control would be impossible.

          Even if 100 percent of the cleaning staff and vendors, and 100 percent of their coworkers had perfect compliance. (Which is again, unrealistic).

          1. Lavender*

            I interpreted your comment to mean that people who use home health aides don’t attend work events. Apologies if I misunderstood.

        2. Need More Sunshine*

          But as Alison said in her response, someone who such a severe allergy to any scent would likely have some other accommodation like joining virtually.

          1. Lavender*

            Yeah, I’d say it’s pretty likely that a person with that severe of an allergy wouldn’t be able to attend in-person regardless. I guess my point was that it’s reasonable for the employer to say, “Here are the accommodations we can realistically make, if you want to attend in person” and let the individual decide if that’s sufficient (rather than just assume they won’t be able to attend).

      2. ferrina*

        Yeah, I barely trust my coworkers to clean the coffeemaker. I’m not going to trust that there will be 100% adherence to lifestyle changes.

        Heck, we can’t even get 100% adherence to ANYTHING. It doesn’t matter if it’s a free lunch or a necessary HR paperwork. There’s always someone who missed the email, or forgot, or was busy, or Excuse Goes Here….. there’s always someone.

        1. Emily*

          Yeah! If a coworker’s slip-up/forgetfulness could cause you a major medical issue, and you have a lot of coworkers…the math on that just isn’t good.

          1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

            Also, I’d hate to have that level of responsibility! I don’t want to have to worry about whether I rinsed my hair well enough to not asphyxiate my coworker.

      3. Em*

        … I have a colleague who has, across her entire body, only partial movement of one arm and control over two of the fingers on that hand. She’s fantastic at her job, and makes the rest of us better at ours, because she has knowledge and perspective that we don’t. She’s empathetic, intelligent, and great at cutting through BS to figure out what the actual problem is.

        She has a home health aide. I don’t see how that prevents her from being needed at meetings?

      4. I have RBF*

        Anyone with such severe health issues that they need a home health aide surely isn’t going into an all-hands meeting anyway?

        You mean that you don’t think disabled people should have jobs, or what?

        I know some executives that have massive allergy issues, especially to food and scents. As in C-Suite executives.

        Then there’s the guy who uses a wheelchair that was a founder of a company that later sold to Twitter. I would be willing to bet that he has a home health aide, but still was a company founder.

        Having a home health aide doesn’t mean you can’t work. The days of shoving the disabled in a room, declaring them unemployable, and passing “ugly laws” are over.

        1. amoeba*

          I mean, I think nobody was suggesting that they shouldn’t work, rather that not having to be in a room full of people that could potentially kill her by not adhering to the scent-free rule 100% wounds like a reasonable accommodation?
          Not attending all hands meetings in person =/= not having a job! (And of course there are people with different disabilities for whom that would be no problem at all. But a dangerous allergy to scents does sound like something that would make that super risky. Unlike, I don’t know, being in a wheelchair or whatever.)

    2. Siobahn*

      Get close to…? That likely would mean buying new products, at a minimum. And for one person’s situation? Huh?

    3. Sun in an Empty Room*

      I’m glad that you and your friend have found a routine that works for you for social visits. It must be incredibly isolating for your friend to have anaphalaxis level response. I sweat a lot and have very greasy hair. I honestly don’t think I could meet professional business appearance standards (and I do NOT have very strict standards here) without using the deodorant that works for me (not heavily scented but also not unscented) and if I just rinsed my hair without shampoo it would be a grease ball. That’s without even talking about laundry… if it were a conference I’d likely be wearing at least one piece of clothing that was professionally cleaned where I wouldn’t even have control over what products they were using. I don’t see how I could get anywhere “close” to what your friend needs for a professional event and would have ZERO expectations that other people in attendance would be able to achieve that level of fragrance-free.

      1. Lavender*

        I’m sure that person doesn’t like having severe allergies either, but it’s not like they can just decide to stop.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      We had an anaphylaxis-level colleague but she was only really in danger from things sprayed during the workday. Stuff used at home which had dissipated wasn’t an issue for her. Easy accommodation for a serious issue you think? Well, unfortunately we worked with some very selfish and incredulous teenagers who wanted to spray themselves frequently. It took threatened expulsions and an ambulance call before it was taken seriously.

      1. Llellayena*

        Exactly. My friend is past the point where accommodations would work, but someone less sensitive than that (but still at some risk) may be able to be accommodated for a single event or specific type of condition. But I did want to emphasize a “work” situation that could require that level of accommodation: home health aide. If the person who’s supposed to BE your accommodation is also the one putting you at risk, a request for some lifestyle changes can and should be made.

    5. Moira Rose*

      An epi-pen **daily**? I thought once you’d gotten up to double digit uses of an epi-pen you had serious lifelong heart conditions as a response?

      My college friend with the most severely allergic-to-everything children has only epi-pen’d her kids twice in a decade and even that is considered a big deal.

      1. Lavender*

        They said that this person would need an epi-pen daily if the people around her didn’t refrain from using fragrances. It’s unclear whether or not that’s what’s actually happening in practice.

        Regardless, lots of people have to take measures to protect their health that others might find extreme or worrying. I’m sure this person isn’t happy about potentially having to use an epi-pen so frequently, but it’s not as if she can decide to skip it next time she goes into anaphylaxis.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        I don’t think they meant she uses an epi-pen daily. I think they meant she *would* have to use one daily if she didn’t avoid scents so strictly, which is why the safety measures are so important.

    6. Observer*

      There are some conditions where the scent allergy reaches anaphylaxis levels and anyone in the same space needs to follow stringent scent-free product guidelines.

      If someone is that allergic, then they need to stay out of spaces where large numbers of people congregate. There is simply no way that you can insure that level of stringency.

      Keep in mind that even when people are TRYING, they are likely to make a mistake or think that “this one thing” can’t be “THAT BAD.” And of course, it’s going to be the thing that is MOST dangerous to the sufferer. (Never challenge Murphy when the stakes are this high!) And when you are talking about gatherings like this, there is likely to be a few people who didn’t get the email, or who didn’t pay attention to it because they didn’t quite realize what it was or that it applied to them because of REASONS (yeah, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but people can be funny that way).

      Severe sensitivity of any sort stinks. And one of the reasons is that you simply cannot depend on everyone around you doing what you need to have done – even when what is being asked is actually quite reasonable and realistic. In a workplace without much walk in traffic, you generally CAN mandate some things like “No perfume, scented candles, air fresheners, etc.” and get that enforced. In meetings with people coming from multiple places? I would never take the chance.

  11. Lola*

    When I was in college I had a summer job that was at a very small office run by a couple. The wife was very sensitive to fragrances and they instructed that I had to go fragrance-free. I thought I had done everything I could until one day the wife noted my deodorant was bothering her! It hadn’t occurred to me that the typical powder-scented product under my arms would trigger her headaches.
    It is a reality for many, but it seems there is a limit for what you can ask others. I did switch to unscented deodorant, some other switches are not so easy. (does unscented shampoo even exist???) Seems to me if someone has such extreme sensitivies they may be better off getting an accommodation for remote/in-home work for their own health.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      The thing about shampoos and other hair products is that even when they’re fragrance free, they’re not necessarily unscented. The ingredients themselves will sometimes have a noticeable scent. I’ve been trying for months to find a detangler I can handle the smell of, and at the moment I’ve basically decided that my hair is just going to be tangled.

    2. Crooked Bird*

      Re: unscented shampoo: I’m sure this isn’t for everybody, but I switched to a more “natural” hair-care routine by washing my hair with a solution of baking soda and water, and using watered-down vinegar as conditioner. There’s an adjustment period while your hair stops over-producing its natural hair oils in response to having them stripped away by frequent shampooings, so your hair looks greasy for a couple weeks–like I say it’s not for everybody!–but after that it balances out and works fine. I use actual shampoo once a month and the baking soda solution the rest of the time and my hair looks clean to professional standards (and has fewer split ends than it used to.)

      Just wanted to throw that out there in case there’s anyone who needs and wants an unscented hair-washing routine and didn’t know about this.

      1. spruce*

        I used to do the vinegar wash, but the truth is, even if it doesn’t have artificial fragrance, it does have a strong smell! If scents are the problem, vinegar does not fix that.

        1. Crooked Bird*

          Yeah, I was wondering about that–but in fact I don’t notice the scent of mine except when I’m using it. (It’s about 2 Tbsp vinegar in a pint of water.) It depends on what the person’s needs are–if they personally can’t do strong smells, then yeah, they couldn’t use it, but I don’t find that the scent lingers like shampoo scents do. The baking soda wash can be done alone–I’ve done that occasionally.

      2. Three Flowers*

        Slightly OT: do you know whether the baking soda works with hard water? Or how much vinegar smell is left after the vinegar rinse? I have to use acidic stuff to cut the calcium in my well water. If I had to ditch my lightly apple-y cider vinegar shampoo and lime soap for something unscented, I would probably look like I hadn’t washed my hair ever after a week and turn into a human stalactite within a year.

        1. Noaveda*

          We had hard water for quite sometime. I used vinegar alot in my laundry and it always rinsed out and I never smelled it by the something dried. However I am not sure how well it worked at getting stink of towels, blankets etc. I have little kids and an elderly dog that can’t make outside all of the time. I could still smell urine after washing, even with vinegar. It could be my washer or water. Who knows ::shrugs::.

          Personally I couldn’t do the vinegar rinse thing. I could smell vinegar all day and it was awful.

        2. Crooked Bird*

          We have noticeably hard water here (not sure how it compares to yours, but I have to regularly vinegar-soak the heating element in my electric kettle to clean it of calcium buildup) and the baking soda thing works fine. You can tell you’ve got the right amount well dissolved if you pour a little on your hand and it feels slippery when you rub your fingers in it. Personally I don’t notice the smell of the vinegar after use (and I’m fairly sensitive, for instance I find scented detergent pretty distracting–more so since I moved to the country, I feel like you get less nose-blind when you don’t routinely smell exhaust fumes!) but it seems like people’s mileage on that varies.

      3. Gracely*

        Vinegar is definitely not “unscented”. The smell makes me sick to my stomach–I’d rather smell almost anything else. I can’t imagine using even a watered down amount on my hair.

        1. Worldwalker*

          Yeah. Even distilled vinegar — basically acetic acid — has a distinctive smell. Cider vinegar causes nausea, because as a teen I poured a glass of what I thought was apple juice from the fridge and chugged it. (probably not a problem most people have!) But you can’t mistake that acetic acid smell.

        2. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

          same here!

          Also, I don’t think baking soda is recommended for your hair if you color your hair. I think it strips the color away. It is a good way to help your hair if you use a lot of products or have hard water.

        3. Shakti*

          Same!! It makes me gag along with baking soda and lemon scents which a lot of natural unscented stuff has it leaves me nauseous. It’s all so variable and individual for people!!

      4. Observer*

        I’m sure this isn’t for everybody, but I switched to a more “natural” hair-care routine by washing my hair with a solution of baking soda and water, and using watered-down vinegar as conditioner.

        That’s an interesting suggestion. And for anyone who can do this? Great. I could not do that because the smell of vinegar sets me off. I never use it in salads. The only place I ever use it is in baking because it’s small amounts that quickly get mixed with the baking powder which totally changes the smell.

        Which goes to show that “scents” are not necessarily a simple issue. (As has been noted by multiple people here.)

  12. iglwif*

    I’m gonna be honest: I would LOVE it if scented laundry detergent was somehow yeeted from the world. People who use it seem to have no idea how strong it smells, how irritating the chemicals are, or how long the stink lingers. I’ve had to give up on hand-me-down clothes from some friends because after a dozen washes THE DETERGENT STINK IS STILL THERE.

    … but you can’t make people change their laundry detergent.

    1. Chickena*

      I’ve had to do that with secondhand clothing too! I find it kind of astonishing that people actually want that level of fragrance on their clothing (if you like to be scented, wouldn’t you rather select a perfume and have it not clash with your clothing?!). I use unscented detergent, unscented deodorant, and I wish I could find unscented hair products that I like as much as the ones I currently use. Luckily it’s just a preference for me an not an allergy!

      1. Giant Kitty*

        I knew someone who loved when their clothing reeked of the heavy scents of laundry products because they said it smelled “clean”. I laughed because to me, there’s nothing “clean” smelling about heavy chemical perfumes.

        1. Loux*

          I’ve had people say this too! It’s like, ummm, okay… I use Tide Free & Clear laundry detergent (and, periodically, unscented dryer sheets, which took some getting used to – they smell kind of gross at first compared to scented ones, which I guess means they don’t have any masking scents?), and my clothes certainly don’t smell unclean…

        2. Anon Supervisor*

          So many people don’t really know what “clean” really smells like anymore. It really should smell like nothing. I have a mostly fragrance free home with the exception of citrus scented hand soap and an all purpose cleaner that I make because most scents make me nuts (especially florals). I use free and clear laundry products because fragranced detergent makes me itch and my work has a scent free policy. I’m so used to being scent free that even lightly scented stuff reeks to me. Tide products make me physically ill. When I quit smoking I couldn’t believe how many people bathed in perfume on the daily.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        I use an unscented detergent currently, because I started back when I was regularly visiting a relative who couldn’t stand the smell of other detergents. However, I have used scented detergents in the past. I think the thing people are missing is that not everyone experiences smell the same way. You say it’s a bit surprising that people want that level of fragrance on their clothing. I have never, ever regardless of the detergent I used, smelled the detergent on the clothes without putting it right up to my nose and taking a big deep sniff. By the time I actually pull the clothes out of the closet to put them on, I can’t smell it literally at all. I suspect that the people you are surprised by might be similar to me in that they just aren’t that sensitive to that fragrance in the same way that you are.

        1. iglwif*

          Yes, it’s pretty clear that different people have different levels of … olfactory discernment, I guess?

          Sometimes that’s because they spend so much time around heavy scents that they become desensitized. Sometimes it’s because they’re smokers (I’ve seen at least half a dozen people quit smoking and suddenly realize how bad smokers smell, and how much perfume they themselves were wearing that they literally could not smell before).

          One thing that’s really interesting to me is that there are products whose smells I objectively like, but that also give me nasty symptoms of various sorts — clearly there’s some ingredient I am sensitive or allergic to, but what?

        2. Anon Supervisor*

          When I quit smoking I was amazed at how much everything stunk around me. Even food smells that I never really noticed. Now, because I have very little scented products, I’m even more sensitive to them. The newest symptom I’ve noticed is my eyes will feel dry and gummy and start to itch if someone used Tide. By the time I’m able to get away from it, I’m about ready to claw my own eyes out.

    2. Carrots*

      +100. For the people who use it, their noses get used to it and stop smelling it entirely, but for the rest of us we have to smell their gross clothing.

      The dumbest thing ever is scented dish soap and dishwasher detergent. It leaves a lingering pukey scent on dishes that makes food taste bad. Abolish!! :-)

      1. UKDancer*

        I think that’s a matter of individual choice. I like lemon or apple fairy liquid because it smells nice when I’m washing the pots and I’ve never noticed any particular scent on the kitchen knives after. If you’re not eating in my house then it shouldn’t be problematic. There’s an unscented one for people who like that sort of thing. I’d change it if I lived with someone with sensitivities but otherwise let me have my colourful washing up liquid.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Your examples do tend to wash off, according to my scent sensitive partner. The dishwasher stuff with extra shiny magic? Designed to stick.

          1. UKDancer*

            Obviously if someone I lived with or who was staying with me told me they were sensitive or allergic to the scented fairy liquid I’d get fairy original. I’m not heartless. Most of the time I use the one I want to use because I like colourful and scented washing up liquid and it makes washing up more pleasant.

            I use whichever dishwasher capsules are on special offer at the supermarket, which may or may not have shiny magic (usually not as it’s cheaper without).

      2. Skippy*

        My dish soap is pretty mild, but the dishwasher detergent lingers on anything silicone, and I wind up eating from something that tastes like fragrance.

      3. iglwif*

        You know, I don’t mind scented dish soap, but green Palmolive dish soap specifically makes me feel ill, and always has … which is an issue because it is the only dish soap my mum uses or has ever used. (Weirdly for a person who is also very sensitive to scents, she says she doesn’t really notice the smell.)

        I’ve gone through various dish soap phases including several different unscented types, and have currently landed on a couple of specific Mrs Meyer’s ones. And they don’t leave a scent on any dishes EXCEPT my silicone baking mats, which unfortunately are now lemon verbena scented :P

      4. anonagoose*

        See, I actually need scented dishsoap. I don’t have a dishwasher, and I’m autistic so it’s a sensory nightmare for me; the scent alleviates some of that because it gives me something to focus on other than how horrendous the stuff feels and/or the smell of food that is no longer food but now mush. I’d love there to be a widely available, equivalently-priced scentless alternative, but I would be really screwed if it went away entirely.

    3. Chauncy Gardener*

      When our neighbors do laundry, the scent of their laundry products permeates our yard! Yuck.

      1. Anon Supervisor*

        Same, but we’re in an apartment with a shared HVAC system. Their detergent is completely vile.

    4. Over It*

      I’m also team yeet all scented detergents and fabric softeners into the sun. I use scent free products because I have sensitive skin, but I live in a building with communal washers and dryers. Sometimes I react to other people’s detergents. But I can’t realistically mandate my entire building switch to scent-free products. My dream is to live somewhere with in-unit laundry, but that’s not financially feasible for me right now.

      1. iglwif*

        This is hands-down my favourite thing about living in a condo with in-suite laundry. Our old building had a basement laundry room and it was … challenging, as is the launderette we’ve have to use when our machines were indisposed. You walk in there and the commingled detergent smells hit you like a brick wall of stink.

    5. GrowthOpportunity*

      Yes — I was washing my mom’s clothes with mine with my detergent and I had to rewash my clothes because they smelled too strongly of her lingering detergent. Lucky for me, I talked her (basically, I told her the above and she wondered if that was also messing with her general allergies) into swapping to a fragrance free detergent and it is so much better (I don’t have to sleep with my tshirt by my face as a scent barrier from the guest bed sheets).

      The Gain scent beads commercials make me shudder.

      1. This Daydreamer*

        Don’t get me started on those stupid scent beads! I get a bit lightheaded just walking through the laundry aisle and people want MORE of that?!

      2. iglwif*

        Yes. And Downy Unstopables (to which I have two objections: (1) they smell horrible, and (2) they are spelled with only one P).

        And also air fresheners, and the people who genuinely believe that the dreadful smell of an air freshener is “taking away” the dreadful smell of a not-very-clean washroom / a house with a lot of dogs in it / a litter box / a diaper pail / a house that people smoke in / etc.

    6. Sun in an Empty Room*

      Scented laundry products can have pretty strong cultural and geographic ties. Anywhere I’ve ever lived that is sub-tropical or tropical (including where I’m writing from right now) has had much higher uses of heavily scented laundry detergent and softener. Very hot and humid temperatures and line drying make different standards for hygiene and different needs for products along with cultural preferences for scents. I have probably been considered unhygienic for my preference for using fewer scents and products in my laundry when I lived in these places and have often adapted to using more scents/products to cover up mildew-y smell from laundry hung to dry that couldn’t completely dry and to blend in more culturally.

    7. Minimal Pear*

      Whoops this reminded me I have a shirt soaking with baking soda in the sink right now that I need to go switch out!

    8. Her name was Joanne*

      You might try steeking your clothes to get the scent out. You soak the clothes/towels in a bathtub in borax and washing soda (instructions are on the arm & hammer website). I did it to get lingering smells from my towels, and it was amazing. You wouldn’t believe how gross the water was from soaking “ clean” towels.

      1. Skippy*

        I’m interested in this, but could it be a different spelling? I tried looking it up and “steeking” means cutting into knitwear.

        1. Minimal Pear*

          I’ve seen it called “laundry stripping”, my guess is that they knit and type “steeking” a lot and it autocorrected.

      2. iglwif*

        I am going to try this next time!

        I use borax quite often as a laundry additive and I find it helpful especially for stinky towels (we have a dog … who likes mud …).

        What I’d really love to find is some equivalent to Shout that (a) actually removes stains and (b) doesn’t smell HORRIBLE.

        1. Anon Supervisor*

          I use plain Dawn dishsoap for grease stain and there’s an oxy stain spray that isn’t fragranced.

          1. iglwif*

            I’ve never used Oxy but if there’s one that isn’t stinky, I’m going to go look for that next time I’m buying groceries.

    9. TomatoSoup*

      Same. I never noticed it until I moved in with my partner, whose eczema reacts to scented laundry soap. These days, I find the smell of clothes washed in scented soap to be overwhelming.

    10. Avril Ludgateaux*

      Lingering scents are typically caused by fabric softener, not detergent. Soak the clothes in diluted distilled vinegar overnight to remove the coating that has trapped the odors and you might be able to salvage them.

      I have a pretty keen sense of smell (though I’m not fragrance averse like seemingly most of this thread). I used to use fabric softener because I liked it, but then I noticed it would “trap” other scents, too. Things like BO or deodorant smells in the armpits, and for workout clothes? Forget it. I almost had to toss hundreds of dollars worth of workout gear because my stupid butt didn’t know you shouldn’t use fabric softener on synthetic fabrics (or ever, actually, but ESPECIALLY not on synthetic fabrics). Fabric softener literally coats the threads of clothes to smooth down any errant fibers that can cause a rough feeling. But in doing so, it “seals” whatever little residual microbes (or more likely their excretions) are still on those very threads. Over time, this builds up an odor that is extremely hard to get off – even with regular washing – and it gets worse and worse the more you do it.

      So anyway, I saved my gym clothes with the vinegar trick and stopped using fabric softener (liquid or dryer sheets, or worse, the kind they combine with your detergent) altogether. I will occasionally put white vinegar in the “fabric softener” tray of my washer and run an extra rinse cycle. Since then, I’ve never noticed a lingering scent to my clothes – not detergent, not body odors or trapped deodorant, and not even vinegar.

      1. iglwif*

        I’ve never used fabric softener, so idk where other people’s laundry’s smells come from. I use vinegar in the washing machine a lot for exactly this reason, though.

  13. Jojo*

    I am sensitive to fragrances, but I would never expect anyone to change to all fragrance free personal care products. Not only are they expensive, many of them just don’t work very well. Outside of cologne and perfume, the only thing I would like to ban are laundry scent beads. Yikes, those things are powerful.

  14. chellie*

    So, in the pre-Covid I would occasionally attend a meeting in a government building that was ostensibly fragrance free. There was a lot of unfriendly signage about fragrances. Visitors checked in with a receptionist, who sat behind a glass wall and would occasionally lean towards the little window, sniff loudly, and ask accusingly if YOU were wearing fragrance. Then, I would go to the meeting room. One time I got there a bit early, so the only other people were the 2 staff who worked in the building. The (large) conference room REEKED of cigarettes. One or both had been smoking in their closed car (because no smoking on the property?). I do not have environmental sensitivity and this was nearly intolerable. This experience did not cause me to feel more inclined to monitor my hair conditioner.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I don’t understand this. Were the people who smoked in their cars the same people who asked for the fragrance free policy?

      1. Roland*

        If a room is going to reek of smoke then it hardly matters if someone’s shampoo last night had scent because the room is already unsuitable for people who can’t handle fragrance. Feels pretty clear to me?

        1. Roland*

          That last line is passive aggressive, apologies. In retrospect I was annoyed at other comments making demands that you are not making and it’s uncool to take that out on you.

      2. RagingADHD*

        I think the issue is a double standard: the people who were actively giving themselves a strong odor (that many people have adverse responses to) immediately before the meeting were not apparently not being policed or required to change their habits. So that the heavy-handed enforcement on milder scents appeared to be for show, rather than for any practical purpose.

        1. mreasy*

          Yeah I don’t have sensitivity to fragrance (though I dislike most of it) but I have to leave a room if anyone has just smoked. It’s gotten worse as I’ve aged (in my 40s), too.

    2. Olivia*

      I find this interesting because in my experience, some of the worst perfume offenders who you can smell coming a mile away, are doing it to drown out the smell of smoke. The workplace can say not to wear perfume, but they’re still going to smoke.

      There’s a person who I think is in this category who comes into my office once a week at a certain time, and if I am away from my desk when she walks by, I can tell when I come back because it still smells like her perfume even after she’s left the area. This level of perfume is just ridiculous and I wish people realized that at that point it’s kinda rude.

      1. iglwif*

        Yeah, I used to work (decades ago) with a heavy smoker + heavy perfume user. She genuinely believed (1) that her perfume made her not stink of stale cigarette smoke and (2) that she wasn’t wearing very much perfume.

        Of course then she got pregnant and quit smoking and SUDDENLY realized how drastically smoking had messed with her sense of smell. Our shared cubicle area got a lot less awful for me after that, because not only did she not smell of stale cigs, she also no longer smelled like she’d bathed in perfume before leaving home.

    3. Boof*

      Cigarettes is a good analogy: it is now quite clear that smoking in joint public spaces is polluting said public space for everyone else. And yet, we generally haven’t outright banned cigarettes (nor do I particularly think we should;usually I think people should be allowed to make suboptimal decisions for themselves so long as they likely understand the risks), but no, you can’t blow smoke in a coworkers face. On the other hand, it would be an overreach for work to demand all their employees not smoke ever. The middle ground is no smoking at work and not coming to work reeking of smoke.
      Same thing for fragrances.

    4. ADidgeridooForYou*

      My question is what happens when these types of request come into play with someone’s cultural heritage or tradition? Certain spices used in foods come from your pores, and if that person lives in a part of the world where those spices aren’t used in their traditional foods, the scent might be different than people are accustomed to. I could see the requests from that receptionists devolving into racism or xenophobia rather quickly.

      1. allathian*

        This is definitely true. I also feel bad about having a very bad reaction to patchouli and the incense some immigrant groups use. Granted, most of them rent their homes and AFAIK all local councils here ban burning incense in apartment buildings where the scent can carry from one apartment to another. All of them also ban smoking indoors, to be fair.

  15. RagingADHD*

    I think that unless the official communication was *extremely* clear and explicit that the fact sheet was merely suggestions and not policy, attaching it to the announcement made it look like policy. Which is indeed unreasonable.

    It would be better to post the fact sheet as a resource and link to it “for those who are interested in living fragrance free at home,” or something like that.

  16. Ssssssssssssssssssssss*

    It’s so very difficult to find unscented antiperspirant at my local drug store. Quite often, there’s only one. And I don’t mean one per brand – just ONE, after a long search thru four shelves’ worth of about 50 different kinds of underarm stuff!

    Unscented hand cream is just as hard to find at times. But I do it for a good cause for work.

    Overuse of scented products in laundry does happen. I generally don’t smell peoples’ clothing unless I’m up close and personal. But there was one day a coworker who must have JUST washed her clothes with Gain plus Downy or something because I could smell her a whole desk over and another coworker noticed too. She was a bit put out being told the scent was too strong.

    1. Prefer my pets*

      Downy put out those extra-scented, extra long lasting scented fabric softeners several years ago (ok, I have no sense of time anymore…maybe more like 6 or 7 yrs). WHY that is a selling point instead of a drawback baffles me! (I do use them in the seasonally parked equipment like my riding mower and camper though…it’s the only thing that is so stinky it keeps the mice from building nests & chewing on wires)

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Right??? I don’t ever want to be smelling strong scents all day, not perfume ones anyway!

        I stopped using heavy scented stuff when my kid was diagnosed with asthma and man, the worst place to be in a grocery store is the laundry detergent aisle. Lordy, all I need is for my clothes to smell clean, not “clean.” Perfume does not equal clean!

        “This towel was washed three days ago and still smells fresh!” And?

        And yeah, we’ve used samples of those scented wash boosters to deter animals too!

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        We use pure peppermint oil to keep rodents out of equipment engines. It works surprisingly well, but it does make the forklift smell like mint for weeks after applying.

        1. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

          Honestly, is it just me or is everyone grumpier lately? I see this here, on other sites, and in my IRL connections, and I am having a hard time with my own anger (I know I’ve been snippy here). My guess is some combo of “worn out by pandemic”, “exhausted by dumb cost of living crisis”, “seriously why do literally none of you pay a living wage”, and “omg winter sucks”.

            1. Worldwalker*

              I was wondering about that! I couldn’t figure out how speculating about whether laundry scents or mint oil would keep the yellowjackets out of my tool shed was grumpy, except maybe from the perspective of a stinging insect!

              1. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

                I was originally replying to you to make a joke about the TV series “Yellowjackets” (brutal but well-made), and was also replying to someone else close together and it just crossed wires.

                To be fair, everyone on the show is grumpy too, due to rather unpleasant circumstances.

          1. Kelly*

            I find every time something gets popular the trolls come out and ruin it. I’ve left Facebook groups I really liked because some people just couldn’t be civil.

    2. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

      Personally, my birth control makes me smell stronger, and I’m actively working to find a deodorant that handles it. I cannot switch birth control now due to various health issues that make other forms difficult or unsafe, so I’m stuck with the smell. But if I find a deodorant that covers it, yeah, it’s not going to be easy to switch. (I work from home, so this isn’t too bad, but it’s embarrassing and annoying.)

  17. Lavender*

    There’s also the fact that some scented products “linger” a lot more than others. I’ve used shampoos in the past that give my hair a strong scent that lasts until the next wash. I also use a face wash that smells strongly when I first put it on, but fades completely after an hour or so. (I’ve asked other people to confirm this; it’s not just because I got used to the smell.) The shampoo might cause issues in a fragrance-free workplace, but the face wash likely wouldn’t.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      My salon started using some sort of conditioner that had the STRONGEST odor. The whole salon reeked (which I didn’t initially notice because of my mask). My hair reeked. It gave me a headache. I washed my hair thoroughly and that still didn’t get rid of it! Ugh.

      1. GrowthOpportunity*

        I went to a new hair person and she put on a hold product without checking first and it smelled so strongly (not bad, but SO STRONG) that I had to go home and wash my hair which was double disappointing because usually I enjoy getting a few days out of my nicely styled hair (versus my “I brushed it” style).

        1. Skippy*

          Yes! I asked for no scented products and my new stylist went ahead and doused on something that’s “vegan and 98% natural” that she couldn’t smell. Next time I will tell her more firmly that if she uses product on my hair, I would find a second wash more useful than a blowout.

      2. Noaveda*

        I can’t go to Aveda salons bc of the scent in their products. I literally break out in hives and my eyes water. It doesn’t matter what type of product I use from there.

  18. Prefer my pets*

    My entire office (literally) breathed a sigh of relief when it went scent-free because of two people who absolutely doused themselves in perfume/cologne (one of each gender in that office interestingly…and they were most definitely not friends). You could taste them in the air if they had walked down a hallway 10 minutes before. There were actually multiple people in our office (200-250 people depending on season) with ADA-level scent sensitivity but there were a whoooooole lot more of us who just generally disliked having to taste fragrance walking to the copy room.

    There were stages of the announcement, mostly triggered by those two… “No perfume, colognes, or body sprays” followed by “No highly scented products including Bath & Body Works type lotions” followed by individual counselling of them “If your clothing is so scented because your house reeks of fragrance that we can still tell which meeting room you were in an hour ago, you need to figure out how to launder it so it doesn’t” There were a number of tantrums but they eventually complied because “I want the strongest scent I can find” is not a protected class. About a year later, the gal I was friends with confessed she finally realized how nose-blind she had become and now couldn’t stand to be in confined spaces with her sisters who still used fragrance to her old level.

    1. Sally*

      Yes, you can taste it!! And it’s so true that people become nose blind and don’t realize it. I buy a particular brand of natural hand soap with essential oils in it, and though it smells wonderful at first, after the first three days or so I literally can no longer smell it. Our noses ADJUST.

    2. BellyButton*

      UGGG being able to taste it is what usually sends me from discomfort to gagging to vomiting. I left a live show just a couple of weeks ago because the person in front of me had on a strong cologne and I started coughing, then gagging, to full on dry heaving as I frantically made my way out of the row and out of the auditorium.

    3. Meep*

      I am young enough that Axe Body Spray is still permanently seared into my nostrils and taste buds from middle school boys and the girls who thought it “smelled good” (gag). Take a shower already. It just mixes with the B.O.

      1. BlueSwimmer*

        I’m a 9th grade teacher. Axe body spray and fruit-scented sprays for the girls are the bane of my existence.

        1. Data/Lore*

          Someone gifted my teen and preteen with fruity *and* glittery body sprays this past Christmas. I haven’t figured out the best way to express my thanks.

      2. yala*

        When I lived in London, I rented a teensy room in a flat owned by a woman with a teenage son.

        Every morning, I could watch the literal cloud of Axe drift across my ceiling as it came through the little window over my door from the bathroom all the way down the hall.

        I loathed that smell.

    4. cottagechick73*

      I remember being friends with someone that seemed to bathe in cologne (pre-Axe body spray). It was strong enough that you yourself would smell just like you were wearing the cologne after being in the same room with them for a matter of minutes. And there was no physical contact to transfer the cologne to your clothes or skin.

    5. grocerystore*

      There was a woman who ran our church’s office. She was incredibly sweet and great at her job. However she used the strongest perfume, I have ever smelled in my life. I went once to drop something off. It took longer than expected and I was there for about 15 min. I had to go home and shower to get the scent out of my hair. I washed my clothes too. I don’t understand how people can stand to bathe themselves in perfume.

    6. Kyrielle*

      I one time rode up in an elevator at work with another woman and she eventually uncomfortably asked me what that perfume I was wearing was. I said I wasn’t wearing perfume, and was going to ask her the same question.

      We had been riding the elevator with someone’s scent-ghost. If your perfume keeps riding the elevator after you get off of it….

      1. LK*

        One time, when I was working at a reception desk, a coworker wrinkled her nose and made a pointed comment about how someone was wearing too much perfume (with a nasty look to be clear she meant me). I had been thinking the same thing about her, and the scent was on the verge of triggering my hayfever-like allergies. It turned out that one of the office plants had bloomed and the flowers smelled very strongly. It’s done it a few times since then (at most once a year), but now my office has gone scent-free, and I can’t help but wonder if they remembered to remove the plant.

  19. kc*

    Even if someone were to do all these things, it doesn’t mean they won’t have a scent. People will notice that others from different cultures often have a unique smell to them (and them to you). The food we eat and cook can effect how we smell. Should everyone refrain from cooking with spices in their home also? It is just so impossible.

    1. metadata minion*

      Do the scent of spices or the natural smell of a reasonably-recently-washed human typically trigger reactions in scent-sensitive people?

      1. Meep*

        I know a couple of people who cannot stand citrus fragrances to the point that eating any citrus fruit around them is a no-go. And cinnamon seems a common one.

        There is really no winning, but I would say most of us our nose-blind to our own scent similar to how cat owners are often nose-blind to cat litter. Most people aren’t going to spray Frebreeze over their litter box every day, so it makes sense not to spray perfume.

      2. oooooof*

        The people I know (granted small sample size) that are sensitive to strong scents are sensitive to all strong odors. It doesn’t change on source, be it natural or added.

      3. Minimal Pear*

        I personally find that the scent of food is totally fine! Honestly I love it when I go about my day and realize my hair held the scent of the curry I made for dinner the night before (as an example).
        If it’s very very strong it could cause problems for me but I almost never run into food scents that hit that threshold for me.

      4. minty fresh*

        The smell of fish makes me gag. Not in a dramatic “like eewwuhhh that STINKS” kind of way, it genuinely triggers my gag reflex.

        We have a lot of people who eat fish at work so I just grin & bear it (& stagger my lunch so I’m not using the breakroom when the majority of the building is on break) ¯⁠\⁠_⁠(⁠ツ⁠)⁠_⁠/⁠¯

      5. Observer*

        Do the scent of spices or the natural smell of a reasonably-recently-washed human typically trigger reactions in scent-sensitive people?

        It depends on what they are sensitive to! Like, if you just ate an orange that you peeled and haven’t washed your hands yet, someone who is scent sensitive to citrus WILL have a problem. I could give a dozen other examples, but the bottom line is that “natural” does NOT mean “OK”.

      6. yala*

        I ate most of a bulb of garlic once (I sort of lost track. It was at a crawfish boil), and *I* didn’t want to be around me for the next two days.

        Sometimes it’s not just “spices”–food will literally change how you smell.

    2. I edit everything*

      That’s different, though. People with a scent sensitivity are generally sensitive to artificial scents, not so much food scents and natural body odor.

      1. Lavender*

        Weirdly, the only scents I’m sensitive to are artificial food smells (like “cupcake” or “pumpkin spice” scented products). Actual food smells don’t bother me, but I can’t deal with artificial ones.

        1. I have RBF*

          Same here. I actually have perfumes that I can wear that are composed only of essential oils.

          The only natural scent that I react to is lavender, which is a migraine trigger. This makes me and my spouse unhappy because they love lavender. We found out about my allergy to natural lavender because I made her a natural lavender soap that I reacted to while I was making it.

          But I know people who react badly to citrus oils, to the point of needing to be careful not to use aromatic tea with bergamot in it.

          1. Lavender*

            Lavender is one of my favorite scents (hence my display name!) but I don’t use it at work because it’s such a common sensitivity.

          2. virago*

            One of my favorite fragrance bloggers, Kafkaesque, would empathize with you! She spent part of her peripatetic childhood in Grasse, France, which has many lavender fields (it is a hub of the perfume manufacturing industry). She admits that as a result, lavender is one of the notes in a fragrance that she cannot abide.

      2. Observer*

        People with a scent sensitivity are generally sensitive to artificial scents, not so much food scents and natural body odor.

        That’s just not true. Just look at all of the people talking about sensitivity to lavender, rose and mint. Citrus is another common one.

        1. Giant Kitty*

          When I was a kid I was so allergic to grass that even the scent of freshly mown lawn could cause a serious reaction.

        2. amoeba*

          Also, as a chemist – a lot of the “artificial, chemical fragrances” are literally *the same molecules* (in much higher purity and generally less complex than what you’d find in a plant, sure). But just the fact that they’re produced chemically instead of extracted from natural sources does not change their properties. Like, at all.
          Natural =/= unproblematic and “chemical” =/= bad.

          1. yala*

            Out of curiosity, does that mean that artificial lily scents could still be harmful to cats?

    3. Betsy Bobbins*

      It’s not all odors that trigger reactions, it’s generally manufactured fragrances containing chemicals that do. Unless someone has a food allergy they are not going to react to food scents. Generally people are not reacting to the smell itself, but the chemicals used to make that fragrance and keep it potent.

      1. Roland*

        Which chemicals though? You can’t have an allergy or sensitivity to “chemicals” because that doesn’t mean anything. This is what bugs me a lot about fragrance policies as well, if we’re expected to be “scent-free”, they should define what the actual sensitivities are towards.

        1. Minimal Pear*

          I can’t speak for everyone, but for me there are a few different things going on when I say I’m sensitive/allergic to fragrance:
          1. I have sensitive skin, and I get a skin reaction to certain products. This is most often the eco-groovy all natural organic stuff with lots of natural scent, but it can be other things too.
          2. I think I have an actual respiratory allergy to some ingredients, similar to how I react to pollen. I sneeze, my eyes itch and water, sometimes my asthma gets a little triggered. I don’t know exactly which ingredients I’m reacting to.
          3. I have a good sense of smell, and some scents are just so strong and overwhelming that it feels like I got punched in the face.
          4. Sometimes, due to #2 or #3 or a combo of both, I can get a migraine.
          5. I also have a chronic illness that is linked to a lot of allergies, makes me react like I’m allergic to a lot of stuff, generally just involves a lot of allergy crap that sucks, etc. Sometimes I just feel Weird around strong scents, and it’s likely due to this. I can get flushed, tired, etc. It’s probably interwoven with situations 2, 3, and 4. It’s complicated!

          1. Minimal Pear*

            To add a few more details in case it’s helpful:
            An example of #1 would be using a popular “all natural” deodorant brand, which gave me a HORRIBLE rash on my armpits.
            Whatever I’m allergic to in fragrances, I notice it most with floral scents, so that may be linked.
            Strong scents can be lots of things, although artificial fragrances are by far the worst. (Possibly it’s combining with whatever I’m allergic to.) Like I said upthread, this can happen rarely with food. I’ve also had it happen with flowers once in a while.

            1. virago*

              A popular “all natural” deodorant gave me a nasty pit rash, whose origins I eventually was able to trace to the baking soda in the formula.

          2. Lady_Lessa*

            I remember when I was working tech service, and really felt sorry for the woman. After a fire where her husband worked, he became severely allergic to some of the most common materials in hand lotion, shampoo etc. She had a awful time finding products that she could use. And I am NOT talking about scents, but a basic ingredient.

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          There are a wide variety of chemicals in synthetic fragrances, but there’s a lot of overlap in characteristics that are not found in naturally-occurring food/body odors. Perfumes need to behave in certain ways to be effective. In general, consumer products with added fragrances produce a lot of VOCs. Different people may be sensitive to different specific chemicals, specific types of VOCs, or byproducts formed by them in the air.

          Unlike food or body odors, added fragrances in products cause symptoms and health problems in a relatively large chunk of the population – this has been studied. I’ll post a link to one such study in another comment.

          Unless otherwise stated, it’s safe to assume the actual sensitivity is towards added fragrances in products, not to cooking with spices at home.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          Here’s a link to a study on the effects of fragrances in consumer products. They found that about a third of people report health effects from exposure to fragrances in products. Worse, “15.1 % of the general population reported that exposure to fragranced products in their work environment has caused them to become sick, lose workdays, or lose a job.”

          This is not a niche issue only affecting a tiny number of people. It’s quite a common problem.

          1. I have RBF*

            Here’s another quote from that study:

            Data were collected using an online survey with a nationally representative population (n = 1136) of adults in the USA. Overall, 34.7 % of the population reported health problems, such as migraine headaches and respiratory difficulties, when exposed to fragranced products. Further, 15.1 % have lost workdays or a job due to fragranced product exposure in the workplace. Also, 20.2 % would enter a business but then leave as quickly as possible if they smell air fresheners or some fragranced product.

            Over a third of the population has had health problems caused by scented products. This is not a minor or rare, allergy.

        4. Lee*

          “Which chemicals though?” That’s just it, isn’t it? The companies that make these products aren’t disclosing that information. The word “fragrance” on an ingredients list encompasses potentially hundreds of chemicals. There’s no way to know what that actually means. So some people, like me, figure out through trial/error and some really unpleasant situations, that we’re fragrance sensitive but corporations don’t make it possible for us to figure it out beyond that.

          1. Observer*

            Yes – it would be HUGELY helpful if companies had to provide a more detailed list of ingredients. I’d love that for food, too. I mean if you happen to be sensitive to pepper how helpful is “spices” on an ingredient list? Of if you are allergic to citrus how helpful is “natural flavor”?

            Detailed ingredient lists would be soooooo helpful. And it would also make it easier to accommodate people. Because in many cases it’s practical to avoid THIS fragrance, but not ALL fragrances. Not always, but enough that I think it would make a difference.

            1. iglwif*

              My spouse has a bad sensitivity to black pepper, and “spices” on an ingredients list is the bane of my existence.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      Scent sensitivities aren’t really dictated by cultural difference. It’s not the same as disliking or being new to a type of smell. My partner is allergic to scents he definitely would have been exposed him to as a child, but he could walk into any busy restaurant with a different spice palate to his upbringing and he’d be totally fine.

  20. Madame X*

    I really empathize with people who have sensitivities to fragrances because there’s not always a perfect solution. Sometimes it is possible to request a fragrance free or even low fragrance environment where people don’t wear, perfume/cologne, or use scented candles in the office. However, once you start getting into personal care and home care products like body lotions, body washes, laundry detergent etc, then it gets a bit tricky. Already, there’s several comments posted that shown that triggers to laundry detergent can arise from that are unscented or scented products depending on the specific allergy or sensitivity. I think the best you can do is make a good effort to not have excessive amounts of fragrance, especially in an environment where there are people who have fragrance sensitivities. However, if an individual is so sensitive to fragrance that they will have a reaction if somebody else is wearing wearing deodorant, or to a wide range of home care products, then the accommodation needed for that individual would have to look very different than asking hundreds or thousands of people to change all of their personal & home care products.

    I think what makes this most challenging is the unspecificity of the request (if the list of helpful tips by the employee was indeed a request and not just added information). Furthermore, asking people to change their entire personal and home care products, might not solve the issue or create a whole new set of problems.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      If the allergic person themselves provided this list, it sure sounds like they need THAT level of intensive product changing in order to be around other people. Regardless of whatever the office said.

  21. Charlie Rose*

    As someone with severe scent allergies that crosses into anaphylaxis, I applaud the ask from the meeting organizer, however think it was gone about wrongly. The fact sheet needed to come from an official organization or HR, and needed to be vetted before being sent out.

    I work in a “scent free” office, however in the last 30 days I have been hospitalized 6 times due to scent in the work place. This is from other’s personal body products, cleaning products and/or laundry products. The fragrance causes my throat to close and severely inhibits my ability to breath normally. I am at the point of filing an unsafe work environment grievance with my employer as they are not able to maintain a safe work environment for those with scent allergies.

    Note – I am outside of the USA and have a strong union supporting my grievance.

    1. BellyButton*

      That is awful! What could be done though? When I worked in an office I politely asked people not to use air fresheners and got the office to go scent free- with colognes and perfumes. But detergent, shampoo, and lotion were never mentioned. I felt that was too far. I had an air purifier in my office and a small portable one I could take into a conference room if needed.

      What kind of accommodations would make the office safe for you?

    2. Pippa K*

      This sounds awful and I’m so sorry you’ve suffered physically from this, plus I imagine it’s hugely stressful to have to worry about your environment in this way. I’m wondering – and I do not intend this to be dismissive at all – at what point is it just the situation that an office environment cannot be made safe enough for this level of environmental allergy? Assuming everyone is acting in good faith about scented products, but sometimes people don’t realize some chemical is present or perceptible, or they make a mistake – when the consequences for the allergic person are life-threatening, it seems such a huge risk. And obviously this creates a burden for the person with allergies, to be constrained in this way about not only work environments, but I’d think also public transport, grocery stores, lots of other places. Is there a solution or approach that reliably keeps people with this level of allergy safe in crowded or multi-user places?

      1. I have RBF*

        An elastomeric respirator with VOC cartridges is about the only thing I can think of. Yes, I have one, and would wear it if there was no other solution. But it would look rather odd.

      2. Divergent*

        For me scent exposure reactions are cumulative throughout the day (I’m not as bad as the story mentioned, but I have significant and disabling reactions). What I manage isn’t “will scent make me feel sick?” because I’ll feel sick most days I go into a small space with
        bunch of people; my goal is “can I feel less-sick-enough to still function through the whole day” including eating dinner and maybe doing a hobby in the evening.

        For part of my life I chose an outdoor career which limited my exposure at work and left some space for public transit and occasional gatherings. When I switched to an indoor career I had to move to a location I could afford a car and a house with no shared air ducts; it’s only possible for me to work at this location because they’re willing to accommodate somewhat (switched from sprays to wipes during covid, no perfumes, no air fresheners, and I sit right by the air vent which annoyingly blows air in my face but lessens ambient scent somewhat).

        It was completely amazing and incredible during covid, working from home and doing curbside grocery pickup and having no gatherings, to be able to be completely free from symptoms. I realized I hadn’t experienced being totally nausea-and-headache-free for maybe half a decade previous and it makes it really hard to be back, even though the in-person and social aspect is sometimes important to my mental health and job.

        1. Divergent*

          I also was pretty low-income for awhile, so I learned to make my own unscented soap, and I kept a short haircut to minimize shampoo use. I still make my own soap, the unscented stuff that actually can moisturize appropriately is super expensive.

    3. L-squared*

      Even from outside the US, this seems like an overreach to expect people to change their laundry products for you. This seems like the ideal situation may be you working from home )(if possible) or in a more isolated area, not making everyone change their personal and laundry products.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Especially since, as a person who isn’t sensitive, you may swap a product, but your new product might also be a trigger, even if for you it’s unscented, or you used it the night before and so you think it’s OK, or you don’t realize that even the light scent of your hand lotion might be a trigger. I don’t think a grievance is the way to go–scented products can be super hard to manage when you’re not the one who is sensitive (because as I said, you may not realize that what you swapped to is still an issue even if it’s labelled ‘free and clear’ or ‘fragrance free’), so your best next step might be making accommodation for you.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes I mean I’m happy not to use perfume or use an unscented lotion or sanitiser but I’m not changing my laundry powder or delicates wash having found one brand that doesn’t make my skin itch and which works effectively. I mean you have to be reasonable in what you’re asking people to do to accommodate you. Asking people not to use certain things at or on the way to the office is probably going to be broadly reasonable, asking them to change their household products is probably not.

    4. NancyDrew*

      I am really struggling to believe that someone who has been hospitalized 6 times in a 4-week period would continue going into an office that is causing said hospitalizations.

      That seems like excessively risky behavior on your behalf.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        what would they do? quit their job? I think they should allow them to work from home though…

        1. NancyDrew*

          Yes to both of those options!

          I have a peanut butter allergy, so I don’t work in a peanut butter factory. If this commenter is being hospitalized this often, yes, they should absolutely be working from home or in another company/role that can accommodate their health needs.

          My goodness.

          1. pope suburban*

            There are things that don’t actually require any internet sleuthing. This is one of them. What on earth did you think you were doing here?

        2. Observer*

          what would they do? quit their job? I think they should allow them to work from home though…

          Work from home is ideal for jobs that allow it.

          Otherwise? Perhaps. It may not be possible for the workplace to be kept as scent free as needed. Some people have disabilities that really cannot be reasonably accommodated.

    5. spruce*

      Do your scent allergies include only artificial scents? For instance, many products have a natural scent – someone up thread mentioned citrus fruit.
      I don’t mean to question your allergies, but I am wondering how any employer might remove all scents whatsoever from the office – so many scents are just naturally occuring!

    6. Critical Rolls*

      In the U.S., I’m not sure what you need would be considered “reasonable accommodation.” The extent to which it would require dictating the lives of your coworkers, not to mention any clients/public, seems pretty extreme. No perfumes/colognes, no (how can I put this?) recreationally scented lotions, no fragrance-emitting objects, providing fragrance-free cleaning products for the office, yes, absolutely, and there needs to be a serious good faith effort at enforcement. Even if there’s a specific fragrance that’s a problem, like lilac, it’s reasonable to ask. But wanting people to make blanket alterations their entire personal hygiene arrangement, cleaning products they use at home, etc is a wild overreach.

    7. Chick (on laptop)*

      Buddy, unless you’re exaggerating, you should NOT be staying in a job that puts you in the hospital with anaphylaxis *six times* in the last 30 days.

      However I assume you are exaggerating for sympathy.

    8. anonagoose*

      Saying this as a person with my own disabilities–is the level of scent-free you need really achievable? Do you really think this is a reasonable accommodation? I’m assuming that in your workplace people haven’t disclosed conflicts with the mandate that they change out their body products, laundry products, etc, but is that sustainable? What if they hire someone who is allergic to all but one detergent that happens to have your trigger scent, or whose religious practices involve the burning of incense with that scent and lingers on their hair?

      Unfortunately not all disabilities can be accommodated in the way we would like them to be. If you are legitimately finding that even in the scenario where there are no conflicting access needs your life cannot be protected, perhaps you need to consider that this is not a sustainable solution.

      1. Starbuck*

        I get this reaction, but realistically, what is someone to do? This site skews very white-collar, but so many people aren’t in a relevant field or have the skills to get a WFH job and be house-bound; and this particular condition from what I’ve read is VERY difficult to get benefits for that would allow you to not work without ending up in poverty. It would probably be a struggle to be in ANY workplace with this level of scent sensitivity / allergy.

        1. anonagoose*

          It is, and I’m very sympathetic to that, but if you have been hospitalized 6 times in a month you’ve in all likelihood cleared the documentation level needed for disability benefits. Not that it’s ideal or, in the US at least, a good amount of money, but that’s the thing–disability isn’t ideal. That’s why it’s a disabling.

          I’m didn’t make the comment because I’m rooting for this person to be unemployed or on benefits. I’m not! But six anaphylaxis reactions in one month is a lot, it’s hard on the body, and at the end of the day, we don’t live in a world where the solutions we would like are always viable. I don’t know this person’s full context which is why I asked questions. But like I said above, if their job is dictating hygiene products and laundry products for employees and they are still in danger, they should probably start considering that they’ve crossed the threshold into needs that can’t be reasonably accommodated at their workplace. Not all disabilities can be accommodated, sadly, and this might be one of those times.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Especially since, if you’re that sensitive, you may still be sensitive to products that people swap to in order to accommodate your allergy! I’d feel horrible if I switched to a “fragrance free” product that still triggered the person, but at the same time I can’t spend 3 hours of my night doing research on which products might not trigger them. An allergy of that level is not on me to manage, at that point.

    9. biobotb*

      I’m impressed that your previous work places have been able to dictate which laundry and hygiene products its workers used at home. Do you know how they managed to do that?

  22. EPLawyer*

    The fact sheet reeks of someone who is taking advantage of the in person event to push their own agenda about scented products.

    For the one day event — YES everyone should be mindful and do their best. But to go fragrance free completely at home — that’s a hard NO.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Swear to whatever deity (deities) anyone holds holy, I did not realize what I did until after I posted it.

  23. Smithy*

    Provided work doesn’t make a further push on going fragrance free at home, and this document from the employee was just included as a one off….I think there’s a space for having a little empathy for the coworker.

    I think whenever people try to advocate for these changes in their personal lives, there can sometimes be pushback about how “other people’s” fragrances are “obviously bad” because they’re cheap or tacky or synthetic. But my fragrance is fine, because it’s expensive, high quality, natural, etc. And when you’re not being listened to, the result can be to push back with increasing righteousness in purpose. Some people are just quick to evangelize, but for others I think it can come from a place of not being listened to and reacting with some more extreme boundaries.

    Therefore, if the inclusion of that document truly was coming from a place of humoring the employee and the only request actually made was to not wear scented lotion/perfumes during a one day event – I don’t think the reaction was perfect but can hold some space for trying to split the difference.

    1. Meep*

      I took it as a “one-off if you want to do more” myself. Kind of like “ways you can go green at home too!” when they have those green office pushes.

      Things are a lot different than they were 20 years ago. We take allergies a lot more seriously. Heck, going through elementary school to high school with the same people, I saw some need scent accommodations in the 9th grade that they weren’t getting in the 3rd when it had always been a problem. Prior it was something you just soldiered through.

      1. Smithy*

        I took it as a split the difference to try and make the employee feel heard without actually giving her everything she asked for. But from the same spirit of being an FYI.

        That being said….I used to work for an NGO that at one point did monthly “lunch and learn” presentations where people would volunteer to present on a subject that interested them. One session, someone presented on fairtrade. What it meant, how it the designation worked, etc. Based on staff reactions, would have thought the presentation was an employer mandated “if you are not buying fairtrade products, you are a less ethical human being” lecture. And thus ended lunch and learns forever…..

    2. Ferret*

      You say people push back because “my fragrance is fine, because it’s expensive,”, whereas I mostly see (including here) the opposite, that the fragrance free products are generally more expensive and less available, and that this makes the requirement an unfair imposition.

      Most of my cleaning and hygiene products are the non-branded option from my nearest supermarket, I would have to adjust my entire shopping routine to switch to something else, which would be hard, especially if the employer wasn’t contributing anything

      1. Smithy*

        In the example I provide, I’m mostly referring to how when trying to set those boundaries in our personal lives – particularly with family members. So, the examples I have in my mind are the requests around candles, room sprays, eau de toilette, etc. – and the push back being that “cheap” or “synthetic” varieties are the problem and not the expensive/natural/high quality products.

        When you get to that technical/medical grade definition that you’re talking about in regard to fragrance free deodorants, detergents, etc. and a requirement from the workplace – then you’re absolutely right. But my comment was more regarding the individual evangelical streak can sometimes emerge when those in our personal lives don’t respect more basic boundaries.

        If I’ve read the situation right, the workplace just included this document as an FYI but won’t be including any of those larger at home fragrance free changes as requirements. If that’s correct, I think there’s room to see this as humoring the employee while disregarding the document. If the individual employee or workplace become more vocal or invasive, that’s another point, but at this stage – I shared that explanation to provide some potentially more benign context for the OP going forward.

  24. BellyButton*

    I am incredibly sensitive to scents; my eyes start to water, I begin coughing, I start choking and gagging which has led to me vomiting. It is unpleasant for everyone. I will ask that people not have any added scents- cologne, perfume, scented lotions- only if we are going to be in a closed space- like a conference room. I would never dream of asking people not to use their normal detergent, shampoo, etc. That is just too far.

  25. mlem*

    Tell me you’re nose-blind to overscented laundry soaps, fabric softener liquids, and fabric softener sheets without telling me you’re nose-blind to overscented laundry soaps, fabric softeners, and fabric softener sheets. (Someone on my street seems to be dumping an entire bottle of softener into every load, judging by how they make the entire neighborhood smell on their laundry day.)

    Expecting everyone to change everything is beyond the pale. Suggesting that people ever even think about the hyper-fragrances added to every damn thing they buy because they’re all competing to out-stink each other and Be Noticed? Not the worst crime in the world.

  26. Jennifer in FL*

    Even if the “fact” sheet is just an FYI from the employer, it’s still a huge overstep in boundaries.

  27. smeep248*

    I am extremely reactive to certain scents, as are many people in my social circle. I use lightly fragranced products with fragrances I can tolerate. No one else can smell me unless they are hugging me – and I have lavender laundry soap and fabric softener, deodorant, soap, shampoo/ conditioner and moisturizer that are all fragranced. That is wild to me.

  28. Quinalla*

    Yeah, the attached letter is quite unreasonable – no way should folks be obligated to change detergent, shampoo, etc., asking folks to forgo perfumes, colognes and strongly scented (Bath & Body works style) lotion and no incense, candles, etc. in the office is completely reasonable.

    I do want to make a complaint about how so many companies are trying to add what they consider light scents to all the sensitive products now! I have sensitive skin and now suddenly it is difficult to find unscented sensitive skin body wash, etc. Some scents I like, but most I don’t or they are overpowering, so this new trend is very annoying! Also, too many of the free & clear detergents are actually worse for my and my kids’ sensitive skin. Tried them when my first was an infant and switched back to the normal as some of the chemicals they put in those and not in the normal was making us break out. Laundry detergent is the worst :P

      1. Lola*

        Aveeno’s body lotion is unscented and AMAZING for dry skin. It’s been a game changer for me in the winter.

  29. Meep*

    1. I would take it more as an info-guide then you have the change everything to accommodate one person.

    2. Stop using dryer sheets anyway. Dryer balls are more effective at actually drying your clothes and are better for the environment overall. Thank you for coming to my TedTalk.

    1. mlem*

      My new heat-pump dryer’s instruction manual says not to use dryer sheets — not once, not twice, but three times on one page!

        1. PlantProf*

          Yeah, how doable that is is highly context dependent. My parents have never even owned a dryer, but they live in a dry climate and Mom was a stay at home parent who could do laundry when the weather was good. I live in a place that can be grey and rainy for days at a time, and we both work full time, and get home too late to get sun in the winter. We air dry some, but really couldn’t do it exclusively.

        1. Nope.*

          Gotta give them a quick (like 5 minute) run in the actual dryer before letting them air dry to combat that. I air dried a few things in college because I didn’t want the fit to change and wanted the fabric to last longer, and I discovered that one day while googling. Made a huge difference and since the clothes were only in for a few minutes, still largely avoided the issues I was looking for.

      1. yala*

        Our apartment literally does not allow us to have clotheslines. I have a drying rack that I use for most of my shirts, but it’s really not practical for towels or jeans or anything like that.

      2. Theo*

        I love air-drying (crunchy towels are absorbent towels! smells so nice straight from the sun and wind!) but weather disallows me from doing it at least six months out of the year. Inside is not an option for anything more than things that can’t go in the dryer, because I simply don’t have the space to run a line indoors. I love my little drying rack; it won’t suffice for two adults, a preschooler, and any of their bedding at all. In the US we’re not culturally or situationally — or often environmentally, as the pouring rain in its twenty-fourth hour outside reminds me — set up to transition to line-drying.

        1. Theo*

          also: let’s talk about the increased labor costs, mostly to women, that insisting on line-drying would bring. it turns a quick task to half an hour. i personally enjoy it, but it IS a time sink.

          1. Observer*

            It’s worse – it turns it into TWO half hours jobs. Putting up the laundry then taking it down.

            Not every load is going to take that long, but even so, yes it’s a lot of extra work.

      3. GreyjoyGardens*

        I live in a condo with an HOA that forbids us to put drying racks or clotheslines on our decks. And there’s no way I could dry sheets on a rack, and drying things like heavy pants will take forever. I air dry fragile things but otherwise into the dryer everything goes.

      4. RussianInTexas*

        My drier died for 6 weeks last summer and it was the longest 6 weeks in my life.
        I hate the work of line-drying.
        In addition, I live in the climate in which during 6 months out of the year the clothes would not dry completely, if left outside. We have The Humidity. In the other 6 months we get a whole ton of rain.

      5. iglwif*

        … except when it’s raining. Or snowing. Or sleeting. Or so cold out that your laundry will simply freeze.

        Or if you live somewhere that doesn’t allow clotheslines, or doesn’t have room for them.

        I have a drying rack for things that don’t go in the dryer, and I use it a lot, but for sheets and towels and sweatpants and jeans? Not to mention a whole week’s worth of socks? No way.

        1. Observer*

          except when it’s raining. Or snowing. Or sleeting. Or so cold out that your laundry will simply freeze.

          The freezing is the only one on the list that is not entirely useless. I don’t know how if affects the clothes, but they should be dry when they defrost.

          1. Sorrischian*

            Unfortunately, having accidentally frozen a damp hoodie once, I can say that freezing does not remove moisture unless you have the very, very specific conditions for freeze-drying, and you’re not going to get those on a standard clothesline. They might actually be more damp when they defrost, because they’ll collect condensation while they thaw

      6. Loredena*

        That would leave me with musty clothes most of the year, and I’m allergic to mold! There’s no perfect solution. I settled for dryer balls.

    2. Starbuck*

      I found that when I stopped using dryer sheets, I didn’t need anything added to the dryer to make up for it, not even wool balls. There’s hardly a difference in the feel of how my clothes turn out. I like to be frugal, so it’s great!

  30. Dr. Rebecca*

    A lot of the “unscented” stuff still has scent in it, too, and one could go broke buying/testing/figuring out which is truly just “this is how these chemicals smell when they’re put together” and which is “unscented but for some reason one of the ingredients is ‘parfum.'”

    1. Madame X*

      For personal care in home care products to industry, definition for fragrance, free, and unscented are:

      Fragrance free = no added fragrance or parfum
      Unscented = any fragrance has been masked so that it has an unscented profile. This may include the addition of fragrance ingredients.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          But if they didn’t add the frangrance masking agent, people would think the product smelled bad. It’s a bit of a catch-22 because so many things have an inherent scent, not all of them pleasant.

        2. Madame X*

          It’s just how it’s categorized by the home care and personal care industries. There have been some changes recently approved by the FDA to list out more of the fragrance compounds on the ingredients list that are common allergens for people. Hopefully, it will help people better identify what are their specific triggers. Admittedly, it’s probably not going to address everyone’s concerns because sensitivities and allergies can be so personal and specific.

          1. Dr. Rebecca*

            And I’m saying that when a customer picks something that is labeled “unscented” they’re expecting just that: something that is hasn’t had scent added to it. As much as I hate the designation “unsweet tea” (because tea’s default is not sweet) it’s at least honestly descriptive.

            1. AngryOctopus*

              But we’re saying that if something is truly unscented (no scent added, as you say), the inherent smell of some of the ingredients may actually be unpleasant, thus causing people to not buy those products. So they add a scent that masks the unpleasant scent, but they are not adding anything to make the product scented on its own merit. They’re essentially neutralizing the unpleasant scent.

              1. Dr. Rebecca*

                I’m going to have to disagree–my “unscented” deodorant has a distinct scent. It’s not neutral, it’s fresh and clean smelling. I love it, so I keep using it, but it is not neutralized/scent-free/any other thing they tell themselves so they can market it and sleep at night.

    2. Meep*

      I mentioned it somewhat directly above you, but the best is to honestly learn more about “environmentally friendly” than “unscented”. (I.e. the dryer balls) The biggest thing with deodorant are it uses fragrance or “unscented” to mask your smell because the aluminum in it makes you smell a heck of a lot worse, for example. Deodorant without aluminum (even if fragranced) will be a heck of a lot less over-powering because people will find themselves putting less of it on. And the best part is eco-friendly is also budget-friendly now too.

      1. Moira Rose*

        I wish dryer balls worked. I’ve never seen so much static electricity in my laundry load than when I naively tried to “do the right thing” and replace my dryer sheets with locally sourced wool laundry balls.

        I use them only with towel loads now to extend the lives of the towels, but the clothes get the dryer sheets again.

        1. fwiw*

          My mom has had luck with using small scraps of fabric (cut up old towels or shirts) dipped in fabric softener in lieu of dryer balls.

        2. IEanon*

          If you leave your dryer running longer than it takes for the clothes to dry, the wool balls will cause static. You should try using less time to dry your clothes (since the wool balls speed up drying time anyway), and you’ll likely see less static.

          It took me a bit of trial and error to figure out that I needed to shave 20 minutes off my usual dry cycle, but once I figured it out, no more static.

          1. Moira Rose*

            My dryer has sensors and is set to “normal,” not “extra dry” or anything. The laundry is off in the basement and I can’t really babysit the loads. Dryer sheets honestly work fine!

        3. Rara Avis*

          I have handmade dryer balls (alpaca wool) that work really well for me. I haven’t used dryer sheets for years because they made my skin itch, so I just went without for 20 years or so, until a friend introduced me to the concept of dryer balls.

        4. Starbuck*

          I found skipping dryer sheets entirely and not replacing them with anything didn’t really change how my clothes came out of the dryer. So you might try using nothing at all if you haven’t already.

      2. Observer*

        , but the best is to honestly learn more about “environmentally friendly” than “unscented”

        In terms of scent sensitivity? Not by a long shot. Yes, in some cases there is overlap. But in others? Again, look at all the people who are sensitive to “natural” / “eco-friendly” scents such as (real) lavender, mint, chamomile, rose and citrus.

        And the best part is eco-friendly is also budget-friendly now too.

        I don’t know where you live, but that is absolutely NOT true in NYC. Again, sometimes it is, but in other cases? Not by a long shot!

      3. RussianInTexas*

        You will take my aluminum clinical strength antiperspirant out of my cold dead non-smelly hands.
        I don’t want to just stop smells. I want to also not sweat. Deodorants do not prevent sweating.
        My not-aluminum free clear gel antiperspirant of clinical strength, from a mainstream brand is fragrance free. That is not why I bought it, it was on sale, but it doesn’t smell of anything.

        1. iglwif*

          If I could find an antiperspirant that ACTUALLY stopped me from sweating, I would buy it forever.

        2. Pippa K*

          I will defend the clinical-strength-antiperspirant barricades with you, my sibling-in-arms, because there is no way I’m giving that up.

  31. Sydney Bristow*

    I was in a brand new building – like just built companies just moved in brand new. And they pump fragrance into the lobby. At first you might think that you just walked in next to someone with strong perfume. But then you realize that it reaches every corner of a city block-sized lobby.

    It makes absolutely no sense to me. Fragrance sensitivity is not that uncommon. Why would nobody involved in the design of the building bring it up? Scents don’t bother me personally, so I’m not really affected. But it is a huge building with hundreds if not thousands of people. I’m sure there are a bunch of people who are affected. Why would they choose to add scent when it is completely superfluous?

    1. Pippa K*

      Plus, new buildings often have a lot of offgassing from new carpets, paint, furniture, etc. I imagine this alone would be difficult for some scent sensitivities, but “install only fragrance-free wool carpets with the special enviro-friendly adhesive” is probably not going to be an acceptable accommodation. (That said, I have a friend who works in sustainable building design and she knows a ton about low-VOC paints in relation to this!)

    2. Lola*

      I’ve noticed that in quite a few of the larger high rise apartment buildings I’ve visited in my city. I am not partiuclalry scent-sensitive, but they are almost always a sickly, overwhelming scent. I would hate having to deal with that on a daily basis.

      I’ve also learned that many luxury hotels have a signature scent they pump out in their lobbies. The best ones seem to be the ones you don’t notice too much but add to the atmosphere. Some succeed at that better than others.

    3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      A lot of Vegas casinos pump in a “signature scent”, which gives me one more reason to avoid Vegas casinos.

      1. foolish fox*

        This is especially bad in the smaller cheap casinos because theyre smoke-filled and just add more to mask the smoke. The big new casinos have good air circulation/filtration so they are a lot less smokey. Still scented though, just less than the little ones.

    4. Rara Avis*

      My dentist’s office had a scented air freshener plugged in last time I visited! So I had to spend the whole visit coughing into my dentist’s face. (They unplugged it, but the trigger tends to lead to several hours of coughing for me even after the scent goes away.) You would think that a medical office would be aware of the issue of scented products.

  32. STG*

    Yea, this would be a hard No for me. I don’t wear any perfumes/fragrances but my long list of skin issues prevent me from using most products. Changing deodorant, laundry detergent, shampoos is almost guaranteed to put me in a miserable position for awhile and I’ll likely end up right back where I started.

    I get that it’s no fun for smell sensitive folks either but I have very little control over what works with my body.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      Same. One of my medications has the side-effect of giving my sweat a funky smell. I’ve found one combo of deodorant and soap that keeps me smelling like I bathe everyday as well as working with my other skin sensitivities.

    2. Random Bystander*

      Agree–if products that touch my skin change their formula, I may not be able to use the “new, improved” version and I go back on a search for a safe product. I do not change products lightly. Because unsafe, in my case, means products that cause my skin to break down into little tiny bleeding fissures wherever the unsafe product touched (best case) or I break out into a mass of hives. And if the choice comes down to “unscented product that makes my hands bleed” vs “lightly scented product that leaves my skin intact” … I’m going with the intact skin option every time.

      1. I have RBF*

        Interesting. One of the first indications I had of fragrance sensitivity was when my laundry detergent got reformulated to a “New, Improved” formula, and I started getting a rash in very sensitive areas. Figuring that out took a few miserable weeks, and finding a laundry detergent that worked took a lot of trial and error.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Yeah this is interesting to me too, as someone with a skin sensitivity, I’ve only found my partner’s scent sensitivity to be helpful! Anything he’s had an instant reaction to, I’ve also had a delayed reaction to on my skin. Of course no two people’s sensitivities line up exactly, but I now consider his nose a forewarning.

  33. Non-Union State Teacher*

    Try working in a high school. They refuse to even allow me to hang a sign on my door asking students not to spray or use cologne/body spray. Yes, they will spray IN THE CLASSROOM.
    My migraines are not important to the school.

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      While I am completely empathetic to your plight, I am imagining an Axe body spray commercial!

    2. BellyButton*

      Dear lord, I was resenting in classroom to 7th and 8th grade boys and I was nearly vomiting by the end of it. Between pre-teen/early teen boy stank and the huge amounts of whatever body spray they were using I couldn’t handle it.

      1. wendelenn*

        I’m assuming you mean you were “presenting” but I’m pretty sure you *were* resenting it, too!

    3. Delta Delta*

      I remember being in 10th grade and knowing which boy wasn’t there by whose cologne I didn’t smell. No hint of Cool Water? Means Corey is out today! No Obsession? Chris is home sick! Sort of funny in hindsight.

    4. jojo*

      Oof. When I was in middle and high school, the boys would prank the girls by “Axe bombing” the locker room–they’d tape down the compressor on the can so it was spraying the scent, then throw it in and run. That was how I got my first migraine.

  34. Spicy Tuna*

    I had a job once where my boss and I worked very closely with a guy in another department who had a strong odor. It wasn’t B.O. and it certainly wasn’t cologne or aftershave. It was just his own personal scent that was VERY strong and off putting. Anytime we met with him, my boss and I would use scented hand lotion and kind of tent our hands near our face.

    Smells in the office are dangerous territory, for sure!

  35. Mensa CW*

    Plot twist: The meeting was actually an MLM “party” that offered everyone an opportunity to invest in unscented household and personal care items.

      1. Gerry Kaey*

        honestly I think its a good summation of why this comment section is so spicy today. there are reasonable, medically sound reasons to avoid scented products, and then there are woo-y folks who think anything “unnatural” (a constantly shifting category) is “harmful” (a constantly shifting goal post) and lump things like vaccines in with laundry detergent. it can be hard to know where people are coming from, and ime the most militant folks about scent tend to be the woo folks, while people with genuine medical needs are understanding that accommodations sometimes conflict.

        1. I have RBF*

          I used to work as an environmental chemist. Generally, artificial fragrances use industrial type aldehydes and ketones as carriers, and they last longer. Generally, the more “natural” fragrances are less intense and fade more quickly. This is not “woo”.

          Yes, you can concentrate natural fragrances – this is what essential oils are. But there are a lot of essential oils you should not use on your skin because they are too strong and cause damage.

          The people who think “natural” equals “harmless” are very mistaken.

          1. Gerry Keay*

            I didn’t say it was? You seem really intent on interpreting everything everyone is saying in the worst light possible.

            I was specifically talking about the people who think natural equals harmless, as you said, and that their conflation of “artificial scents trigger some people’s health issues” with “anything artificial including medical products is horrible and needs to be expunged from your life” makes these conversations challenging to navigate. Like from a cultural noise standpoint, MLM-hawkers are much louder about being fragrence-free than folks with disabilities are, and I think that’s what makes people so resistant to being asked to change.

            1. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

              Honestly, is it just me or is everyone grumpier lately? I see this here, on other sites, and in my IRL connections, and I am having a hard time with my own anger (I know I’ve been snippy here). My guess is some combo of “worn out by pandemic”, “exhausted by dumb cost of living crisis”, “seriously why do literally none of you pay a living wage”, and “omg winter sucks”.

              1. ADidgeridooForYou*

                Yeah, at least on here, there’s been a lot more heat and negativity in the comments within the last 2-3 years than before. I also find that the majority opinions/the strength of the opinion don’t usually reflect how people feel in real life. I think you’re right that people are just on edge and stressed. I saw a letter in Ask Amy where the writer talked about feeling as though she came out of the pandemic with significantly less empathy and patience for people than before the pandemic, and I think it’s true of a lot of people in the world.

      2. Lana Kane*

        “plot twist” is an internet way of saying it’s a jokey comment. (It might be out there offline but I usually see it online).

  36. Just Another Zebra*

    While I’d comply with not wearing perfumes to the office (begrudgingly, because I love perfume), I’m not prepared to completely change the hygiene and cleaning products of my entire household. I have sensitive skin, so my soaps, lotions, makeup, detergent etc are all chosen because they don’t make me break out in hives and itchy. I have difficult hair, and found exactly 1 brand that works well for me. Most unscented products smell like chemicals to me (which in turn gives me a migraine), so I choose scents that are light / neutral. This is such an overstep by the company, and I’d be asking HR for a more detailed explanation.

  37. MicroManagered*

    If you work in home healthcare or I don’t know, an allergy clinic (where ever people so sensitive to scents that they require epi-pens and get migraines, etc. go for medical care), I could see having these kinds of requirements about laundry soap and other personal care products. But assuming OP does NOT work in a healthcare type of field, I think it’s an overreach.

    1. saf*

      Last time I had surgery and they sent a home nurse out twice a week for the first month, the nurse was a lovely gentleman who BATHED in cologne and refused not to. I complained to the agency. It didn’t help.

  38. Skippy*

    Recreational fragrance users are probably not aware of how strong their fragrances are to others. I assume the guy standing in the grocery store that I can smell from 2 aisles away doesn’t perceive his smell as much as I do. Something that you barely notice can smell so strongly to me that I can taste it. Lotions, hair products, etc. are often as strongly perfumed as, well, perfume.

    Manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemical makeup of fragrance–it’s considered proprietary–and it’s not much regulated, so we don’t have a lot of evidence of its safety.

    To me, this falls under “within reason, be considerate of other people because it’s the right thing to do.” Changing out all personal products to more expensive ones that don’t work as well for you isn’t reasonable. Trying to opt for less smelly products that don’t inconvenience you is not a real hardship.

    1. mlem*

      Thank you for your measured response. The amount of “but I like the scented products I use so just live with it!” in the comments today is disheartening.

      1. Giant Kitty*

        Where are you seeing people say “but I like the scented products I use so just live with it”?

        The majority of people are saying “the only product that works for my particular health/hygiene needs is scented and I couldn’t change it if I wanted to”

      2. Elizabeth Naismith*

        Equally disheartening is the number of people who think fragrance sensitivity is just a matter of not liking scents. This is not the case at all. I love fragrances, and enjoy them quite a bit. My asthma, however, does not. As I find breathing to be important if I want to continue living, I have to avoid fragrances. Especially ones containing lavender. But as companies are not required to label whether or not their products contain lavender (and most artificial frangrances do have it, labeled or not) I cannot spend time around people who use most scented products. Especially scented detergents like Gain or Fabuloso, which you can smell from across the room, and linger for ages.

  39. Danielle*

    A bit of an aside, but I wonder if there is something about potency of chemicals in different countries? Until I started reading this site I’d never come across this, you don’t really hear about it in my country, but it seems to come up a lot here. Maybe the US government needs to regulate household chemicals better if they so often cause such problems, rather than individuals having to navigate it like this?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      For what it’s worth, I’m in the US and do not know anyone with a fragrance sensitivity (that I know about) and I have never worked anywhere that had any sort of scent-free or fragrance-free policy.

      1. Danielle*

        Interesting, maybe it is not as prevalent as it seems online, or maybe the impact is more localized.

        1. Evan Þ*

          Yes. People who don’t have a fragrance sensitivity (like me) usually don’t comment on threads like this, but the people who do are (quite understandably) usually eager to comment.

      2. Llellayena*

        I’m in the US with a fragrance sensitivity. I’m not at the level of needing a fully scent-free workplace, but I have requested less scented/differently scented soaps (I can’t do florals but I can do citrus) for the bathrooms and I do NOT go on site visits/car rides with the guy in the office who chain smokes. If we both go, we both drive, and the company reimburses for both.

        I think the ADA laws in the US create situations where figuring out what’s “reasonable” for accommodation can be difficult and occasionally contradictory. So a lot of companies err on the side of “less” or people don’t know what they can reasonably ask for (or are worried about asking and just deal).

      3. RussianInTexas*

        Same. I know people who are sensitive somewhat to really strong scents, like plug-ins or strong perfume, but never to the point of asthma/migraines.
        And never worked anywhere that had any kind of policy.

    2. Lee*

      The problem is that if you read the ingredients on a product, the word “fragrance” encompasses hundreds of chemicals, many of which are synthetic. They can just list that it contains “fragrance” and there’s no way for any regular person to identify what that actually means. Some people like myself are fine with non-synthetic fragrances but companies have to pay extra to certify that they’re using a “natural” fragrance.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Lots of people just suffer silently, which is why you never hear about it. To be fair though, here in the UK overly scented products have been steadily on the rise for about a decade and seem to be at “out compete on the basis of smelliness” levels now, which of course contributes to nose blindness. I think that sort of commercial market affects things too.

    4. ADidgeridooForYou*

      It’s been my experience that a lot of the responses/comments here don’t reflect the general attitude in the real world. I’m in the US and I personally don’t know anyone with this kind of fragrance sensitivity. I’d also say that I haven’t really noticed a difference in perfume/cologne strength when I’ve traveled internationally (as in, people wear scented products in a lot of places).

    5. allathian*

      I’m in Finland, and we seem to favor fairly neutral scents here. The recommendation here is to wash baby clothes with unscented laundry detergent, and when our son was born,we switched to that, and haven’t switched back since, although he’s 13 now. He also prefers unscented deodorant!

      But when I lived in France and in Spain, I noticed that the laundry detergents there had a far stronger scent than ours do.

  40. HonorBox*

    I don’t think the request to not spray perfume or cologne is wrong. I’m not sensitive to fragrance myself, but can appreciate that some are. So if I’m going to a meeting or somewhere else where the request has been made to refrain from using additional fragrance, that’s totally fine by me.

    This request is a step far too far, however. If someone is THAT sensitive to any scent, they need to find a way to not attend this meeting. Expecting coworkers to ensure their laundry product is washed out so there’s no scent or suggesting changes in haircare products, deodorants, etc. is asking too much of others, especially in this kind of setting.

    I’m giving a hard side eye to the organization for not sending out some sort of follow-up that the one sheeter that was sent by a single employee does not speak to the request made by HR. HR made a reasonable request and everyone should be able to abide by it. The organization can’t let the employee speak for them, or appear to speak for them, as it can ultimately cause a lot of hardship for others.

    Again, I’m sympathetic to those who have sensitivities. But you can’t expect everyone else to change their entire routines that thoroughly for a single event.

  41. RabbitRabbit*

    Fragrance-free/unscented/scent-free can be very different things! Some “unscented” products actually have some level of fragrance and/or scent neutralizing compounds added in order to cover/neutralize the natural scent of one or more of a product’s ingredients. I’ve had more than one skincare item that does not have fragrance/etc added but had such an annoying scent that I couldn’t handle using it.

  42. HonorBox*

    One other thought. It IS possible that we become nose blind to our own scents. So if someone makes a request that we tone it down or perhaps not use a product – and I’m thinking specifically of cologne or perfume – that’s reasonable. Very reasonable, as sometimes we don’t know the strength of the smell or its impact on others.

    I had a coworker once, though, who was both nose blind to her own perfume but was aggressive with others and their scents. She was a smoker who basically dipped herself in perfume after she went out for a cigarette, but would slam a door and make loud, disapproving statements about the strength of cologne used by someone who was a frequent visitor to the office.

  43. Keymaster of Gozer*

    There’s a person at work who absolutely cannot bear the smell of incense or almond-based haircare products. To the extent that she can’t come near my desk because 1) I burn incense at home and the smell lingers in my hair unless I wash it and 2) I was h my hair once a week and use almond oil products in it.

    So I tried the best I could by having a set of work clothes that didn’t get exposed to the incense in the house (and I don’t wear perfume at work) but it didn’t resolve the problem. So we’re at the ‘if she needs to talk to me we use email, slack or zoom’ stage because I won’t change my home life and she can’t help the effects those smells have on her.

    Reasonable accomodations.

  44. PattM*

    I’m gonna jump in here….I have an EXTREME reaction to many perfumes, lotions, essential oils, cleaning products, etc. I break out in hives and go into anaphylaxis. My airways IMMEDIATELY close up and I stop breathing. I left a toxic workplace about 7 years ago because they “couldn’t” do anything and my coworkers deliberatly used items they knew I had a severe reaction to. The right to breathe freely is covered by ADA. However, many, many employers are reluctant to ask people to not use scented products.
    I agreee; if you don’t have issues huffing the air from Bath and Body Works (gives me hives walking by), great. If I have to share a workspace with you, then we’re going to have to work something out….
    It isn’t that things smell bad–I literally cannot breathe if you use body spray no matter how expensive it is.
    It’s also very difficult to narrow down exactly what causes this explosion of histamine as companies don’t have to list these items because they are trade secrets. There also are no specific tests for fragrance like they are for other allergies.
    I have left stores, left church services, gotten off a train or bus well before my destination, have had my meal boxed up because of all the purfume in these areas. I cant control the world and have made my peace with it. The pandemic was a godsend because I was at home for 6 months and could control my environment.
    Please have some grace for those of us who can’t tolerate our ever increasingly artificial fragrant world.

    1. Green Tea*

      I am extremely high risk for Covid-19. I have a chronic blood cancer that reduces the efficacy of the vaccine, and also vastly increases the risk that I will die if I catch it. It’s very, very serious. But for the moment, I cannot get a medical accommodation to work remotely full-time, and must go into the office two days per week.

      I don’t ask people to change their behavior outside of work, just to protect me. I would certainly be safer if people stopped traveling, and going to restaurants, and went back to pre-vaccine precautions! But it would be crazy of me to ask that people change their lives so drastically, just for me. I also wouldn’t want my safety to depend on their compliance, so I pursue other precautions. I wear my mask all day, I avoid big in-person meetings and join remotely, and I decline all group meal invitations. I do my best to manage my condition without putting unfair burdens on my colleagues.

      1. Elizabeth Naismith*

        The difference is there are reasonable precautions you can take to reduce your risks while still interacting with other people.
        There are not reasonable precautions we can take to avoid anaphylaxis from fragrance allergies, other than leaving altogether, if someone shows up after using laundry detergent like Gain or Fabuloso

        1. Green Tea*

          Not really. Me being remote for in-person meetings, even when in the office is no different from a person with allergy sensitivities remotely join meetings like the one in the original post. Many people posting in the comments with scent allergies talked about wearing masks to reduce smells, as well, so my precautions would work for many people, even if they are unpleasant to execute. Also, full-time remote work is an ADA option for many, many people with scent allergies, even if it’s not currently an option for me.

      2. Observer*

        I am extremely high risk for Covid-19. I have a chronic blood cancer that reduces the efficacy of the vaccine, and also vastly increases the risk that I will die if I catch it. It’s very, very serious. But for the moment, I cannot get a medical accommodation to work remotely full-time, and must go into the office two days per week.

        That sounds nuts to me. Why on earth can’t you get this accommodation?

        1. Green Tea*

          Yeah, it really, really sucks. I’m also pregnant (supported as safe by my hematologist) and given the U.S. and my org’s poor parental leave options, I am relying on DC’s paid family leave to be able to take time off from work. I live outside DC and HR says if I pursue an exemption to remotely full-time they will need to update my work address to my home address, and I will lose eligibility for that benefit.

        2. Green Tea*

          Yeah, it really, really sucks. I’m pregnant (supported as safe by my hematologist) and given the U.S. and my org’s poor parental leave options, I am relying on DC’s paid family leave to be able to take time off from work. I live outside DC and HR says if I pursue an exemption to remotely full-time they will need to update my work address to my home address, and I will lose eligibility for that benefit.

    2. Divergent*

      Solidarity for the horrific interval between someone carrying the wrong scent getting on the bus at one stop and the next stop where one can get off the bus to escape it.

  45. Ahdez*

    I wonder how different cultural practices play in here, because I find the attitude toward scents is so different in other countries. I live in a country in Central America where scented products are everywhere and the majority of people use perfume/cologne daily.

    1. Danielle*

      Yes, I was thinking this. I think how you would navigate this specific situation the OP (or anyone reading it experiencing something similar) mentions would be quite variable depending on where they are, both in terms of the law but also cultural norms. I mentioned above this is not something I’ve heard of in my country and it would be highly unusual for a workplace to have any rules on this (though I don’t think many would object to not wearing perfume for a specific meeting), whereas I feel like from this blog and similar it seems like a big problem for many in the US. I makes me wonder is it something about the household chemicals they have there and how these are regulated? Or, is there a culture-bound element of phenomenon? Or some combination of these? I’m a bit wary to speculate that as clearly it is a real and serious issue that greatly affects a lot of people, and sometimes people can think culture-bound sydromes mean it is just psychological or imagined, but this is not true; they can very serious and debilitating, as culture and society can effect us on a deep, physiological level that modern medicine can’t yet really explain.

      1. Divergent*

        My experiences with scent are always much worse in the winter, when there’s no airflow. When I worked outside people could walk past me with perfume and it didn’t have a significant impact; even a bus with all the windows open is significantly better than a winter bus with the windows closed. I wonder how much climate and airflow contribute?

  46. Emily*

    If someone’s safety relies on a lot of people complying with a set of rules many will find unreasonable and also are not going to be enforced (in this case, they can’t be), then this is not a situation that can be made safe for them. Even separately from the whole question of whether this would be a reasonable way of handling that person’s needs, it is not going to happen.

    1. irene adler*

      I wondered how this would be enforced.
      Sniff tests?
      If no one falls ill that day, then everyone is okay. Otherwise, anyone who emits an aroma is penalized?

      I feel for the person who needs this level of aroma-free environment so as to function. But maybe the remedy is they must work from home.

      Would it be enough to route the air circulation system such that everyone is downwind of those who need the aroma-free air?

  47. AA Baby Boomer*

    For someone that is scent sensitive I can understand where the employee is coming from; but it’s a huge request. The request stops when you clock out. But there is one thing that should be listed. No vaping at work or outside the entrances to the building. We had some students vaping in the bathroom. It stunk, gave me headaches, etc. I had complained but I do not believe the request filtered down to the students. The odor was going up and down the hallway but the restroom was the worse. Vaping is not allowed at work; but 2 – 3 individuals were vaping in the ladies room towards the end of the day. I went into Anaphylactic Shock when I went to the bathroom. It was terrifying, and nearly killed me. Originally they thought I was having stroke. I could breath, my face, hands & throat swelled up, couldn’t talk; was vomiting like crazy and couldn’t stand or sit up. I was laying on the floor of the bathroom. I had to scoot across the floor and stick my head out the door to ask for help. It scared everyone. Vaping is just as dangerous as smoking if not more.

  48. Frog&Toad*

    These comments are interesting. They remind me of working with other parents to create nut-free classrooms that were safe for kids with nut allergies. Not “no nuts in school” but “none in the classroom, and wash your hands” so that kids could avoid anaphylaxis while doing their jobs (learning).

    1. Observer*

      That’s a very different thing – and in most cases should be a no-brainer.

      I’ve spoken to school administrators who will not do the nut free or peanut free *school* because they don’t believe that it can be enforced to the point where kids will actually be safe. But individual classrooms where there is a known problem? Yes, they will do that because it is more practical. They still insist that parents make sure that teachers and other staff know how to deal with an emergency, and that the appropriate medication is available in school. Because you’re always dealing with the possibility that something goes wrong. But “no nuts in the classroom” is generally NOT that onerous, and it blows me away whenever I hear parents who get huffy about this.

  49. MigraineHaver*

    I’m very sensitive to a number of smells -they can trigger terrible migraines in me, as in “24+ hours of pain and vomiting and/or an ER trip” terrible – so I definitely have sympathy for others who do. And I’m definitely jealous of fragrance-free workplaces (my current one doesn’t believe that scents could ever bother anyone, so I have to sit through a rotation of varyingly-painful Scentsy waxes, room sprays, and whatever my coworkers are wearing that day) but I do agree that there’s a point where it’s no longer feasible to expect people to change things. For me at least, most personal fragrances tend to stick “to” the person, and avoiding being around them too long helps (as does a workplace with adequate ventilation/access to fresh air) though I understand different scent-issues have different parameters for that.

    The one thing I don’t think I’ll ever be free of is allium scents, though. :’) My workplace is so small that you can smell whatever people are having for lunch from anywhere in the building, and if someone is eating garlic/onions/etc I’m at best stuck feeling nauseous and brain-foggy-from-pain all afternoon, at worst I’m running to the bathroom every so often to puke…

  50. masked*

    the one useful thing from the pandemic is the ability to be able to wear a mask with less judgement…. Many public events had been ruined by fragrance enthusiasts where the only line of defence was/is a mask.

    1. AA Baby Boomer*

      True. I’ve been in restaurants and events that someone overloading on the cologne forced me to leave. My sneezing, wiping my eyes and sometimes coughing disturbs them for sure. The first time and last time I went out with my Mother to a public space after COVID I had to live through that at the Movies. I was miserable but wasn’t going to tell Mom I needed to leave. It was bad enough to give me a headache; but not severely ill.

      I have also had co-workers you can smell before you see them. When I was young and things like that didn’t cause a reaction like now; I would associate that cologne forever with that individual and their personality traits. I have dropped a cologne for that very use. Now I’m limited to two colognes that are mild enough that they do not bother me.

  51. KatEnigma*

    I wish I could banish Gain detergent (and “boosters”) from the planet, but since I don’t believe the world revolves around me…

    If I had a medical reason, at someplace like a large conference, I’d just stay home

    1. NeedRain47*

      This. I would like these products shot into space and never reproduced.
      The products are purpose made to be so strong you can smell them constantly. It’s not reasonable to expect everyone else to smell you all day, every day, even when they’re not in the same room, and it doesn’t really matter what product it is.

      1. KatEnigma*

        Very shortly after we moved from 12 years in California to Wisconsin, my aunt died. As I didn’t have any cold weather gear, my grandmother offered me a bunch of my aunt’s sweaters and sweatshirts. My aunt always used Gain. My mother set the bag of clothes on her screened porch until she brought them to me, and then, no exaggeration, it was over 2 years of weekly washing from Oct-Mar before one particular sweatshirt finally stopped smelling of Gain!

    2. NeedRain47*

      A lot of you sound like you’ve never heard of those “scent boosters” laundry products that are particularly made so things are extra smelly for a long time. You can smell someone from the next room when they use this on their clothes. If they walk down the hall you can tell they were there 20 minutes later.
      Someone who gets sick from that is not the one in the wrong. I don’t care what the product is, it’s not okay to come to work reeking of anything.

      1. Madame X*

        Admittedly, I love the smell of freshly laundered clothes. However, I have never use those boosters because it seems unnecessary. While, I don’t know anyone in my life who has a sensitivity to fragrance, I personally do not want to use something that’s so highly fragrance that it would linger for as long as those boosters are claim. It seems to me that it would be really annoying to smell the boosted fragrance for extended period of time and would probably trigger headaches even people who aren’t highly sensitive to fragrances.

        Also, it seems like the laundry industry ( in the US) is trying to cater to both people that are either big fans of fragrance or deathly allergic to scents. Nowadays you can walk into a laundry aisle and see a full row of unscented detergents across from a row of scented detergents and boosters.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Yeah I think there’s a huge difference between washing your clothes in something that rinses off, and using what is effectively ‘clothes perfume’ with products designed to stay on. I always remember a B&B owner on a UK tv show who was a big fan of those long scented fabric softeners on his bedding (The advert at the time actually promised buyers that it would ‘smell cleaner for longer’). The establishments on the show were all being reviewed by industry experts and they basically said “You’re a fan of this stuff, fine, but keep it at your own home. You’ll have tonnes of complaints both for skin and scent reactions” and they were right, he did. I’m sure he washed the bedding regularly but honestly the idea of perfuming other people’s bedding instead of just having it smell clean is honestly rank.

          1. Elizabeth Naismith*

            I agree completely. Adding scent doesn’t make clothes clean. If you can smell anything on your clothes, there’s something clinging to the fibers. That, by definition, means they aren’t clean.

            1. KatEnigma*

              Summer of 2020, the local children’s clothing resale shop decided they had to reopen in some capacity if they weren’t just going to go out of business, so they started to allow limited shoppers in, and had to start buying clothes again too. The #1 rule was that the clothes had to “be freshly laundered and ‘smell clean.’ ” Well, that left us out, because my fragrance free detergent and dryer sheets didn’t qualify…

  52. Sassafrassia*

    LW, when I was a fed, I was told in no uncertain terms that federal employees could not be required to go fragrance-free. If this turns into a bigger thing, contact your union rep or look for an OPM ruling.

  53. Fishsticks*

    Look, you can ask me to wear unscented deodorant, but trust that I have tried them all and it has NEVER ended well…

  54. Looper*

    Your employer really flubbed this and should not have allowed this employee to send out the list without review. This is unreasonable for all the reasons you and other commenters have mentioned. It is your employers responsibility to make accommodations, not their employees. And like many others mentioned, if the employee is this sensitive, none of this will make a difference.

  55. grocerystore*

    I understand the no perfume, or cologne thing. I have been places where someone is bathed in it and I feel like I am suffocating.

    While I use unscented laundry detergent I can’t imagine asking everyone to change their habits for a few days. Personally I have products that work for and my body and I am not changing them.
    1- I have curly hair and specific set of products that work for me. They aren’t heavily scented, but they have a scent. No more than any other shampoo or hair care product on the market.
    2- I have searched far and wide for a deodorant that doesn’t leave me smelling like a Middle School Boy’s locker room. My hormones went haywire after the birth of my 3rd child and only one brand and one particular scent works.

    1. Giant Kitty*

      My hormones went haywire due perimenopause and there’s only one brand of deodorant that works for me now. They haven’t made it in a scent I actually LIKE for years. I pick whatever one smells the least unpleasant, in scents I know won’t go weird or sour with my body chemistry.

  56. Dana*

    I’m not sure what the answer is. Of course we should all do our best to be considerate of those around us. That goes without saying. I do always want to understand the root cause of the issue – in this case scent sensitivity. Is there a way to help people who are having to deal with this everywhere, not just at work? Is anyone doing any research or studies in this area? I’d love to have some hope, no matter how small, that maybe one day we can address whatever is causing this, because right now it just feels like we’re putting a band aid on a gushing wound…

    1. Somehow_I_Manage*

      It’s very difficult because it’s a spectrum of things, ranging from people who find scents unpleasant, to allergies, to autoimmune disorders, to panic and anxiety disorders. Often it’s many of these things in combination (e.g., a genuine allergic reaction without clear stimulus spirals into fear of the environment, leading to anxiety and scents become a panic trigger).

      Like most things. The cure is empathy, and willingness to do what you reasonably can. And when you need to draw the line and set reasonable boundaries, to do so with kindness.

  57. Marna Nightingale*

    My fragrance allergy is bad enough that I can’t be on my porch when the dryer vent next door is pumping out Downy. It’s delightful.

    a) the sensitivity ALSO means the things I’m allergic to smell both strong and weird to me, so people who use scented laundry detergent+ dryer sheets + deodorant plus cologne or perfume smell like a brothel on payday to me as well as

    b) causing breathing issues and, of all things, horrible ear and back pain if I get too close …

    I mostly reserve my wrath for Proctor and Gamble and their ilk. I know unscented costs more, also that’s unhinged and they should stop that.

    My dentist has a staff member whose reactions make mine look like a gentle sneeze. Exposure to scent is potentially hospital-level, so they’re hardcore. No product on dentist day.

    If you don’t pass the smell test, they’ll rebook you and nobody who works there uses scented anything.

    But for my fellow sufferers: aside from their other uses in the Year Of Our Plague 2023, Vog and Cambridge masks filter scent completely as long as you make sure they’re sealed.

    Can hug a person and not smell a thing.

    1. KTC*

      Wild. What do they do if someone has a dental emergency and didn’t expect to be coming into their office that day?

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        I do not actually know. Ottawa maintains an on-call rotating list for emergencies so if it really can’t wait and your dentist has no openings you get seen by the on-call.

        If they have an opening and they are wearing something scented that’s an issue, probably she leaves for the day and another tech covers.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        Like, I recognise that the allergy distorts my sense of smell, I’m not actually trying to be mean about people’s taste in scent, nor indeed about brothel worker’s taste in scent in particular. I am particularly reactive to sandalwood and musk, so if there’s any in the mix it’s going to predominate.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          No, real sex workers have probably discovered the benefits of scent free, I assumed you were talking about the just paid customers!

  58. Amateur Wizard*

    My entire family has severe environmental and fragrance allergies. I grew up in a house that was almost completely aerosol- and fragrance-free. I now have a short list of scented products I can use with minimal sniffles, and you can pry them from my cold dead hands LOL. if I have to go somewhere that I know will trigger my sinuses, I take a paper mask and avoid the strong smells as much as possible. (it took 30 years to be able to stand still in the laundry detergent aisle!!)

    The health benefits handout would make me more than a little ragey. Following a trend because it’s trendy is a whole different ballgame than doing something because you need to be able to breathe in public.

  59. Dippy*

    We left it at something like: “Do not wear perfumes and colognes or personal and refrain from heavily-scented personal care products in the workplace. Products with a scent that is imperceptible to others from a reasonable distance are generally okay.” That flexible enough description met most needs and caused little agita in a large office. It communicated what we were going for without dictating everyone’s individual product decision.

    The big reason to not simply leave it at cologne and perfume? Old Spice deodorants are often as strong as colognes. I had to manage a *lot* of upset over scents in the workplace prior to this policy–and some scents were even overwhelming for me personally–but even our most fragrance-sensitive team members weren’t worried about someone’s shampoo or detergent. It was the stuff you could smell two cubicles away that was the problem. Had it been more severe and had a wearer had a medicated lotion they couldn’t reasonably avoid, we would have worked on an accommodation similar to coordinating the presence of a service animal and the presence of a dog-allergic staff member in the same office. It’s not easy, but you just have to make it work and there are ways to do it, even when remote isn’t possible.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I tend to think this kind of middle “be mindful and considerate” ground is the only reasonable solution. Scent is a tricky one — what is an accommodation for one person creates a significant burden for another.

      I happen to be quite sensitive and wish I could live in a mostly unscented world. (I keep my home that way, and work from home, so I mostly can.) Worse, a lot of natural things are allergens to me — I actually do better with synthetics! Lavender, for instance, completely inflames my skin. Can’t go near it. So “natural” is often an anti-selling point.

      1. I have RBF*

        Yeah, “natural” isn’t a panacea. I’m allergic to lavender myself. Other essential oils are actually bad for skin and can cause rashes, etc. I would rather know exactly what it is, not just “natural scent”.

      2. Observer*

        I tend to think this kind of middle “be mindful and considerate” ground is the only reasonable solution.


      3. Loux*

        Same here. I’m actually really allergic to sage, which can be challenging at times, especially since I live somewhere with a large indigenous population. It’s not too hard to avoid though, except for certain stores or people who like to smudge often. That one’s kind of on me to manage, though. I don’t go to many churches for similar reasons – the incense or whatever it is that they’re burning is intolerable to me.

    2. Elizabeth Naismith*

      Fabuloso and Gain are both laundry detergents that can be smelled from across the room, weeks after the item was last laundered. It’s worse if the clothes are freshly washed.
      So yes, sometime detergents cause problems, too.

    3. Loux*

      Omg, Old Spice!!! I have no idea what it is, but it is HORRIBLE for me. Like, I can’t date people who insist on using it, and I’ve had to ask friends not to use it if they’re going to be around me. It is terrible!

      I can think of maybe 2 times in my entire life when someone else’s shampoo or conditioner was a problem for me. Cologne, perfume, and Old Spice deodorant though? Hoo boy, you betcha I’m gonna be suffering. If I can smell you from two metres away… that’s too much. I don’t even see the appeal at that point!

    4. Sorrischian*

      I really like the delineation by how far away the scent carries as opposed to what product the scent is from – it cuts off all the going around in circles (that we’ve seen a fair bit of in this comment section) about exactly which types of things it’s fair to restrict and focuses on the actual impact

  60. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    So weird!
    It’s reasonable to ask to refrain from perfume or cologne for a all hands meeting. But going beyond that to soap or shampoo or laundry? The request becomes so unreasonable. You can’t really police what people use in their own home.

    And believe me, I am horribly allergic to Lysol for some reason (makes me wheeze) and have had to ask the cleaners to not spray it in my office. But to require that people not use it in there homes is really going too far and I wouldn’t dream of it.

  61. Chirpy*

    As a person who is scent-sensitive (I can’t walk past a Bath and Bodyworks store, have had reactions to the detergent aisle of most stores as well as my own coat after being hung in the same room as a heavy smoker’s, Febreeze makes me wheeze, etc) I already use unscented or very minimally scented products as a rule. But going 1000% scent-free would still be an issue, as there’s only certain shampoos that work with my hair and certain deodorants that don’t make me break out. So absolutely, ban perfumes/cologne/ strongly scented oils/candles/etc but there is a limit beyond which you can’t really expect people to go. If the sensitivity is that strong, then the person really needs different accommodations such as working remotely.

  62. RMNPgirl*

    I am very sensitive to smells, have been my whole life (and it’s getting worse as I get older). Citrus smells I can handle, but anything else and especially floral make me get headaches and a cough. The smells are so distracting to me I can’t concentrate on anything else. I understand people wanting to wear what makes them happy but it is really hard for those of us who can’t handle strong smells.
    I’ve stopped staying at one of my best friend’s houses because he uses Gain laundy detergent and that stuff got into my clothes from just being under a blanket that had been washed with it. I had to wash my clothes 3 times with Tide Free and Clear before the Gain smell was gone.
    And someone I used to work with would walk into the lab where we worked, the door was probably 30-40 yards away from my work station, and I could tell who walked in immediately just by how much fragrance she had on.
    Then there’s the people who put on scented lotion and then walk through a door, I’ve started opening doors with kleenex or my sleeve so I don’t get that scent on my hands.
    In my opinion, nobody else should be able to smell what is on you, unless they’re within inches of you. And whatever scents you have should not rub off on someone else’s clothes or door handles, etc.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      Same! Citruses are really the only scent family I do well with, and florals are the worst. Including real ones — a lot of flowers give me raging headaches or rashes. If you give me a floral arrangement with stargazer lilies, it won’t even enter my house.

      1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        I happen to enjoy the scent but I agree that Stargazer and Easter lilies absolutely reek.

    2. Elizabeth Naismith*

      Yes! If anyone else can smell you without invading your personal space, you’re too heavily scented. Period.

    3. I have RBF*

      In my opinion, nobody else should be able to smell what is on you, unless they’re within inches of you. And whatever scents you have should not rub off on someone else’s clothes or door handles, etc.

      This is the type of thing that works for me. If I’m standing at a conversational distance from you, I should not start coughing because of the scents on you or your clothing. (I often don’t even consciously smell them, I just react.) I should not get rashes from touching a surface that you touched, or that were cleaned with a scented product.

      I love certain scents. Plain beeswax smells fantastic to me. But if I worked with someone who was allergic, I wouldn’t have it around them.

    4. Loux*

      YES!! Agreed, with all of this! Scents? Fine. People being able to smell you from a metre+ away? Not fine. I’m the same as you, very sensitive, but if the smell doesn’t waft after the person or surround them like a cloud, it’s not an issue.

      I do have to ask people to reduce their scents if I’m riding in a car with them, though, otherwise we have to have the windows open even if it’s winter (usually I’m the one driving though so I just open my driver’s side window – if I was a passenger I would probably just suck it up and try to breathe as little as possible).

  63. I exist*

    I get the cost of replacing scented products can be a barrier, but can we agree that not using those extra laundry products like scent beads and dryer sheets will save you money in the end and not ruin my day?

    I’m only moderately sensitive to fragranced products, but seem to have gotten worse after a recent illness. Most natural scents don’t bother me at this point, but most artificial fragrances do. I know it is the reverse for some people. I get an itchy nose, headache, and totally can’t concentrate. Some coworkers have gotten new perfume that smells fine, but I have a miserable reaction to. I’ve also found recently that I get a mild rash from other people’s products when I come into contact with their skin and clothes during a martial arts practice that involves a lot of hand/wrist contact.

  64. Lee*

    I’m extremely fragrance sensitive, and the usual don’t wear/bring scented stuff does just fine for me in the workplace. It sounded to me like the fact sheet was just an added bonus for anyone who wanted to know more about going fragrance-free in their personal life, not necessarily for the work event.

  65. alex (they/them)*

    I think it’s possible that the coworker intended this a more of a general PSA than a demand

    1. Robin Ellacott*

      That was my take, too. The company was asking people to be mindful, and the employee added some “here’s how to go scent free” tips without expecting them to be read as policy. But it’s a muddled message, if so, and should have been clarified better.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah, I’m kind of baffled by how many people think the word “tip” means “on pain of death”. I would think the approach to the fragrance free notes is simply to consider it a starting point for consideration and dialogue because lots of people have never had to consider it. If you’re completely clueless about fragrance, some tips could help. Of course people will have competing accommodations and limits on what they can do. If you can do something though, it’s still something.

  66. SchuylerSeestra*

    As a black woman my hair products are very important. My hair is not just curly, but I color it, so the products I use tend to be oil based. Rosemary oil, Aragon, coconut nut oil, etc..

    My current shampoo has yuzu in it. It took me forever to find a combo of products to work for my hair.

  67. SofiaDeo*

    Without actually seeing how the email and fact sheet were worded, simply attaching a fact sheet of “why it’s i portant to go fragrance free at home” is hardly an overreach IMO. Unless the language was along the lines of “you MUST starting doing this”, it’s just a fact sheet with “tips on why it’s important”. Unless there was other language the OP didn’t share, I don’t see how this is mandating staff follow the tips on the fact sheet. In fact, people who have had issues with headaches, achy joints, sinus problems, may not have been aware to what extent perfumes and other chemicals in the home can contribute to this. I personally cringe every time I see those US Febreze commercials, suggesting that one simply coat various clothing and household items in chemicals, instead of actually washing/cleaning the items. I have known a number of people, myself included, who had headaches, stuffy noses, and the like decrease significantly if not go away, once a concerted effort to remove excess chemicals from their environment was done. It’s one thing to knowingly use and enjoy a scented product, it’s another to constantly expose ourselves and our loved ones to chemicals.

    1. Dancing Otter*

      Besides, costume shops spray actors’ costumes with vodka (or neutral spirits, but vodka is readily available) between full cleanings. No need for heavily scented products like Febreze.
      Also cheaper, unless you’re buying really good vodka, but why would you?

  68. Madame X*

    I’m sure people who have strong fragrance sensitivities have tried all sorts of solutions. So correct me if this is one of the first things that people try and it doesn’t work, but does wearing a mask help?

    1. Elizabeth Naismith*

      Nope. Makes it much, much worse, in fact. Because the mask just makes the scent linger longer.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        Vogs have worked for me. Blocks out everything as long as it’s sealed. Admittedly when I take it off it needs to go straight to the wash.

    2. I have RBF*

      … but does wearing a mask help?

      It depends. Many masks won’t filter out scents (VOCs), and can trap them. The higher quality the mask, the better it’s likely to be. An elastomeric respirator with VOC cartridges will protect against fragrances, but they are bulky and uncomfortable.

      If I had to go to a meeting in a fragrance loaded environment, I might be inclined to wear one. They are about $50, with cartridges (organic vapors, dusts and mists cartridges are what you would use.) Cheaper than an ER visit.

    3. Bear in the Sky*

      For me (mild to moderate chemical sensitivity) a mask only helps if the fragrance isn’t extremely strong and I’m only being exposed to it for a very short period of time. Masks don’t filter out very strong fragrances, and they don’t protect me from prolonged exposure.

  69. the cat's ass*

    As someone who works in a medical clinic, I’ve always gone the unscented route with my products and got the clinic to switch to an unscented detergent for washing our exam gowns and shorts (we’re old school, these are nice soft cotton and sometimes we have to restrain patients from walking out with the shorts).So we are there already but there are folks who still complain, usually after one patient who drenches herself with Chanel #5 has been in. I don’t have an answer to that.

    1. I have RBF*

      Activated charcoal in air filters might help. HEPA filters don’t work well on VOCs.

  70. Khatul Madame*

    A large event will almost certainly incorporate food. I wonder how the anti-fragrance person will react to food odors, poor thing.

    1. Elizabeth Naismith*

      Most food doesn’t contain the same chemical compounds as fragrances used in detergents and body products. So not the same issue at all.

      1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

        Coconut oil is a food ingredient and a scented active ingredient in body and hair products. Lavender and bergamont are common scents also in some teas. (I mention these because I know people with these specific allergies who react to those scents)

        It really isn’t that black and white.

        1. Bear in the Sky*

          Lavender and bergamot aren’t scents in teas, they’re ingredients in teas. There’s a crucial difference: a scent is just there to make something smell like something. An ingredient serves a crucial purpose to what that something is. In the case of teas vs personal care products, what we’re calling lavender or bergamot isn’t even the same thing.

          If there’s lavender or bergamot in a tea, it’s the whole, dried herb that’s in it, and it’s there because it’s one of the ingredients in the tea blend. The herb is what’s wanted, not necessarily its scent; if it smells like lavender or bergamot, that’s a byproduct.

          If a product is scented with lavender or bergamot, what’s in it is the essential oil of lavender or bergamot. That’s not the herb itself, that’s a highly concentrated oil extracted from the herb. Not only that, it’s very common for what’s marketed as essential oil to have synthetic fragrance added to make it stronger.

          It’s possible for people to be allergic to the plants themselves, but allergies to their oils, or to chemicals added to their oils, are even more common. If someone’s allergic to the essential oil of lavender or bergamot, they may or may not be allergic to lavender or bergamot plants, but if someone’s allergic to the plants, they’re definitely allergic to the oils too.

  71. Aspie_Anything*

    My workplace has a very hardline stance on scents. No perfume, scented lotion, air freshener, etc. We don’t go into detergent or shampoo and such unless someone is noticably fregranced but didn’t use perfume. Then we help them figure out the source. We don’t care what you use as long as we can’t smell you, but if we can smell you, you’ll be asked to leave until we can’t.

    Very fortunately, the ADA doesn’t take into account how on the side of accommodation you personally are *shrugs*

    1. Loux*

      That’s kinda how my office is, too. If we can’t smell you, do what you want. If we can smell you (and it bothers the people around you)? Gotta figure that out.

      Granted, some people are VERY sensitive, and they should be allowed to work from home or have an enclosed private space in which to work from the office, if need be.

      Also, I can’t help but feel that having sufficient ventilation or air purification would help, too.

  72. An American(ish) Werewolf in London(ish)*

    I sympathise greatly with the folk here who are extremely scent sensitive. To the best of my knowledge, no-one in my office has such a sensitivity, but since reading this blog regularly, I have ceased even my occasional bouts of perfume wearing to work.

    BUT, to me the difference between (1) asking people to avoid scented products (perfume, smelly creams etc) on their person whilst at work (so don’t put perfume or very smelly creams on before you come in or at any time during the working day) to (2) telling employees they and their family must avoid any and all fragrance in all their products at home sort of equates to someone with a severe dog allergy – it’s 100% reasonable to not allow (non-service) dogs in the office. It is not reasonable to say that no-one who works there may own a dog, ever and must rehome any dogs they currently have.

    Also, what is Gain?!

    1. iglwif*

      It’s a horrendously stinky American laundry detergent brand (which alas we also have in Canada).

  73. Gain*

    A laundry detergent with a very particular scent. It not comes in dish soap, scented beads, air freshener and I am sure a number of other products.

    I personally like the smell of Gain. Although I personally don’t use the detergent on a regular basis. I keep a small bottle around to wash dog blankets in. I have tried everything and Gain is the only thing that takes the stink out. Yes I have tried vinegar, baking soda, borax, essential oils etc. You name it I have tried it. Thank fully a bottle lasts me about a year bc I use it so infrequently.

  74. Static*

    I have a colleague with a newly diagnosed scent sensitivity. She’s…a lot. She’s very into diet and exercise and HR has had to speak to her in the past about aggressively evangelizing her dietary and Crossfit passions at work. I am sympathetic to her allergy woes – I have terribly sensitive skin and I understand the misery of allergy flares. I’m warily watching to see how her allergy journey goes, because she’s been SO aggressive pushing people about lifestyle changes in the past, and in this case I think HR will hesitate to step in if she goes too far. I’m worried she’ll push people to take the scent free changes as far as she thinks they should “for their own good”, and I’m worried that will be much farther than she really needs them to go to be comfortable, and she won’t be clear about the difference.

    I use some scent free products myself because a lot of sensitive skin products are scent free anyway, and I get migraines that are aggravated by some scents (mostly strong floral/perfumey smells). But I don’t want to deal with the possibility of rashes and hives for myself while going through the process to find products to replace the scented stuff that works for me (shampoo, deodorant, winter lotion…my scent free lotion is too light for winter). And I don’t want to formally file for sensitive skin accommodations or start ADA compliance wars if she tries to push for a totally scent free workplace.

  75. PlainJane*

    This is definitely overreach.

    And it’s not just about the expense or the technical things. Scent is a powerful mental trigger, and I know, for me, when I smell the perfume my grandmother used to use, or a dish cooking that feels comfortable and familiar, it helps my mental health, and this aggressive blandness is… not good. I don’t think it’s good for anyone, but I know for a fact it’s not good for me. I obligingly don’t wear grandma’s perfume to work, but as more and more places start forbidding scents, I feel like I’m losing something that’s important and valuable to me. I generally will bend over backward to accommodate other people, but after a while, I start to get resentful about it, because… does nothing I need matter?

    Sigh, I know, I know, in the scheme of things, “What Makes Jane Happy” is always going to be less important than “What Makes John Woozy,” but I guess… I just had to “say” it.

    1. Elizabeth Naismith*

      It’s not just about making John woozy. It’s about keeping John from going into anaphylactic shock and/or severe breathing issues like asthma, which could cause brain damage or even kill him. As someone with a fragrance allergy that severe… no, your pleasant memories of your grandma do not outweigh my right to live.

        1. PlainJane*

          Exactly–I do respect that. It just gets frustrating after a while to build an entire life around restricting things in more and more areas.

    2. Qwerty*

      Why not wear the perfume at home? It’s more natural place to relive grandma memories than filling out TPS reports.

      This is a pretty big stretch to say nothing that you “need” matters. If you truly need to be *constantly* smelling your grandma in public places and see the inability to do so and being completely marginalized, then therapy is much better place to sort that out.

      Fragrance allergies means that the person can’t breathe. Each attack from this damages their lungs. If we took your false equivalency at face value, you’d basically be say that you’d rather kill someone else in order to keep the memory of your grandma alive. I’m sure you are too kind of a person to mean that.

      1. PlainJane*

        I have allergies. Lilies make me ill and many flowers cause very bad reactions. Pine needle scratches used to cause my whole arm to swell up (though I have either outgrown that one or gotten exposed often enough to develop a tolerance–that and the relentless weekly shots when I was a kid). So I do know. But if someone’s husband sends her lilies for their anniversary… unless she’s leaving them in the closed office for a week, I’ll just do my work in another area for the day, instead of spoiling the gift for her. I’m the one with the allergy, not her.

        And yes, there is a point when mental health issue are also a “need.” In the case of Grandma’s perfume, probably not, but there’s reason that aromatherapy is a thing. There are gifts that make people feel better. There are pictures that just make life a little bit more tolerable, and songs that refresh you. You could make the argument that people don’t “need” lots of things that are “just” there to make them a little bit happier, that’s true. Generally speaking, if you’re willing to deprive yourself of anything, you’ll find a way to live without it. That doesn’t mean it’s not a huge ask in some cases, and it doesn’t mean there’ s no negative consequence to constantly being asked to give things up.

    3. Loux*

      Hey, I just wanted to touch on this part of your comment: “I don’t think it’s (aggressive blandness) is good for anyone” …I don’t see it the way you do, I think? Scent is important, yes, but some of us process sensory input differently and a lot of scents can be disturbing or outright upsetting. I think I get where you’re coming from, scent is important, but certainly it’s not the preferred sensory input for everyone!

      1. PlainJane*

        It’s not just the question of scents, although that’s the precipitating question. The issue is more… who sets the rules? How much can you impose on another person in either direction? If someone has traumatic memories of something that happened in a church, can a co-worker be forbidden to wear a cross necklace (presuming that the workplace doesn’t have other rules against it)? It’s the broader question that I’m interested in. What are the mental health effects of having to be constantly on guard that something that makes you happy may not make someone else happy… and if that person says something and it makes YOU unhappy to a major degree, where does the circle stop?

  76. Isolda*

    I’d have absolutely unmanageable hair if I worked in a place that strict. The only hair styling cream that consistently works on my thinning, curly, frizzy hair has a fragrance. Or to be honest, an odor. I hate it, too. Fortunately, it dissipates, so unless you’re hugging me on wash day, you probably won’t notice.

  77. Zap R.*

    A policy is one thing but if the company is expecting you to follow the factsheet, they’re offloading their duty to accommodate onto their employees.

    Regardless, distributing a factsheet made by your coworker is…not great. Either the company had your coworker do the labour of creating guidelines or your coworker has a wacky perspective on how accommodations are supposed to work.

    1. Qwerty*

      I’m confused by the factsheet! If HR is sending it out with the instruction to be fragrance free, it does carry more weight than if the fragrance sensitive coworker had been distributing it themselves. I completely get how OP landed at their confusion/panic – it escalated the situation from “don’t use my scented lotion today, make sure to give my hair an extra rinse” to paranoia about potential for scents.

      1. Zap R.*

        I was once invited to an event that night where they had a boilerplate “Please note this is a fragrance-free space” message in the invite. However, the invite included an attachment that said people with fragrance sensitivity could smell manicures up to 48 hours after they were applied but could also smell nail polish remover up to 48 hours after it was used.

        I didn’t go.

        1. Zap R.*

          Anyway, moral of the story is that any sort of factsheet an organization sends out will be seen as an endorsement of the policies therein so vetting that factsheet is EXTREMELY important.

          1. Zap R.*

            I think sometimes progressive organizers get so caught up in wanting to be the “best” at accessibility that they create Byzantine rules only they can understand.

  78. Elizabeth Naismith*

    I have a moderate to severe fragrance allergy, which will – among other things – indices asthma attacks. The worst offender (after Axe products) is Fabuloso, a popular laundry detergent with a strong lavender scent.
    According to every appliance repair tech I know (which is 7, by the way) if you can smell any detergent on your clothes after the wash is done, you’re using too much detergent. But Fabuloso users can be smelled a good 20 feet away, and the lavender stench lingers long after they’ve gone.
    So if I was required to work in the same room as someone who used that detergent, either they would need to change products, or some accommodation would need to be made to keep us in different rooms at all times. No exceptions. Severe asthma attacks (and possible brain damage or death) aren’t a good idea.

  79. Ellis Bell*

    I think it’s important for companies to have additional accommodations for scent sensitivities that don’t put everything on coworkers. Yeah, the highly scented person definitely needs to tone it down but sometimes sensitivities can be a competing accommodations or there’s other practicalities at play. Allowing flexibility of movement away from a troubling scent, good ventilation, work from home, flexibility with whether people need to meet in person on on zoom; the important thing is that it’s treated like a conversation and not an unbearable burden because “oh my god, everything has a smell, how do you even live…” I want to put in a word for air purifiers, actually. If we’d had ours in our last place not even the skunk pot smoking neighbour would have bothered us.

    1. I have RBF*

      This. Good ventilation, particularly, is beneficial for both reducing the fragrance load of an environment, but also the viral load! One way I had for explaining how Covid spread was by comparing it to perfume. Air purifiers that have HEPA filters and maybe activated charcoal filters are a great help.

  80. Cellyn*

    I’m so glad my job is almost completely remote so that I can wear perfume to match my day without worrying about setting off a colleague’s allergies. I got into fragrance after a trip to Italy where I noticed that people kept walking past me and smelling amazing, so I do think there’s some amount of cultural differences around this. That said, on the rare occasions I do go into the office, I don’t wear perfume and I wear clothing that’s been laundered since the last perfume-wearing.

    I think most people are using way too much laundry detergent in general which is also contributing to the overscenting. I typically use about half of the suggested amount and air dry whatever I can and my clothes don’t seem to smell of body odor or overly fragrancy. Since I do like to wear perfume at home I try to not have strong laundry smells because it can clash.

    Hair products are a step too far as others have said. I had a horrible dandruff issue and only T-Gel would do anything for it. That stuff has such a strong terrible odor that I can totally see someone objecting to it but it would definitely be a case of conflicting needs. I was in a routing of washing my hair the night before to avoid some of the smell but then I had to wet it down in the morning to be at all manageable and that seemed to reactivate it somehow.

  81. Another JD*

    I can’t nest this because the offending thread got closed, but I wanted to reply to this:

    Rex Libris*
    March 14, 2023 at 3:34 pm
    This. I’m quite sensitive to scents myself, which often trigger sinus issues for me. I buy practically everything unscented, but even I can’t find an unscented aftershave that A)works for me, and B) costs less than 3-4 dollars an ounce. I found a reasonably mild one that dissipates quickly, but unscented does not exist.

    I use Thayer’s unscented witch hazel toner as aftershave and it’s great!

    1. Bear in the Sky*

      Yes… the benefit of aftershave is that it’s astringent, so it helps nicks heal and kills any bacteria that may be getting into them. Witch hazel does the job perfectly.

      I’m female, no need for facial aftershave, but when I shave my legs I put witch hazel on them afterwards. I’ve been doing that for probably 30 years, or nearly. Never used anything else.

  82. raincoaster*

    I had to go to a hospital emergency ward a couple of weeks ago, and there was a sign at the entrance saying it was a fragrance free zone. I’m sitting there in a wheelchair with a broken leg and a layer of Coco by Chanel going “What now?”

    I just carried on as if I didn’t see it because what else could I do? Everyone there was wearing a medical grade mask anyway.

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      You did not do anything wrong whatsoever and I want to stress that very firmly. You had a broken leg, it takes priority.

      But if it comes up again, which may the trinity of Tibia Fibula and Femur forbid, you can tell the admitting clerk the problem and they’ll scare up a damp cloth or wet wipe for you.

      1. Observer*

        you can tell the admitting clerk the problem and they’ll scare up a damp cloth or wet wipe for you.

        And how is that going to be effective? Even assuming that they have wipes that are also fragrance free. When I wear perfume, it’s not spritzed on my face or hands. Yes, it’s on my wrists, so I could wipe that down. But for the rest? It’s under my clothes and those are not coming off unless it’s necessary for an exam, and not until the exam is going happen.

  83. Marna Nightingale*

    Here’s the thing, and again I’m not weighing in on accommodations as such because I have managed to arrange my life such that I can work at home with my dehumidifier and my HEPA.

    The only accommodation I insist on in my personal and professional life is: if I tell you you need to step back, you need to step back, and if you don’t care to do that I’ll be stepping away from you and we’ll talk when you get a clue.

    Yes, asking someone to change their laundry products is in some ways a bigger deal than asking people to not wear cologne.

    But laundry products are WORSE, and they keep getting more and more worse because the manufacturers keep finding ways to make the scent drive itself into the fibres and stay there.

    They also have cheaper ingredients, which are more likely to be problems.

    How any given workplace should deal with that is complex, and will stay complex until good fragrance-free products are widely available and cheap.

    But I don’t think it’s inherently unreasonable to note that people don’t have to use the scented laundry soap AND the dryer sheets AND the “scent booster” thingies, or even to ask people to cut it out for the sake of a coworker.

    And, I mean, bless you guys but when you whack good expensive perfume or cologne or beautifully scented hair product on top of all that you’re kind of wasting your money. It’s like pouring yourself a nice Glenmorangie and coke.

    1. Observer*

      The only accommodation I insist on in my personal and professional life is: if I tell you you need to step back, you need to step back, and if you don’t care to do that I’ll be stepping away from you and we’ll talk when you get a clue.

      Well, yes. That’s the one thing that should never even be a question. And it’s also TOTALLY and completely different from any other suggestion being made.

  84. Katherine Boag*

    Wearing a properly fitted N95 or better filtration mask is supposed to prevent smells from passing through also. Depending on the job, and the availability of safe eating spaces, it may make more sense for scent-sensitive people to wear a mask in the office.

    I wear a mask full time at my job and only eat in the outdoor part of the staff lunch area, but for covid reasons. I also find it makes a huge difference walking through the fragrance section of department stores, which used to bother me.

  85. Mark*

    This is one where I’d REALLY like to read a follow up later, to see if anyone made a to-do over the ridiculousness of the request, and if so, how the employee/company reacted.

  86. Cut short for time*

    I guess I am confused on why asking people to not have strong smelling clothes for one day is so outrageous? This is a one day meeting, they are usually remote, it seems like this might be the only way this person can attend the meeting. I have hand creams that I use for severely dry skin, but I could forego it for one day so that a colleague doesn’t have an attack. Maybe it’s just because I am sensitive to smells, too, but being like “Please, for one day, forego using scented stuff and maybe wash your clothes so that they don’t stink to high heaven” doesn’t seem like a huge hardship.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      I think the issue is: what if you don’t have other products? If you only have one kind of detergent and maybe not even laundry facilities in your home to easily run another load — how would you reasonably de-scent your clothes? If most of what you own — detergent, soap, shampoo, lotion — would not be appropriate, you’d be up a creek unable to take a shower or get dressed without investing time and money in getting new products. One hand lotion is doable, everything you put on your body less so.

    2. Evan Þ*

      I’m happy to wash my clothes. But the rest of this comment thread is talking a lot about how many laundry detergents themselves have scents. I haven’t noticed them in my laundry – but the rest of this comment thread is also saying that most people who use them are nose-blind to them, so that isn’t necessarily telling me anything.

      If I’m supposed to buy a new fragrance-free laundry detergent and then wash all my clothes in it just for this one meeting… that’s a significant imposition. And, there’re people in this comment thread saying that it might not be enough anyway since re-washing clothes doesn’t always get the scent out, and fragrance-free detergents aren’t always really fragrance-free.

      So, if I’m working at LW’s workplace, what am I really supposed to do? Buy all-new clothes and be sure never to wash them with or store them near my existing clothes and detergent? Find a new fragrance-free detergent to wash those new clothes, and hope that it really is fragrance-free?

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I live with a scent sensitive person, and when we started out as friends, I just used the most common detergent available (but not softeners or boosters, I think that would have prevented the friendship!). This is what I would do: 1) I’d keep the same detergent if I was ‘nose blind’ to it and it didn’t obviously smell, and avoid follow on scented products like boosters and softeners, 2) I’d wear something washed a few days ago; not fresh out the laundry, but something that’s been aired a bit and given the chance for the laundry scent to dissipate, 3) I’d shower, bathe in scented products which are washed off and try to keep scented follow up products like moisturizer or lotion to a minimum, as in not spread everywhere over my body, if possible. Putting them on warm skin straight out the shower also helps the scent to disperse a bit. This won’t help everyone, and every level of scent sensitivity, but it will get you by with many scent sensitive people at the distance you’ll be at, at work.

    3. Observer*

      Except that it really doesn’t necessarily work that way. If the detergent someone uses doesn’t pass muster, are you really suggesting that someone get a special detergent just for this meeting? If someone has a hygiene routine that works for them, but doesn’t pass muster under this list, what is someone supposed to do? In some cases, sure you could skip that thing, but that’s not always reasonable or realistic. Not everyone can go without the products they need, even though YOU could forgo your skin cream.

      “Forgo scented stuff” is not always that simple, and it’s hard to believe that you read any of the comments if you really mean that.

      1. Cut short for time*

        I am saying for one day. I get that everything might not be doable, but is it possible to not use some stuff for a one day meeting? I get that not everyone can get unscented laundry detergent little packs and wash their clothes for a meeting, but if someone had severe allergies and it was one day, I guess I would at least try.

        1. Observer*

          For one day means that anything that the person is going to wear on that ONE DAY needs to be washed in a detergent that passes muster. When it comes the hygiene products, it gets even worse – because those are the most likely to cause people problems. Like the only officially scent free body soap (wash or bar) I can easily get seriously irritates my skin. Yes, it’s one day, but it’s still not reasonable. etc.

        2. Ginger Cat Lady*

          Honestly, the “for one day” combined with the detailed list of things that should be changed makes it an even MORE inappropriate ask.
          So am I supposed to go out and buy new shampoo, conditioner, and soap for ONE day? Or skip a shower for that day, which might not even help since I used those things for my last shower.
          Am I *also* supposed to buy new laundry detergent for ONE outfit? And do a special load of wash as well?
          Especially since all those things are more expensive!
          That’s not a realistic ask for an ongoing situation, and it’s REALLY outrageous for a single day.
          Minimize what you use, sure. Change everything and buy lots of extra, more expensive products? NO WAY is that an acceptable ask for “one day”

          1. Cut short for time*

            Maybe it would help to skip a shower for that day. I am confused again – it seems like you would be willing to do that, but feel it is unreasonable to do a load of laundry with a single use fragrance free laundry detergent one time for a meeting to allow a person to attend in person. I feel like people often get sidelined if everyone else attends in person and they attend remotely, and I would do what I could for a colleague to be able to attend comfortably, and you’re right, I’m not you, I don’t go to a laundromat, I don’t pay for each use of laundry, I can afford dry-cleaning. Maybe I just know how unaccommodating people are about things people think is just in people’s heads, and I personally would try to do my best to help a person out for one day. I realize there are competing needs, but the anger people have towards trying to accommodate another person astonishes me. I wish we had a little less black and white thinking about all this and took the temperature way down. I get that it is another thing for someone to have to take into account, but why is it so rude to ask if the person might go into anaphylactic shock or have a severe asthma attack or migraine? Why can’t it be a conversation about what people can accommodate rather than nothing will work so why even try?

            1. yala*

              “I am confused again – it seems like you would be willing to do that, but feel it is unreasonable to do a load of laundry with a single use fragrance free laundry detergent one time for a meeting to allow a person to attend in person.”

              I am confused by your confusion.

              To skip taking a shower for a day you…skip taking a shower. It costs negative time and no money.

              To do the laundry thing you have to:
              -locate unscented detergent (time. Potentially a chunk of time if it’s hard to locate)
              -purchase said detergent (money. Potentially a chunk of money if they don’t have sample/trial sizes available)
              -Do a special load of laundry (time *and* money)

              Like, at minimum, I’m looking at being out $5 and an hour of my free time for this. Versus…no time or money to not take a shower for a day.

              “I wish we had a little less black and white thinking about all this”

              Isn’t “all or nothing” pretty black and white? Folks are giving very good reasons why they may not be able to comply with the request, and you’re still framing them as the unreasonable ones. That seems pretty black-and-white to me. Most folks here have said they’d be willing to forgo using scented personal products for a day, but that expecting them to spend a significant amount of time or money to adjust their whole lifestyle for a single day is unreasonable. That’s compromise. It’s unreasonable to expect everyone attending a conference to switch to a specialty detergent for a single day.

              I think it’s deeply unlikely that a person would go into anaphylactic shock because folks around them used Gain. But if their reaction was that severe, then official reasonable accommodations would have to be made.

        3. yala*

          Honestly, the “for one day” is part of what makes this an unreasonable ask, clothing-wise.

    4. yala*

      To me, the clothes are the *least* reasonable ask. It’s one thing to not put scented product on for one day, but what, am I supposed to *unwash* all of my clothes? Go buy a whole detergent for a single day?

      I also think there’s a difference between “strong smelling” and “scented.” Different folks have different thresholds, but the request wasn’t to not have strongly scented clothes, but to have completely unscented everything.

  87. Loux*

    It really sounds to me like the office is just saying “hey, don’t wear strong fragrances to meetings!” and attached that factsheet as sort of information on how to go scent-free, if you want to? My office does that kind of thing, and we are a scent-free office, but they don’t make employees use totally unscented products. It’s more of a “stay away from using ludicrous amounts of perfume/cologne/deodorant”.

    I personally am impacted very strongly by some scents, but not others. I felt ridiculously bad one time when I was doing overtime at my last job and the person seated next to me was wearing something EXTREMELY strong, and it was triggering a headache, and I had to ask one of the team leaders if I or she could move… (The office had many people working different hours and there wasn’t usually enough seating, so it wasn’t as simple as me quietly finding another desk.) Other than that, it’s usually not an issue… but I’ve had trouble with partners’ deodorants or my sister’s shampoo in very close quarters. One time my family set out on a 16-hour drive and I had a migraine two hours in, which was… fun…

    I would imagine that requiring all offices to be totally scent-free would rise to the level of an undue hardship, but there must be possible accommodations – allowing employees with sensitivities to work remotely or skip in-person meetings where it’s an issue, not packing people in like sardines so they aren’t breathing in each other’s scents all the time, etc…

  88. Not Okay*

    I read this whole comment section, woohoo. Workplaces need to invest in upgrading their ventilation systems rather than policing the products employee uses. Sensitive individuals should be given offices with HEPA air filters. Sensitive folks should also wear masks. Sadly, those with life-threatening sensitivities may need to find remote work or go on disability.

    I thought those sent-boosting beads were just another way to separate us from our money. Rinsing clothes an extra time will go a long way to remove all residue and scent no matter the detergent. Don’t like dryer sheets as they can leave oily spots as can liquid fabric softener. Drying clothes outdoors can cover them with allergens.

    So no perfect solutions to anything. Be as kind as you can, but realistic.

  89. SleepyWolverine*

    I have skin sensitivity issues with deodorants. I can ONLY use the kind that are gel-like in consistency, and all of them are scented. Everything else burns like fire and turns the skin under my arms beet red.

    If my office were suddenly to tell me I could no longer wear scented deodorant, I’m not sure what I would do.

    1. Bear in the Sky*

      By “gel-like in consistency,” do you mean deodorant in gel form?

      That’s the only form of deodorant I find truly comfortable (all other forms make me feel sticky, which I absolutely can’t tolerate, and/or leave residue, which I don’t like but would take over feeling sticky if those were my options), and I’m allergic to fragrances, and I get such extreme body odor that all deodorants with any less than maximum antiperspirant don’t work for me at all. The only deodorant I’ve ever been able to find that meets all of those needs is Almay. It’s in gel form and fragrance free and 25% (maximum amount) antiperspirant.

      If your only restriction on deodorant is that you need it to be gel, Almay would do the trick, without being scented.

      1. Bear in the Sky*

        And that’s not to say you have to give up scented deodorant, even if there are people with fragrance allergies around. As someone with a fragrance allergy, I can’t use scented products, but for someone else’s scented product to be a problem for me, it has to be strong enough to smell without hugging them, more than 15-20 minutes after they’ve used it. It’s extremely rare for any underarm deodorant to be that strongly scented.

        But there is at least one scent free option for gel deodorant.

Comments are closed.