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What to Do About Heavy Perfume Smells in the Office

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There are a variety of scented products available that people give as gifts, use and/or bring to the office. Besides wearing too much perfume or cologne, a coworker might keep potpourri on her desk or apply scented hand lotion during the day. Tactfully dealing with this barrage of smells can be a challenge for any employee.


Perfume or fragrance sensitivity is not a small or isolated problem. A study from the University of West Georgia, "Fragrance Sensitivity in the American Population," found that 30.5 percent of the general population reported scented products on others irritating, 19 percent reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and 10.9 percent reported irritation from scented laundry products that are vented outside.


In "Various Strategies Offer Ways to Deal With an Overcologned Co-Worker," the Boston Globe's Roni F. Noland suggests several factors to take into account before deciding how to deal with a heavy perfume situation: Is it affecting your health? Are you the only one who can smell it, or can others as well? Ask around informally to find out.

If you're the only one who notices the problem and the coworker is of an equal status, you can politely mention to the coworker that you notice his fragrance and ask if he would mind using less. Of course, he can always say no. If that happens, you can set up a small fan or air purifier on your desk to alleviate the smell.

If others have noticed, or someone in a supervisory position is the one who is overscenting, you may have to talk to your manager about the problem. Don't make accusations; talk objectively about who and what you and others are having a problem with and let your manager handle it. If she doesn't, you may have to go to your human resources department for help.


The Job Accommodation Network website (, a service of the U.S. Department of Labor, lists the following as symptoms of a fragrance allergy or sensitivity: headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing, hoarse voice or loss of voice, difficulty concentrating, tingling of the lips and skin, and muscle and joint pain. According to Tracie DeFreilas Saab, M.S., if you have any of these symptoms, you should go to the human resources department so it can make a determination on how to accommodate your needs.

Employers should not take these claims lightly: cites a Michigan newscaster who won a $10 million verdict against her parent company for discriminating against her disability (allergies) after she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Accommodations's article, "Nice Perfume: Must You Bathe in It?" lists the following accommodation ideas for your human resources department to take: Maintain good indoor air quality, discontinue the use of fragranced products, modify workstation locations, modify work schedules, provide an air-purification system, modify communication methods, and modify or create a fragrance-free workplace policy.

Fun Facts's "Over 100 Ways to Annoy Your Co-Worker" ranks wearing too much cologne/perfume as number 85 on the list, so take a tip from grooming guru Kyan Douglas: When applying fragrance, spray (in the air), delay and walk away (through the fragrance).


Caroline Howard has lived and worked in Washington, D.C., since graduating from SUNY Albany with a bachelor's in psychology. Since 1995 she's written about women's health and contraception on the Birthcontrol and Am_I_Pregnant communities on, and Howard writes about fashion, style and shopping on her blog.

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