Fragrance Ban!

I think we’re all familiar with the concept of workplace dress codes – whether written & formal, or informal & unwritten, but have you ever come across rules about the wearing of fragrance? And how would you feel if, at interview or upon induction, you were told you were required to sign up to not wearing any fragrance while in the workplace? I don’t know of any workplace which does have this regulation – yet – but there’s a campaign afoot apparently …

Now, we all know that guy – or that gal – the one who loads up on the fragrance to the extent that your eyes water whenever they’re in the vicinity and you dread, dread, dread being caught in an enclosed space with them. I can state with certainty that a number of perfumes/aftershaves (I’ll not name & shame) make me heave, and I’ve been known to drive teenagers to school in the winter with all the windows down simply because one of them has forgotten the banned ones and dowsed themselves before jumping into my car for the morning commute.

For me, the situation is worse during the hay fever season. I had to totally avoid one colleague during the summer months or actually weep when in his presence. My eyes poured in reaction to his scent – and while he was undoubtedly generous in his application, even a modicum would probably have caused a reaction …  if not one which was quite as severe!

The campaign suggests it’s not just perfume & aftershave they’re seeking to eradicate, but any other chemical smells. Presumably they’re also hoping to extend their influence to have professional cleaners only use eco-friendly products – which a number already do to be fair – but is it possible to completely eradicate all chemical odours? One example which occurred to me is business suits are generally dry cleaned – a process which leaves behind a chemical trace that – to the ultra sensitive – could be a problem.


How would you respond to a blanket ban? Would you be more inclined to react favourably to a personal approach with an explanation of allergy or the like?


© Debra Carey, 2020

8 comments

  1. I wrote about an incident I had on the train where a woman told me to move because she was allergic blah blah blah. While I feel bad for people with allergies…I think banning someone from smells is pretty horrifying and I would not work there. At what point do we dictate what people do and dont do? And who us the arbiter of what smells and what doesnt?

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  2. Here’s my rambling take on this: I dislike intense fragrances and I dislike cheap fragrances because they give me a headache and in the latter case cause me to judge someone harshly for their bad taste. I like the light fragrance I wear, Hermès Le Jardin de Monsieur Li, and I want to keep wearing it so I might have difficulties with this ban. I give up so much in my daily life in the pursuit of being agreeable and accommodating other people’s issues, that this one last topic might be the hill I die on. Maybe.

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  3. In general I am not in favour of blanket bans but I would put a clause in the staff manual reminding people that one person’s ‘heaven scent’ is another person’s allergy and to be mindful of others.

    I once worked at a place (a public library) where one of my staff came in one day with a liberally applied perfume which had precisely that effect on me – sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes; as Zorba says ‘the full catastrophe!’ I was so unfeeling as to make her go and wash it off 🙂 but fortunately was supported by other staff and the girl herself.

    I won’t mention the time, in another place, where a fermale member of staff returned for the afternoon shift on the issue desk dressed for the staff Christmas party that evening with an extremely plunging neckline. It might not have been so bad if she was built on the lines of Twiggy but she so wasn’t. She had to go and find some safety pins and a handkerchief.

    The moral of all this is if you are at work dress and perfume for work not a party.

    Oh, one blanket ban I would be happy to enforce is the requirement for ladies to wear high heels. Totally unnecessary. (Now there’s a hostage to fortune! 🙂 )

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  4. LA, I wrote this post because, although I understood why people would prefer not to have to deal with powerful perfumes which they may be allergic to (or just dislike), I felt uncomfortable with the concept of a ban. If I’d had to share an office with someone in those circumstances, there’s no doubt I’d have to find another job for it would be too exhausting to have such extreme reactions all day, every day. But I still feel uncomfortable with the concept. It could be my natural inclination to be accommodating, or it could be that any kind of ban makes me grrrr. Either way, I thought it would be interesting to test the temperature out there in blog land 🙂

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  5. Ally, I totally get that. Those are the types of fragrances I like & used to wear in those hallowed days before childbirth brought with it a number of allergies. Since then, I’ve had to stop, as I was making myself sneeze/heave which was just silly. However, I’ve managed to exist in the world in which others enjoy their application of scents with a few adjustments. I’m with you that I loathe the nasty chemical nature of cheaper brands, but it’s not only those which cause me issues. My mother & sister’s favourite brand is Estee Lauder and those always cause a reaction. A mild enough one that I can be in the same room as them, but I do sneeze & get watery eyed upon giving them a greeting hug, and always hope I’m not sitting between them at the dining table. It’s a tricky one, for bans are just not something I can get on board with. I don’t see this as an issue that could be every resolved satisfactorily, as one person or another’s rights will be trampled on whichever way it goes.

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  6. Alan, I can see that sort of reaction being news in all the red tops today (sending your colleague to wash her excess pong off!) But I do get it, quite viscerally in fact. I agree with your when in work mantra … as although I’d still have a reaction to certain fragrances, going light-handed on the application certainly made for a less intense response.

    I was horrified to discover there were workplaces which require women to wear high heels. while I absolutely loved my high heels and could run for buses wearing them, something that’s about aesthetics should never be a necessity, especially in the workplace. I gave all my expensive high heels to my daughter a couple of decades ago. Amusingly, these days, she also wears flats, except for those LBD events.

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  7. Some interesting takes on this. I meant to reply when this post dropped – sorry. I’ve yet to have a reaction to an offensive fragrance, but a university campus is a thriving community of odours battling it out for supremacy. I have students, and indeed colleagues, who wear some intriguing perfumes. Even some subtle ones can end up lingering for a surprising amount of time. I’ve had meetings in my office, gone off elsewhere, and even hours later I’ll come back and my office, smells of someone else’s perfume. So whilst I tend to err towards live and let live (professionalism not withstanding), invading someone’s personal space should be minimised – we need to think in 4D when choosing scent. Mind you, I’d rather have a lingering scent than lingering stale smoke or BO…

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  8. David, oh the less than pleasing pongs you must encounter at Uni! 😱 Totally agree on lingering scent over stale smoke & BO 😳

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