When Fragrances Offend

A hint of vanilla, a soothing whiff of lemon -- the fragrances found in
perfumes, soap, candles, lotions and other products are supposed to be
pleasurable, some even stress-relieving. But for fragrance-sensitive people,
some of the chemicals used in these products can be irritating or cause
allergic reactions.

Fragrances can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion or absorption
through the skin. If you are wearing a fragrance yourself, one of the first
signs of irritation from - or an allergic reaction to - a fragrance can be a
skin rash after using a perfume, cream or lotion. This is a clear warning sign
that something is not right. It is important to remember however, that scents
can affect not only the person wearing the fragrance, but anyone who comes into
contact with them.

Depending on how sensitive they are, the sensitive person might experience
symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headache, itchy skin, hives, itchy eyes and
nose, runny nose, wheezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, sore throat, asthma
or asthma-like symptoms, and strange tastes in the mouth.

One of the best ways to prevent such a reaction is to avoid exposure to
fragrances. This can be difficult considering how many chemical fragrances are
present in so many of the products we use every day. It helps to read and
understand product labels. Look for "perfume free" or "fragrance free"
products, which are the most likely to contain no fragrances.

But, you need to be aware - products labelled "unscented" are not necessarily
fragrance-free. According to Health Canada's labeling regulations "fragrance
free" or "unscented" means that there have been no fragrances added to the
cosmetic product OR a masking agent has been added in order to hide the scents
from the other ingredients in the product. Fragrances added to products are not
always labelled as ingredients. Fragrance formulas are often well guarded trade
secrets, which companies prefer not to reveal to protect their business. This
can make reaction to fragrances more difficult to link to particular chemicals.

While there are some who question the "scent-free" movement, others consider
fragrances a real health hazard that needs to be addressed. Should your
organization be interested in becoming scent-free, the Canadian Lung
Association and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)
have suggestions for scent-free policies as an option for workplaces and public

What you can do about scented products

A workplace scent-free policy is recommended when fragrance chemicals are
suspected to be affecting someone's health. If scent-free policies are not in
place, work with your workplace to adopt a scent-free, or scent-reduced policy.

  • Post a "Scent-free building" sign (PDF) at your work as a reminder (the Lung
    Association has one available for download)
  • Encourage all employees to use scent-free products.
  • Purchase scent-free products for use in the workplace.
  • Identify the exact source of the problem, and reduce emissions from building
    materials, cleaning products and other sources of fragrances if possible.
  • Keep detergents and soaps in sealed containers or a cupboard with a door that
    completely closes. The room they are stored ideally should be ventilated
    directly to the outside, although this may not be practical. It is best just to
    use scent-free products.

Further Information

AplusA-online.de - Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety