The perennial perfume problem: Will we ever solve this one? — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

The perennial perfume problem: Will we ever solve this one?

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Question: "How do you tell your co-worker she's wearing too much perfume? It gives some people a headache—not to mention its effect on people with allergies.” – Andrea

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo October 18, 2013 at 9:10 am

I not only have scent sensitivity but also sound sensitivity. It is difficult in an office full of women when they all wear fragrances and most of them are irritants to me, but the largest irritant is the incessant chattering, non-work related, that goes on. I am close to retirement but don’t want to have to retire just to get some peace and quiet. I am always mindful of my fellow co-workers and try never to do anything that would hurt any of them. I have requested politely several times for them to just lower the tone of their conversations however, nothing as helped. I deserve the right to have a nice work atmosphere but am thinking of changing jobs. Unfortunately no way of knowing if things would be any different in a new place.


Bee October 17, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I have no sense of smell. If I am around a person or place and my nose and/or eyes start running I assume it is an odor from a perfume or chemical. When I am in a crowd (stores especially) it is hard to tell what or where the odor is coming from. I can also be an instant headache that borders a migraine, and an upset stomach “for no apparent reason.” Sometimes I can get a second or two of a taste instead of a smell. It can be embarrassing for me because some perfume/cologne will trigger an almost immediate gag response. If I think I “smell” something, I will ask someone who knows me if they smell anything. I got a brief “taste” of what I thought was tuna one day that turned out to the odor of the roof being re-tarred. I was the only person in the company who could work in my office that day. Another day I became sick and had to leave the building when an outside visitor came into our department. The perfume was almost unnoticeable to others, but I became sick to my stomach. My daughter buys my perfume for me, and alerts me to stores and departments not to enter. Not being able to smell has it’s pros and cons.


Linda October 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm

My sisters and I are some of those who suffer from scent sensitivity. Of the 3 of us, I am the one stuck in an office. Unfortunately, I have had no help getting people to reduce the amount of cologne or perfume they use. So, I sit and suffer, taking something for the headache hoping that it doesn’t become a full-blown migraine. I can also become asthmatic and carry my trusty inhaler. However, nothing can help if the scent is so strong that I become drowsy. Then I have to leave work and sleep. Then, it’s viewed as my taking off too much work or being sick too much.


Melody October 10, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I suspect I might be the one who slathers perfume and inadvertently offends. I love perfume and don’t MEAN to offend, but if I’m used to the smell I might be desensitized. Don’t drop snarky comments in my vicinity and hope I’ll take the hint, because that just makes you come off badly and you’ll be ignored. Just tell me honestly about your issue. Please don’t keep apologizing and explaining. You’re trying to be nice, but I’m already embarrassed, and you might be making it worse. Just be polite and clear. Don’t claim an allergy if you don’t really have one, because that’s quite unnecessary. And if you tolerate others just fine, I’ll notice. I appreciate you telling me about your needs before you build up a full head of frustrated steam over it, too. You don’t have to get mad in order to make the request, and I certainly don’t want to be the cause of built-up resentment.


Rita October 17, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Melody, I have a sever reaction to most perfumes and scents. There are, however, some scents out there that do not trigger my asthma. When folks wear those, I don’t say anything, because I’m not bothered by that particular scent. If I were to ask you about a particular scent, it’s because not every scent causes me problems. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I “tolerated” some people wearing perfume, but complained about others. It’s strictly on a basis of whether or not I can breathe while standing next to you.


SK October 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I am deathly allergic to scents. Not all, but most–usually the expensive ones with a lot of chemicals and animal derivitives in them. Depending on what type of perfume (and men’s cologne), I can either get an instant migraine, sneeze non-stop, have incessant coughing leading to asthma (the deadly part), throw-up, pass out, or any combination therin.
I didn’t have a problem in my workplace, but recently we hired someone from within whom I knew, in advance, wore a lot of perfume. I asked another female co-worker who would be working closely with her to ask her not to wear perfume if she was going to be working near me, since we would be in meetings together, behind closed doors. I told her if I would throw-up or pass out, it would be very embarrassing–for me and everyone else. Apparently this new co-worker got the message and doesn’t wear perfume anymore. Or, if she does, I can’t detect it.
Like the others here, I always blame myself and apologize but try to get the message across that it is very serious. Most people are willing to stop wearing or go lightly.
One of my friends, a waitress, passed out cold when the hostess she worked with wore a particularly strong perfume. My friend was rushed to a hospital and stayed there three days.
Perfume is not technically an allergen. It’s considered a sensitivity, and is scientifically in the same category (chemical fumes) as gas fumes, cigarette and fireplace smoke. Imagine walking into a room full of smoke. Your first instict would be to brush it away with your hands, hold your breath, then leave the room quickly. It’s the same with perfume. You can’t see it, but if you’re scent sensitive, it assaults you in the same way.
I have had to leave perfect seats in a movie, an auditorium, a lecture/music hall, and even church, to move to another location because someone sat next to me wearing perfume. It takes one hour to assimilate the chemicals into your system, if you can wait that long, but most of us can’t, especially if the application is heavy.
I have sweet and dear friends who have stopped wearing perfume altogether because of me. I even had one person thank me for asking her not to wear perfume because we were going on a long road trip together. She said she couldn’t tell what was making her cough so much. Turns out it was her perfume–and she works as a respiratory therapist!
I call myself the canary in a coal mine. I call myself a high-maintenance friend/co-worker. Ten percent of the population is sensitive to chemical scents. I hope the other ninety percent will feel it worthwhile to save us, the minority, from ill health and possible hospitalization.


Angie October 10, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I worked for a company that had no regard to people’s allergies and scoffed at the idea perfumes could cause throat constrictions. Even with a doctor’s note nothing changed. As others have said, some people just don’t get it or care.


Debra October 10, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Perfume is not just a matter of personal preference. I myself suffer from allergies to strong perfumes and had to request that the person who wore the strong scents refrain from doing so. I suffered severe, almost migraine, headaches for weeks before I was able to convince my superiors that my health was at risk. Since that time, this issue has come up more than once and because of allergies I have noted others speaking about bans on perfumes in offices. This runs along side of the peanut allergies, if you suffer from a life threatening allergy, everyone should be ameniable to your plight.


Treva October 10, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I think if it is approached the right way, an employee would not take offense. For instance, my boss has very bad allergies and I never knew she was allergic to my perfume until one day she politely spoke to me about it, profusely apologized, but just said that for some reason the fragrance I wear triggered her allergies. I did not take offense to it by any means and actually felt bad that she had gone all that time not telling me and was suffering every time I was in her office. So at first I stopped wearing perfume altogether and then I went to a much lighter scent which ended up not bothering her at all. She was able to breath and I was able to still wear a fragrance. Additionally, we are a small company, but it is in our policy that employees should be mindful of overpowering scents in the event someone has an allergy to them. I think the subject can be approached in a way that will not offend the employee, but just be mindful of the way it is presented to the employee.


Rita October 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm

We have several employees who have documented sensitivities to chemicals, perfumes, scented lotions, etc., as well as an equal number of folks who just don’t get it (“my doctor says there’s no such thing as an allergy to perfume”). I try to get the name of that doctor, so I won’t accidentally visit the quack when in need of medical services.

The way I handle touchy situations like this is to assume responsibility for my own well-being. If someone’s perfume is overwhelming, I step back, place my hand over my nose/mouth, and apologize – – “I’m sorry, I have asthma, and something you’re wearing is causing an adverse reaction. Can we do this over the phone? I’ll call you as soon as you get to your desk.” If someone wearing strong perfume sits down next to me in a meeting, or the lunch room, I get up and move, with an apology, “I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be rude, but I can’t breathe if I stay here.” I NEVER lay any blame on them (even those who are aware of the problem, and refuse to compromise). I always let them know that I don’t blame them (even if I do), but blame the asthma. After a while, most folks come to understand it’s not a joke, and allergies are not made up. Some will work with me, some won’t. But I remain professional at all times, and keep the apology or explanation brief. Fortunately, we have paid sick leave days, so if I have a really bad day, I just tell my boss, and leave. Visits to the hospital are no fun, and I refuse to let my problems get that out of control.


Joyce October 10, 2013 at 4:18 pm

I worked in an office where the scent of a woman’s perfume consumed 1/2 of the office. No one liked it; everyone suffered and complained. I think the chemistry changed when hit her skin. I was on the other end of the office so it wasn’t as bad, but no one sitting closer wanted to say anything to her. I went to her one morning and apologized to begin with, and told her I how I suffered due to my allergies (true, but I didn’t have to work closely with her) and her perfume was a trigger. I asked if we could compromise, and she would wear less and I will walk an alternate route in the office when I could. Told her if we can work together she’d be a life saver, and I apologized some more. To my surprise she stopped wearing it completely, and I got her a goodie bag of her favorite chocolates so she’d know it didn’t go unnoticed. I was lucky, I’m sure not everyone would react the same way. TIP: If you can smell your own perfume, you have way too much on.


Mark October 10, 2013 at 4:18 pm

For many years we had a strict no-perfume or cologne policy because one employee would get sick (it would literally constrict her throat) if she was around someone with perfume. After she left, we eased up and said people could wear perfume or cologne, but only if it was a light scent. Everyone was told that if it caused a problem for any co-worker, they would have to lighten up on how much they wore. I would suggest your company develop a similar official policy, especially since you say this is affecting multiple co-workers rather than just one person.


BABS October 10, 2013 at 4:12 pm

It doesn’t give me a headache it makes me sick to my stomach. I filed a complaint with our facilities, who in turn sent my issue to our onsite nurse to come and speak to be to see what she could do for me to help with my sensitivity. Give me a break…Short of giving me a mask, that was it. Would be itnerested to hear how others handled this.


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