Scent-sensitive? Or raising a stink?

Being a woman affords me many beauty-related priviledges.  One of which I take to heart is my perfume wearing.  As you may know I absolutely adore fragrance! I write about it often even here…..

oh the nose knows!

Today upon arriving to work, my co-worker announced that I was wearing too much perfume.  Suprised, I told her “I am wearing the same amount that I have always worn.”  In addition, I have been wearing this particular scent for the past 4 days at work.  She compared my fragrance to someone else in our office who wears cologne (yes, male), which I suppose was meant as some sort of insult.

I went through all the emotions in my head, fuming, upset, etc.  I thought it interesting that this came up. The week prior she had been mentioning that my ‘perfume’ was “headache material” (rude, yes?) and when I told her it was my hand sanitizer that is the same one that is used in the office, she was quiet.  I was annoyed to say the least and went to talk to my boss about it.  He assured me that if it was ‘too much’, he would let me know.

An hour after I was told my scent was ‘offensive’, this co-worker decided she just couldn’t possibly complete her workday and left the office! She went home? Really?

I understand that there is a ‘scent sensitive’ movement going on these days but what about the other side of the coin? I do what I always do when I get confused-I googled.  I found a ton of articles on ‘scent allergies’ and then I came across this page from msn. Granted this is more of a sounding board, but these particular quotes caught my eye:

I had this exact problem with a co-worker … My hand lotion would send her allergies into a frenzy, and knock her out for days, but my co-workers hand lotion brought about no reaction in her. My conclusion? She’s a crazy hag with major issues, control and otherwise. Why is it my problem that she has an allergy problem? I have allergies, too. Should I ask my friends and family to get rid of their cats and dogs so that I don’t sneeze, wheeze, and cough when I visit their homes, or when they visit mine and bring their pet’s dander and fur on their clothes? … I have taken responsibility for my allergies (gasp!) and take an allergy medication to control my symptoms. Perhaps the solution for people with such severe scent allergies should also take responsibility (eek! the horror) and take an allergy medication. If that doesn’t work, how about trying a mask complete with respirator and hepa filter? Or, you could live in a hermetically sealed bubble to guarantee full protection from all the “off-gassing” that everyone else’s burdensome existence produces.
— Jamie, Chicago

I work with someone who is scent sensitive. Early last summer I was asked to stop wearing my perfume, since I was new here I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be wearing it. I did what my boss asked me and never wore perfume again. However, a few months ago, this same co-worker began to accuse me of wearing perfume; she swore she could smell something on me, even though I wasn’t. My boss would come over to my desk and work with me on something just so she could see if she smelled something on me. My boss would then tell the co-worker that I wasn’t wearing any fragrance whatsoever. I had even gone to a scent free lotion to accommodate this co-worker. Yet twice in one week she accused me, only me, of wearing a fragrance. … There is a fine line when it comes to asking someone to stop wearing scents at work. I’m not going to change my laundry soap, hairspray (which I don’t wear to work), shampoo, etc., for a person I am only around 8 hours out of the day.
— Anonymous, Illinois

I have to tell ya, I am in agreement with these posters (especially the second poster, Anonymous).  I am all for being ‘sensitive’ to people with allergies, but I find it “fishy” that this person thinks that hand sanitizer and perfume are the same fragrance.  It makes me wonder how she will possibly be able to travel in public because fragrance is everywhere and in many different forms!

I guess I could have pointed out the many many things that she does during the course of a workday that really distract me…such as eating incredibly “stinky” food at her desk, playing her radio all day long at her desk (even when she is not there) and all her ‘baby-talk’ conversations with her significant other (Yes, she talks like a baby when she is on the phone with him-I am serious). But, I chose the high road.  I am going to take it down a notch (maybe decrease my sprays?) and see how it goes. However, I don’t think it was necessary for her to literally ‘raise a stink’!!!

So tomorrow, guess I will just roll with it-with less perfume, of course.

What about you? Are you the sensitive type? Or do you find this absurd? What are your thoughts on the ‘fragrance free’ workplace?

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  • Micehlle

    Being a severely allergic person myself, I was searching looking for ways to address a situation in my office. The room deodorizer in a cubicle, even if I was not highly sensitive to the smell. Who is to say that scent is what everyone in this cube farm wants to smell… seriously. While I would suffer greatly if I had to sit for long meetinga with this indivual, due to the amount and scent of the perfume worn, that is personal choice. I would sit as far away as possible and deal with it. So just to let you guys know, some of us allergy/sensitive stricken people do understand the balance of personal choice. Pause for a second and think next time, we have had to give up ALOT of yummy, good smelly things things just to function or breathe .

    • meredith

      Thank you so much for your response! I appreciate your feedback!

      I am fairly ‘scent-scitive’ to most-I think this case is a bit more ‘specific.’ There are fragrances (yes notice the plural) that I have worn for 2-3 months daily that this person is now saying she can’t deal with. There is a lot more going on here than the scent itself…..

      On another note…our office is not yet scent free. So I WILL continue to wear my fragrance….I do have enough respect for my coworker that if she does mention something is bothering her, I don’t wear it at work. I feel that is fair-and unless the office goes scent free I am going to wear my perfumes. I don’t feel sorry that people have allergies, I have some terrible allergies myself-we will just have to find a way to all get along!

      Thanks again for your response!

  • nicole

    Maybe it was also your stink attitude that is the problem?…lol. I also don’t think “taking the high road” is hiding behind a computer talking about your co worker being offended/allergic by your scents – sometimes the truth hurts, so she was truthful to you, be truthful to her. Not in a defensive bitchy way but be honest and tell her you don’t understand her scent sensitive allergies and ask what is tolerable for her and then you guys can talk about your scent issues with her. I am also scent sensitive and get severe migraines when hit with a strong scent. I guess I am blessed to have considerate co workers that aren’t selfish and understand. I am in the beauty industry and follow a lot of beauty blogs – what I find with yours and a couple others is they are mostly negative done by professional complainers with no experience in the industry and are quick to judge and blog instead of asking US if its “scent sensitive or raising a stink”… Ask your coworker. Instead of complaining about a bad retail experience, ask the employee why u aren’t being helped and if u can get some service (yes, u shouldn’t HAVE too, but it will get u ur service you wanted and then u don’t have to blog about it) focus on the positive and not in the negitive. When you review product and give your personal opinion its wonderful to read! Once I read your stuff where u r complaining and I can see how the whole thing could have been avoided if u just spoke up in person its frustrating and dissapointing.

    • meredith

      wow-thanks for your feedback Nicole. Seems like you are just all around angry with the world or some other issue. I will have to disagree with you on several levels regarding your comments. You do have a right to leave comments on my blog, but it still is MY blog and I will say what I want within it. If you don’t like what you read, the best part is, you don’t have to read it! Thanks for your kudos on my reviewing skills. I personally believe those are my ‘weakest’ posts.

      I write about my experiences from my point of view. It’s too bad that you are scent sensitive and I hope you are in an environment where you can function reasonably. My experience with my co-worker is ‘situation specific’ and if you were in my shoes and knew me, you would know that I don’t ‘hide’ from anyone. Also, my office isn’t scent-free so if this was an issue for my co-worker, then SHE should talk to someone else as HER work is being directly affected.

      In regards to my recent spa post, we will just have to disagree.
      Thanks again for your feedback!

  • hedwigrox

    I am experiencing the perfume issue in the place of work where I just started. I have been unemployed for 15 months and just got a job. I am highly sensitive to scented products and especially perfume and cologne. I work in a “cube farm” so we all have to share the same air and perfume and colognes give me horrible sick headaches and can lead to a sinus infection.

    Many offices are putting scent free policies into place. Fragrances have toxic chemicals in them and the fragrance industry is not regulated so you really don’t know what you are putting on your body and sharing with everyone else around you.

    Refraining from wearing perfume and cologne in the work place is a fair and just compromise as folks can apply their fragrances after leaving their place of work, however if I run across someone wearing a strong perfume or cologne I have to move as far away from them as possible.

    Please be considerate to those who truly suffer from chemical sensitivity. It is real and it is debilitating.

    • meredith

      Until our office employs a ‘scent free workplace’ policy, I will continue to wear my perfume.

  • Stephanie

    I have scent allergies. In most instances, I can just avoid being in the direct vacinity of the women who choose to wear perfume. There have been the few occasions where I have been forced to work alongside these women, and by lunchtime I have had to leave work with a migraine.

    I am currently waiting on a specialist appointment to see if there is anything further I can do. Scent allergies get worse as time goes on. What didn’t bother me before, now bother me more. I work in a government building where there is no directive on scent free policy. We have a scent sensitive policy, which is ignored by the women I work with.

    I have friends who have allergies to animals. When I know they are coming to my house, I lock my animals in the basement, and do a thorough cleaning/vaccum of my house.

    My question for you is, if it were any other woman, and dealt with in a more respectful manner towards you and your use of perfume, would you be more inclined to not wear it at work? Why would you want to cause another human pain resulting from allergies?

    Funny, I worte the opposite of your blog on my blog…feel free to read 🙂


    • meredith


      Thank you for your feedback. Since I wrote that post, I actually have significantly decreased the amount of fragrance I wear and have noted fragrances that seem to make her sensitive. She hasn’t complained since I (not her) went to speak to our employee relations person regarding the issue. I understand that there are scent sensitive people in the world and I wouldn’t be directly disrespectful towards that-but in my workplace with no policy/procedure/directive on scents, I will continue to wear them.

      You are in quite an unfortunate situation with your co-worker-and I assume you have already spoken with her directly regarding her fragrance? And you have a policy in place? If that were me, I would refer directly to that policy and talk to a supervisor.

      Thanks again for your input.

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  • Chanel No. 5

    I agree with you, Meredith. The whole thing has gone too far and frankly, the only thing that smells fishy is the unsubstantiated claims of these so-called sensitive individuals.

    Personally, I am always highly suspect of anyone claiming to have scent allergies these days, especially given how “in vogue” it seems to be right now. It’s not a universally agreed-upon medical condition and frankly, I have my doubts about the legitimacy of their claims.

    When we talk about those who complain so vociferously about their “scent sensitivities”, we assume everyone is playing with a full deck and the truth is, not everyone does… Certainly there are some who do suffer legitimate allergies and such but then, so do many people. My sister is allergic to walnuts and peanuts. Does she demand that her workplace ban them outright and that everyone else bend to meet her allergies because she is a special little snowflake? No… there is such a thing as reasonable accommodation and she is self-aware enough to take the necessary precautions on *her* end to ensure that she does not have a bad reaction and always carries the necessary medical items with her wherever she goes as it is HER responsibility, no one else’s.

    My suspicions were confirmed when I read this from the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

    The thing that really stood out to me in that article was the point it made about so-called scent sufferers having a high degree of suggestibility when it came to how much “discomfort” they claimed to register with given scents. If a researcher told them they would feel more discomfort with Scent A than Scent B, they reported exactly that, regardless of the concentration levels or chemical makeups of either scent. To me, this is nothing more than the classic placebo effect just found in a different context. People think they feel discomfort because they think they *should* feel discomfort… it has also been my experience that many of the people complaining tend to be hypochondriacs or people with serious control issues. This is anecdotal for sure but I am just talking about my experiences with it.

    Scent is also the number one triggering sense for memory. What many of these individuals may be reacting to, even physiologically, is their own associations with said scent or even with scents in general.

    It’s certainly reasonable, in my opinion, to ban scents in certain areas such as hospitals and doctor’s offices for obvious reasons (I used to work in a hospital and can totally see where that would be necessary), but really, in a business office? In our every day life? In a university lecture hall? In a third floor government building office used mainly by over-educated, under-employed government workers making $14 an hour? Please…

    In the social justice movement we have a saying: your rights end where mine begin… this goes both ways. We should always be respectful while also keeping in mind that the whole world cannot bend to suit our will. Realizing this fact is part of being a grown-up and frankly, while I still see many adults around me, these days I don’t see many grown-ups.

    • meredith

      @Chanel well put….preach it!

  • Peggy

    It is obvious that there is some ignorance here. Multiple Chemical Sensitivities is a real medical condition and is not hysteria or imaginary. Suggesting that people take responsibility for their allergies and take an anti-histamine is not valid because these sensitivities cause neurological problems that an anti-histamine will not help. There is a misconception that allergy symptoms are simply itchy eyes, runny noses and hives. If it was just that it would not be such a big issue. These sensitivities can cause mood swings, depression, memory loss and loss of co-ordination as well as nausea and headaches. To suggest that these people should wear a gas mask is just insensitive.They are hot and make breathing more difficult. How would you like to walk around with one of those on a hot humid day? It is not a joke, it is not funny it is not a reason for petty bitching because someone is offended by your choice in perfumes. Just be thankful you don’t have to walk in their shoes because I think you would be surprised at how difficult it is to deal with on a daily bases.

    • meredith

      @Peggy I was with you until the petty bitching part. Let’s chill on the choice of words, k?

      Now…to the issue at hand. My have things changed since I wrote that post. I believe I will be doing an ‘update’ sooner than later. Turns out that I have become EXTREMELY sensitive to certain fragrances myself in the past 6 months. At first I just brushed it off and thought it was just allergies or the air in our office (equally horrible quality), but it turns out that there are 2 people in our office that wear a fragrance that drives me to tears and makes me choke. In addition to that, there are 5 different fragrances I (used to) own that have caused me to break out in hives!! It’s incredible because I have NEVER had this issue until very very recently. I actually went back to my co-worker and apologized to her. I have greatly decreased the amount of fragrance I wear to the office AND if she has identified the fragrance as troublesome for her, I don’t wear it. I consider it a positive all around…I am not doubly contaminating the office air AND I am saving a ton of $ because I am using WAAAY less fragrance.

      So to be honest, you got me…well you and everyone else that spoke up. I have worn a gas mask for an extended period of time (I was in the Army) and I never thought they were that bad. But I’m comparing it to the times when the Army was ‘teaching’ me what mustard gas exposure is like-by exposing me to it. Not fun. \

      I’m quite sure a follow up or edit post is in order…..any thoughts?

  • Peggy

    Sorry that you have been visited by the perfume sensitivity. It is no fun. I think the main thing is that when someone is complaining that the perfume is affecting them adversely it should not be taken or given as a personal attack. It’s the substance and not the person that is the problem. Far better if an amicable solution can be worked out. You can get yourself another treat with all the money you save too.

    I tried wearing a charcoal bandana but it was way too hot but then I skate with bare feet in the boots. No, you wouldn’t want to breath in mustard gas. That old gad mask would be feeling pretty good.