This is modified and added to from a persuasive speech I gave in Toastmasters. 

At your desk, you open a bottle of scented lotion.  You rub it on your hands and up on your arms .   Maybe you spray some perfume.  It makes you feel very good to smell like roses or cucumber-melon.

 Nearby, at my desk, it makes me feel very bad.  With the first squirt of the bottle,  pain grips my temples.   My sinuses swell and hurt.   I am distracted.  Sometimes I am short of breath.  I rub Vicks under my nose, pop some pain reliever and feel slightly better, but the effects may linger.

According to a study conducted by the National Institute for Health, my story is similar to 30 percent of Americans who at the very least experience irritation from scented products.  A majority of these people have chemical sensitivity or asthma.   What does this mean?  Potentially, almost 870,000 within the 2.85 million people who live in the St. Louis area are adversely affected by scents.  They may work with you, walk behind you, or ride the elevator with you, or you may be one of them.

The official condition is called fragrance-sensitivity.  For the purpose of my post, I ‘ve shortened it to scents-itivity.   For those who suffer with me,  I hope when you finish reading that you will feel less alone and more  equipped.  I need not persuade you except to stand up for yourself in a constructive, kind manner, and to avoid unrealistic expectations.

For those who use scents, and, those who are workplace leaders, I AM here to persuade YOU.

I will

  • Enlighten you on what the condition entails.
  • Reveal truth about the ingredients in fragrances.
  • Encourage you to be supportive and compassionate
  • Recommend how scent-lovers and the scents-itive can co-exist.

The sensitive can be affected by ANYTHING scented, even beyond lotions and perfumes, for example, after shave, air fresheners, scented candles, Febreze, laundry products, and much more.

How are we affected?  I mentioned my headache and sinus pain.  Fragrance triggers 44 percent of migraines .  Other effects include dizziness, fatigue, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and the inability to concentrate.   These are similar to reactions from secondhand smoke.

I know someone who had 4 asthma attacks caused by a coworker who refused to stop wearing perfume even after being told of the problem. Her manager would not take action.  If you are a job leader, please, be willing to ask an employee to avoid fragrance if it is hurting someone else.

It’s no wonder that people get sick from fragrance.  Ninety-five percent of the chemicals used in fragrance are petroleum-based synthetic compounds, according to an awareness brochure by The University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  A substance called linalool is one of the plentiful chemicals in perfumes and other fragrance products.  It is known to cause lethargy, depression, and life threatening respiratory effects.  My internet search revealed that Bath and Body Works lotion uses linalool and other substances that are on a list of environmentally hazardous waste products.

For some people, fragrance sensitivity may fall under the American Disabilities Act.

I understand the desire to use fragrance.  I wish I could use a lotion I bought that seemed fine at the store – Warm Vanilla Sugar.  It made me feel more confident, like scents do for some of you, until I found that even a dot of this pleasantry gave me a headache.   I did read that effects are stronger if we apply it to our skin.  This explains why I no longer use St. Ives lotion products.  Although they are not labeled as scented, when I noticed a headache after I used their lotion, I read in the ingredients “parfum”.  Hello, Aveeno unscented!

When you use a scent, here are a few ways to be considerate to those who might be scents-itive. 

  • Determine if your fragrance is too strong, but do NOT rely on your own nose.  We become desensitized to frequently used scents.  It should not be detectable beyond an arm’s length.  Have a friend stand at that distance and tell you whether they can smell it.

This being said, remember that some situations require you to be closer to others than an arm’s length.

  • At work, be considerate and ask if a scent  or cleaner bothers anyone.  Someone could be suffering and not speaking up; it feels uncomfortable to ask other people to avoid a habit they enjoy.
  • Be mindful about opening or spraying bottles at your desk.  Apply any scent lightly and away from your work area.  Avoid using it just before entering a small public space, such as an elevator or meeting room.

Let’s be mindful and kind to those around us, remembering that your pleasure may be another person’s pain.    (End of speech)

**Below is additional information for those who are scents-ITive like me.  I provided it in a handout.

In the Workplace:

 To prevent or treat the effects:


  • Use antihistamines and other allergy products


  • Use a fan to direct air away from you.
  • Apply Vicks under the nose or in the nose with a Qtip.
  • An air purifier works for some people.
  • In extreme circumstances, you might use an air-purifying mask.

To make those around you aware of your condition: 

  • If you can determine the source person, approach them in a friendly manner.  Tell them you like their fragrance, but that you have an allergy.  You would appreciate if they limit its use.  (I bought unscented lotion for some of the women in my area.  For cleaning, I keep diluted vinegar at my desk and I lend it to others.)
  • Create a Scent-Free Zone sign and post it at your desk.
  • If necessary, discuss it with your manager.  They should be willing to enforce a fragrance-free zone for your team.
  • Some companies have an Accommodations Department.  Fragrance sensitivity can fall under the American Disabilities Act if it limits your life enough.

Possible solutions:

  • An air purifier
  • Relocation to a more remote area, and communication through electronic means such as emails, instant messages, or Skype.
  • Working from home.


  • The Awareness brochure from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (Safety Office)

  • Job Accommodation Network – Brochure –


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