Monday, July 5, 2010

"Your perfume is giving me the hives/ a headache/ asthma!"

How many times have you heard that line in one variation or another? Or are you one of the sufferers who feels like you're going to erupt any minute now from the fumes that are coming your way from down the hall? There are two sides to every argument and the modern (mostly Americanised) phenomenon of complaining about perfume-wearing in the workplace and public spaces is interesting to dissect, if hysterically overacted in some cases. Like the one involving Susan McBride, a Detroit city employee who claimed a co-worker’s perfume and room deodorizer caused her to suffer from migraines and nausea and in turn sued the city, claiming the scented workplace hindered her from working properly.

Most impressively, nevertheless, McBride actually won a $100,000 settlement and Detroit city employees in the three buildings where McBride works are now being warned not to wear scented products, including colognes, aftershave, perfumes and deodorants, or even use candles and air fresheners! Incidents like this and reportage from common folks who comment on MSN articles citing the incident as an example of a greater issue make me think. And the majority of interesting questions in this world begin with one simple word: "why". WHY has scent been given so much importance in today's society? Why is this annoyance greater now rather than decades before? And why is perfume and scented goods demonized in such a way? Is perfume wearing the new taboo? Or the new smoking?

Let's start by a typical example, taken from actual comments by readers. One woman complains about her co-worker constantly brewing fresh chai tea five times a day on her desk (Talk about a lot of constipation, but let's not tackle this right now). The smell of tea being brewed bothers her. She complains she's getting a headache. The other woman quips by saying she got a headache by the smell of the noodles that the other woman brought at the office the other day! The situation escalates to the point that the incident is reported to Human Resources and the floor manager. Chair brewing is brought to a halt. You see...nothing is as uncomplicated as a simple repulsion to the smell of something. Imagine how this can take on other shades of meaning when the offending item in question is a scented gift from a beloved one or even if it takes on the "enlightened" appeal of aromatherapeutic products. Or...the horrors, a humble deodorant (banning it risking a major case of the BOs) or the cleaning fluid for the floors!

Allergies and headaches triggered by scented products are a serious issue. I don't deny that for a minute! Let me repeat: I don't deny it. People battle with symptoms that can be debilitating. Some are even seizure-like, recalling epilepsy ("sensitivity to strong smells, flashing lights and certain noises"). For all that there is proper medical care, while common sense dictates to respect people and tone down whatever is making them ill, assuming the pinpointing has been successful. But how much of that is real and how much is simulated for various reasons? Even scientists are sometimes baffled. Where does one draw the line between having something hurt them ("I'm getting nauseated") and having something just annoy their aesthetic principles ("I hate that scent")? Reportedly the percentage of genuine medical conditions is very low. "Hey man, you stink!" is politically incorrect, whether the stink comes from body odour or perfume or smoke...Has this political correctness which has pervaded the American society prevented men and women from giving voice to what displeases them in a rational and level-mannered way, thus provoking secondary reflexes that lead to overacting and passive aggressiveness? I think it has.

Scent mapping is starting to become the equivalent of turf wars and a victim attitude that would "pay" for other things, some of which are tangible in the form of monetary recompensation. People have got ideas, after that $100,000 settlement. But it is the power trip which gives the thrill. Scent has always biologically been a way to mark one's territory and man (and woman), a grown-up animal out of the jungle, is refining the process by donning olfactory shoulder pads, marking one's personal space. Refuting someone's right to gnaw on your own personal space -within the public one- seems like resistance to usurped authority, claiming part of the common territory back, setting the line on someone's power. Doubly so, as perfume choice and individual odour is such an intimate, personal matter. It reads as rejection of someone on a deep, core level. How many times have you rejected a potential lover because you didn't like the way they smelled? And how many times have you felt flattered because someone praised your scent?
"A person doesn't necessarily have a right to wear perfume, but the person does have a right to be able to breathe in the workplace" is cited as reason for the indignation. Clearly perfume wearing is considered frivolous. The floodgates on entitlement to rights and the cult of "me" opened up at some point during the last 20 years, after which a major step back in basic manners and common sense ensued. Which brings me to another point: It's noted that the majority of complaints and the escalation of such cases is witnessed in the US (and to a lesser degree Canada). Other countries do not have such a problem (yet, at least). Why is that? I believe it has to do with a couple of reasons.

First of all, the frivolity of perfume seems ingrained in a WASP mentality, the glorification of soap and water of almost religious significance. "Cleanliness is next to godliness", right? Interestingly, the aphorism is similarly coined in other languages to extol the value of cleaning up; but the connection is not made to the divine, but rather with other values, such as social status. To further this syllogism, one might argue that by eschewing the god-prefered clean smell of soap and water, covering it up with perfume is "reeking" of suspicious motives. What are you trying to cover up, dude? Perfume wearing has for long being tied to members of the fair sex of low reputation in particular (parfum de puta), trying to cover up the smell of other men on them, or a witch-hunt mentality in which scent was used to ensnare men and control them through the subliminal medium of olfaction.

Another reason might be that the cubicle farm culture is most prevalent in the US rather than other countries. The tight-knit space does induce discomfort, conflict and ennui! Someone has to be blamed and perfume is so easy to target. Especially so since smells invade our space and trigger emotional responses. Which makes me further the thought: Has no one considered Sick Building Syndrome? Several of the symptoms described for perfume intolerance happen to be identical with those for the above condition.

What is perhaps even more intriguing is that I distinctly recall a perfumer saying that American perfumes are made with a higher concentration within the established Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum concentrations so as to satisfy the taste to have your perfume announcing you, a form of "olfactory shoulder pads" which used to be very demanded by the market focus groups on US soil. Historical fact confirms that some of the most potent, powerful fragrances first met with success in the US, such as Narcisse Noir by Caron, due to this preference. In a globalised market perhaps this isn't always the case, although several popular fragrances do get produced at different factories for different countries ("made in US" vs "made in France" etc., plus the difference in the alcohol used as a carrier vehicle for the essences) Several of the modern "clean" scents bearing American brand names (the Clean brand for instance) are so harsh and synthetic that they do pierce sinuses. In view of the above is it any wonder that lots of Americans are complaining? I don't think it's entirely their fault! But it does make for a new arena for the claim of personal space in an increasingly tight, overpopulated world.

On to you: Is perfume the latest taboo? Is it the new weapon to battle one's battles in the workplace? Do you have any problems from someone else's scent?

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  1. This is such a complicated discussion and your points are completely valid (I agree with everything).
    I wear perfume to work each day but I try to keep it low sillage. Up to now nobody ever complained, although there was some talk about a colleague who could you washing soap and powder on him and his clothes more often.
    I have a colleague whose perfume I can't stand (and I wonder how can she love it so, but that is another issue) but her perfume is only noticeable when she stands close to me so I can live with that.
    What I'm trying to say is, we are all very tolerant here - there are 12 of us in one large room (without cubicles) and we all tend to eat there from time to time as well, and no one has ever complained regarding smells.
    I do believe though if you want to make life miserable for a colleague, complaining about their habits that waft is a pretty sure way (but it also sounds suspiciously nasty and like you are just being mean).

    Btw, our secretary called me from my desk the other day to smell the nice perfume our male boss is wearing, there was some still wafting in the corridor after he left. :)

    1. How entitled & rude. Perfume, scented lotions ect are completely unnecessary in the work place & are a huge migraine trigger. Co-workers have to be at work/can't get away from you like they can in public.

  2. This is very interesting. I particularly like the analogy with smoking- although obviously I do accept that is harmful and dangerous for health- I as an asthmatic who was once hospitalised after being in too much cigar smoke- think the way smokers civil liberties have been encrouched is awful while, in this country anyway, I see very little effort to do anything about the rabid use of illegal drugs. There are anti smoking officers in the west end of London but no one to stop me getting pressurised to take cocaine in the same bars.

    Anyway onto scent. Apart from men who put on far too much scent I am rarely bothered by smell- and honestly sometimes I do quite like the over done thing sometimes.

    I think the problem arising in America is also interesting. Their taste has always tended towards the cleaner side of scent and this is almos the next step. Surely though deoderant helps us all have a better day!

    I don't believe in an over sterile environment and that extends to scent. People should be mindful and not wear too much but to just block out smell is insane- that would lead us down a path of forgetting how to smell at all. It also smacks of a crazy type of puritanism.

    My colleague does steam broccoli every day and while that isn't plesant she opens the windows and we get through it you know- it's life, food smells, better to have it than not!

  3. I like to wear head-kicking perfumes and sometimes I am really conscious of the fact that I might have gotten a bit over-excited with the spraying or dabbing in the morning. At work there is nothing but a four foot cubicle partition between myself and a girl who has asthma and allergies, so I've told her to let me know if my perfume is ever making her feel unwell and I will be happy to go and wash off as much of it as I can. (She never has though - she usually comments favourably and tries out a bit of whatever I am wearing on the day.)

    I think it comes down to commonsense. Asking someone to not wear perfume, after-shave, deodorant, highly-scented body lotions or shampoos or the like is somewhat unreasonable. However, I don't understand why people would be using room sprays, scented candles, oil burners and so on in the office. Who even does that? Is that an American thing? I've never seen it before.

    Hmmm. It's a slippery slope.

  4. Anonymous13:28

    The worst Red Door/Giorgio/Poison sillage would have been preferable to the fragrance emanated by a very nice lady I once worked with who consumed a LOT of garlic. The boss eventually had to say something. Too bad sandalwood isn't edible.

  5. I know there are some people who are truly affected in an awful way by fragrance, but I think most people who claim to be exaggerate their symptoms in order to give "legitimate" cover to just not liking someone else's scent. There have always been some folks who wore too much scent (and I find men to be guilty of this just as frequently, perhaps more, than women), but I think the increase in the number of "official" complaints & lawsuits & whathaveyou reflect our culture's increasing sense of personal entitlement. There is a rapidly escalating culture of "I want what I want when I want it" in this country, with little or no regard for others or willingness to compromise. Turning the dislike of someone fragrance into a "health" issue is often, I think, just another example of this.

    1. Anonymous04:40

      Sorry, but if I get hives and my eyes puff up and feel like they're itching and burning out of my head, I'm not exaggerating. Most of the time I even like the actual smell of the purfumes. It not very nice of you to automatically think like people state these things as a way to passively control you... It sounds actually like you have a slight problem and jump to that conclusion as a defense mechanism actually.

    2. I love perfume also, but it doesn't like me! At the extreme I have gotten a rapid heartbeat, headache and nausea. I have no true allergies (some mild shellfish contact dermatitis), so I don't understand why this happens to me. It's unfair!

    3. Wow. Selfish, entitled people like are causing debilitating illness for others. I have scent induced migraines that are extremely debilitating. It's not difficult to not wear perfume & scented lotion to work. It blows my mind how little regard people have for others. I would feel absolutely terrible if I was making someone ill! Especially when it's SO easy change!

  6. Anonymous14:18

    Excellent article! This could be avoided on so many levels by people just using common sense and taking responsibility for their actions, something I see less and less of every day. Interesting that some American market perfumes are made at higher concentrations. I agree with your comment that so many of the "clean" scents are so harsh they are unwearable.


  7. I think you were getting to the truth when you mentioned that the number of people who are genuinely medically allergic to frangrances is actually quite low. What we have in North America is a culture of fashionable sensitivities. Chances are you know someone who is genuinely convinced that they are "sensitive" to something, be it fragrance, wheat, dairy, yeast, sugar, or just "environmental." Of course they believe it, when the symptoms of these sensitivities can range from acne, depression, fatigue, heachaches, insomnia, runny nose, intestinal problems, overweight, or any unexplained medical condition.

    I'm not saying that it doesn't feel real to them, things can feel pretty real when you're convinced, but I do think that it's rarely actually real. It's just a popular anxiety. Hopefully is blows over.

    1. You don't have to be 'medically' allergic to have a reaction. There's something called non-allergic rhinitis (vasomotor) in which your sinuses swell up - it's documented by a physician, so it's really real. We just don't understand the etiologies of these issues yet.

    2. Unbelievable. Scent induced migraines are debilitating & not caused by "popular anxiety." Thanks for contributing to the suffering of people with migraines.

  8. I do think that we Americans are not as far as we often think from our hedonism-eschewing past. Evidence of this is everywherehere, the latest being the printing of calorie and fat content on restaurant menus and talk that it be a legal requirement for all restaurants, not just the fast-food ones.

    Also, there seems to be a bit of anti-immigrant sentiment being voiced here and there -- I remember one poster on a perfume forum being absolutely belligerant about strange-smelling foreign foods in the office refrigerator, being eaten in the break room, or being cooked in the microwave. The anti-chai thing could be a bit of that.

    A story -- I worked in one of the first "cubicle farms," in the 70's (!). The office manager, in the next cubicle, was a germ phobic who would spray Lysol on her phone after anyone else talked on it. This was at a time when women wore fragrance to work, including me, and I could tell sometimes that she didn't much like it. But she kept it to herself. Now, I suppose she'd go straight to HR and get a no-perfume policy. This is how much we've changed.

    In the 80's, when cigarette smoking became unfashionable and the antismoking movement expanded greatly, suddenly many people were "allergic" to cigarette smoke. I'm not denying that some people actually are, but not in those numbers!

  9. Great points here, and maddeningly frustrating. I work in a hospital where there are supposed to be no fragrances, but fortunately I have no patient contact so I can let it slide. Obviously where I to be a nurse seeing people all day I wouldn't wear anything. When I'm up on the floor there's a nurse who wears patchouli oil, and I can smell her down the hall and around the corner. I wonder how she can do this because she's leaning right over patient with that monster sillage (and I love patchouli, but many don't!). It does require a bit of awareness of space, and that is just being aware of other people. However, I have found that smoking is much, much worse than any fragrance. I work with two smokers, and when they come in from a break, it is just AWFUL. What's worse is the cocktail of cologne or lotion they've applied to try and cover up the smoke, which just ends up mixing to form a miasma of trash. I suppose they're dabbling in the worst of both worlds. This era of political correctness is quite scary, and it's a demon to be dealt with very cautiously. I'm surprised so many others don't see it as such. The American Dream seems to champion the individual (perhaps at the expense of all those other individuals out there), yet PC kind of thinking is so collective it's amazing. And don't even get me started on this lawsuit culture we have here in this country.

  10. There has been something wrong with blogger I understand- I haven't been able to put all the comments on my blog on it and it seems ones I have written are not showing up. Other people have tweeted saying the same thing. So I wrote a nice long answer earlier which seems not to be here.

    Basically I was saying that intolerance of scent is a bit like being intolerant of taste or touch. Should food stop being so strong? should they tone down those stinky bries? no. Yes considersation is needed but banning these products- especially deoderant!!- seems crazy to me- and sad too

  11. Ines,

    thanks! I should think that Europeans do not quite grasp all the intricasies of this issue because we are living in a more "chaotic" environment, where litigation isn't rampant. We're lucky in our own way,
    Then again I should imagine that BO would be pretty vile if it affected co-workers and that is much worse than a scent one doesn't like....
    You raise a valid point in that complaining about something as intangible as smell is a sure-fire way of "scoring an inch" in the battle against someone at the office. A mean way, indeed, but it seems to work!

    What was your boss wearing?? Curious! *fluterring my eyelashes*

    1. What's mean/bullying behavior is to wear purfume/scented lotion to the workplace knowing it's causing people to be ill! Scent is a very common migraine trigger. Please be kind & think of others. No one should be ok with making others sick & it's not difficult to not wear perfume.

  12. Dee,

    thanks for commenting and for being so common sensical about it too! Yup, isn't plain old communication between human beings better than reporting to authorities and suing for money? I bet your co-worker would have told you if she had a problem since she's so kindly invited to do so.

    Banning anything scented is Utopian, no doubt, but like you I had the same question: WHO burns candles and sprays rooms with scent at the office? We're not talking Anna Wintour here, we're talking plain folks working at office and secreterial positions.

    Is it all part of a marketing scheme, I wonder, to boost sales of scented goods ("burning small lavender-infused coal lumps by company YXW at the office provides the serene, tranquil workspace you have been always dreaming of" etc etc ~fill you own ad copy here) which backfired horribly? What do you think?

  13. Anon,
    LOL!! Pity indeed!

    Much as these perfumes get a chaffing for being sillage-monsters, I fail to see them producing the sheer repulsion that strong, stale body odour would produce. Garlic is indeed very potent, much as I like it in foodstuff, and one has to be diligent with personal upkeep if they're to consume it with any regularity. It seems to be secreted in the sweat, although nothing beats pasturma! (and yes, I'm talking through experience, the spice they add is feral and it aromatizes sweat, urine, tears and every other fluid in your body ~ahem~ for days on end). Yummy but lethal, LOL!

  14. SS,

    thanks for bringing up what I was reluctant and unable to utter in a convincing way myself: this is what bothers me when I read perfume boards sometimes! That so often the default advice on getting someone to stop using something would be to claim "allergies". It trivialises a serious issue (one which is true) and it imposes a doubtful question mark over any subsequent claim heard as well.

    The sense of entitlement is also at play I guess. Maybe more worldspread than just the US, I'd wager.

  15. cora18:22

    Wonderful article, and I truly admire the balanced and fair-minded presentation of a nuanced issue.

    Asthma is real, allergies are real (and verifiable when genuine), reactive airway disease is real. So are passive aggressive behavior traits and personality disorders. I consider myself obliged to refrain from behavior that would put another person in danger of death by acute asthma exacerbation. I do not consider myself in any way obliged to cater to the whims and manipulations of pathologically entitled workplace bullies.

    As for the "I don't like my colleague's perfume" and "you should just say you're allergic" trope, it does trivialize a real issue. I suppose the strategy is at best aimed at avoiding hurt feelings, at worst profoundly controlling and a passive refusal to take responsibility for considering one's own preferences more important than those of others. That's a wide spectrum of intent.

    What a thought provoking article. It is a shame there is not more language to support this sort of productive discussion. Perhaps then bullies, passive aggressives, and responsibility-eschewers of all kinds would be recognized as infringing on coworkers' boundaries.

  16. Tiara19:15

    As one who does have reactions to certain perfumes (and smoke), I go out of my way to say nothing. Office politics often play a part in what's being said as does the need for power. There are those who just love to complain enough about something to affect a change. This, however, makes it more difficult for those of us who SHOULD be saying something to keep quiet.

    In our quest to accommodate everyone, we often accommodate no one!

  17. I am a huge allergy sufferer who has lived with allergies from oak trees to dairy and crabgrass to dust!!!! But unlike many people who believe that their country/workplace/social environment must make changes in order to rectify the situation, I chose to be accountable for my OWN allergies and take medication......I know, I seems almost unnatural for an American to be accountable for his own actions, but a few of us still remain....

    I don't like the idea of having to take allergy medication everyday, but being able to breath and smell has allowed me to live a fuller life - and it has allowed me to have an (overwhelming) appreciation for perfume and me, that is well worth the allergy medication.

    1. I cannot take allergy medications, so please don't judge. I love perfume, and I miss wearing it myself... but I cannot tolerate it without getting sick. I subbed at a school one day, and I had to open the window to get the fake fruit scented marker smell out of the room. Sometimes I think it has to do with the artificial fragrances substituting for expensive floral oils used decades ago.

    2. I take migraine medication but it does not prevent scent induced migraines. Not wearing perfume/scented lotions is an extremely reasonable thing to expect people to do at work.

  18. Rose/K,

    how weird, I now see your comment published between Ines and Dee, while before I couldn't!!

    Anyway, glad it's not lost. It's very interesting and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Comparing the trafficking of drugs with legal drugs such as tobacco (it's proven to be addictive so it falls under the same umbrella, like it or not) and liquor (ditto to a smaller degree and big question mark re: its circulation to minors) is a huge issue. I'm not sure whether there would be so much furore over perfume if the smoking ban wasn't so heavily handed in the first place. (On the other hand, I have been to some really nasty places with second-hand smoke, so it's a question of whether the egg or the hen made the egg...)

    Now you bring an important aspect into the equation: Will we forget how to smell? I think we already have!! The smell of Pledge stands for lemon, Pine-Sol for pine (these are American references), the natural sources are so often mistaken for the functional products, you wouldn't believe! I have this on perfumers' testimonies and the mind boggles: semantically speaking, how can we have zoned out soooo much of our natural environment to not be able to differentiate between the sign and the reference? And how can food have become something that is connoted as anything but positive/nutricious/wholesome/fulfilling, as you so succinctly say through your everyday real life example? I'd really like to hear opinions on those things!

  19. Oh and Rose,

    I'm not entirely sure that American taste does veer into "clean". I think this is a perpetuated myth with an ulterior motive, sometimes (a market directive if you please, like say orange satin is being pushed at the collections because this is what the textile market has in bulk, not because there is any other reason!) Weren't many potent, skanky perfumes such as Tabu and Narcisse Noir loved in America? Didn't SJP say referring to her countrymen "we love our body odour"? I'm puzzled sometimes, this is something that needs a little more thinking; the "clean vs. animalic" cultural divide is rather oversimplistic to my mind.

  20. KJanicki,

    yeah, great comment, isn't it odd how everyone is becoming so very delicate all of a sudden?
    I am convinced that some people ARE delicate and poor dears have a lot of discomfort. There is absolutely no reason to torture them with assinine behaviour.
    Then again, I think it's beginning to be fashionable to pose as the "oversensitive", "overdelicate" one in one's crowd. It even lends a veneer of...I don't know, "discernement"? I have such a case in real life and it's so silly because the woman in question is strong as an ox, but she makes herself ill sometimes by over-reacting and stressing herself over minutiae.

    I recall a film by Todd Haynes, was it? "Safe" it was called. Very interesting, do watch it if you can. It highlights a LOT of the problems that some of the individuals who are convinced there is a specific culprit for their discomfort, when there isn't one, face.

  21. P,

    I'm amazed that this is done in restaurants!! You'd think that would be one place where satisfaction of the senses is a prerequisite!! Is it through a mania for health-watch (and the subsequent hysteria for a lean body) or more than that?

    It's also disheartening if indeed there is a xenophobic element in dishing "foreign" cuisine and from then on different smells. Somehow it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, recalling eugenics and WWII...or am I over-reacting? (ha!) Because how far is "your food is smelling bad" from "your body is smelling bad" (as in not as it should be and it's not because of your food or hygiene but of your genetics)? We'd be entering pretty scary territory there.
    I live in a society which has had a very cosmopolitan past, due to its very loooooong history and strategic geopolotical location, but the immigration problems that the US faced in the late 19th century and through to the middle of the 20th century are a very recent phenomenon for us (last 15 years or so) and as a society we need to find the ways to intergrate organically. So, this is all very educational to me. :-)

    Thanks for recounting your personal experience (wow, talk about a rich past, you've seen it all), it reads as totally making sense what you're saying there.

  22. Jared,

    I suppose you're the one in the most restrictive environment here! LOL
    Very truthful of what you say regarding nurses especially, as they're beside patients all the time and when one is ill or indisposed, it's so easy to get discomforted and annoyed by even otherwise innocuous things. I suppose a happy medium would be to wear perfume at night on their free time.

    As to smoke, you absolutely have a point when it gets combined with fragrance (Now there's something I didn't mention in the article, how did it escape me? Thanks for bringing it up!) It's the stale smoke that I find repulsive. The time a cigarette is smoked I don't mind, even though I don't smoke myself (had experimented but I just didn't have it in me). It's the stale remnant on clothes (and hair) which I shy away from. I suppose combining that with perfume, the smoker doesn't realise how twisted the result is, as they're accustomed to the smoke and thus blocking it out.

    "The American Dream seems to champion the individual (perhaps at the expense of all those other individuals out there), yet PC kind of thinking is so collective it's amazing"> Isn't that so? I find it as fascinating and perverted as you do.

  23. Anonymous21:31

    I believe it's called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity; reactions to specific chemicals either smells or contact. I've read there's a small and supposedly growing percentage of Americans getting this. It's covered by ADA now. I've read comments by perfume haters; they can be downright mean and nasty. Perfume wearers are being accused of being "dirty", "unwashed" and I supposed self absorbed. I would have a difficult time working in a fragrance free (not unscented, there's actually a difference between the two in products, didn't know that but it makes sense) environment. The ones with MCS can have reactions ranging from headache/nausea to something that puts them in the hospital, can't remember what it's called (aplaysia?). No one is wearing perfumes/scents to specifically put you in the hospital. Maybe that's where they are confused. Anyway, thanks for reading my ramble. Great post, too. Glad to see someone else questioning this and also disliking the arguement "I have a right to breathe; perfume is not a right."

  24. I'm starting work in a cubicle farm tomorrow. Up until now I've only ever had to share my office with one other person at most, all of whom were very tolerant of my love of scent.

    I'll tell you how it goes...

  25. Pixie23:30

    I think this is interesting because I am on both ends of the issue. First I will admit the majority of those "clean" and "oceanic" smells - especially a lot of those sold at department store counters give me a wicked migraine. My SO is so sensitive to those chemicals he will have to have an inhaler. That being said - I would never think that having a "no perfume" policy in the office is fine. If someone's scent was making me ill I would just gently let them know that I'm very sensitive to that particular smell could they put on a little less, maybe find someone new, or move further away from me if possible.

    On that note I was once told by an early boss to not wear perfume to work anymore as it "gave her migraines." I switched to a more natural, high end fragrance and she mysteriously never got ill. This may have been a little mean but I knew her quite well and detected some BS in how she mad the initial request. So Vera Wang's Princess was not her thing but Marc Jacob's Daisy or BPA labs oils were fine.

    My ex has also been fired from some jobs because he has a health condition and sadly most scents, soaps, detergents, and prescription deodorants don't stand up to his particular brand of toxic BO. I kind of think weather you are telling somebody they smell inappropriate because of perfume or their own body's particularly offensive odors is kind of rude and shouldn't really be acceptable. As a feminist I think body policing is really a big deal and this seems like body-policing to me.

    Some people do have allergies - but I don't think most people really do and I've never know anyone who really has a health issue to be so pushy or demanding.

  26. Personally, I like when I catch a whiff of someone's perfume. It is interesting to me what other people choose to wear, what it says about their personality. I do tend to get migraine headaches so it would be hard to work with someone that wore a fragrance that triggered a headache for me (such as the popular D&G Light Blue).

    One problem is when someone is (politely, I hope) asked to stop wearing a fragrance because someone in the office has allergies or sensitivities and they do not stop. This makes me think that the issue is more about personality clashes in the workplace where scent becomes the excuse for a full blown war.

    If someone asked me to stop wearing a fragrance to work, I would. I can still enjoy my fragrances at home and on my days off.

  27. Anonymous03:29

    There are definitely valid reasons to (politely and respectfully) request lowering exposure to perfumes, I think. However, it's certainly not black and white as many of these thoughtful posters have pointed out.

    I live in the US and I think several issues are at play.

    First is the appalling state of health of the average American, in my opinion. No, not because of lifestyle choices, far from it. I think there is a background level of toxicity that is just staggering here - you can see it clearly in photos, especially if you have the chance to compare what you see in magazines now with photos from, say, the 60's. There is a vibrancy in people in the older photos that made my jaw drop when I figured out what the difference was. I think that we are dealing with the results of corporate food supply policies, heavy metal toxicity, vaccine exposure (there is a doc that has found a way to map ischemic damage in the brain by mapping the features of the face and eyes, and when you know how to see vaccine damage, you see it *everywhere*)and the worst of all is electromagnetic pollution. Adding aroma chemicals to the mix is a last straw for some people now, where in the past it wasn't.

    It is also the "new smoking", where it has become socially acceptable to be really hostile over this issue now that smoking has been "dealt with" here. That part is truly annoying - just ask any smoker that's been the subject of a non-smoker's righteous abuse.

    I wish the people who were so up in arms over office policies would stand around my neighbor's laundry vent on washing day some time. I DO love fragrance, with an extensive, loved and worn collection, and the exhaust from a dryer that's overloaded with "functional" scents can put me in bed with a migraine, pronto. I have also had to endure the fragrance residue on the clothes of friends and have said nothing - the golden rule, huh?

    1. Both my grandmothers and one great grandmother were obese. Perhaps there's just more older people now because of longevity. I love fragrance myself, and in fact came to this site searching for the possibility I might find one that doesn't make me want to puke, so I suffer quietly, both from others and also from the unfairness of not being able to wear it.
      BTW, I don't say anything - I just leave the area. But if I am forced to work next to someone wearing an fair amount, I think it wouldn't be humanly possible for me (I'd prefer manual labor with no nausea).

  28. Anonymous03:59

    i think there is a shock that occurs the moment we smell something strange, unexpected, or "ugly." like when you get on an elevator with someone wearing too much cheap cologne. you instinctively want to hold your breath. then you breath carefully and realize that while it's not the best thing you've ever smelled, it won't kill you.

    the same thing happens when you encounter someone with sharp body odor. that quick, "i'm not going to breathe" reaction. it's a throwback to self-preservation.

    anyway, i think some of these complainers are taking that reaction and running with it. and, for all we know, the scent intrusions are the final straws in otherwise tense relationships.

    i know from personal experience that i have worse reactions (headache, sore throat, congestion) to commericial carpet cleaners, air fresheners, cheap body lotions (bath and body i'm looking at you and that tropical crap you sell to my coworkers) than i do to colognes and perfumes. and mold isn't so great, either. so yes, a sick building complaint is definitely viable and honest.

    not sure about the WASP connection. a lot of those WASPish women wear things from estee lauder and clinique and other companies with powerhouse scents, like, um, patou with joy and 1000.

    i simply wish i would smell more interesting scents on the women around me - i catch a whiff of what they're wearing, and it's almost always insipid. they just don't seem to understand the power of scent.


  29. Anonymous04:13

    My late mother had asthma and wore fragrance. One had nothing to do with the other. She was never allergic or reactive to her fragrances (which were rather pedestrian Avon and Revlon scents).

    Though strong sillage is annoying, it doesn't compare to the smell of a lunchtime microwave fest of frozen diet dinners. Probably fellow posters in the U.S. will know that certain brands have a peculiar 'stink' to them. I cannot abide that smell!

    Another true irritant is pollution from automobile gasoline or getting stuck in back of a bus or truck en route to or from work. It's sickening and can make me dizzy.

    I wonder if these fragrance-phobe people understand that everthing gives off fumes of some sort -- even wooden floors and wooden walls!

    Another great blog entry, Elena!!

  30. I'm an American, and I think a lot of the distaste for the 'scent free'people comes from the perception that they're refusing to limit their own lives to care for their illnesses.
    I have a condition that requires me to use a wheelchair. I don't exspect the whole world to become accessable; rather, I make accomodations and accept that some places/activites will not work for me.
    Likewise, if a coworker was sensitive to one particular smell, or smells generally, I would certainly avoid whatever bothered them. But to demand I buy only unscented products to use for the office? That's not a reasonable request. If someone really can't tolerate any sort of smell at all, perhaps s/he needs to look into working from home, applying for disability or asking HR to help find a solution that doesn't inconvienience everyone else in the vicinity.

  31. Amy K06:30

    I think the "I'm allergic to perfume/cigarette smoke/etc." excuse is horribly over-used in the US, but I can't help but feel that if people could limit themselves to one or two sprays of fragrance instead of 10 or 12 or half the bottle, it would be much less of a contentious issue. Sitting next to someone who smells like she bathed in a vat of Angel is no less distracting than sitting next to someone who's playing music at high volumes - they both affect your ability to concentrate and it's not like you can just tune it out. It's not the same as disliking someone's sense of personal fashion. If I were the boss in a workplace, I would have no qualms about telling an employee to tone down the perfume if it seemed excessive to me.

  32. Cora,

    thank you for the nice compliment!

    I would assume that most people wouldn't want to knowingly hurt others. And are oblivious to the effect that marinating in a scent has on others. Then again those others might approach the subject personally and not rely on higher authorities to "ban" something. But I suppose when it comes to full blown war...

    As you succinctly say, it has to do with a lack of appropriate language, an issue of both communication and semantics: Is perfume a political issue? You bet. Especially because perfume -more than just shampoo, deodorant, lotion or other products, but not food- is aspirational and denoting of some sort of social status and a certain "in the know" vibe. I don't know if I'm expressing myself well, I think you did it better (infringing on coworkers' boundaries").

    Would there be a polite, considerate but also effective way to say one is discomforted by another's perfume choice/use? I'm taking notes.

  33. Tiara,

    very true, very true! One can't please everyone.

    I would sincerely hope that the people who DO have a problem spoke up, instead of the whiners who are on a power trip. If you keep quiet, it makes it harder to discern a real problem and handle it from the beginning, "cut it at the bud" so to speak.
    [Personally if I had put on too much perfume I would appreciate it if someone kindly but firmly told me to maybe use a bit less. Then again, it would get nuanced if that person was using the perfume just to spite me. I would get irked, even though I would comply. So, I can well see how it's not easy.]

    Do you work at a particularly "perfume goes" office?

  34. Marko,

    it's good to know! Thanks for sharing your personal experiences, much appreciated.

    LOL, I think Americans sometimes get the flak for everything, when in fact several of them are the nicest people imaginable. Like I said, some of the whiners have a REAL problem and this should never be trivialized. but unless the ones who pretend to have a real problem stop it, the rest of us get confused. Plus so many perfume wearers don't stop and ask "am I wearing too much?" It all boils down to individual responsibility, one way or the other, doesn't it?

  35. Anon,

    thanks for the praise, glad it resonated with readers. And thanks for such an enlightening comment, full of info.

    I didn't know it had a specific name! I think you've hit the nail on the head.
    And yes, definitely a difference between "unscented" and "fragrance-free", I learned that while searching cosmetic and skincare labels some years ago. It would make one's hair stand on end if they knew how there are added ingredients in order to mask the natural smell of the ingredients in many a skincare product!

    The mean and nasty part is what bothers me (not personally, as I don't get complaints, but it provokes me intellectually to read that stuff). WHY does anyone feel the need to be mean and nasty to anyone else? Either in purposely annoying someone by over-applying (assuming this gets done) or by blurting out rude things concerning such a personal issue as personal odour? Clearly it's more than just the subject of the specific perfume sometimes....

  36. Diana,

    congrats on the new job and by all means, tell us what happens, we're looking forward to your impressions on this!

  37. Pixie,

    thanks for your most interesting thoughts!

    Very telling examples and I can see where you're coming from. Re: the specific perfumes, I suppose it had to do with taste (i.e. an aesthetic choice) much more than an organic issue (i.e. an ingredient giving her migraine). i would suppose BPAL oils are full of stuff that might trigger headaches, as they're quite potent!

    Isn't it highly ironic that the people who genuinely suffer do not raise hell about it? I find that very disorienting.
    Plus I want to pause a bit on what you said about body-policing: There IS an element of that in judging (and imposing a controlled use of) odour on other people. Yes, smell is invasive and you can't really zone it out, but to actually intervene to that degree to someone else's private smell does begin to sound a bit "1984". Which is odd and alarming....

    "No scented products" (and by that I include deos, cleaning functional products, as well as soap and shampoo) in the workplace seems completely unrealistic to me; am I the only one?

  38. melissa,

    thanks for chiming in!

    I like detecting perfume on others myself, I chalk it up as another element of their personality and a decoder into their tastes and desires. :-)
    But that could backfire.

    I agree with you that not stopping/toning down perfume use after being asked hints at a greater communication/personality compatibility issue behind it. Which is sad. And awkward. But there you have it.

    Clashes in the workplace can take so many nuances. It seems that perfume control is the latest "weapon".

  39. Anon,

    you raise a lot of valid points and introduce data which I admit was oblivious to (And frankly you got me very curious now, can you direct me to more credible info on the vaccination pollution? It's horrendously interesting!)

    Scent chemicals is the last straw I guess. Of course one can do certain things to eliminate as much as added smells from their -own personal- environment as much as they can at least. For instance use unscented, ecological washing powders/liquids for the laundry (here we have prepackaged shredded olive oil soap for that, the same we use for our babies and ourselves, a sound choice to avoid additives; don't you have an equivalent there?), small changes like that. (for instance what's that craziness with the paraffin candles with the lead-wicks you see everywhere? Lead volatilises, this is no laughing matter!)
    And I would presume that a laundry without softeners and such would be "cleaner", it's amazing how much residue is left on clothes. A simple experiment like running the cycle without any added product except for water shows how bubbles are produced regardless. Maybe if you told your neighbour to try that?? She's see for herself. ;-)

    As to perfume being the new "to deal with" issue after smoking, ain't that the truth. It seems that smoking has become so taboo that something else has to be found now. In my country, we're heavy smokers (unfortunately) and it's ingrained in the culture of the cafes and the talkative lifestyle around a puff and a sip...So, I'm right now living the banning attempts on smoke. Which feels odd sometimes if one knows how smokers can't really help themselves (it's an addiction).

    Anyway, to revert to your point the righteousness is the interesting angle in all this. I think more than given credit for in the media.

  40. Minette,

    hello there darling!
    Thanks for such a thoughtful comment.

    There has to be some level of self-preservation there, as so often smell perception is such an instinctive, guttural reaction. Maybe entering the workplace and getting hit by the pong produces an intant "hell, I need to flee" reaction which predisposes one to take the other psychological/neurological pathway ("fight") since they can't well leave! What do you think?

    Interesting about the Lauder, Clinique et al being favoured by wasps. I'm not entirely attuned to which group wears what exactly as I rely in transmitted data and the rare personal experience (from travelling and friends visiting, but my US friends are not really waspy, LOL) I guess I was thinking more of bible belt citizens or conservative, stiff types who equate cleanliness with a higher value than perfume. Am I completely off?
    I don't mean to offend anyone, anyone is entitled to choose what they deem best of course. It just strikes me as ascribing certain values (positive or negative) to perfume, more than with other things in life.

    It's a shame that so many women (and men) go for insipid stuff. I wonder if part of the reason is the "mute-ing" of individuality or the fear of not offending. Probably both.

  41. Brownie

    thanks!! Glad you liked it :-)

    How very interesting about your asthmatic mother wearing fragrance! I guess every individual is different and most of them don't react badly to just everything.

    Hadn't thought about frozen dinners, but then I have absolutely no experience with those (diet or otherwise, LOL, not because I'm that fit and thin, but because it's just a non-entity here). I take your word for it!
    I do know very well about air pollution due to exhaust fumes, though, I live in a very polluted place and alas, it is almost unbearable especially when hot and humid. I feel like a veil of grime is sitting on my face at the end of the day. It's quite icky...Escaping those would be a top priority over anything else, cigarette smoke and perfume taking a far far down below place on the list. LOL!

  42. Lauren,

    very thought-provoking comment, thank you!

    I suppose that a little fine-tuning has to be made when someone has a disability. Inevitably.
    Yet, I kinda feel when I see people with disabilities being incommoded by other, perfectly healthy people who are obviously not thinking how those people's lives are hindered in small details. For instance, in my city, not all sidewalks have a special little "platform" for wheelchairs (or prams) and I know this makes life difficult to many. How costly would it have been to fix this? I would gladly pay taxes for that instead of added taxes for new street labels with an "improved" look.

    Small things like self-adjusting or asking someone to please do something to make co-existence easier though can be arranged. Asking any place to be completely "scent-free" (from food to cleaning to products) is night impossible, I'm afraid...

  43. Amy K,

    succinct point, thanks!!
    Not being able to tune out smell is one of the moot points of this whole issue.
    So often I hear people saying "I can't smell my perfume" and then hear how they spray several times themselves with it. And it gives me pause. If they use half the bottle in one go, how is it even possible that they don't offend others working/living with them??

    I suppose it also involves scent education: Knowing how to control the dosage or the sillage (where to spray/apply and how to), which concentration or ancillary product to go for, adjust the scent to weather and space you're going to be in, etc etc. What do you think?

  44. glad the comments came through- something very strange was happening! No to be fair America is a big place and SJP and others certainly do love the more animal smells!

    Honestly I think it will be food being banned next- anything that isn't deemed okay will start to be limited I think- sweets, chocolate, butter.

  45. Anonymous11:51

    Dear Elena! Absolutely wonderful post, very current and thoughtprovoking. All i am going to say is: i am so glad to be living and working in the Netherlands, where none of this is an issue. As a matter of fact, i am slowly educating my colleagues on perfumes (arrogant? me?) and converted one of them to a Serge fan. I myself am wearing Mitsouko (in perfume) today, and getting loads of compliments, too! take care, Wendy
    (PS my second try to comment..)

  46. E,

    Thanks for a thoroughly thoughtful post...and for having a forum where so many equally thoughtful comments could be presented.

    So many things to say, many of which have already been offered :), but it does seem to largely boil down to reason and dialogue, doesn't it? Being rational, and talking to others...and remembering that not all tolerance zones are equal. In one direction or the other.

    One thing that hasn't been raised yet and skitters about my brain is the idea of scent level tolerance in general. I (an American) recall when the issue of the level of body odor was a hotly discussed much was acceptable, the attachment of "too high" levels to people perceived to be immigrants from certain cultures, the bandying about of potential "bus rules" and offering the right to refuse a ride to a person with significant B.O. Is *this* an American "thing"? Honestly, I don't know. I could wax poetic about this big open land, and how we are less comfortable being confined with other peoples' destiny/choices, blah blah blah, but from a sociological/scientific standpoint, I've got not a scrap of data to stand on.

    Incidentally, there are clear areas which are known to reek--or, to use a less loaded term, have significantly elevated levels--of body odor, and yet are culturally condoned as such. Like locker rooms. And associated sports equipment. But the idea is that it is okay for it to be THERE, and not transported to, say, your dinner host's living room. (A concept which I can see Etat Libre d'Orange literally pooh-poohing... ;) )

    Really? Higher concentration in edt / edp? Interesting. BTW, I'd toss out an alternate explanation: perhaps consumers want the smell they are paying for to register more strongly because "that's what they are paying for." You do know that our vacuum cleaners are noisier, too, right? Because that indicates they are more powerful cleaners. (A fallacy, a fault of perception, but true.)

    Don't get me started on Harley motorcycles. ;)

  47. An "oh! and..." from me...

    As for Americans preferring "clean" scents...Jovan musk oil was HUGELY popular a few decades back...trends, perhaps, but no cultural DNA for oceanic scents versus animalic. IMHO, but of course. That Jovan permeated life like a linguistic tick, dude.

  48. Anonymous14:40

    Dearest E,

    Love it when you give us food for thought.

    The first thing that popped into my head when I read the title was "cubicle culture" and I do believe that part of the reason for the all the indignation is that our business culture forces us upon each other day in and day out at a time in our culture where each of us is more entitled than ever to our rights and equalities. Very rarely do I now hear of our individual (not necessarily collective) responsibility to our fellow man. I lost count of how many times I have hung on to the poles in the subway train in rush hour, unable to get a seat, my very pregnant belly swaying and bumping for all to see (everybody is equal, you see, so it's just first come first served). Anyway, I think I am straying from the topic. I do recall being repelled by the smell of a cubicle mate's lunch once to the point of nausea and HR did eventually ask everybody to partake of their lunch in the lunch room although certainly not because of any complaint from me. I just went for a walk.

    The second reason for the fight for scent free environments is a consumer culture that values Louis Vuitton bags with LV splashed all over them for all to see (sorry, I am not trying to vilify LV, just using it as an example). In the same way, when we put down our hard earned cash for a bottle of the latest designer or celeb perfume, we want everyone to know it, and so everybody does. Perhaps Europe, generally speaking, has a more indulgent view on scent and prefers to wear it for the enjoyment of the wearer and possibly their lover, not their cubicle mate. I am Canadian (immigrated from Europe) and I do sometimes wish people would tone it down but it happens rarely and I hope that my own sillage reflects the idea that I wear scent for myself and for my better half, no one else.


  49. I have a lot of allergies and always have. I was diagnosed with eczema as a kid and was always breaking out in rashes. I was (and still am) very allergic to cats, dogs, and pretty much any other mammal you might run across or have as a pet. Dust, plants, certain foods, certain lotions or other body products, etc. can make me itchy and uncomfortable. In the past year or so I also developed a gluten intolerance. (I'm actually *glad* that "sensitivities" to wheat and gluten are fashionable right now, because it makes it much easier for me to find food I can eat.)

    All that said -- perfume doesn't bother me one bit. I assume this is because perfumes are highly regulated and common allergens are always being banned? I'm not sure. But it makes me think that perfume is not really a very common trigger for allergies (certainly not as common as dust and pollen). That's a separate issue from headaches/migraines, though.

    I work in an office with cubicles. I wear perfume every day, but no one has ever complained. It may help that I don't wear sillage monsters in the office, and I rotate through my collection, so if I happen to wear something that bothers someone one day, I won't be wearing it the next day and probably not again for a while. I don't think I wear enough for other people to smell me from their own desks in any case.

    Everyone makes compromises when you work in an office. It distracts me when I'm trying to write and people are chatting loudly in the next cube, but I just wait for them to finish. If it got really bad I'd just ask them to move so I could concentrate. I wouldn't ask HR to ban talking. Bans are intolerant and lead to miserable draconian workplaces.

  50. Sheesh, the allergies again.

    Helg, your article is much better than anything I could ever produce, I'd get angry and write a long whiny rant full of sharp sarcasm.

    I'm allergic to every other thing. I made it rather known so that I can nag when someone is smoking around me.
    But, since I'm allergic to all rather common stuff, it's my job to learn to live with it. Every doc I frequent has it in my files that I can't use several groups of antibiotics. Because I told them, I didn't wait until the rash or violent vomiting occurs in front of them. I love cats and dogs and I'm allergic to both. Well, then it's my business that I snuggle with someone's pet and then get all itchy. I'm allergic to cigarette smoke. Like, really, and quite a few people witnessed a nice coughing fit or bronchospasm - and since I don't appreciate cigarette smoke, I do tell folks that I'm allergic and could they please move their burning tobacco further away from me, thankyouverymuch. Oddly enough, civilty usually works, folks say Oh, I'm sorry for you and do something, be it opening the window or stopping smoking.
    I can understand that there are people who have a real allergy or sensitivity to perfume ingredient(s) in some form although I yet need to meet them.

    On a side note, sick building syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity are not the same thing, the latter hasn't been proven as existing condition. I'd have to do quite a bit of research to prove my point but I'm lazy at this point:)

    Regarding the 'them furriners eat stinky food' - when in Italy, I imagined the worst death imaginable to someone downstairs who loved roasted garlic. I hate hate hate the smell. I hope that I don't need to love all strange and foreign food to be a proper citizen, though.

    Regarding all the stuff like Lehz Americains being constantly poisoned by vaccines, heavy metals and who knows what because nowadays folks look worse than those on old pics... well, someone needs a tinfoil hat.

  51. Also, don't you find it ironic that one bunch screams for scent-free environment and that there was an article about Sony scenting their offices to look more awesome? I wonder, may the Sony employees wear, say, Poison, or do they get thrown out of the window for damaging the company's image?

  52. Anonymous21:06

    The vaccine info is from a Dr. Andrew Moulton who was pretty visible during the swine flu fiasco. I've since searched for his website with little luck, though he might have changed websites or something. He had a couple of DVD's and the whole thing about a year ago. He was also on a special show about the "pandemic" on Coast to Coast radio and that is still available in the archives (requires a Streamlink subscription).

  53. Anonymous21:36

    Regarding scent sensitivity, I had a friend on a post-grad course who generally couldn't wear scent (too sensitive) but found that Eternity (newly out then) was fine on her. It gave me the weirdest sensation, like an instant ice-cream headache, on first sniff, and never, ever got any better. I didn't grumble to her about it because she was so thrilled to find a scent she could occasionally wear and I didn't want to spoil her fun. What's an agonising eye-watering spike of pain in the middle of one's sinuses between friends:-)
    So I sympathise with the folks who experience that discomfort because of someone's scent, and I always ensure that my scents are applied lightly. I've never had anyone complain but who knows (nose?) what offence I might have unwittingly caused?
    I'm sure most colleagues in work situations don't want to cause or take offence over scent, and I hope that the idea of banning all scents doesn't catch on here, in the UK.

    yours, in subtle rose today,

    Anna in Edinburgh

    PS the word verification I got was "mings" which, here in Scotland, means "stinks"! Scarily apt.

  54. cora04:38

    Rather late reply...I wish I knew of a polite way to comment discomfort created by perfume use. I suppose the most polite thing to do in my mind is say nothing. I think of it a bit like correcting someone's comportment; there's an inherent contradiction in the act of doing so that makes it self-defeating. By the time someone has told someone else she smells bad, the air has been polluted with meanness as well.

    Scent is a highly personal form of expression. Saying one doesn't like how someone smells is not so far off in potential hurtfulness from telling someone you don't like how she looks, or that she's ugly, or that you don't like her face. If Phoebe Prince wore scent, I bet the South Hadley bullies had something to say about it.

    The "aspirational" aspect you mention further ups the stakes. I couldn't help but notice in that msn article that was linked, people used the phrase "cheap perfume" to represent that the perfume was strong and bad smelling. People reading this article probably agree that there are some aggressive, synthetic smelling perfumes that are quite expensive. But the use of "cheap" reminds me of the age related epithet that must-not-be-named. The idea is clear - "cheap" perfume is crass because not having much money is degrading.

    When I went back and read the bit in the original entry about the "witch hunt mentality" and the marking of territory, something else occurred to me. For many, again, probably not anyone reading here, perfume has much to do with sexual politics, and social validation of women by the opposite sex (which seems to have more to do with identity here in the US than I would like). So we see all the "what perfume will men like" type questions out there. Easy to forget for me, as I wear perfume to please myself. To want to "claim the common territory back" as you put it, means far more than the workplace bullying and passive aggression I was referring to earlier, which could take place over many issues. Denying someone the expression of scent is more othering, silencing, and asks that the perfume wearer de-self.

    It did not occur to me that someone would actually use scent as a weapon - it seems perverse to use a scent one owns and presumably enjoys that way, and by the time it had been applied in sufficiently offensive quantities, wouldn't the wearer be suffering too?

    Well, I still can't seem to find quite the right words to discuss this whole mystery, but there is certainly something meaningful in the fact that these suits, complaints and sensitivities are mostly on US soil...

  55. My son is asthmatic, and has very serious allergies (we must always carry an "epi-pen" in case it is needed to save his life), but he enjoys my perfume and even likes trying to pick out the notes. The only scent that he ever reacted to (by wheezing), out of at least a hundred I've worn around him, was the Johnson's *baby cologne* (which I was wearing--I only use unscented products on him)!

  56. Anonymous14:03

    hi everybody, I'm European and what mostly intruiged me in article was that bit about person not necessairly having the right to wearing perfume?!?!? omg, what was that? I still can't believe that woman won in court, how can this be? with all respect and no offence to anyone, but it's another proof of US being so not democratic country, it's more communist even tho Americans are afraid of just that word, but definitely too many contradictions to call it free and democratic place in the world... I have the right to wear perfume and cannot imagine anyone could question that... by the way, great article and good arguments,i'm glad someone responsed to that ridiculous subject and wrote a few words. best regards! Domi:-)

    1. Everyone has the right to wear perfume. It's courtesy to wear it minimally (a lot lighter) when it makes someone you work closely with daily a headache/nausea. Like smoking - you have the right to smoke too.

    2. Anonymous01:41

      I think there are two types of people in this world. Those who would stop wearing perfume as soon as they found out it was making others around them feel ill. And, those who defensively cry "I have a right to wear perfume!" How silly. Yes, you have the right to do anything you want, but not when it affects other people.
      Perfume is made from toxic petrochemicals. It is toxic to everyone. Only some of us actually experience symptoms.

    3. THANK YOU!! People are so concerned with "their rights." How dare you ask them not to wear perfume because it's giving you a migraine! You would think you asked them to slaughter their first born child! I would feel terrible if I made someone sick especially when something so simple as not wearing perfume would prevent it. People are awful-it's sad.

  57. It is a great post for people who have allergies with some scents, perfumes and deodrants.

  58. Wendy,

    thanks honey for stopping by and commenting! Sorry if Blogger is acting up, I never know what's happening...

    I should imagine that the Netherlands would be very lenient with perfume use, LOL! But you're doing a great service in educating people and introducing them to new and exciting things too. Mitsouko is so glorious in parfum form, isn't it? You smell delicious, GOLDEN.

  59. S,

    you're most welcome and thanks for your enlightening comment.
    I hadn't monitored in the vastness of the land as a factor: How it has always been a much wider environment in which the pioneers made their home and how current working conditions inflict too much "togetherness", sure to grate on nerves. Could be! (and it would be very interesting to compare with Russia and the former USSD which is also vast and where it's been known people have had a preference for strong scents too)

    The transitioning from locker room to dining room just begs to be treated the ELDO way!! LOL!!

    Now, regarding "more bang for the buck". Good point; that plays in too!! I think it also goes back to religion tradition and evolved ethics (the sense of not overspending is according to Max Weber a classic protestant value, I see it in European countries as well)
    (Funny about the vacuums: hadn't really noticed. I hate those things myself. )

  60. S,

    I am all about clean scents being a trend that is being pushed. I really don't think there is a genetic predisposition. The idea of soap and water, yes, a long-time standby (can't even think of dirty Americans for some reason) but the rest...more of a marketing ploy for sure.

    Forgot to say above, that the sense of "bigger=better" is certainly an ingrained characteristic of the American culture (I refer to buildings, cars, food portions etc) and it might be chalked up to what you so wisely brought up yourself: the vastness of space justifying the occupation of that space by big things. Both literal and subliminal. So the air has to be filled with perfume otherwise it's too...vacant. Not so in a much more cooped-up space/region.
    Would you agree?

  61. N,

    thanks, glad you're all enjoying the conversation, I think many interesting points have been made by the readers here! More than I would have anticipated and would think of myself.

    It's a shame that equality has side-tracked manners and common sense. Pregnant and standing with the belly swaying....urgh....I get goosebumbs just thinking of it! Likewise, one would assume that anything offensive or exceptional might be treated with some reason and common sense.

    It's an interesting thought that perfume broadcasting is an attempt to communicate a status , much like those LV bags (incidentally, I do find the latest models absolutely horrendous and kitch, even though I did own some LV bags from days yore in a very discreet pattern). This is probably why one wants their scent to smell "expensive" or to be from some well-known brand that is recognizable (I have witnessed this with gifts, which are so much better received when they're from a well-established brand, even if other scented gifts can be more qualitative but not well-known).

    People in Europe still wear quite a bit of fragrance -I smell it everywhere- although from what I see where I live the idea of it being "light" (as in volume, projection, not composition) is always considered a plus and the desirable trait. Maybe a more indulgent but more restrained use make for more pleasant experiences overall for everyone? Although since I live in a hot country, this element plays a role and everyone is more considerate by default, it';s not like they can help it, you see.... I can't say the same for everyone (for example try boarding the London subway with hoards of Angel in the air floating....)

  62. Elisa,

    thanks for a thought-provoking comment from someone who does suffer from allergies!

    Indeed IFRA with all its misgivings is providing a service in making sure perfume is always a safe product. (Then again I don't really know of anyone who died of perfume, but this is more a joke than anything...don't take me too seriously)

    Like you illustrate by personal example, common sense and consideration would make for a more pleasant environment for everyone. I find that many perfume users become too numb to their own perfume use over time, failing to pick up the scent and thus imposing an increasing load of sillage and quantity on others...This might indeed be the culprit for many incidents.
    Rotating has its practical uses, how smart of you to note it.

  63. L,

    thanks, I think. I know I can't really talk from the viewpoint of sufferer (I do get hay fever but it's not incontrollable and I've learnt to deal with it) so it's good to know that I didn't put my foot in my mouth.

    It's always preferable to just say something if something bothers instead of expecting people to guess. If I were offending, I would be grateful to be told (politely but firmly) that I would better tone it down. Draconian measures rarely condone peace.

    LOL, one doesn't need to like "strange" food to be considered a proper citizen. I do admit that some of the stuff we eat here is considered weird across the pond (calamari/squid/octopus/snails/ouzo or even olives etc) but as long as I don't make other people eat them or shove them under their quivering nose, I guess I'm alright. BTW, why didn't you tell your neighbor to close the windows while roasting? It is pervasive.

    No real opinion on Americans being poisoned by vaccines or whatnot. I heard the claims about children's vaccines of course (since refuted as far as I know from the medical community) and I know there are concerns about heavy metals poisoning which I don't really refute. Whether they're as influential as purported, I leave it to my more knowledgeable (or local) readers.

  64. L,

    LOL about the potential Poison Sony employee!!!! It does boggle the mind why every company is using those 'scented gadgets' miasma in their shops. I find it completely disorienting and off-putting myself. I guess I'm not in the demographic...oh well, what else is new?

  65. Anon,

    thanks for the added info.

    The moot point about such stuff is that so very often any given statistic/research is either funded by some specific organisation/company with an invested interest or is focused on producing panic/stricken interest on the person delivering the alarm message (aka instant fame). It's making many people dubious to believe things.

    Plus researchers in general are contradicting themselves every few years, have you noticed? (First eggs were breakfast of champions, then they became cholesterol-weapons of mass destruction, now they're good again. Soy was good due to polyphenols and antioxidants, now it's GMO and therefore bad etc etc. non-stop)

  66. Anna,

    thanks for chiming in!
    You're a good friend, no doubt about that. :-)
    I suppose some honest and considerate communication is the key in situations like this.

    PS.I'm going to usurp "mings" and use it from now on!!

  67. Cora,

    never late, welcome!

    You bring salient points, thank you very much. Smell is so very personal, isn't it? I suppose which is why so many people take offense. Maybe something along the lines of "I appreciate your pretty perfume choice as something that gives you pleasure, but it triggers unpleasant memories/feelings for me personally, could you please use a little less of it when we're together?"

    I definitely agree that "cheap" denotes something that is undesirable, as if the person can't afford better. Then again we both know that some expensive stuff can be vile too. So where does this lead us? That people judge with their preconceptions.
    I guess "old lady perfume" (of which I had devoted an article) falls under the same category: It's considered demeaning in a youth-crazed culture, so to be avoided. Which brings me to your other syllogism (a very wise one) that denying someone scent choice is like de-selfing them, so in the case of anyone being "poor" or "old lady" it's as if we're denying anyone poor or older to even exist on our plane of perception: we want to tune them out! We want to avoid perhaps a reminder of how we ourselves could fall into those two undesirable states??? There's food for thought!

    As to the US (and Canada), I think it has to do with litigation and an established law-churning state. if there weren't good money being made in this, it would be dropped, trust me. A good question to ask on everything, I have found out, is "where does the cash flow end?"

  68. Amy,

    how utterly (and perversely) fascinating!! Imagine that! Proof that perfume is one of the best regulated products after all. And the Johnson's, eh....let's not get there.
    I'm sorry for your son, I suppose it's getting increasingly difficult to control a polluted environment, but you're doing the best you can for him.

  69. Domi,

    thanks for commenting.

    I can't really comment on how the US is formed and whether the words you say really apply, but I am surprised that the range of the phenomenon is so vastly spread. Interestingly though, Canada has had similar products and they're a completely different system and lifestyle.
    But yes, deny someone the right to wear perfume is bordering on totalitarianism. We had an interesting discussion above with Cora who suggested that it is a method of de-selfing, reducing someone's identity that way, making them "mentally go away". I found it very thought-provoking and close to bull's eye.

  70. Anonymous03:59

    hey, helg. just getting back.

    i think "fight or flight" is a good way to describe the reaction to a nasty or unknown and scary odor. i wonder how tied in to our adrenal system that reaction is. it seems to lead quickly to anger or at least irritation in many people.

    i live in the bible belt, and i smell all sorts of things on women. the older women with money tend to wear classic french scents like mitsouko and dioressence. they wear the better scents, in general. most of the younger women wear really dull scents - even when they have money. the scents may be expensive, but they are not interesting.

    conservative politics don't seem to dictate a conservative scent. i think it's more aligned with class and money here. and perhaps with maturity. we also have a lot of foreign-born women, and they like perfume (yey!). it's fun to watch them shop for scent at neiman's. i turned one latin american woman on to panthere there - she had never smelled it, and loved it.

    i was there when francis kurkdjian presented his scents at neiman's, and the reactions to his scents were varied. the women who only liked quiet scents were kind of taken aback by some of his. and yet, to me they are fairly tame. of course, i feel as if he made lumiere noire just for me (it is that yummy on me), but that's neither here nor there! simply fun.

    -all the best, minette

  71. Interesting subject!

    From this Canadian's perspective, I can tell I personally LOVE perfumes. I wear them and I experiment with them.

    My nod to being PC in this country is that if I plan on wearing them in public, I choose ones that are light and/or have very little sillage. This is for two reasons.

    One: There was a person in one of my University classes that said he had a very bad reaction to ALL scented products. He needed to be in class and couldn't be "nasally assaulted" out. He paid for, and was entitled to, his education and I don't see a problem with that. As I was wearing perfume at the time, I was very concerned that I might make him ill. So, I asked him if my perfume was bothering him. His reply was that he couldn't smell it (Thank goodness!). As someone earlir in this comment section also said, I told him if there was any problem in the future, all he needed to do was tell me and away I would rush to wash it off as well as sit further away. I personally made the commitment to make sure my love for scent and the possibility of inflicting it negatively on people were in balance.

    Now on to the second point. I have myself, been in the position of reacting very badly to a scent. It is a man's scent that seems to show up about 10 feet before the man does. Ok, a little exageration here. Now I will tell you the real truth. This scent hits my nose, causes a sneeze 75% of the time with the first inhallation. And a runny nose 100% of the time. As the scent "reaches" into my brain, it feels (no lie!) like something hits the inside of the front part of my skull like a sledge hammer. Instant headache! Then I have about a minute of still being able to smell until this scent causes me to lose my sense of smell for the next couple of hours.

    It seems there is a case for both sides. This business of suing has really gone to extremes, even in our country. We have a hilarious incident that happened just lately, but it is not scent related, so I won't bore all of you.


  72. Anonymous18:40

    I see where you are coming from but I have to say I don't agree. Yes it is true that some people say they are allergic to things they don't like, but I feel you don't understand perfume allergies enough. I am highly allergic to perfume, and I carry an epi pen wherever I go. When a person who is allergic to perfume doesn't tell you that it's bothering them even when you know you're wearing a lot, that doesn't mean they aren't having a reaction. We have had so many people yell at us, be rude to us, and purposefully wear more scents because they don't like us or believe we really have an allergy, that we have become afraid of you. Dealing with our allergy when most people believe were faking makes our like a constant struggle, when I was in high school I had to leave on average half of my classes because I couldn't breathe because of scents, and my marks suffered. This allergy will be my lifelong struggle, so please try to understand more of this allergy before you judge it so harshly.

  73. Anonymous15:15

    Thank you for a very interesting article, and many thoughtful comments. I love scent, though very few perfumes on the market do NOT give me a headache. More interesting, was discovering 17 years ago that my then 5 yr.old asthmatic son was terribly allergic to his teachers fragrance product. Though he appeared healthy when I took him to school in the morning, when I picked him up in the afternoon he would be wheezy, and tell me how his teacher would comment that "he shouldn't be in school." (Now I wish I'd called her out on speaking to a young child that way); but, when she was out of school for three weeks with pneumonia (ironic), he came home healthy and fine every afternoon. When she finally came back to school, he was congested and wheezy again. After meeting with the school director, I decided to move him into another class instead of discussing this issue with the teacher. I was afraid of embarrassing her. I also was afraid that she would somehow treat him differently if we brought this issue up.

    I believe that some of the chemical additives used in perfumes can cause sinus inflammation for many of us. It seems that I am on a perennial and quixotic quest to find a scent with sophistication, that dries down nicely on my skin, and that does not smell adulterated by compounds far extracted from their natural state. Any suggestions? (I hate vanilla).

    1. I'm in the same boat. Unfortunately if one hasn't experienced it, it can't be real.

    2. Jenette, I assure you this is not the case.
      I haven't experienced tuberculosis or HIV but I totally accept their real-ness, if that makes sense.

  74. Bubble Girl15:58

    My allergist requests all patients to refrain from wearing perfume to the office? Why? Because, air-borne fragrance fumes, like second-hand smoke, cause illness in those people who are truly allergic to fragrance. For me, that includes hives, migraine, difficulty breathing, and sinusitis. I would ask that readers distinguish between medical conditions for which there is no known treatment (other than wearing a respirator) and mere disklike of a "smell." Also, allergy medication does NOTHING to prevent a reaction to scent! Do some research. I take allergy shots and many allergy meds. However, these do not treat fragrance allergy! An American, I have also lived years in Europe. While I may not like BO, it never gave me a migraine or hives. Yes, a person has the right to wear (or not) perfume. Yet, the price for living in society is a balancing of the individual's rights with public health. There are logical areas to limit that freedom, e.g., public places --to avoid adversely affecting other's right to walk in a public spot without having to wear a huge respirator. Both sides could benefit from practicing common courtesy. My experience has been very similar to that of "Anonymous." Thanks for letting me share.

  75. Anonymous08:49

    I'm reading this blog because I love the IDEA of perfume but the REALITY can leave me with hives or a splitting headache that lasts for hours. There are very specific ingredients that give me this reaction, though it seems that perfumes have gotten less noxious as a whole over the past 10 years or so. Before I began searching sites on the specific constituents of perfumes, I never knew what it was that made some perfumes make me sick while others didn't bother me at all--and I didn't LIKE one group more than the other, as a whole. In fact, some of the most delightful scents in magazine inserts have had to be run not only to the trash but all the way outside within seconds of opening the magazine. Anyhow, it was through this blog that I discovered that oakmoss is one of the biggest culprits for me, based on my known allergy to oak lichen (people who are "allergic" to fireplace fires are usually really reacting to this being released by being burnt--I'm one of them). There's at least one floral ingredient that makes me sick, too, but I haven't tracked it down yet. Anyhow, I plan to formulate my own perfumes from my favorite scents to see if I can get something I love without a bad reaction. That way, I can tweak it however I need to. I'm planning on buying the following to play with:
    Lily of the Valley

    Should be interesting.

  76. Very interesting, people. Thanks for adding so meaningfully to the discussion.

    The majority bending over backwords to please the minority sums it up very very well! :-)

  77. I don't have any allergies. I love perfume, and I wear it myself daily. I am, however, disturbed by the apparently liberal dousing practices of some of my fellow commuters on public transport. When we're crammed in the train car, there's usually one person who seems to have bathed in a vat of something, and it's suffocating. There is one woman who boards the train at my stop who wears Lolita Lempicka, which is fine, but it smells like she goes through a bottle a week, which is not fine. I don't understand how people who wear fragrance like this keep jobs, friends, or significant others. Standing next to her is a painful endeavor. The commenter above who describes that icecream-headache feeling was spot-on. I can smell any scent in reasonable amounts and not be offended, even if it may not make my list of favorites, but quantity is key. One morning I was unable to move to a different part of the train, so I spent the next 30 minutes breathing through my mouth/holding my breath, trying to be subtle, but refusing to embrace that piercing nasal sensation. Now I just make sure I board after her so that I can position myself far, far away. I do find it interesting that the conversation here focused on allergies or disliking a frag. When applied in great quantities, fragrance can quickly turn into a painful experience indeed.

  78. Anonymous14:42

    I cannot go to church unless I am willing to have a headache all that day into the night. I doubt if I'll go anymore.
    Hard to take the people who believe we are making this up. It'd be wonderful if the ingredient in perfume/fragrance that tears my head up could be taken out. I miss communion, especially.
    Usually try to schedule trips to grocery store and restaurant to a time not many are there.
    Why would I be making this up, non-believers?

  79. Sarah,

    there's a classical ideal of "moderation in everything". I'm a firm believer in it. Obviously there CAN be too much of a good thing. I wish more people were aware of this truth all the time instead of only half the time.

  80. Anon,

    I don't doubt it is as you say. Incense can be a difficult experience for many. Sensory overload from too many people can also be overwhelming to some. We don't dispute that!! Just to be clear.
    It's just that as seasoned perfumephiles -most of us responding here- however we have actually heard and read with our own ears and eyes the common advice offered to those disliking someone else's perfume at the office/entourage/social circle to "just tell her/him you're allergic to it, so as not to hurt her/his feelings and get your way at the same time"; this has made us doubtful as to how many of those who actually flat out say they're "allergic" are indeed so! (obviously if many people do follow this advice, then it follows that many are actually faking an "allergy").
    Please note I am not saying this to you personally, but explaining the doubtfulness of the "non-believers". It's not totally unfounded, you see...If people were more truthful...

    Technically, an allergy is an auto-immune response, while a splitting headache or displeasure from sensory overload is not. Two different things not to be lumped together. Unpleasant, but not the same and one can do something about the second one (just remove themselves from vicinity for a while, take some fresh air, take a Tylenol etc, it's up to them to solve it.) while they can't do anything about the first one.

    1. Anonymous01:50

      People with chemical sensitivity (perfume is made of toxic chemicals) cannot take Tylenol everyday for the rest of their lives.

  81. Anonymous17:46

    Eh, having an official "no scent" policy seems rather extreme (and impossible, given that shampoo, lotion, laundry detergent, deodorant, etc all have scent) outside of very specific situations, like in a some doctor's offices.

    That said, having a policy of fostering a comfortable work environment is very reasonable. Certain scents have long given me headaches, sometimes splitting ones. Fortunately, I've grown less sensitive with time, but it can still cause trouble. Rose scents, even just from sniffing an actual flower, inevitably give me a headache, as do a variety of other flowery scents, and some interpretations of vanilla. My dad actually has the same trouble, and if I don't react to a scent I can be rather certain that he won't either.

    For my level of sensitivity, I don't have much trouble with people wearing perfume unless they are bathing in it, or sometimes if I'm stuck in a car with them. Most people seem to wear it lightly enough that it's not a problem though. It certainly prevents me from wearing certain scents, but I can usually stand far enough away from others to avoid trouble.

    "Air fresheners" however, reliably give me a splitting headache. Every time I walk into a room that someone decided to spray with febreeze, I pretty much want to clutch my head and cry. I never seem to remember to tell people until after they've done this though, which absolutely sucks. Anything intended to scent a room or an area will cause trouble if I'm sensitive to the scent, and I suspect that this is true for other people as well. So I would encourage people not to scent shared rooms, because if anyone is sensitive, you can bet that a room scent will trigger it.

  82. Anon,

    thanks for your comment, very enlightening!

    As you say, it all boils down to good manners: enjoy, without causing bother to others around.

    I always thought that scenting a room with those horrid can sprays or plug-in contraptions is a sort of olfactory shoulder pads, the American football kind, those giant ones. It's just too much, too constrained a space for it, and it will bring on discomfort to even non sensitive individuals. Maybe just opening a window and let some fresh air in instead is a better solution to "freshen" a room ... :-)

  83. I generally don't like perfumes or scents on either gender, and my principle is that you shouldn't be able to smell *anything* on anyone unless you are within arm's length of them. Obviously some people have much more sensitive olfactory organs than others, and others (I believe a very small percentage) are physically allergic to some components of some odors. We just got a new co-worker whose noxious perfume I can easily smell from 8-10 feet away, and i have no access to a window. I would love to say something to her but fear she would be offended by a request to wear a little less scent. So probably what will happen is that I will avoid her as much as possible, keep as great a physical distance as possible, and she will think I don't like her. She may even think that I am racist because she is a different ethnicity from mine. Oh well. Social niceties are confusing.

  84. J,

    if she's simply wearing a LOT of it you can politely ask her to tone it down (I guess asking her to change scents to please you is going too far). I wouldn't find this hurtful if worded in a considerate and honest way.
    If it's just that you object to the kind of scent she wears, I'm afraid things are more difficult. Perhaps you could offer to go shopping on your lunch break one day and go to the perfume counter (oh so casually) and have fun testing some things you actually like so she might get a new perfume after all?? There's an idea. :-)

  85. Anonymous15:46

    Interesting article or not. As an American and a person who hates chemicals (which is what most perfumes are made of) I guess I am offended by most of the comments. I can handle organic compounds not volatile organic compounds VOCs (chemicals). I feel like we have lost naturalness to ourselves. Not EVERYTHING has to smell like fake flowers. If you really want to smell other than your own natural order, dab a little oil of a flower not a bottle of perfume laden with chemicals.

    I also find it interesting that most of you on this blog are English and think you know Americans. It isn't a right to infringe on people’s happiness and livelihood (if you have a headache are nauseas and or tired because of chemicals that affect your happiness and livelihood (because you can’t work)). That isn't what America was created on. Also considering the epidemic of Autism and other illnesses that scientists haven't figured out maybe just maybe less chemicals is the right way to go.

    American OUT!

  86. A,

    first of all thanks for commenting.
    Second of all, I assure you I'm not British (nor American) and apologize if you took the writing or the commentary by readers to be anti-American. I assure you there's no such intent. After all, I have been a vocal champion of American being built on on the noblest principles. :-)

    Now, on to more interesting commentary on what you bring on the table, so to speak. I hope you may read it and further the discussion or maybe see things from another angle for a minute (who knows, it might shed some new light!).

    You do realize that the word "chemicals" brandished about so much these days is rather simplistic. Chemistry as a science deals with researching the building blocks of what makes our world, right? So each and every thing around, including ourselves, is "chemical" in a sense. For instance pure natural rose oil is composed of geraniol, citronellol, linalool, farnesol,2-phenylethanol, and so on...Now if you actually see these on a product label one thinks that the product is "full of chemicals" (and it is in the sense I described above), but they actually do come from a natural product!!

    What I assume you mean is that there are man-manufactured molecules in perfumes nowadays (totally illegible for the general population and therefore largely unknown outside the industry) and that much is true indeed, as natural extracts are used less and less for many reasons (health concerns as certain natural extracts are comprised of hundreds of molecules raising the risk of a contact dermatitis or an allergic response, cutting costs, unavailability of some natural ingredients, ethical concerns on the harvesting of some natural ingredients be it of animal or plant source etc).

    However do note that opting to use all natural ingredients is an aesthetic choice and it goes with its own set of restraints and risks (some perfumers for instance have developed skin sensitisation from some ingredients).
    So what I'm driving this to is that "naturalness" as you call it is more of an aesthetic movement than a stance of ethics, and to that point of view you will find me totally in accord (In fact here on these pages I have often reviewed all naturals products). There's -or there shouldn't be at any rate- no "holier than thou" stance involved in my mind!

    If you pay attention to the commentary, I think most, if not all, readers agree that moderation and plain good manners dictate that when one is using perfume it's advisable to think of others he/she's meeting him/her and carefully controlling the dose so that it doesn't intrude.

    Regarding concerns on autism and its rise, I think it's a very complicated issue and one that shouldn't be taken so lightly with throwing accusations on this or that right and left. There could be hundreds of reasons on the rise of autism awareness (one of which is the very fine-tuning of the methods employed to detect it in the first place; another being that it is proving to be a very lucrative business for a few unscrupulous professionals making a living out of "helping" out borderline cases) . Therefore my unprofessional and humble opinion is that before accusing "chemicals" on the large we should take a look at several parameters.

    Finally, in this day and age, almost every product comes artificially scented (from laundry detergent to trash bags and diapers), a fact that is bemoaned by almost everyone who reads here, so to accuse perfume alone has a tinge of Puritanism built into the practice, in being a "useless, decadent luxury one can do without". And to that,I'm totally and irrevocably opposed I'm afraid.

    Hope I answered legibly enough and with the proper respect.

  87. Gosh, terrible typo: I meant of course "a vocal champion of AMERICA being built on.."

  88. Anonymous01:45

    I had a coworker today who when I applied a new light scented cranberry hand lotion chose to yell outloud "What is that crap?!" I replied to her to not be rude and she loudly exclaimed that she liked a co workers scent better, but not my "crap". True bullying!

  89. Anon,

    she's having issues with you, not your lotion, me thinks. Sorry about that. Some people are really passive-agressive in expressing their anger/frustration/discomfort/jealousy/whatever. Scented things are so easy to insult (no objective value placed on them), which is why they're being picked on constantly. You'll be OK (not so much about your co-worker who will have social troubles in the workplace if she carries on).

  90. Anon,

    in your reply to Style Spy: I believe she meant that there are some people who do do that (i.e. try to control others by complaining on things one can't refute satisfactorily; and perfume wearing is one such because it's so very subjective, seems frivolous and one is deeply humiliated to have such an accusation inflicted on them, it's much more personal than how they dress or if they smoke, if you know what I mean ). I genuinely don't think that's just projecting on her part, as I have read this a LOT and heard it a LOT from people in various surroundings and usually those people do understand whether it's a genuine concern (and they comply univocally) or a passive-agressive reaction from someone.

    I don't think she meant that there are no people like you who genuinely suffer. That is most certainly the case; again much corroborated evidence suggesting you're not alone. I would never want you to feel like we don't believe you here; we do. Perhaps the complaining is because drastical solutions like a total ban on perfume are suggested.

    In the end and to put a lighter note on this, I guess you don't know any drama queens which is very fortunate!

  91. Anonymous02:05

    You really wouldnt have to question it if you were one of the people that suffers from migraines in the workplace or anywhere for that matter like me! I am having that problem right now at work and i am not asking anyone to stop wearing perfume but when they spray it in public places and you can smell it 5 feet away or 10 minutes after they leave the area then something is wrong! I and other people have the right to go to work and not have to suffer from migraines on a daily basis! Just because it doesnt affect you doesnt mean it doesnt exist! Trust me it does and if you have ever had a migraine then maybe just maybe you might understand!

  92. Anon,

    you have a point. And I know that the practices of those people doing those things are downright rude and inconsiderate.
    The only reason we're questioning a bit some of the instances is because we have actually heard or read people they will complain to get even for something totally different or to piss someone they don't like off. You see...
    Honesty cuts both ways.
    I do sympathize with migraines suffering, they're a killer.

  93. Anonymous12:58

    My secretary is one of the folks who who claims to be allergic to ANY cologne or perfume, but she takes five smoke breaks a day and comes back reeking of cigarettes, and another co-worker with severe allergies said that smoking exacerbates sensitivities to scent -- if she even has them. She's accused me of wearing perfume on days I haven't had any on, said some of my perfumes are worse than others (I only wear one perfume), told one colleague she couldn't get a lunchtime manicure because the smell of freshly dried polish would "kill her" (but when someone else got one, she didn't even notice). We think this is more of a passive-aggressive behavior than a true medical condition because it's inconsistent (seriously, how can you be allergic to someone's cologne but not have any problem with the stench of cigarettes?), but it's become an annoyance for everyone on the floor.

  94. Anonymous13:08

    People who are completely dismissive of such sensitivities - as many of the commenters seem to be - obviously don't know what it is to react to some sort of trigger. I have been at my job for over 14 years and never had a problem here until one of my co-workers apparently received a new perfume last Christmas. Since then, I have a headache every morning making it difficult to work. It seems that she doesn't refresh it at lunchtime as afternoons are more tolerable. I've told her nicely about the problem, to no avail. I was looking for "help" when I found this blog via a search engine.

    I have many allergies, but scents are some of the most difficult because of the headaches. For me, it depends on the scent. Some I have no problem with, but others are instant headache triggers with patchouli being the absolute worst. It's also a bit interesting to me that I react very strongly to some scented lotions as much as actual perfume.

    1. Α headache is not an allergy. It's a sensory overwhelming. Your co-worker is insensitive, she could switch to something else for work. Simple as that.

  95. Anon #1,

    thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    I wouldn't want to start getting into how credible or consistent an individual's case is, because I have miles of distance from her and you know best. It does sound inconsistent and passive-agressive to me, as you describe it, but I can't be sure and I'd be condemning her without knowing her.

    I do believe however that cigarettes and perfume are two different things and she might have a physical aversion to one and not to the other. The same goes for the manicure materials used (I know that no acetone can be opened in the house without my S.O complaining; but he doesn't say he's allergic, he just says he can't stand it).
    Bottom line: only a doctor specialized in this particular field can answer us with any certainty.

    In the meantime, since the complaints are not consistent, you can only tone down the perfume a bit (she might be complaining of a different thing than your own perfume, come to think of it, but perfume is so easy to accuse; maybe a spray deo, maybe an insecticide used in the building, maybe a highly fragrant hair spray or something, consider this too) and let it slide for the rest. One can't eliminate all odors in the working place.

  96. Anon #2,

    thanks for coming over from Google and hope you had an insight into how people are thinking and reacting.
    Some (many) of the commenters are perfume lovers, so it goes without saying that they feel a little defensive when their little hobby is being accused. I do assure you however that as a group, perfume lovers are more considerate than the average person of other people's smell tolerance, simply because they're so very aware of smells themselves. Rarely do they drench themselves with perfume. No less because they dabble in expensive stuff (really expensive stuff) and they wouldn't want to waste it.

    Now, coming over to your trouble. First of all, my sympathies. Headaches are very uncomfortable.
    Secondly, something I said many times above: I think you're suffering from sensory overload or sensory sensitivity rather than a full blown allergy, which is an immune response. This is supported by the alleviating of the symptoms in the afternoon. A true allergy exists even when coming into contact with miniature amounts of the triggering agent. So unless you were in a totally different building than your colleague, then your headache wouldn't subside.

    I'm surprised that you pinpoint patchouli as a culprit. I can understand the aversion to the smell (shared by many) but it is a widely used ingredient nowadays exactly because it is has passed the rigorous controls that the International Fragrance Association has been implementing on perfume ingredients for some time now and at an increasingly strict way. Other materials, of seemingly more innocuous repute, such as citruses, or jasmine, or real lavender, are more at risk of producing an allergy or rather a skin sensitisation, which is the most common reaction to the wearer (and not to the bystander). Furthermore, most ingredients don't volatilize enough. So it's all very interesting, especially if you get it from scented lotions as well.

    Things are actually good, if my theory above re: sensory overload or sensory discomfort, is correct. You can -again- politely discuss this with her pointing out this time that it is not her perfume use per se that triggers the debilitating headache, but this particular perfume. I am fairly positive that in 14 years at your work many other people came to work wearing some fragrance, so it is THIS particular fragrance that is the problem; after all you say so yourself that not all perfumes do that, just some. Find out what it is; by name and company name. That will help you later on.
    Next, suggest a shopping spree or make with your co-workers a nice basket of innocuous scented goodies for her (pick some of your tried and tested fragrances that don't bother you, naturally; she might get to switch). Offer to exchange favors with her for not wearing that particular perfume at work. Say: "I know it's a sacrifice for you not to wear your favorite in the office, but I really feel bad when you do and I would love to do something for you in exchange for this favor you're doing me" (the favor doesn't need to be demeaning, it can be a nice gesture you'd do anyway, but actually saying it validates her relinquishing the perfume and makes her feel that you take her feelings into consideration as well. Part of the complaint of perfume loving people towards people who complain about perfume use is that they come across as "do me queens", focusing on themselves. I'm not saying this to you personally, it might not apply, I'm just saying it to give you the perspective of the other group).

    If nothing works and she is persistent, at least console yourself (as much as you can...) in the thought that most people just go through that one bottle. Their next gift or purchase is a different beast.

    Whatever happens, I wish you all the best with your situation and I would be interested in the follow up if the situation changes.

  97. Anonymous21:21

    I get physically sick by certain fragrances. The smells that cause me headaches, bad taste inside the mouth (sometimes as if I ate soap!) and nausea are men's cologne, bleach and ammonia (or something similar to those like Lysol, scented wax melts, etc. ). Not sure why, but I truly become physically ill, and sometimes even my vision changes (may become blurry). I turn pale, shaky and may even sweat. This is a real problem and it is not just a matter of disliking someone's perfume.

    1. I totally get what you're saying (ammonia triggers the trigeminal nerve, so it's not without reason that the famous "coming around" salts from the 19th century had a similar effect and were based on it). I do think however that as you say the reason is the causes you mention: bleach (a known poison), ammonia, scented wax melts (which use terribly cheap bases that become cloying with the volatilizing), and huge heaps of ambrox in men's colognes worn in the quantity of tons. These scents, plus functional cleaning products, plus hygiene products heavily scented on top, plus gallons of musks emitted by stores in the ventilation system produce a cacophony of aromas which dull perception and irritate the brain.
      That is totally different than a fine perfume on someone passing by or even sitting two desks down the hall from you. That's what I'm saying.

      I do hope that the environmental scents in the urban environment become less "manufactured" in the aim of consumer attention. ;-)

  98. Anonymous19:32

    I love your post and would like to share my experience as a wearer of perfume since babyhood, in various cultures:
    I am French and was brought up as a small child in the late 50s by a mother who adored perfumes. I even had my own, a Dior eau de cologne. We moved to the States in the early 60s and continued enjoying our perfumes there without a problem. BTW, I don't remember ANY of the kids at school, parents' colleagues, friends or family members being allergic to anything. No-one ever complained and perfume was very popular in Junior High.
    We returned to Europe in the early 70s and I lived there until 2004. Again, perfume and personal grooming was/is a big (and wonderful) part of life there (France, Italy and Belgium), I never heard anyone complain about allergies, whether scent-related or not. My daughters wear perfume and never developed any allergies to them or anything else.
    It's only when I moved to Canada that all of a sudden I found myself surrounded by women who had multiple allergies and who hated (yes, hated) perfumes. I too experienced the heavy smoker/scent allergic co-worker. What a ridiculous situation! I am now indirectly targeted at my new work place by a scent nazi, who has harassed her poor secretary to tears repeatedly by demanding she wear ONLY scent-free products, use scent-free washing powders etc., and goes to the extent of actually sniffing her hair to verify. She is actually backed by HR! The fact that her abused secretary is from Haiti, who desperately needs her job and is vulnerable makes her a fantastic target for the female boss. The boss however has no problem living in a pig-pen of an office, with dust, papers and dirty coffee cups strewn everywhere, inhaling junk food at every opportunity and gulping down vast quantities of beer at the pub (yes, I was there and alcohol fumes don't faze her at all), not to mention the other alcoholic "moments" she so proudly shares with her other allergic (and binge-drinking) cronies in the cafeteria. Strange...
    This person shows her intense dislike for any woman who has a feminine side yet she is in charge of our Women's Rights department! I fortunately work on the other side of the building but she managed to complain about me too (I only wear light cologne versions of my favorite perfumes) and we know have a scent policy for 100 people because of this single, frustrated idiot.
    I have only one allergy and that is to stupidity. It gives me headaches, anxiety and depression. Alas, there is no antidote.

    1. I'm thankful you posted your comment (welcome aboard) and sorry about your situation!

      I believe it's very "in" to be complaining about the environmental "hazards" because there are so many after all. I was having a discussion about scents with an American born woman of your generation the other day and it struck me that as we were going through business ideas on prospective markets for something that would be promoted as "chemical free" she mentioned "maybe I'd start with the enlightened audiences first" when I told her it'd bomb in Europe (implying that American audiences were more attuned to anything that implies that perfume is a bad thing for you).

      The world "enlightened" stuck, you know? Like seeing perfume as evil is a revelatory moment and either you have had your moment to the way to Damascus or you haven't.

      There is also a sub-group of people that feel very "feminine" and "precious" by claiming such problems; I have one of those in my environment.

      I find that allergies (with caveat emptor on what exactly people mean when they use this medical term; some do have a medical problem, others have a sensory overload and misuse* the term, as explained above) is a perfect field on which to boss over people. It's so horrible (anaphylaxis images cropping up) that people capitulate to the claim. In some cases (such as your boss) it's not the issue of the matter at hand, I suspect. It's an opportunity to lay authorship and leadership on the office environment. "It's my way or the highway", in essence! It's even more revelatory that she has cornered the responsibility positions and that she is in charge of the women's issues.

      [*Misuse of the term allergies can happen involuntarily (people not knowing what it involves exactly, such a pop term but no one checks to see what it entails medically), but it can also happen voluntarily. Example: I have a person in my environment who is very noli mi tangere, has obsessive-compulsive tendencies regarding cleanness and does NOT eat pork or chicken (but she gladly consumes lamb offal and intestines!). Well, guess what. When she goes out at a restaurant and wants to make sure waiters reveal every ingredient in the recipe she says "I can't risk pork, you see, I am allergic to it" (She assuredly is not. She has consumed it on two separate occasions without knowing beforehand and nothing, nothing whatsoever happened). ]

      Another piece of food for thought: Have you noticed that the people who complain about allergies involving perfume are mostly women? I wonder why. Theories?

  99. Anonymous16:26

    I find this interesting as I am one who is very sensitive to smells (meaning I can smell things usually before others do). I also have chemical sensitivity (according to my allergist, not an actual allergy). What this means for me is that anything with bleach in it will give me asthma. However, I am very sensitive to most scented products (if chemically based). The reaction can be one or more of three: 1) headache, 2) acid reflux, and 3) dizziness. I adore perfumes and candles, but have had to get rid of all of mine as I can't use them anymore. It is very difficult as I don't want to offend anyone by asking that they not use scented products, but the suffering is real. It's a complicated thing, but not a fake one.

    1. "Chemical sensitivity" is a good term. I wish more people used it. It also means that you can pinpoint just what chemical substance gives you the adverse reaction; invaluable when tracking to track down things and eliminating products. I think you can ask others, if you do it with a logical explanation (like the one you just posted) and you pinpoint specific ingredients (because when using a blanket term people tend to think you're generalizing and lumping things together).

      If I'm to offer a positive spin, I have heard of people who have surpassed this phase, so it might not be permanent. Hope that turns to be true for you too! In the meantime, I for one will be considerate in the context I already mentioned.

    2. Scent sensitivity is one of the first stages of fibromyalgy. Stay alert, if muscle pains and tiredness appears seek a rheumathologist

    3. S, this is absolutely riveting information. I had no idea! Thank you for bringing this here.

    4. Anonymous10:18

      Yes, I too have a "Chemical Sensitivity" causing my asthma to react to some strong odors/scents. In slight cases of strong scents I will get a headache with burning eyes. In severe cases of certain (bleach, cleaning chemicals, some perfumes) or strong odors/scents I will actually get the headache, burning eyes and then begin coughing and eventually wheezing - a full on asthma flair. I too like certain scents but can't have them around due to my reactions.

    5. But surely you either have asthma or you don't. I refer to chemical sensitivity as a true thing, but unrelated to asthma symptoms which are entirely medically documented and researched for many decades.

  100. My perfume allergies come and go and have mostly to do with woodsy scents and baby powder like scents. They give me the worst headache in the world. I choose my perfumes carefully and never wear too much to avoid other people to smell me. Scent is very much for your own pleasure more than for others. I miss the time of extracts where so much as a dab was enough. Now most people bathe themselves in perfume and what's worse, have conflicting scents such as deodorant, lip gloss and some wear scented panty liners. I think the scented everything must stop and just be something you put on willingly. An overdose of the olfatory system is an absolute nono for everyone, including the wearer.

    1. A succinct point on extracts: they do say much closer to the body and do not interfere so much with the personal space around you. But they went "out" when the 80s demanded one's presence to be overwhelming.
      Scented everything is an abomination, I agree; terribly interfering and very obtrusive in day-to-day contact.

  101. I just found your blog and in particular this post. I find it very interesting because I was on both sides of this issue. At one time in my adult life (around my late 50's) I was so allergic to perfumes and fragrances that it was life threatening. My throat would close up, my eyes would swell, I couldn't breathe. I was diagnosed with asthma, given three different inhalers to use and told to stay away from scents. It really affected my life. Just last year I decided to change my diet and started living a paleo (modified) diet. I never really thought it would do anything but soon I saw that I could walk down the detergent aisle in the grocery without holding my breath. I started to investigate and sure enough other scents didn't bother me as much. I was no longer sensitive to pollen in the summer or mold in fall. I could go out in unfiltered air! The day I tried on perfume and was able to wear it was a real revelation. Now I am collecting vintage fragrances, reading all I can about them and loving every minute. I do try to remember how it was for me before and not 'bathe' in scent. But the point is some people do have valid allergies, and sometimes there are ways to fix that.
    I love your blog and use it for reference on many frags I'm interested in, keep up the great work!

    1. Your comment is among the most inspirational I have ever received here. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us!
      It sounds like there are remedies after all and that the course your followed has allowed for a richer and less sterilized life. That's excellent! I know asthma can be deadly and it'd never occur to me to disregard that. it's a basic precaution not to risk anyone's safety. This is why it's probably best not to spray anything in public; too much volatilizing.
      Thanks for reading and for referencing, hope to see you again on these pages!

  102. Anonymous20:37

    This past month I have had hives three times from sniffing bottles of perfume. This is a new thing, and it is scary. I don't want to quit using perfume, but am afraid that I will need to do this. I can see both sides of the coin, and wouldn't want anyone to react from something I am wearing. I very much agree with your description of a scent-free life as being less rich and somewhat sterilized. I've truly enjoyed smelling good, so will be thankful for the memories. Love my fume.

    1. Sorry for your plight.
      But hives needs skin contact or direct ingestion to erupt; not mere sniffing. Surely it's not something else that is causing it? Something you have touched or a new detergent or a new food or possibly a side effect of some medication that kicked in?

  103. Anonymous23:34

    I understand this is an old article but still, the bias is very obvious. Anyone who has ever experienced that panic that comes with having your eyes tear, uncontrollable coughing and inability to breath when you throat closes up knows the truth. Just Google "scent allergies" and see for yourself. Recent research in both the US and Canada shows that up to 30% of both populations have a fragrance intolerance to some degree. It's not only perfume, but also cleaning products, candles, air fresheners, etc, that can cause problems. Don't believe me, go educate yourselves.

    1. It is exactly the semi-knowledge that circulates on the Internet that I'm attacking with this article. Sorry it didn't quite come through.

      It is EXACTLY that fact that everything is so heavily scented from cleaning products (which are everywhere) to air fresheners and candles and ambience products and fabric softeners and deodorants etc that is causing this sensory overload which you describe. The measly two drops of perfume I apply on my OWN neck a couple of hours before we meet cannot possibly affect YOU in that way. Stop blaming perfume (fine fragrance) and start blaming the functional products industry. Thanks!

  104. Anonymous07:25

    I think really, if you are working in food preparation, medical type roles, or highly controlled lab settings, you should probably forego anything beyond a gentle skin scent, but otherwise I think it is just a matter of common sense.

    My thinking on this, and peoples alleged "allergic reactions" to other people's perfume, is that generally speaking, it is someone who intensely dislikes the scent/scent in general/scent in that situation and either claims symptoms that or not there, or probably more likely, triggers an anxiety attack type response due to their fears or strong emotions. Symptoms such as tight chest, wheezing, hives, feeling short of breath, hyperventilation, dizziness, faintness and headaches are all symptoms of panic attacks, if it were a true allergy then just walking away or opening a window wouldn't solve the problem, because an allergy response happens when the immune system mistakes a harmless stimulus as being harmful and dangerous, and triggers a cascade of reactions and chemicals such as histamine inside the body to try and attack the perceived threat. The treatment for a reaction like this depends on the severity of the allergic reaction but includes fast acting antihistamines, adrenaline shots, IV steroid injections, oxygen, IV fluids and monitoring and observation. I can find no evidence or reports where it confirms or even strongly indicates that perfume, let alone someone elses perfume, has been known to cause this kind of response. However, as someone who does suffer from some true allergies, to foods, and has experienced the terror of an anaphylaxis type reaction, and who has also experienced a panic attack following mistakenly believing I had been accidentally exposed to one of my triggers the symptoms can feel initially scarily similar which increases the panic response. It is not a pleasant thing to happen, however there is a significant difference between something being deeply unpleasant, and something being potentially fatal. Also worth mentioning, I have known food (and drug) allergies, to a fairly common trigger, yet the idea of banning those things is utterly absurd. And even if you sit next to me munching away on some snack made with allergens, I might feel a little on edge but it isn't going to trigger a response unless you suddenly forcefeed me or something! I also wonder how the people who claim to have these allergic responses to a perfume isolated the perfume as the trigger? Unless they were in some kind of aseptic sterile environment how do they determine it was the perfume, and not one of the millions of other things in the area, from pollen, fungal spores, photocopiers, floor cleaner, soap, latex, something they ate or drank etc etc. I would have thought that there is probably a very tiny number of people who perhaps do have a true allergy to SOME COMPONENT PARTS of some fragrances, however the probability this would be sensitive enough to be triggered by smelling someone elses perfume seems doubtful.
    sorry this got long, but this is a topic that really annoys me!
    also, just a thought, I am not totally sure how the US system works, but don't you have all the freedom to express yourself stuff in your constitution? Would your perfume not be an extension of that much as a hairstyle or shoes or something would be?

    1. Best commentary yet. HUGE thanks for telling it like that. Better than I could ever tell it. Exactly!!

    2. Really old blog post. Still I have your answer. It's called a non-ige mediated allergy. Histamine is released by your mast cells. When I am hit with a person wearing a heavy perfume or spraying it at their cubicle or, the worst, using scented hand sanitizer like it's lotion, my asthma instantly starts to close my airways. Then my allergies kick in. My face turns red, my eyes burn and tear. Both face and eyes get puffy. I see an asthma-allergy doctor and keep an entire bag of meds with me at all times.

      This past 9 months I have had to use epinephrine 9 times due to coworkers not listening to my requests to tone it down or to not wear scented perfumes, lotiobs, or hand sanitizer around me. I've shown them my epipen to prove I'm not just saying it to be a bitch. I've had serious attacks and trips to the ER from work. I've requested to work from home or away from everyone.

      Does any of this work? Mostly no! Just on Monday someone a woman directly behind me started spritzing herself with body spray at her tiny call center cubicle. I didn't know it was her because I started to choke while on the call and had to rush through to finish. My supervisor found out the who and what and had a talk with her. Instead of understanding there was retaliation between her and two other friends. Thry all came to work absolutely drenched in perfume. I had to leave immediately. There went over $100 of my next check. This happens all the time.

      I had to turn in medical paperwork to get disability accommodations for this allergy. Maybe every one here complaining about coworkers being passive aggressive should suggest they do the same.

    3. Lucrezaborgia (love the alias),

      thank you for sharing your painful, personal story.

      If someone needs to carry an epi-pen and has asthma (has ASTHMA! this is a medical condition that cannot be denied) then your co-workers are obviously ignorant bastards who are insensitive.
      We're not talking about this kind of people.
      I'm extremely sorry for what is happening to you. Maybe you should get in a different place and preferably in a non-cubicle environment too (if that's possible...I know it's unfair...)

      To the rest of the readers: this well explains that in patients who do have medically attested respiratory problems are indeed more sensitive to airborne particles. Worth keeping in mind. Please use common courtesy.

    4. I also wanted to add: hand sanitizer. This is NOT perfume. This is masked with scent (and might be wrongly construed as -god forbid- perfume by someone smelling it across the room, perfumes have cheapened their formulas so much that they're indistinguishable from functional products nowadays), but the alcohol used volatilizes everything in the utmost degree.

      There's also absolutely no reason to use hand sanitizer according to the most recent research; it doesn't really protect any more than clean hands can. And if one works in an office washing one's hands is just a short trip to the adjacent loo away. Try telling them that, please. Hand sanitizer is also dangerous for them too, most of them contain triclosan, linked to cancers.

  105. A girlfriend just pointed me here, I had a strange encounter with another woman yesterday in a business meeting, she was what can at best be described as having a superiority complex from the get go but she started sniffing during the meeting & said "sorry I think I'm allergic to your perfume...its repulsive" after initially thinking to myself you don't know me you have no idea what is going on in my life at this moment in time I then thought, by the same token I don't know what is going on in yours.

    I am such a lover of kindness in one and other that when I encounter someone who on the face of it appear superior or offish I think it tells me more about what they probably aren't...happy! After my initial internal hurt (OK I admit I had an Ally McBeal moment in my head where I slammed her head on the desk!!) I know the same is true for me when I'm offish, so it was a good lesson in ensuring I was kind back rather than rude!

    Namaste :)

    1. Hi Cee Jay and thanks for coming aboard the Perfume Shrine!

      Well yes. There is a sort of discontinuity (is that the right word?) between "allergic" and "repulsive". Allergies happen even to pleasant things. But repulsion has to do with perceived aesthetics or associations; a mental process rather than an immune one. Therefore indeed this was a case of blaming displeasure on alleged allergies; exactly what has been bothering many of us discussing this issue.

      Of course she could have phrased it differently. How about "Sorry I think your perfume is overwhelming to me personally; I'm a bit sensitive to strong* smells. Could we please open an window or something?"

      [*"strong" is used here as an euphemism for unpleasant to her. It'd be more polite phrased so I believe while still showing that she is annoyned by it and something should be done.]

      There is a very valid point about what you say about happiness being proportional to whining. Unhappy people do whine more. That much is true. I think in situations like that one can only say "I'm sorry it offends you. It's pleasing to me and those I usually come to contact with. Shall I open a window?" (and NOT offer to go wash/scrub/sterilise/surgically remove skin off yourself). Unless someone is actually having an asthma attack in front of you in which case I'd personally clear the room ASAP.

      Thanks for the laugh about the Ally McBeal scene; I pictured it in my mind too as I was reading your comment. Very funny! :D

    2. "rather an an immune system one"....

      Argh. The difference a missed word makes.

  106. I just returned from eye doctor. I walked in very excited because she was fitting me with new glasses after cataract surgery!
    She was probably 10 years younger and in good physical condition.....except that she had applied a very strong perfume (I guessed and she didn't dispute so I'm probably right) that her husband had given her for Christmas. It was 11:00AM so I also guessed that she had applied it around 7:30am and commuted in from the north bay.
    Examining eyes needs fairly close contact. Every time I breathed my sinuses blocked and my head ached. Also my the skin on my face and back of hands were tingling. I was trying to be polite but as I am not asmatic, my symptoms are only obvious to me if I remark. Here we are trapped. I wanting to get the exam and I finally made the doctor aware she apologized and even attempted to wash her hands (didn't work)...This was extraordinarily uncomfortable for both of us. Ever since I finally became aware of my "problem". I've had to confront people and embarrass myself as well as being sick in a "passive" form. Psychologically this is extremely stressful as man time when I have felt really sick I have had very negative confrontations...people telling me What a horrible person "I" am for "criticizing their personal essence/order/scent. In more recent times I have seen signs and statements declaring areas "scent free", however people forget. And are offended at "notation". There is no true diplomatic way to deal with this situation. All I wanted was an eye examination. AND now, 3 hours later, my faces is still all tingly. I am going to wash well. I just haven't the time.

    1. Sorry for your experience. I think there is a polite but firm way you can address that. If it's a physician giving you an examination in close quarters (I mean, not the radiologist from the next room!) you do have a right to say "can we reschedule please? Your perfume feels uncomfortably strong to me personally". (stressing the "personally", so it's in no way offensive. Personal feelings are impressions are not discounted).
      You can say the truth. People respect that.

  107. Anonymous14:29

    The chemical extenders that perfume companies use to lengthen the amount of time the scent stays on a person are the problem too. Yes, strong smells of any kind can trigger migraines. Some people just don't want to suffer in silence anymore. And limonene can become formaldehyde in certain circumstances, which no one needs to breathe, migraines or no. Essential oils in pure form are better; do perfume companies care about your health? No, they just want your money. Perfume does not make you prettier, it does not make you sexier, it does not make you more powerful; only more prettiness, sexiness and power will give you more of those three things, and it does not involve slapping some sort of scent on yourself for which you probably paid too much and which probably contains things that are bad for you anyway. Who needs Coco Chanel? She was a Nazi sympathizer anyway, lest we forget. And a coke addict for 35 years. Not exactly setting a precedent for a healthy lifestyle.

    1. I like to address all comments and do so in a concise way.

      First things first.
      No one copies Coco Chanel's lifestyle. We only admire her contribution to style. Like one can read Ezra Pound, admire his work and still find his beliefs reprehensible.

      Secondly. I was intrigued by your mention of "limonene can become formaldehyde in certain circumstances, which no one needs to breath, migraines or no." I searched a bit for this and came up with these findings.

      Almost all studies mentioning limonene with respect to skin irritation refer to oxidized limonene only. Although limonene reacts eagerly with oxygen, natural sources of limonene such as fresh citrus peel also contain powerful antioxidants, which would lower their potential to cause skin irritation. Other sources of exposure such as cleaning agents which do not normally contain antioxidants and which are typically used for longer periods of time after production, would be more irritating.
      While some studies have found skin and renal cancer enhancing effects in rodents, others have failed to establish such a link.
      Other studies found anti-tumor activity with respect to mammary cancer in rats.
      Most interestingly, studies have suggested that limonene can cause regression of human skin, breast, gastric and pancreatic cancer.
      So whether the net effect of d-limonene on human health is detrimental or even beneficial is at the present unclear. In effect, after reading the abstracts from the above-mentioned studies, I am inclined to believe that reasonable dietary doses from fresh (organic) citrus peel are probably the latter.

      The wikipedia discussion article contains disputes on this subject of the very nature that I underlined here.

      Thirdly, many essential oils though naturally derived could cause health concerns when used in a non controlled way or by non professionals. Take for instance cinnamon essential oil. It's a known skin sensitizer. It burns. Even though it's totally natural. The internet is full of cheap "science" addressed to laywomen who don't know how to dissect facts from fear mongering. You get the drift. One needs to take everything on a one-to-one basis. There's no blanket approach.

      Finally, and this is probably the most important point I'm trying to make, regarding perfume allegedly "making you prettier, sexier or more powerful" as you claim. Maybe some people do use it that way, in a mistaken effort to graft those characteristics unto themselves. But here we collect as perfumephiles who do not rely on such cheap tricks. For us perfume is so much more. A game of semiotics which we turn on its head, actually preferring to wear things that make us smell not prettier, but less pretty. Things that makes us smell medicinal, rather than "sexy" (what is sexy anyway? isn't that the height of personal diversification?). Things that certainly extol our vulnerability, like all art forms do. It's not a tool. It's a precious commodity that makes our life richer. And that's valid.

  108. Anonymous20:52

    It was nice to read the viewpoint of the other side. I am speaking as one who developed an allergy to perfume at the nice age of 22. Before that, I wore perfume regularly and enjoyed many scented products. Today, I cannot use most commercial cleaners, any scented toiletries, scented candles, air freshener, or just about anything that you would consider to be pleasantly scented. I also cannot stay in a building that has recently had the wood floors refinished, new paint, or many of those "smells like brand new" qualities. I am even starting to have trouble with the smell of new books (very tragic; I am an avid bookworm). I'm pretty sure that it is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, and it greatly affects my every day life. This affects being able to grab a sponge from the cleaning product aisle. This affects being able to hold a conversation with an older lady at the store because her perfume is too strong. When I worked at a physical therapy clinic, I got hives all over my arms from changing the laundry from washer to dryer.
    For those thinking that people with these allergies can simply take a pill and live with it; it just doesn't work that way, and I cannot choose not the breathe. I am unable to go to a theater or really anyplace that is likely to be crowded. I cannot live in a place that doesn't have my own washer and dryer because of the little bit of residue left by the products of others in shared facilities.
    I try not to be anal with the people around me, but I have honestly lost friends who refused to stop wearing perfume on the days when we had plans, and I am hesitant to attempt to make new friends because I know most people are unwilling to accommodate. I know because I have asked, and people ignore or don't even realize the extent of how EVERYTHING in our lives has fragrance.

    I mostly just wish that there were more options to not have fragrance. I pay more for my products without fragrance than I did for the ones with. I wish that companies would realize that no one needs the handle of their disposable razor to be scented (yes, I just threw away a brand new pack because I didn't THINK to check).

    I wish that there were a better answer, but until then, I will live the life of an almost shut-in because everywhere I go will make me so sick that I cannot function for the rest of the day.

  109. Anonymous18:50

    Great article Im very sensitive to perfume it gives me a headache my eyes burn my jaws hurt and I get nauseas. Its very hard for me at work because you dont know what to say to someone about it so I just suffer through it. Not sure why perfume is needed at work anyway !

  110. Anonymous23:52

    I worked in places where some individuals were complaining of headaches as they could not stand some perfumes but they were smelly themselves: some of their body parts were smelling terrible or they came with the smell from some pets with poor hygiene, nobody thinks about that

  111. Those of us without allergies cannot build our lives around those with them. The most I am willing to do us not wear perfume. I am not going to forego all scented products for a handful of the population. It is the responsibility of the persom with thebl allergy to protect themselves. You do not get to dictate what I wear in public.

    I was at a congregation that kicked me out over a person's allergies and even tried to accuse me of attempting murder. Those of you with this condition, I am sorry, but you don't get to make every place in public scent free. Also tje fragrances I use keep my brain and body well balanced and unscented products make me break out in hives. So no I I am not going to each light crazy, look terrible, live in a constant state of sleep deprivation, and papa histamines like candy because 0.1% of the population doesn't like the way my moisturiser smells. If you are just asking demand perfume absolutely we could do that period but the fact that those of you with this condition want us to be at all scented products sorry not gonna happen


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