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What to Do if Your Coworker’s Fragrance Is Too Much

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 09, 2021

Over the years, people have been using fragrances for different purposes, and wearing perfume has now become a norm. Even so, the chemicals used to make fragrances can cause health problems to some people. Some of these include headaches, migraines, shortness of breath, muscle pain, asthma, and allergies among others. But not all fragrance allergies are the same because the ingredients vary.

Fragrances at the workplace are a huge concern for many people. As a result, a lot of workplaces and institutions find the need to set a scent-free or scent-reduction policy requesting anyone entering the building to avoid wearing perfumed products.

How to Deal With Unwanted Fragrances in the Workplace

Nowadays, it’s easy to find yourself working in an office where rules and regulations protect everyone from exposure to fragrances. But what if your company doesn’t have such policies?

Exposure to fragrances can make it difficult for some people to work effectively. Here’s what you can do if your coworker’s fragrance is too much.

  • Ask your coworker to be conscious of their choice of products. This might depend on your relationship with the coworker. If you’ve worked together for some time, you may consider talking to them personally. If not, forward the issue to your manager or supervisor. It’s easier for them to talk to everyone in the office without embarrassing anyone or causing tension.
  • Change desks. Some people may find it difficult to not use some sort of perfume or fragrance. Moving to a new desk — one that's far away from employees who use scented products — could help. Also, avoid relocating to an office area that experiences heavy foot traffic or brings workers together. You may inadvertently encounter various fragrances whenever your coworkers pass by your new desk.
  • Request an enclosed workspace. If your body has extreme reactions to fragrances, you may want to ask your employer to get you an enclosed workspace. This may reduce the risks of you reacting to fragrances worn by coworkers in an open office setting.
  • Use an air purifier. Talk to your employer and have them understand how your body reacts to fragrances. Ask if they can provide you with an air purifier to clean your workspace. A portable desk fan is a good alternative. You can get a good one that's small and silent so that you don’t disturb those working near you.
  • Have a flexible work schedule. A flexible schedule could help reduce your reaction rates. You can work when fewer people are in the building or ask to work a different shift from the person who wears the fragrance that irritates you.
  • Wear a mask. Face masks are most commonly used to guard against the spread of viruses, but they can also shield you from the strong scent of fragrances.
  • Take breaks. Sometimes, even with your face mask on and an air purifier active, you may need to take a break. Step outside or go to another room to get some fresh air before resuming work.
  • Consider working from home. If your job isn’t physical, you may want to ask your employer if you can work from home. This will give you the freedom of working in an environment you're comfortable in. Consider using time-management software so that you can keep the normal office pace while enjoying the comfort of your space.
  • Identify the source of the problem. Although this is not entirely your problem, try to find out whether your colleagues are using perfume for reasons that are specific to the workplace. It could be that they don’t like a particular smell that’s characteristic of your job, but if it’s something the company can resolve, being the one to raise the issue will help many other people who are suffering silently. Identifying the source of a problem may help your company come up with better solutions for all its employees. 

Health Risks of Perfumes and Fragrances

As mentioned earlier, most perfumes and fragrances are made of chemicals that can be harmful to your health. Many of these chemicals are also found in cigarette smoke. Inhaling some of these chemical fumes causes damage to the brain, bringing up headaches, sinus problems, dizziness, and some respiratory diseases. In addition, when applied directly to the skin, these chemicals enter the bloodstream after being absorbed through the skin from our clothes. Some of these chemicals can have a narcotic effect, which may cause some people to develop an addiction to their perfumes.

Your Workplace Rights

In most places, fragrance sensitivity can be a bit more complicated considering the accommodation factor. Various solutions provide a way to accommodate people with fragrance reactions. Although they are not clearly defined in workplace rights, you have the freedom of expression, which should allow you to speak up when something at work is not going well for you. It is important to know that fragrance sensitivity issues can be a little complicated because accommodation solutions affect others within the work environment.

Employers with fragrance allergies can take measures to reduce exposure to known irritants without establishing a fragrance-free environment. You can do this by increasing fragrance-use awareness, educating your coworkers about the impact of fragrance chemicals on health.

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

Canada Safety Council: “Perfume in the Workplace.”

Canadian Medical Association Journal: “Scent-free policies generally unjustified.”

Health Union: “Perfume Allergies in the Workplace.”

Job Accommodation Network: “IMPLEMENTING A WORKPLACE FRAGRANCE POLICY AS AN ACCOMMODATION,” “SCENTS AND SENSITIVITY IN THE WORKPLACE.”

Our Little Place: “The Health Risks of Perfume (and Other Scented Products).”

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