On Perfume, Chemical Cleaning agents and “Scent-free” workplaces.

A couple months ago, as I was enjoying karaoke night at the local Legion, I received a fairly disturbing phone call from a close friend of mine. She sounded absolutely horrible, and I was shocked to find out that she had just returned from the hospital after a rather  exhausting night.

My friend, a severe asthmatic, had suffered a massive attack and had to be rushed to the hospital after encountering a perfect storm of asthma triggers while her and her husband were going about their business that evening.  It had began in an appliance store where a customer coming inside had wafted some cigarette smoke in with them. So began the wheezing and discomfort. The situation was further aggravated when my friend and her husband went for dinner and she went to use the bathroom, and another patron sprayed air freshener in the small space. Finally, in their local Wal-Mart, the smell of the cleaning supplies aisle set her right off and within minutes, she was struggling for air while her husband rushed her out the door so he could take her to the nearest hospital. She very nearly had to be intubated, as her airways had quite nearly closed all the way up. It had been an incredibly close call.

In the aftermath of this near-miss, the government department where my friend works took it upon themselves to implement a scent-free policy, in spite of the fact that the county had out-right refused to put one in place for its offices. My friend found herself a poster girl for the cause, in the position of having to go to each and every one of her co-workers, one on one, and explain her condition and why her very life depended on adherence to the scent-free policy. The reasoning behind this being that simply addressing the office as a group would allow too many people to not pay attention. I guess it’s easier to convincingly say “If you ignore this, I could die,” and have it stick when you’re up close and personal.

My friend’s case is fairly extreme one, but more and more workplaces are adopting scent-free policies and no wonder, as sensitivity to scent can have a lot of unpleasant, if not devastating, effects. My SO frequently meets me at the end of the cleaning aisle as the smell of the chemicals nauseates him. A former co-worker hung a sign on his office specifically asking the cleaning staff not to use cleaning chemicals in his office, due to migraines.

Over the years, so much public awareness and policy has gone towards minimizing smoking in public places, due to the harm it does not only to smokers but to those around them. In that vein, many work-places have started adopting “scent-free” policies and it’s something I’d like to see spread, at the very least to my own office. The other day a visitor came to speak to my boss and I’m pretty sure he brought the entire Axe factory with him. And although I normally have little to no scent issues, his wafting presence played havoc with the chest infection I’ve been battling this week.

The wide-spread use of perfumes, scented chemical cleaners, room fresheners, colognes is an issue that, for the health and safety of people like my friend above, I’d like to bring attention to, especially as it’s one that many people don’t consider as they go about their day-to-day lives. The friend mentioned above has begun writing to retail companies such as The Bay and Shoppers Drug Mart and other large department stores who, when designing their stores, arranged displays so that customers entering are forced to face the gauntlet of the cosmetic display area, complete with perfumes and colognes. The same friend above told me a story of going to a Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up a prescription for her asthma meds, only to find herself having to tear open the package for her inhaler after making her way to the pharmacy, located at the back of the store.

It would seem that restricting one’s right to wear perfume or cleaners would be a huge breach of personal freedoms, but to me it’s one of those “Your Rights End Where Mine Begin” situations. Some random person’s right to douse themselves in Old Spice or Chanel No. 5 ends where someone else’s right to venture into public spaces without having their health jeopardized begins. There is no situation I can think of where one persons health or liberty is put in danger by not wearing scent, or not having a public bathroom smell like some bastardization of a “ocean breeze”. Even smokers can argue the addictive properties of nicotine. Doesn’t apply here. What does apply here is Andie’s law of being a decent human being: “Other People Exist. Don’t Be An Asshole.”

So, how can you help and/or not be an asshole?

*Go Scent-free. Use unscented soaps and deodorants when possible. Don’t bother with perfume and cologne.
*If you are in a public place like a store or a restaurant that has a washroom supplied with aerosol air fresheners, leave a comment card or let the management know directly that air fresheners can be hazardous to some of their customers. There are “odor-eating” products that can be put in a toilet, a few drops at a time, that don’t put chemicals in the air. If these establishments implement these changes, keep going there, as they are not assholes.
*If you work in an office or with the public, try to encourage or implement a scent-free policy
*Use natural cleaners, like diluted vinegar. Barring that, use products labelled as fragrance-free where possible. It’s important to know the difference between Fragrance free and unscented. Something marked as Fragrance-free means that it was made without fragrances. Unscented products may use chemical compounds to mask their scent.

Cutting back on chemicals and scented products, in the long run, can only really do us well, in the long run.

178 comments for “On Perfume, Chemical Cleaning agents and “Scent-free” workplaces.

  1. July 20, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Completely agreed! I just wanted to add that schools need this too.

  2. July 20, 2012 at 7:59 am

    I think you’re conflating two very different things, by talking about dangerous inhalants like cleaning chemicals, and synthetic scent (I assume you mean synthetic, anyway, but this article – unless I missed something – seems to be calling for a ban on all things that smell…). Sure, both can negatively affect health, but in very different ways.

    This post frankly just feels out of place and randomly preachy on Feministe. I’m a long-time reader and just confused why this is here.

  3. July 20, 2012 at 8:14 am

    The thing is.. to some, and possibly a LOT of people out there, there’s not much difference at all between a ‘dangerous inhalant’ and a synthetically scented product, especially in cases of airborne chemicals like spray perfumes and air fresheners.

    Not calling for a ban so much as more conscientiousness and regard for sensitivities. One of the reasons my friend’s workplace refused to implement a policy was because of difficulty in enforcement. But enforcing a policy doesn’t always mean you’ll be able to track down someone and fine them for wearing perfume in a public building, but it does mean that you can post signs and remind people when they come in and just generally raise awareness.

    As far as being out of place and preachy.. well, I was told I could write what I wanted. Meh. Maybe it needs more hats.

  4. Meaghan W
    July 20, 2012 at 8:15 am

    I have the same problem with the cigarette smoke and sometimes when I get stuck next to a smoker on the train I get to work wheezing. Thankfully I did get an inhaler for it. I would definitely condone a scent free work place!

  5. Emburii
    July 20, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Julia, as I understand it even natural smells can cause problems for some people. So this article is quite correct in pointing out that strong scents of any sort in public places can cause problems and should be minimized.

    A lot of conventions are adopting policies like this, too; Dan Silverman’s American Atheists organization adopted a policy for their events that had a no-perfume/cologne-drenching clause. It’s a matter of someone else’s safety versus a personal habit, the former takes precedence over someone’s right to wear an entire can of AXE.

  6. chava
    July 20, 2012 at 8:21 am

    I know lots of people (myself included) who can be triggered into a migraine or asthma attack by enough strong scent. That…doesn’t mean I think people should be barred from wearing perfume/using scented shampoo/etc. Aside from which, you often pay a premium for non-scented products.

    I would appreciate a world with fewer artificial scents, but I’m thinking education rather than barring people from wearing perfume (or, in another scenario, bringing peanut products) to work.

  7. Chiara
    July 20, 2012 at 8:27 am

    while I’m sympathetic towards people affected by strong scents i think yr missing a class element here.

    unscented deodorants is not a normal product you can buy in a supermarket its a luxury boutique thing. for people working long days in strenuous jobs (not me I dont smell) they just need some cheap high powered deodorant to get them through the day without smelling too bad

    i agree about air fresheners and things tho and those like smelly sprays people use in toilets they’re unneccessary.

  8. Chiara
    July 20, 2012 at 8:27 am

    while I’m sympathetic towards people affected by strong scents i think yr missing a class element here.

    unscented deodorants is not a normal product you can buy in a supermarket its a luxury boutique thing. for people working long days in strenuous jobs (not me I dont smell) they just need some cheap high powered deodorant to get them through the day without smelling too bad

    i agree about air fresheners and things tho and those like smelly sprays people use in toilets their unneccessary.

  9. Andie
    July 20, 2012 at 8:35 am

    I would appreciate a world with fewer artificial scents, but I’m thinking education rather than barring people from wearing perfume (or, in another scenario, bringing peanut products) to work.

    Education is a good start especially in general public realms, but in cases of schools and workplaces, places where people generally have little choice of being there, I think it’s totally reasonable to say outright, no you can’t wear perfume or bring in peanut-products, when people’s lives and health are at stake.

  10. Andie
    July 20, 2012 at 8:37 am

    unscented deodorants is not a normal product you can buy in a supermarket its a luxury boutique thing.

    Most brands of deodorant I’ve seen in run-of-the-mill places like drug stores, wal-marts and grocery stores have an unscented option at the same price as the scented options. Fragrance-Free may be a different issue, I’ll grant that.

  11. chava
    July 20, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Actually, the drugstore does carry 1 brand which does fragrance-free/unscented deoderant (Tom’s of Maine). It’s an expensive drugstore brand, but not out of this world. Unscented soap is also a bit more expensive but not impossible to find. Detergent is, again, slightly more expensive but doable (Country Save, All Free and Clear). Finding unscented cat litter at a cheap price is also kind of challenging (bulk stores tend to only carry scented brands).

    It gets really hard to find things like fragrance-free shampoos/conditioners, skin moisturizers, and body scrubs. I use Paula’s Choice for skincare as it is all fragrance-free, but it has to be mail-ordered. My shampoo & conditioners still have fragrance–curious if anyone has suggestions other than vinegar and baking soda.

    The household cleaners issue is tough. Vinegar and baking soda do wonders for most things, but for large workplaces and serious grime you start to need bleach, at the least. There are some “green” cleaning products with fewer volatile organics, worth the money for the health of your employees, I would think.

  12. Treebeard
    July 20, 2012 at 8:58 am

    the government department where my friend works took it upon themselves to implement a scent-free policy… My friend found herself … having to go to each and every one of her co-workers…

    Is it just me or does it seem weird that they “took it upon themselves” but then made her do all the work?

  13. chava
    July 20, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Education is a good start especially in general public realms, but in cases of schools and workplaces, places where people generally have little choice of being there, I think it’s totally reasonable to say outright, no you can’t wear perfume or bring in peanut-products, when people’s lives and health are at stake.

    Eh. Except, if you’re truly mandating a fragrance-free workplace, you’re dictating a huge amount of what people can and can’t use in their home. All personal care products, laundry detergent, soaps, fabric softener.. I just don’t see it as a fair burden to impose on an entire workplace. If you want to have a ‘fragrance-light’ workplace, that might be more tenable.

  14. chava
    July 20, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Also, I agree that there is a bit of a class thing here…I keep thinking of the stereotype of the woman “doused in cheap fragrance,” or men with cheap deoderant. Obviously you CAN overuse expensive scents as well, but we associate a certain class of person with ‘crass’ or ‘loud’ scents.

  15. July 20, 2012 at 9:19 am

    It gets really hard to find things like fragrance-free shampoos/conditioners, skin moisturizers, and body scrubs. I use Paula’s Choice for skincare as it is all fragrance-free, but it has to be mail-ordered. My shampoo & conditioners still have fragrance–curious if anyone has suggestions other than vinegar and baking soda.

    I’ve actually been trying to compile a list of scent-free or low-scent products that can be found in your average drugstore, but it is really hard and those things are usually more expensive. (I have scent-triggered migraines and two family members with severe asthma.) I’m okay with a “your rights end where mine begin” kind of policy, and I think most people are, too, if they where to find alternatives that don’t break their budget. $6 may not seem a lot for a stick of deodorant, but factor in my having to drive to Whole Foods or Wild Oats (I live in the US midwest — most the drugstores carry just the usual brands plus Toms and Burt’s Bees), it’s not so convenient.

  16. Treebeard
    July 20, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I think its fine to ask everyone to please keep their fragrance use as low as possible at work or at school, and explain why, but I think its going to be really difficult as a practical matter to make any public place completely fragrance-free.

  17. Andie
    July 20, 2012 at 9:35 am

    So what about leaning on chain stores to carry more affordable, fragrance-free products?

    Also, (and not directed to the commenters here, but just something I’ve found in general on a number of issues) but what is with the attitude that if you can’t do something perfectly there’s no point in doing it at all? Just something I’ve seen that a lot of people fall back to on a few issues.

    Yes, it’d be hard to make public spaces completely fragrance-free. I totally agree with this. But is there anything wrong with trying to at least put in some form of policy in place in public spaces to reduce harm?

    Yes, it IS asking a lot of people to change their detergents at home and replace all their soap and deodorant to unscented types. But is it asking a lot to ask people NOT to wear perfume in public buildings? Or not to stock public washrooms with chemical air fresheners? Things that reduce harm without causing unnecessary hardship?

    At any rate, back at work.. will be modding comments but may not be able to respond.

  18. bhuesca
    July 20, 2012 at 9:42 am

    There does seem to be a class factor here.

  19. Chris
    July 20, 2012 at 10:00 am

    While I agree with the “your rights end…” bit, there are definitely complications. For example, speaking from personal experience, skin allergies and deodorants. I’m allergic to essentially every solid/gel deodorant (yes, *including* the super hippy earth-friendly Tom’s of Maine), so I’m kind of limited to spray deodorants, which I’ve never seen in unscented. While it’s certainly not life-threatening, I can imagine for someone with worse allergies, or less money, that spending money (and suffering allergic reactions) trying to find something *else* that doesn’t trigger allergies, or going to a dermatologist or something, could be substantially burdensome.

  20. BHuesca
    July 20, 2012 at 10:05 am

    There does seem to be a class factor here. If you’re a barista or a mcdonalds employee, you can’t just demand a fragrance-free environment…and the customer service sector is the fastest-growing employment sector (to the best of my knowledge)….and in this economy, the jobless often can’t afford to pass up a job offer….I guess what I mean to say is that I can’t imagine a fragrance-free job environment being enacted/being possible in many sectors.

  21. Kels
    July 20, 2012 at 10:09 am

    I’m originally from Nova Scotia, and they were way ahead on restricting scents more than a decade ago. Scent-free workplaces are pretty common down there, and even the bus drivers in Halifax are given the right to refuse passengers with excessive perfumes. They also have had pretty strict regulations about smoking in bars, etc. for a long time. I was surprised when I moved to Ontario to see that the same thing hadn’t yet been implemented up here.

  22. irishup
    July 20, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I have anaphalactoid reactions to synthetic esters (aka man-made scents); this means they irritate my mucous membranes so much that my upper airways are in danger of closing up. Less dangerous are the migraines, nausea, dermatitis rashes and weals, and incessant sneezing reactions I get. These are progressive – the more times I’m exposed, the worse the reaction I experience.

    The last really bad instance (in a small closed room for a 1hr meeting with someone wearing something that smelled like Raid to me) sent me to the EW for IV prednisone. This was SUPER not fun – I have a needle phobia, and prednisone makes me sleepy and confused.

    The problem is becoming more ubiquitous – more and more products are using higher concentrations of chemicals more likely to cause reactions. People are generally unsympathetic – I’ve been told it’s all in my head, I’m being “hysterical”, and my personal favorite, I’m being Rude! for bringing up that somebody’s fragrance was causing me irritation.

    There is also an insidious part of this; companies have latched onto the fact that scents can be anchoring – they are processed in (phylogenetically) older parts of the brain, and can stimulate a variety of strong emotional responses. Thus companies are adding scents to products for infants that are “trademark” scents. The idea being that they can add these fragrances to all their company products – even to just the packaging! – and subliminally stimulate people to choose their brand. By adding these chemicals to packaging, companies don’t even have to disclose that they are using them.

    There is a lot of concern as to whether these practices will have unintended negative consequences. Early chemical exposure is thought to be a factor in the increase of multi-chemical sensitivity. We may not even be able to tell how much exposure to what kinds of chemicals kids are getting from a teratological standpoint – meaning that “liability” will be difficult to prove, if (or rather when, IMO) in fact there *are* negative effects.

  23. Kristen J.
    July 20, 2012 at 10:19 am

    @Andie,

    I completely sympathize with your friend. I’ve been in that exact situation. I agree with the other commentors that we shouldn’t push for an all out ban on scents at work or in other public spaces until there are more scent-free options available at lower prices. That said, most of us can do things to reduce triggers. My office doesn’t have a scent-free ban, but it does have a policy instructing people to minimize the use of scented products for the comfort and health of others.

    Odd but true fact my doctor recommended that I use lavender oil to control my asthma symptoms…so scent can also be helpful, its just impossible to know whether something that helps you will hurt someone else.

  24. Matt
    July 20, 2012 at 10:21 am

    I don’t wear deodorant at all, does that count? Our cleaning lady is allergic to any kind of lemon scents so we have to be super careful to get scent free stuff.

  25. July 20, 2012 at 10:39 am

    So what about leaning on chain stores to carry more affordable, fragrance-free products? … is it asking a lot to ask people NOT to wear perfume in public buildings? Or not to stock public washrooms with chemical air fresheners? Things that reduce harm without causing unnecessary hardship?

    I think this is important. If the norms were changed around the *need* for fragrance and they weren’t given such an automatic public presence, I think that would go a long way toward reducing the over-use of fragrance in many spaces and it wouldn’t be seen as something so marked by class and individual choice.

    I don’t think all space will ever be fragrance-free, but I think we can still make some improvements. I’m fairly sensitive to strong smells and have always tried to find the least fragrant/over-powering option for any body or cleaning product. Unfortunately, I’m living in an apartment building now with inner hallways (the last apartment I had was in a city with a very different climate and all the hallways were exterior to the building), so that when one of my neighbours who wears extremely heavy alcohol-based scent walks past my door, my entire suite fills with the smell because of the way the airflow works. Or if I get into the elevator with this person or immediately after they have vacated – it was so bad once I thought I might pass out. But, frankly, I haven’t bothered asking this person to stop wearing the scent because it’s their own living space too. I cram a towel under my front door to keep it out and hold my breath in the elevator. If it were a more frequent problem or if it had more severe health effects on me, I might try to see if there were something we could work out, but otherwise it is what it is.

    However, I used to work in an office where one of the admins would get unbelievable migraines triggered by scents, so we had a fragrance-free policy. It was a social services office with a lot of people coming in and out, and we rarely had to ask anyone more than once to remember not to wear artificial scents (keeping in mind that some of these people weren’t able to regularly bathe because of their living situations, it was not just any strong scent but the strong artificial scents that were the trigger). It wasn’t a massive barrier and it made the environment more pleasant for everyone in that regard as there was no actual need for the artificial fragrances.

    I think in public places where such policies can be enacted and enforced, it’s a good idea. Frankly, there are signs up on public buses in my city about being “fragrance free” and I always marvel at the unenforceability of it – it seems like a joke. But even having the policy set up in some spaces will cause some overflow into others, because you can’t really just put on and take off scent throughout the day – it’s either on or off depending on your morning routine.

    But I definitely think that there should be no economic barrier to scentless options, especially given that there are probably plenty of people in lower socioeconomic situations who have scent sensitivities too and would appreciate having these options be more affordable for their own use.

  26. JC
    July 20, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Some companies may adopt it as due to their organizaitonal culture and awareness and some may not. It is difficult for employers to set forth policies for inconveniences or possible scenarios that some or few employees may encounter. Scent-free workplaces are not required by OSHA which is why it is mostly adopted as corporate policies. I can see from a standpoint if the sensitivity can be considered a disability under the ADA and set forth policies and accomodations for legality and compliance reasons. However, you also run into situations of HIPAA and protected health information. Your friend’s company may have implemented a policy which was in their right to do or they can reduce exposure to the fragrance through other means, however, when it comes to her protections under HIPAA, they can’t say “so and so has an alergy/asthma/related health condition and you utilize or wear fragrant items around her or in the workplace”, however, they can not control her in what she may divulge to other coworkers on her own volition, which may be the reason that your friend had taken it upon herself to speak with other coworkers on her sensitivity. Most best practices are to provide workplace that is safe and mitigate any risk, sorry your friend had encountered such a bad experience.

  27. July 20, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Odd but true fact my doctor recommended that I use lavender oil to control my asthma symptoms…so scent can also be helpful, its just impossible to know whether something that helps you will hurt someone else.

    I’ve heard that essential oils can be a good substitute for alcohol-based fragrances, actually, because it’s not just scent itself but the chemical nature of the scent that produces the problems. Although I’ve also heard some people with scent sensitivities say that it’s all scents, including essential oils, which affect them, so there’s no universal.

  28. pillowinhell
    July 20, 2012 at 10:49 am

    If you’re looking for unscented antiperspirants, get the crystals from your local health food store. They are natural and prevent the bacteria under your arms from developing, which prevents smell. Youl still sweat but you won’t stink. Also, the crystals last for years, so long term its quite a bit cheaper than your typical drugstore stuff.

    You can make your own detergents using unscented soaps and Borax.

    As for cleaners, plain soap and hotwater will clean and disinfect just fine. Bacteria counts will rise within minutes of cleaning anyways, and 99.9 percent are harmless, possibly even beneficial as most work to keep the more dangerous bacteria in check.

    Instead of bleach, use hydrogen peroxide. It does the same thing as bleach, is less noxious to breathe and breaks down to harmless water and oxygen in minutes.

    Its not just the scents that are triggering, its the toxicity of the other chemicals as well. Chemical manufacturers are often forced to use heavy scents to mask the stink of their toxic chemical formulations. And really, in terms of cleaning, the only benefit you’re getting out of it is the scent, and possibly ease of cleaning if you’re in the habit of letting cleaning tasks really build up before tackling them.

  29. July 20, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I am also extremely fragrance sensitive and things like perfume. cologne, patchouli oil, cigarette smoke, etc can trigger extreme sinus/migraine reactions. Having said that, I view that as my issue and I feel extremely uncomfortable telling people what they can have un underneath their clothes.

    Also, scented soaps and deodorant’s don’t even come close to triggering me in that same way, and in fact I’ve never heard of anyone being triggered by someone else’s deodorant, so I don’t know that deodorants and soaps should be lumped in with perfumes and strong smells anyway.

    And let me tell you something, if I use unscented deodorant and unscented soap, within 10 minutes of stepping outside in this weather, I am anything but scent-free. I know some other people don’t get as sweaty/smelly as I do, but add my mode of transport (bicycle) and it gets pretty bad. So, rather than changing my name to Stinky Steve, I’m gonna stick with my Irish Spring and Speed Stick 24-hr.

  30. July 20, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I am really not trying to be contrarian just for the sake of it – but this all sounds a bit over the top to me. While I normally think “nanny state” fears are conspiracy theories, this is an instance where I keep thinking of the phrase (of course, we are talking about private employers as well as the government, but the idea is the same).

    Certainly, people’s individual rights end where those of others begin. Except, EVERYTHING SMELLS. From flowers to natural body odor, banning smells makes zero sense to me. Now, calling for better regulation of harmful synthetic fragrances, sure, or encouraging workplaces to use less harsh cleaning chemicals, wonderful.

    But I also have to wonder if this severe allergy is actually as common as this whole article and thread presumes it to be, or if we’re all (sorry, I don’t want to be flip but it’s what I’m getting from this) whining.

  31. July 20, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Just a pet peeve in these discussions– natural scents ARE chemicals. Everything is made up of chemicals. Synthetic esters shouldn’t act any differently than their naturally occurring counterparts, though I can see there being issues with concentration and/or aerosolization.

  32. irishup
    July 20, 2012 at 11:04 am

    BTW – if you are going to a hospital with a bone marrow transplant or cancer treatment program for any reason, PLEASE really do heed the fragrance free policies that such institutions have. Immuno-compromised people are seriously susceptible to negative effects from chemical/fragrance exposure.

  33. Stella
    July 20, 2012 at 11:05 am

    This reminds me of a yoga class I used to take in which the teacher burned incense during the class. It used to bother me if I was too close to it, and I once asked her not to do it, but she didn’t seem to see that it might be an issue. Ironic, since I have no doubt she wouldn’t have put up with cigarette smoke or strong chemical, but since incense is “spiritual” it’s a good thing I guess.

  34. July 20, 2012 at 11:07 am

    @Julia:

    Going to the ER == whining? Asthma attacks == whining? Multiple references to synthetic/chemical fragrances == banning flowers? Intriguing.

  35. July 20, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Just a pet peeve in these discussions– natural scents ARE chemicals. Everything is made up of chemicals. Synthetic esters shouldn’t act any differently than their naturally occurring counterparts, though I can see there being issues with concentration and/or aerosolization.

    Yeah, I wondered about that! I thought it might be that the produced as opposed to naturally-occurring versions actually did have a different structure? As for something like essential oils vs. alcohol-based fragrances, I’ve been told it’s the alcohol composition of the solution and not the fragrance part of it that is the problem. Certainly I know that the scents which really bother me are the ones which make the skin around my mouth and nose irritated as well, like alcohol does. Otherwise a really strong unpleasant smell can be annoying and distracting, but not make me feel sick.

  36. July 20, 2012 at 11:20 am

    I have the one-two punch of migraines triggered by scents (including stargazer lilies, which are totes ALL NATURAL!!!!) and very sensitive skin. The only deodorant I can wear is Dove Fragrance Free. Two things about it: 1) it never goes on sale when other Dove deodorants go on sale 2) Dove keeps changing the color/name. I believe it’s now called “go sleeveless” or something because, of course, the emphasis is on OMG SEXXXAY ARMPITS and not, you know, avoiding a bleeding rash. *thumbs up* They also have an “unscented” version which my skin reacts to and is the same color scheme that the fragrance free/ hypoallergenic/ “go sleeveless” variety used to have. And not all stores carry it, of course. Because ha haaaaaaa.

    As to suspicions that this is totally made up/overblown DON’T TAKE AWAY MY RIGHT TO SMELL PRETTY… I get migraines several times a month. They’re usually super quick with no after affects. I get some visual disturbances, I have searing pain for about half a minute, maybe I feel a little shaky afterwards, but it passes quickly. I’m very used to it, and because these are so mild/quick I’ve never sought treatment for them although I mention them to every doctor I see. However, several times a year I get killer migraines that last for hours and sometimes leave me nauseous (or actively puking, yay) and in addition to pain and visual disturbances can be full on neurological events with aphasia and uncoordination and fun stuff. One of the big triggers is scent. A woman I worked with, who was training me on stuff, had this charming habit where she would rub a highly scented lotion into her hands, spritz her hands with an incredibly awful highly scented perfume, rub them together, then use a third highly scented lotion. She loved the layering of the three smells. Every time she did this, and she did it multiple times I day, I literally got sick. By the end of the day I was shaky, nauseous, had a pounding sick headache, and reduced vision. And I never said anything to anyone because it’s “just” a headache caused by “nothing more than” perfume.

    Her habits left me seriously ill in a way that people discredit and disbelieve, that they write off. Headaches are nothing! Everybody gets headaches. I’m making a big deal over a HEADACHE? Except it’s a migraine, you can’t SEE symptoms of when I’m having one (unless I’m puking or falling over), so it’s easy to disbelieve. Most people I know who have migraines don’t talk about them because they get the same reactions from people. “It’s just a headache.” This coupled with the fact that I, and most people I know, don’t have PTO/sick days means we work through a LOT of sick days and don’t complain about them because the economy sucks and if we get fired for excessive time off, what do we do? So we suck it up and keep working.

    So where we’re at right now, there’s a very small minority of people who claim that scents affect then negatively. They get sick. They get migraines. They get asthma attacks. They get nauseous. And it’s easy to say “Oh, well, so few people talk about this it must be a small minority, fuck them. This isn’t a big deal.” But a lot of people with invisible illnesses don’t talk about them period, and don’t talk about what triggers them, and try to hide them,b ecause if people know you have them? Bad shit can happen (including losing your job… who wants to pay insurance premiums on someone with *gasp* ASTHMA? That costs MONEY! Or they assume you’ll take a bunch of sick days and inconvenience everyone.). So you don’t talk about it. And you don’t talk about what triggers it. And your coworkers spray air freshener and wear far too much perfume and you don’t walk down the house cleaning aisle at the grocery store if you can help it, and you hope nobody sits next to you on the train that’s a chain smoker, and you live your life as best you can. And when someone calls attention to the fact that scents can and do make people sick, you read totally awesome comments about how it’s JUST A MINORITY and LET’S NOT BLOW THIS OUT OF PROPORTION and SCENTS ARE NATURAL MAN and stuff like that.

  37. July 20, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Also, Julia, I went through the entire article, and nowhere did I see any indication that Andie was talking about, say, roses, or body odor. She referred to perfumes, cologne, fragrance-full cleaners, and so forth. This is sounding like an oddly-scented strawman to me.

  38. July 20, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Julia–agree completely. my rights end where yours begin. The smell of fish makes me incredibly ill, but do I demand you not cook it? no. it just seems like we’ve gone in some ways TOO far in the other direction.

  39. chava
    July 20, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Just a pet peeve in these discussions– natural scents ARE chemicals. Everything is made up of chemicals. Synthetic esters shouldn’t act any differently than their naturally occurring counterparts, though I can see there being issues with concentration and/or aerosolization.

    QFT. I find essential oils irritating on an off day, as well. It really gets under my skin when people go off on “it’s NATURAL, it can’t possibly hurt!”

    I’m not particularly sensitive to most plant-based smell, though, and I am to the FeBreeze kind of areosol. So who knows.

  40. chava
    July 20, 2012 at 11:30 am

    As for cleaners, plain soap and hotwater will clean and disinfect just fine. Bacteria counts will rise within minutes of cleaning anyways, and 99.9 percent are harmless, possibly even beneficial as most work to keep the more dangerous bacteria in check.

    Instead of bleach, use hydrogen peroxide. It does the same thing as bleach, is less noxious to breathe and breaks down to harmless water and oxygen in minutes.

    Uh-huh. Thanks, but you can pry my bleach from my cold, dead hands. There are plenty of workplaces where it’s a needed thing (animal shelters, hospitals, restaurants rise to mind). BTW, bleach also breaks down into water and a salt.

    When did we start being so suspicious of chemisty as a scary evil thing? I’m all for pointing out that the ubiquity of scented products is unpleasant for many and dangerous for some, but it isn’t a conspiracy.

    And bully for you that you have the time to make your own laundry soap and that your home never gets so dirty you might need something other than hot water and soap…

  41. Partial Human
    July 20, 2012 at 11:33 am

    And what I’m getting from you, Julia, is “ableism’s easier than the alternative route of giving a fuck, so I’m just going to ignore those whiny sick people”

    Got asthma, Julia? Get one of those tiny, thin Capri Sun straws. Purse your lips around it, pinch your nostrils shut, then try and breathe like that for as long as you can.

    That’s roughly three or four times easier than an asthma attack. if you don’t have any really thin straws, hold a folded washcloth over your mouth and pinch your nose. It works about the same.

    Imagine that happening randomly and without warning, in public, with people, noise, bright lights etc.

    Same goes for the migraine. Ever had a bad hangover? I mean the type where your head is pounding, light hurts your eyes, and moving one toe will make you puke yourself empty.

    So you’re out and about, doing your thing, and BANG! You’re shot with a hangover ray that causes those symptoms instantly. Migraine there.

    Some lucky migraineurs also get tinnitus, vertigo, palpitations, dizziness and streaming eyes.

    Whiny fuckers, trying to oppress the abled with their, sorry, OUR, slow suffocation and neurological events.

    Chiara – Some Sanex roll-ons, sticks, and IIRC one of the sprays. 99p.

    Simple also make unscented anti-perspirant and deodorant. Tesco and Asda have it for about £2.50. Superdrug, Savers, Home Bargains and Bodyline sell it, and I’ve even seen it in Poundland.

  42. July 20, 2012 at 11:34 am

    I never had breathing problems until last year, when I suddenly found myself struggling to breath for days. After several trips to urgent care and several rounds of steroids and antibiotics, they finally did a chest x-ray and found I had a collapsed lung. Over the next two months I was in and out of the hospital, having chest tubes put in to inflate my lung then having to do it again when the doctors saw it had deflated again. Everything finally culminated in surgery to scratch my lung cavity so the lung would scar in place. They also found I have “blebs”, little air bubbles pocking my lungs. Any kind of trauma can cause them to pop, leading to another collapsed lung. Since this ordeal, my breathing has never been the same. I take asthma medication here and there (not regularly as I don’t have insurance to cover the cost) and while certain smells don’t bother me, I feel my chest start to tighten if I clean with chemicals that are too strong, or someone wears heavy perfume, or some jerk doesn’t follow the law that says they can’t smoke within 25 feet of an entrance and I walk through their cloud. It’s tough out there, and people making an effort to be more aware of the scents they use and where they smoke can really make a big difference to some of us. Is it tough to enforce? Sure. But anything helps.

  43. Tony
    July 20, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Personally, I think farting should be banned. Also, the exhaust that comes from cars contribute to respiratory diseases. Driving should definitely be banned. People talking at the office makes me depressed, and that makes me suicidal, so talking should be banned. Also, breathing contributes to global warming. Your rights end where mine begin, man.

  44. July 20, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Also-Seriously? People are complaining that this is policing and just too hard? I’ve got pretty screwy lungs and even I’m not arguing that everyone needs to start using nothing but scent-free products all the time, because that WOULD be unrealistic and classist. But saying, hey, don’t clean public restrooms with such strong chemicals, don’t smoke close to the door, don’t wear as much perfume (or any at all depending on where you are going), and just try to make an effort, well, that doesn’t seem classist, or like whining. Maybe by whining you meant wheezing, since that’s something us asthmatics do a lot of.

  45. July 20, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Some people live in such a weird state of mind where being asked to do anything results in an uproar and cries of “I’m being policed! It’s 1984!” Get over yourselves. I once told a friend about the recycling laws in San Francisco and had him reply “I thought this was a free country.” Using that mindset, couldn’t you make the same complaint about any law? I have to use my turn signal? But this is America! I can’t punch strangers in the street? But this is a free country!

  46. Partial Human
    July 20, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Shit, Brigid – I forgot about the aphasia and distorted vision. You get the one-sided weakness too, where your arm/hand/leg doesn’t work? God that’s fun.

    It’s been a few weeks, because combining abortives with tricyclics is nipping them in the bud, so I forgot about some symptoms.

    The “just a headache” clowns can go and eat a bowl of puke. No ‘headache’ can put you in a pitch dark, silent room, flat on your back for two fucking weeks. Can’t even cry, because it hurts too much.

    My mig-rage is strong today, after a sudden asthma attack led to needing the super-strong emergency inhaler, that triggers migraines… I’ve shoved abortives down my throat, and I’m really hoping I can dodge it.

  47. EG
    July 20, 2012 at 11:48 am

    As for cleaners, plain soap and hotwater will clean and disinfect just fine.

    Yeah, well, any time you want to come scrub the conditioner residue off my tub or the mildew in grout off with soap and hot water, you can feel free.

    I realize that Tony is trying to be funny, but I do wonder how much our collective breathing problems are aggravated by car exhaust and the other crap that gets pumped into our atmosphere by manufacturing companies. I can’t help but wonder if our general air quality was better, there would be fewer cases of asthma, and fewer problems of this sort. It seems to go along with how much easier it is to tell individuals not to do something than it is to take on corporate malfeasance. (Note: To head off any sense that I just don’t understand how bad individual decisions can be, I do not need asthma explained to me. I have it, and as a result could not spend any time in pubs when I lived in London. My mother developed it at 40. My best friend died from it 11 years ago, after years of having no health insurance and thus no medication. I am making a general observation about how we handle public health issues, and I am not speaking from a place of ignorance.)

  48. irishup
    July 20, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Shoshie, it’s true that all esters are chemicals. In fact, that’s how “smell” works. However, synthetic esters in commercial products are frequently petroleum based, particularly the scents that are cheapest to produce. The petroleum byproducts they are derived from have inherent toxicity.

    A lot of the chemistry is beyond my abilities (the partner is the chemist); I have enough basics to get the theory and read the conclusions. But the data are strong, particularly for phthalates and a lot of the other commercial esters used in lubricants and cleaning products.

    Additionally, the delivery of a synthetic ester is different from say, and ester wafting off a flower. Aerosol delivery, absorption directly through skin, compounded effects from simultaneous exposure to multiple chemicals via multiple pathways, these issues make exposure to chemicals from consumer products fundamentally different from how humans were exposed to non-man-made esters historically.

  49. samanthab
    July 20, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Jesus, what’s with people not getting that this is an issue of ableism, as her tag suggests. I’m rendered unable to function by some of the things listed. Guess what? Poor minority children are much more likely to have severe asthma. It’s classist to ignore the issue rather than address it. You can use baking soda rather than deodorant. It’s much cheaper.

    We’re talking about something that kills people, and those of you privileged enough not to suffer from these disabilities are whining about imagined classism. Seriously, wtf? And it’s “preachy” to care about potentially fatal disabilities on a social justice blog. Wow. It’s nice to know y’all care so much about disabilities you don’t suffer from!

  50. July 20, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I’m sorry, I missed the part where Andie suggested that we institute a nationwide legal ban on scented products. I can see nanny state fears creeping in if anyone suggested passing a law prohibiting perfume in public, but that’s not the case here. Andie is basically saying, “Hey maybe consider not wearing scented products, and if you work in an office, maybe consider a scent-free policy.”

    No one is going to come and take away your scented lotion.

  51. Partial Human
    July 20, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Oh Tony, you’re so funny. You’re manly presence is a delight.

    Whether you’re mocking the disabled, or playing Devil’s Advocate for people with racist fetishes who want their POC partner to call them ‘Massa’ or say “Me so horny, me love you long time mista farang” during sex, you’re a fine addition to the commentariat.

    Sprinkles – I’m appalled at your situation. I can’t imagine having to ration inhalations like that. I wish I could help.

  52. July 20, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Your rights end where mine begin, man.

    I also love when people use this thoroughly debunked, overly simplistic generalization as a way of saying, “And my rights never end, bitch.” Because using this as a trump card is deeply illogical – someone else has a right to keep breathing, so isn’t that where your rights end?

    It’s right up there with, “I have free speech, so shut the fuck up!”

  53. Partial Human
    July 20, 2012 at 11:55 am

    Rage made me grammar-fail. Pretend I said ‘your’ in the first line.

  54. Andie
    July 20, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Quick jump in: EG – I don’t have any doubts that there are bigger factors at play in the rise in respiratory disease such as automobile exhaust and crap from manufacturing facilities (an anectdote.. my grandfather saw his emphesema improve wildly once he moved three hours away from Toronto into the wilderness of Eastern Ontario, despite the fact that he continued to be a pack-a-day smoker) and these are most definitely issues that should, nay NEED to be tackled as well.

    I’m not talking about all-out bans or going into people’s houses and haranguing them for using scented kitty litter.

    I’m talking about policies (which can RANGE from strict enforcement to general guidelines) to REDUCE HARM where harm can be reduced.

  55. Kristen J.
    July 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    I also love when people use this thoroughly debunked, overly simplistic generalization as a way of saying, “And my rights never end, bitch.” Because using this as a trump card is deeply illogical – someone else has a right to keep breathing, so isn’t that where your rights end?

    I was thinking the same thing. I mean by that logic I can come direct all the carbon dioxide fumes from my car into the confined space of your office. What? That would kill you? But my rights!

  56. Partial Human
    July 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    EG car exhaust is a huge trigger for me. When I was awalkie it was bearable, but being a wheelie puts me at exhaust-level.

    So I can now go to pubs or restaurants, smoke-free and all that, it’s just getting there that’s hard.

    SamanthaB – this place has always been ableist, from the top down. You’ll find that even the most vocal, ‘social justice warrior’ types tend to ignore ableism. Just like the regular race-fails, I think the ableism’s here to stay.

    Checking privilege is hard, and PWD/PWMI are an easy target.

  57. Beauzeaux
    July 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Finding unscented products is a bit harder in Canada but the local pharmacy and the larger London Drugs have many.
    I went pretty much scent-free about twenty years ago. I like perfume but where could I wear it? No to a restaurant to spoil the experience for others. Not to a concert/movies — a captive audience. Scented soaps attract mosquitos. Using several products all with different scents produce a cacophony of smell. Don’t like scented household cleaners. A clean house doesn’t smell like citrus fruit — clean has no smell at all.
    So I gave it up. I can find unscented versions of most things and if I can’t, I find a substitute.
    Frankly, I don’t know how asthmatics survived in the old days when everyone wore lots scented everything!

  58. July 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Poor minority children are much more likely to have severe asthma.

    THIS.

    People not giving a shit about air quality CAUSED these problems, so don’t go complaining about how taking steps to make life less dangerous for these people is really hard and totally classism.
    Yes, I get it, it’s expensive to find alternative fragrance/deodorant. I’m poor too, I understand. But as someone who has asthma, migraines, and had mold growing in her nose as a child due to poor housing conditions? Who knows others who have had to skip work, be hospitalized, and had other complications from this stuff? That’s expensive too, and arguably takes more out of our pocket than it does for you to be a little more considerate next time you shop. Do what you can~ that’s all people are asking.

  59. July 20, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    @PartialHuman (and others)

    Yes, I do have asthma (thanks for asking). Along with other physical limitations that I didn’t think really mattered to the issue I was debating here. I am trying to be respectful on this board, since it is a community I respect and come to often, but I am disappointed to be accused of ableism by a complete stranger, in a forum where I am usually impressed by the openmindedness of others.

  60. July 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    I’m curious to know, are you trying to say you should only be accused of ableism by close and personal friends?

  61. pillowinhell
    July 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    EG, I’ll take your conditioner covered bathroom stall, mildew anything else you want me to clean. I’m a superintendant, I clean apartments tht haven’t seen so much as a soap bubble in years, once the tenants have moved out. And I do it with the old fashioned soap, water baking soda because I get a lot of people with serious reactions and allergies.

  62. July 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    And PS, I specifically said that we could channel this energy, if it is an issue people are so passionate about, into fighting for better regulations of household chemicals. I hardly said we were banning flowers, just that the actual ARTICLE didn’t draw distinctions and left this (apparent) can of worms open.

    In a forum where we talk about social issues, I tend to find that it is more productive to talk about the systems perpetuating problems, rather than getting into a shouting match over (in some of the references to me) who has worse health. (Not everyone is doing that, I am aware.)

  63. July 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I hardly said we were banning flowers, just that the actual ARTICLE didn’t draw distinctions and left this (apparent) can of worms open.

    In what way did the article not draw this distinction?

  64. July 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Julia:

    29: Certainly, people’s individual rights end where those of others begin. Except, EVERYTHING SMELLS. From flowers to natural body odor, banning smells makes zero sense to me.

    61: I hardly said we were banning flowers, just that the actual ARTICLE didn’t draw distinctions and left this (apparent) can of worms open.

  65. unacomplished
    July 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    hm, I didn’t realize that people with asthma who could like… well… walk outside without an O2 tank, were so adversely affected by minute amounts of stuff in the air, always thought it was only big stuff like smog or chemicals from giant factories.

    Is this kinda thing where even wearing a sent at all can trigger an attack and I should just throw all my scented stuff out, or is it a just “don’t go all crazy with the deodorant spray right before you walk back in the office elevator” kinda thing?

  66. Lurkerina
    July 20, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    @Julia:

    What everyone here is saying is that household chemicals are not the only problem.

    And yes, natural smells also cause problems. For example, my mom can use toxic chemical cleaners, in a well ventilated area, and not have any problems. But if someone in the bathroom sprays perfume, if the person in the next cube uses scented lotion, or if someone puts a vase of flowers on her desk, she has a reaction like so many mentioned here, with the not breathing and the migraine and also hives. Is it really too much to ask that people not do those activities in her work environment? Or is their right to smell pretty more important than her health?

    She hasn’t had a real Christmas tree in a decade because she has the deathly allergic reaction I described. If she is going to someone’s house who has a real Christmas tree, she takes antihistamines before she goes and can still only stay an hour before the hives start. She has one friend whose house she won’t stay in for more than 30 minutes because of all the scents. She has certain exits from her work because of the flowers people have on their desks. She’s been taking so many antihistamines for so long that the regular dose has lost its effectiveness.

    The key point is that heavy scents, natural or otherwise, make people ill, they cause discomfort, they can cause death, and they definitely cause lost productivity for companies. It makes sense for companies to institute a no- or low- scent policy because all of those people who have suffered silently (and you better believe my mom hasn’t said anything – she needs that job) take enormous amounts of time off (if they’re privileged in being able to do so) because they are made ill at work by someone else’s actions. If they can’t take off, how do you expect them to do their jobs when they are nearly or completely incapacitated? This is due to someone else’s actions; actions that aren’t really necessary. So you can whine nanny state all you want, but I would be happy to work for a company that cares about the health and safety of all the people who work there.

  67. Partial Human
    July 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Julia, you’re still an ableist. You read comment after comment about sudden, devastating, scent-induced asthma attacks. The post was inspired by an asthma attack that was triggered by scents.

    However, you’re claiming you did not see what asthma had to do with anything, and said outright, didn’t even imply, that it’s all bullshit and people are just whining.

    Well aren’t you fucking precious.

    I will not be shut down and silenced by people WHINING about how meaaan I am. Don’t want to be called out on your ableism? Don’t
    be a sodding ableist.

    I don’t give a stuff if you’ve got brittle asthma, had your last attack in PE when you were 12, or have no respiratory issues at all to be honest. Telling asthmatics and anyone else made really ill by certain substances that they’ve no right to infringe on your right to reek like a branch of The Perfume Shop, because “Wah wah, overreaction, stop whining”, is shitty beyond belief. It makes a bottle of Summer’s Eve. not look like a douche in comparison.

    I find it bizarre that an alleged asthmatic, who knows that terrifying feeling that you’re dying (and could die), who’s felt the sensation of drowning without a drop of water, and the after-effects of broochodilators that make your heart race, steroids damage your immune system and can have incredibly serious side-effects (like death, again), would write it off as a cry for special treatment and attention.

    So no. I won’t sweetly hold your hand and show you where you went wrong. Internalised ableism is still ableism, and does not deserve polite, gentle coddling.

  68. Past my expiration date
    July 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    And PS, I specifically said that we could channel this energy, if it is an issue people are so passionate about, into fighting for better regulations of household chemicals.

    It’s not possible to fight for better regulations of household chemicals AND try to avoid using scented products and cleaning agents around people whose health suffers from being around scented products and cleaning agents?

  69. July 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Julia: For the record, when you said you didn’t want to be “flip” but that you thought “we’re all … whining”: Yes, that was flip. You failed at not being flip. And commenters have since demonstrated that, in fact, such physical reactions aren’t uncommon and are quite severe, even if they’re not common and severe enough that you personally feel you should be inconvenienced by them.

    Andie’s post addressed “the wide-spread use of perfumes, scented chemical cleaners, room fresheners, colognes.” If you can squeeze “and also flowers” in there, go ahead. And while she does mention policies and restrictions, for the most part she just gives advice and then boils it all down to “other people exist; don’t be an asshole.” Which sounds like a good enough policy.

    One I think we all could stand to adopt.

  70. chava
    July 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    I think that part of the rancor is these debates lies in the onus for searching out and using these products falling on the individual consumer, rather than pressure being put on the companies producing such products to change.

    Theoretically, if we all start only buying fragrance-free products, the market will shift. Maybe. But that seems like a long wait for a train don’t come, eh? It’s like the debates for healthier food and air…yes, it would be wonderful if we could achieve it all with consumer pressure, but in reality we usually need a little regulation to help things along. In fact, usually you don’t even need regulation per se…you just need to roll back incentives and loopholes allowing such things (HFCS, etc) to continue.

  71. chava
    July 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    IN, not IS. Sigh.

  72. Drahill
    July 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I wonder how this could be applied in other contexts. Like, could this be applied with food? I am very sensitive to strong smells – regardless of whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. Some of my co-workers are fond of very strong smelling food that they bring from home – and the food is usually of the ethnic variety. To me, that is harder than bringing up “please don’t wear perfume” or “please don’t spray air freshener,” since very often, the food is part of an ethnic background for many people. My workplace actually has a low-scent policy, but food is not a part of it, because of potential liability issues (at least, that is what was told to me in private). So I’m curious as to whether this really could be applied to food, which may have the same potential to cause harm, but comes with a particular set of issues, possibly.

  73. minerva-gwen
    July 20, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I respect your need not to be sick. I am happy to binge eat and do dangerous things to manage my ptsd and stress instead of using aromatherapy. I would be glad to take care of you by paving over every inch of my yard and euthanizing my pets, or killing them myself. (i’ve had to do worse things to accommodate others, including damage to my health that’s taken 10+ years off my life). People should be jailed for possessing perfume or incense. Freedom of religion is no excuse.

    I know this may be removed for being too enthusiastic.

  74. July 20, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    minerva-gwen: It’s more like trolling, than being “enthusiastic”. “Being jailed” indeed.

    I’m finding it extra-hilar that a request to reduce the use of fragrance-full things is being interpreted as “this isn’t a free country; we’ll be banning flowers next; all yall’re whiners; time to imprison incense-users”.

    What happens when someone asks you to keep your voice down during a movie? Massive freedom-of-speech protest outside the theater?

  75. Andie
    July 20, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    minerva-gwen, I sense some sarcasm.

    Do you practice your aroma-therapy at your workplace, or on public transit, or at the local mall? Or in the privacy of your own home? If your answer is at home, then this is not about you.

    I’m referring to things we can do in the public sphere to reduce harm to others. No one is calling for people to euthanize their pets because of dander, or paving over their yard because all the flowers need to die.

    Not advocating jailing people for wearing perfume. None of these things.

  76. pillowinhell
    July 20, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    This post isn’t about not liking certain smells in public. The world is full of unpleasant scents. Its about reducing the use of certain chemicals (often in the form of perfumes, not always) that can have serious and unintended health effects.

    You don’t like someone elses cooking or foods related to a particular culture, suck it up. I’m pretty sure other people don’t like the smells of your cooking either.

    Being exposed to a smell you don’t like won’t kill you. Being exposed to chemicals that cause allergic reactions can make you sick, occassionally to the point of death.

  77. pillowinhell
    July 20, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Drahill, your food is “ethnic” too. There are certain foods (and I’m going to say white foods, since “ethnic” is something I only hear from white people). That have very strong smells, like cabbage or fish or garlic.

  78. Megan
    July 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    I think part of the resistance to a scent-free world is that the requests are brought to extremes. For example, telling someone they cannot wear scented antiperspirant which hardly has any odor 5 minutes after application is going to seem extreme to the general public and they may ignore the other suggestions. Ask people to be reasonable (don’t wear perfume or cologne) and they might be willing to listen. Borax and water won’t clean the stains from my job as a veterinarian and it’s darn near impossible to find a shampoo or body wash that keeps my skin and hair moisturized in a scent-free formulation that doesn’t cost twice as much as the regular stuff.

    Starting small will keep a lot of people from just digging in their heels.

  79. Lauren
    July 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    I’m perfectly able to accept and adhere to requests that folks tamp down the strong-smelling stuff in order to be kind to our neighbors, but the vagueness of the requests are trying, even for the most well-meaning among us. Surely there is something chemical, or something scientific, one can point to in order to narrow down the very long list of smelly things that might annoy or injure another person. Is there one?

  80. EG
    July 20, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    EG, I’ll take your conditioner covered bathroom stall, mildew anything else you want me to clean.

    Good God, please do.

  81. Drahill
    July 20, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Uh, pillow, I wasn’t addressing whether the food is ethnic or not. I was saying that the classification of the food as ethnic was the (private) reason given for exempting it from the scent-free policy my workplace has, because targeting food could create a claim under an anti-discrimination law. And that is a valid legal concern. So, just sayin’.

  82. pillowinhell
    July 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Okay EG, I’m on my way!!

    I understand that certain jobs or work environments do need stronger cleaners used, bleach in particular. I’ve scrubbed the inside of fryers by hand, and I have to say that using the heavy duty degreasers is far better in dong the job, unless the restaurant is prepared to empty and clean the fryers every night (and they aren’t). I also know that some people may require stronger cleaners in their homes for a variety of reasons. But most people buy cleaning agents because good marketing has convinced us that we need to, and most folks would have to ask their grandparents how they used to clean their homes.

    Drahil, thanks for the clarification. Like I said, most times I hear complaints about the smell of peoples cooking, it does get mixed in with certain isms. Unfortunately, it looks like you’ll have to hold your nose, because your employer is right.

  83. Andrea
    July 20, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I have chronic fatigue syndrome that I’ve noticed is intensified by strong perfumes over the past few years, so I try to take fragrance out of my personal care products whenever possible. I certainly don’t expect anyone to buy fragrance-free deotorant or laundry detergent for themselves if they don’t want to, but I sure would love if fewer people would douse themselves in fragrance.

    For those of you looking, Trader Joe’s has a few inexpensive shampoos/soaps/etc that are fragrance-free. I don’t love the quality of the conditioner, so I DO spend a bit more on the fragrance-free variations of Giovanni’s conditioners.

  84. pillowinhell
    July 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Don’t you just love how we can be charged MORE for not putting something rather superfluous in?

  85. unacomplished
    July 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    so… when and or where IS it appropriate to wear perfume or cologne? Are these products oppressive by nature because they can negative effects on people in public spaces? If I can afford to buy unscented deodorant am I not being a “decent human being” if I don’t?

  86. July 20, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    The ableism and chemical sensitivity denial in this thread disturbs me greatly, and after i was so happy to see a post about this. i was born with a genetic immune disease that has severe allergies as part of it. Some of my biggest triggers are synthetic esters derived from petroleum. (I’m also allergic to some perfectly natural esters, but most of those do not cause me to stop breathing, so I must conclude that there is in fact a chemical difference) Funnily enough, it isn’t just perfumes, but artificial flavorings. Chewing a new stick of gum around me will cause me to have an asthma attack too. Of course it isn’t just artificial scents for me, but petroleum more generally. I’m allergic to gasoline, tar, diesel exhaust, not to mention sulfur, smoke, bananas, mold, pumpkins, and a host of other natural and artificial substances, inhaled, absorbed, and consumed. And I am able to minimize my exposure to all of those things. But my ability to limit my exposure to artificial scents relies on the cooperation of the people around me. Most people are pretty good about it, but some insist it’s a personal preference, and I’m being difficult and picking on them. I only ask that people do their best not to threaten my life on a daily basis, is that too much to ask?

    (I would also like to mention that my allergies trigger seizures as well. Unless you want to deal with me having a two hour long temporal lobe seizure because of something you did, don’t do it. It isn’t any fun for the people around me.)

  87. Elle
    July 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    When I got to the part about perfumes and the like, I thought this post would be a lot more centred on policing women’s (and men’s) bodies – the demand that women not only lack unpleasant odours, but also smell nice all of the time. I have to go out of my way if I ever want to find unscented cream, deodorant, soap, and cleaning products, and it’s damn near impossible to find laundry products that have no scent. It makes no sense to me that such different components are marketed to women (and sometimes men) and meant to be worn at the same time – if my hand cream, sunscreen, shampoo, and deodorant all smell completely different, how is that pleasant? And if they’re all scented, why am I being marketed ridiculously expensive perfume? I’ve had people ask what perfume I’m wearing and get absolutely shocked when I say I’m not wearing any. Perfume and scented products are highly associated with being a real/proper/better/more desirable lady, to the point that I’ve felt somehow offensive if I don’t smell obviously nice, even though I know nothing about me smells bad. There’s a very clear association, too, that cleaning products = lady business. Commercials usually feature women cleaning, enjoying how fresh and clean they’ve made their home smell, and it’s insinuated that somehow means they have their lives together. Why are dusting cloths scented to smell like flowers? And why does “odour removal” spray have its own scent? I don’t know, it’s weird, and I’m curious as to why none of these things were mentioned in the post.

    I agree that the post seems somewhat over-the-top and reactionary. I think a lot of fair and sensible points, especially with regard to courtesy, were lumped in with some more extreme ones. I also think there’s a real missed opportunity to discuss some insidious marketing/body policing issues associated with scented products. If nothing else, it would have connected the more personal subject matter to the larger issue of feminism, which may have made the topic more easy to relate to, especially on “one of the oldest feminist blogs online.”

  88. July 20, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Telling asthmatics and anyone else made really ill by certain substances that they’ve no right to infringe on your right to reek like a branch of The Perfume Shop, because “Wah wah, overreaction, stop whining”, is shitty beyond belief. It makes a bottle of Summer’s Eve. not look like a douche in comparison.

    Partial, that is SO scent-ist of you! Just because you don’t stink so bad you need to douse yourself with a bottle of perfume doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with those who do. Your attitude reeks of superiority.

  89. pheenobarbidoll
    July 20, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    I dread having to buy certain things in the grocery store. The detergent aisle kills me. I don’t have to have unscented detergent, because ONE soft smell is ok, but an aisle of it is migraine city. Same with air fresheners. If it has vanilla in it, I will be puking and in pain in half an hour, guaranteed. And every goddamn thing has to have fucking vanilla in it. Jasmine, lavender and overly floral scents are also horrible. Lemon can do it and that godawful orange scent of cleaners makes me want to die.

    There is no perfume or man’s cologne that isn’t bad. And male deoderant is the worst.

    I don’t expect a scent free world, but there are sooo freakin many even cutting down on a few would be nice.

  90. pheenobarbidoll
    July 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Also- “Fresh Linen” anything needs to die in a fucking fire.

  91. minerva-gwen
    July 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    I am absolutely not being sarcastic. I meant every word.
    If i am harming someone by speaking too loudly, they have every right to make me shut up, even if it means breaking my jaw or cutting out my tongue. There are no limits on what should be done to protect yourself.
    I don’t use aromatherapy in my own home if i may leave the house later. i bang my head et c. so i won’t risk hurting someone else.
    Why would anyone object to demands that others euthanize their pets, destroy their property, violate their beliefs, if that’s what if takes to preserve your own life? How can you justify allowing such frivolous garbage if if hurts you? Everyone should be
    able to do these things without ableist whining.I would.

  92. minerva-gwen
    July 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I have. Well, i let my own heath be permanently damaged and lost things i still mourn.

  93. LMM
    July 20, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    @86: Some of my biggest triggers are synthetic esters derived from petroleum. (I’m also allergic to some perfectly natural esters, but most of those do not cause me to stop breathing, so I must conclude that there is in fact a chemical difference)

    I am fine with empirical statements about personal allergies. I am *not* fine with people deducing, based upon their own experiences, that chemists have deluded themselves for a century. (*)

    It’s possible that the synthetic esters you’re dealing with are present in greater quantities than the natural esters. (Most natural flavorings are far more diverse than the synthetic equivalents — it’s why, e.g., you can tell the difference between artificial and real vanilla flavoring.) It’s possible you’re allergic to some other additive. But unless you’re sensitive to incredibly small differences in the isotopic distribution of carbon atoms, there is absolutely no difference between specific synthetic esters derived from petroleum derivatives and their natural equivalents. (**) There is an *entire* sub discipline of chemistry dedicated to synthesizing — from scratch — incredibly elaborate biomolecules. Trust me, we’ve got synthetic esters down *flat*. (Several of the major esters are synthesized in undergrad labs.)

    (*) This is not about Big Pharma. This is about Big Pharma, Big Chemical *and* every academic institution on the face of the planet *and* every researcher since at least 1900. You can argue about whether or not drugs are tested thoroughly enough, but — trust me — it’s *very* easy to conclusively demonstrate the composition of an abundant small molecule. If the synthetic esters were different, a *lot* of people would have noticed by now.

    (**) Caveat: Some chemicals are chiral — i.e. they don’t overlap with their mirror image. In nature, nearly all such chemicals are produced in only one form; by contrast, some synthetic processes generate *both* forms. In *some* such cases, the synthetic product (containing both forms) is what is available commercially to consumers. (The assumption in such cases is that one state is inactive. This practice is declining, since it’s harder to get such compounds past the FDA.) However, the two different mirror images tend to smell and taste very differently, and very few flavoring agents seem to be chiral.

  94. July 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    The Abercrombie & Fitch store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan pumps massive clouds of their cheapeasse shitty cologne onto the sidewalk from their front doors. I guess they do this to attract the dumshitte rubes who want to pay three times the price of Gap clothes for the same shitty crappe. When PhysioWife and I walk past there, we go to the opposite side of Fifth Avenue to avoid the stench.

  95. July 20, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Oh, and BTW, Aveeno Skin Relief Body Wash comes in a fragrance-free variety, and is fucken awesome. I use it both to wash my body and as a shampoo.

  96. July 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    I am fine with empirical statements about personal allergies. I am *not* fine with people deducing, based upon their own experiences, that chemists have deluded themselves for a century. (*)

    It’s possible that the synthetic esters you’re dealing with are present in greater quantities than the natural esters. (Most natural flavorings are far more diverse than the synthetic equivalents — it’s why, e.g., you can tell the difference between artificial and real vanilla flavoring.) It’s possible you’re allergic to some other additive.

    Okay, so maybe the problem is that it sounds like we’re referring to the chemical make-up of individual molecules when what we mean is the overall chemical composition of a particular solution that contains multiple different types of molecules in different quantities. I’ll admit, my high school chemistry days, while beloved, were short and long since over, so I probably have been misspeaking. But the essential point is the same, albeit with maybe inaccurate-sounding phrasing – some products, many of which are artificially-produced, give people bad sensory reactions.

    I think accuracy is important and I get the frustration of laypeople not knowing something important but technical, but I don’t want it to get to the point of derailing the actual conversation.

  97. theLaplaceDemon
    July 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Dove has some really nice fragrance-free hypoallergenic soaps, but they are a tad on the pricey side (especially when you consider the fact that they dissolve really fast.)

    I don’t have any serious allergies to scented products, but if I clean with bleach in a small space (like a bathroom) I almost always vomit. This only started a couple years ago – and when I was a kid I used to like, dye clothes with bleach and never had a problem. But now, if I inhale a bunch of it, five, ten minutes later I am hugging the toilet (which is really unpleasant when I’ve just finished cleaning said toilet with bleach).

    I’ve never had this problem in a workplace, but I can imagine how awful it would be for someone more sensitive. I think adopting fragrance-light policies for public spaces and workplaces is a great idea. As for people who are all “OMG nanny state” – What are your opinions about smoking indoors in public places? Is that horrible unfair nanny state too?

  98. July 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    “Drahil, thanks for the clarification. Like I said, most times I hear complaints about the smell of peoples cooking, it does get mixed in with certain isms. Unfortunately, it looks like you’ll have to hold your nose, because your employer is right.”

    And yet this runs smack dab into the whole peanut allergy thing which is related to the larger topic. In some areas, entire schools/institutions are being asked to enforce not allowing parents/kids/teachers/administrators/visitors to bring peanuts/peanut butter on campus. For many people, peanut butter is an inexpensive form of protein when meats may be unaffordable. Some cultures use peanuts extensively in their cooking, so we’re back at the “whose right prevails” discussion.

    Andie’s original proposition is spot-on: let’s not be a-holes where we can avoid it.

    It’s often not that simple though. Several people here have mentioned flowers in the office being a problem for them/loved ones, and they are clearly not a synthetic scent.

    And despite the joking, there ARE neighbors and people who will insist that you not grow certain kinds of plants or have certain kinds of animals because “it will kill my child.”
    Others get incensed (seriously no pun meant) if you aren’t fully informed on some aspect of their/child’s specific allergy type, “How can you NOT know about peanut allergies?! Information is everywhere.” That’s actually how I found out about the peanut allergy thing; someone yelled at me for not knowing about it.

    Obviously, we need to be sensitive to others’ needs, but it also isn’t fair to be accused of able-ism for not knowing of or catering to a few folks’ specific conditions.
    I actually prefer baking soda products because of how they smell.

  99. Jenna
    July 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Wow, what a discussion. I come to this as a recently diagnosed Celiac. I am gluten intolerant, which basically means that a protein found in wheat, barley and spelt causes my intestines damage. It has been confirmed with a colonoscopy. This disease is an autoimmune thing, as the protein in the gluten causes my body to attack the little cilia in the intestines and the symptoms are varied and go beyond just gastrointestinal distress.

    The tl:dr version? Most bread and pasta are poison to me, and gluten is added to the darnedest things, sometimes. I have to read ALL THE LABELS.

    Now, I’m not going to ask that everyone and all restaurants give up bread and pasta. I just don’t eat it. However, when they start adding wheat flour to creamed corn and spinach…and cocktail sauce?…like one local restaurant, they make it hard for me to eat out at all.

    On to scents. I have no trouble believing that people can be harmed to different degrees and by different things. I happen to find the artificial scents in cleaners and fresheners horribly annoying, but, not dangerous to myself. I remember when department store perfume salespeople would spray you as you passed by, really without asking. They have stopped because people asked them to.

    I do prefer using baking soda, vinegar, and such to clean. I do use bleach and rubbing alcohol al well, though. I’m also guilty of using perfume on myself, but, only on my lower arms so I can wash it off if I need to, and if anyone an arm’s length away can smell it I have failed in the application. Everyone in the world doesn’t need to hear my car radio, and everyone in the world doesn’t have to smell me.

    I could really get behind efforts to put the strong smelling cleaners and anything else in a spot that most people don’t have to walk through in stores. I would LOVE better air quality in cities. I would also love to convince all the places of business out there that their cleaning solutions don’t have to be powerfully scented or toxic to be effective.

    There was a restaurant that my late husband loved, but, I did not. The reason I resisted going was that we usually arrived for lunch as they opened, and I could still smell their awful cleaning stuff. He didn’t get it, in spite of the fact that HE was sensitive to the smell of fish and could not eat if he could smell it.

  100. Jenna
    July 20, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Here’s a note for the person above who would vomit if they used bleach to clean the toilet, and then ended up with their face IN the toilet.

    Ziplock plastic bags are great for vomiting problems. Use the gallon size or some decently large one, not the sandwich bag size.

    I learned this when driving my husband home from chemotherapy, but, it is useful to know. You can be in any room or the car. You can hold them up close enough to not miss. You can SEAL them when done, so the odor of the vomit does not set you off again.

    I know that it is less ecological, but, sometimes there’s a trade off.

  101. July 20, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Comradde PhysioProffe:

    Aveeno is the bomb. They put out this fragrance-free body lotion, which is fantastic as I get wicked dry skin and also my partner is allergic to fragrances.

    Also, for conditioner, we’ve had good luck ordering conditioner base from hair care supply places, and just not adding stuff to it.

  102. July 20, 2012 at 7:09 pm
  103. Henry
    July 20, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    We have this law in the USA that is called the Americans With Disabilities Act. The law says workplaces and facilities accessed by the public have to make reasonable accommodations to allow people with disabilities to work and use those facilities. I’ve worked with people who were allowed to bring air purifiers into their offices because something in the building’s HVAC system was triggering their asthma (I suspect it was when the cleaned the duct work). Andie is right, people can make accommodations without turning the place into a scent police state. All anyone should have to do in a private work space is ask. If you have a coworker who is reacting to your perfume you can and should switch. Public spaces should not have aggressively heavy chemical usage when cleaned, it means they are not cleaning really, they are just covering the dirt so you get that lovely mix of organic filth and chemicals.

  104. minerva-gwen
    July 20, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    I’m afraid i left something out. As other posters have made clear, using scent, having peanuts, the wrong plants or animals, et c, is premeditated attempted murder. It should be treated as such. Jailing people or destroying property is not excessive for such a heinous crime.

  105. July 20, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    As I see it, there is a difference between not wearing perfume, and wearing fragrance-free soap/deodorant/etc. The former is like not smoking at work, it is asking/requiring people to refrain from doing a certain activity, and I see it as reasonable to have as a hard rule – Do not smoke in the office. Do not put on perfume before coming to work or while at work.

    In the average workplace (hospitals etc excepted), requiring people to go out of their way to purchase currently more expensive and harder to find products is, as I see it, an infrigement on personal liberties. Yes the cost to me of buying fragrance-free products might be small compared to the costs someone may go through if I don’t, but nevertheless, it is a cost that I have to bear, and if I can’t even put a face to the person that I’m helping (as would be the case with a blanket policy implemented across an organisation), then I’m unlikely to be enthused or even understanding.

    In terms of personal grooming products such as deodorant/soap/etc that, unlike perfume, a reasonable person in the Western world would consider to be necessary, it would be reasonable for the workplace to have in place requests and recommendations, but not hard rules.

    As chava said,

    …if you’re truly mandating a fragrance-free workplace, you’re dictating a huge amount of what people can and can’t use in their home. All personal care products, laundry detergent, soaps, fabric softener.. I just don’t see it as a fair burden to impose on an entire workplace.

    I am sure that there are people for whom the above measures would be required in order for them to not suffer ill effects at work. The fact that they are a minority of those who can be triggered by scent is no more relevant than the fact that people who can be triggered by scent at all are a minority of the population as a whole.

    Thus I think that a nuanced approach that considers the conditions of each workplace might be what is needed. For example, if nobody in your office actually has a scent sensitivity, then implementing a fragrance-free/fragrance-light policy is unnecessary hassle. If there is someone who is particularly sensitive, then it may be reasonable to do more on the deodorant/soap/etc front. Of course, such a nuanced approach has its own complications.

  106. Lauren
    July 20, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    I’m still confused. The AMA does not recognize this condition and the studies are far from conclusive (double-blind studies suggest this is largely psychosomatic). Folks’ complaints appear to be vague, personal, or pretty non-specific. I don’t have a problem recognizing the illness or injury that people are experiencing, but when there is no conclusive list, understanding of causes, or comprehensive ways of avoiding smells or producing smells, there are few ways the general public can respond at large.

  107. July 20, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    I had one last thought: While it would be costly, and ridiculous, if everyone were suddenly forced to replace all their bath and cleaning products with scent-free versions (and I agree, that would totally suck, and I wouldn’t be able to afford to do so) that isn’t really what’s being suggested. What’s actually being suggested is cheaper: Wearing less scented products in certain places, going without perfume or cologne, smoking further from entrances (and maybe staying outside a few minutes after you’re done with your cig so the smoke dissipates a bit, thanks). All those things are FREE. I would totally get the annoyance if we all had to throw out everything we own and spend tons of money on all new stuff, but there are a lot of things you can do to help sick people that won’t cost you a dime.

  108. July 20, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Lauren: Multiple chemical sensitivity isn’t the only illness that we’re talking about here. The AMA certainly recognizes asthma and allergies. Many people who have gone under the label “chemically sensitive” actually have severe allergies, but for decades, until very recently, the medical establishment insisted that you couldn’t be allergic to artificial compounds, which isn’t true. You can be allergic to anything. I’m allergic to loads of chemicals, natural and unnatural alike.

  109. Tapetum
    July 20, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    pillowinhell – do you mind me asking what soap you use when cleaning? I’m seriously downshifting my scent use around the house, not because it’s a hazard to anyone here, but in sheer relief – for the last several years it’s been a pile of awful artificial scents layered over top of dog/dog-pee, etc. smells, because my father-in-law and his several not-well-house-trained dogs were living with us. Now I can walk in the door and not be bowled over either by dog stink, or by Febreeze/air-freshener stink, and I like it.

    I’m currently using vinegar and baking soda extensively, but a good soap would be nice. The only one I’ve been told specifically about was Fels-Naptha, but I appear to have a contact allergy to that one.

    On the scent front – I do use and love my perfumes, which actually leads me to using more unscented things, since I don’t want my lilac perfume layered over ginger soap and coconut conditioner. The perfumes themselves I don’t use heavily, and not when I’m going to be a) around someone I know is scent-sensitive, or b) out in a crowded public venue. Light daily use when I’m going to be walking through a grocery store, or just out and around, someone would have to be pretty persuasive to tell me I’m causing harm. Nobody not hugging me at the time can usually tell I’m wearing any.

  110. Li
    July 20, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    This thread. What even.

    Many strong scents are a potential anxiety trigger for me. I can’t say how widespread that is (though my psych tells me it’s not unusual), but I know several other people with anxiety disorders who can be triggered by strong smells, so it’s not just me and it doesn’t seem to be particular to our experiences of trauma.

    I was going over to a friend’s a few months ago and he mentioned that he was going to burn some incense during the gathering to help him relax after work. I told him that incense was an issue for me so he didn’t. It was like the least dramatic thing ever but I have the feeling that some of the commenters here would basically think that I am the absolute worst for not just sucking it up.

  111. Li
    July 20, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    Hilarious story: I tried an almond scented body wash a few weeks ago and actually had an anxiety attack because I smelt so delicious. It was one of the more surreal experiences I’ve had in a long while.

  112. July 21, 2012 at 12:11 am

    @Li-Seriously, how totally easy is it to respect someone’s need to not have an asthma or anxiety attack? I’m not nearly as sensitive as some people-right now I’m obsessed with lemon and grapefruit scented stuff I got from The Body Shop-but my mom can’t handle any strong scents and her best friend is the same way, she can’t even have scented candles burning or anything. The people around them respect this by not buying them scented candles and refraining from wearing body spray and such when we are around them.

    Now, I totally get it’s not the same when you are just going about your day-to-day business and you don’t know who you are going to be around. I don’t at all think people should never use anything scented. Just be a bit mindful of how much you are using, how strong it is, and if you know for a fact you are going to be around someone with scent issues, respect that. Sheesh.

  113. July 21, 2012 at 1:13 am

    I had one last thought: While it would be costly, and ridiculous, if everyone were suddenly forced to replace all their bath and cleaning products with scent-free versions (and I agree, that would totally suck, and I wouldn’t be able to afford to do so) that isn’t really what’s being suggested.

    Well… what’s being suggested is that people who don’t do so are ‘assholes.’

    So, how can you help and/or not be an asshole?

    *Go Scent-free. Use unscented soaps and deodorants when possible. Don’t bother with perfume and cologne.

    I think it’s this suggestion of how to ‘help,’ that’s causing the pushback, especially as it’s listed first.

  114. konkonsn
    July 21, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Just want to back up those who think the amount of ableism in this thread is fucking amazing. Seriously. My mom has pretty bad animal allergies, but I love all kinds of animals and must have a pet. I make sure to clean the house really well and shut up the housemate’s cats when Mom visits, and then we usually go somewhere else if we’re going to talk for more than an hour or two. If I visit her at home, I wash all my clothing and have a lint roller handy so I can catch any stray hairs/dander before getting into the house.

    So, yeah, I’m not euthanizing anything; I’m not even going without a pet. Do I have to work a little harder and spend a little more money on products by washing/cleaning everything? Yup. But I’m being fucking respectful because I love my mom. Hey, maybe you don’t love your co-workers, but they are human beings, and they shouldn’t have to suffer if you can make an effort.

    Seriously, this is just ridiculous….

  115. July 21, 2012 at 1:51 am

    Now I feel bad for using musk perfume. It bothers me slightly despite my overall tolerance for it, but it didn’t occur to me that it can actually trigger severe allergic reactions for some people. I’ll have to wash my Palestinian scarf because it’s practically infused with musk perfume.

  116. July 21, 2012 at 7:12 am

    Well… what’s being suggested is that people who don’t do so are ‘assholes.’

    So, how can you help and/or not be an asshole?

    *Go Scent-free. Use unscented soaps and deodorants when possible. Don’t bother with perfume and cologne.

    I think it’s this suggestion of how to ‘help,’ that’s causing the pushback, especially as it’s listed first.

    I don’t get it. Why scare-quote “help” like that? If someone has a scent allergy and you know it, and you wear cologne around them even though you know that it aggravates their condition… well, yeah, I think that’s kind of an asshole move. If you can use unscented soaps and deodorants but decide “Fuck those people with scent allergies, I’m going to go scented because I feel like it.” Yeah, kind of an asshole move.

    If you had a peanut allergy and told people about it and said “Listen, it would really help me if you avoided peanuts at work because I can have a really serious reaction otherwise” and someone said “fuck it, I’m bringing peanut butter sandwiches and extra chunky peanut bars every day” I’d imagine you’d be a little upset about it, too.

    If, on the other hand, you can’t get unscented products? Well, you do what you can do. If you can’t get them, you can’t get them.

  117. chava
    July 21, 2012 at 7:41 am

    And yet this runs smack dab into the whole peanut allergy thing which is related to the larger topic. In some areas, entire schools/institutions are being asked to enforce not allowing parents/kids/teachers/administrators/visitors to bring peanuts/peanut butter on campus. For many people, peanut butter is an inexpensive form of protein when meats may be unaffordable. Some cultures use peanuts extensively in their cooking, so we’re back at the “whose right prevails” discussion.

    Yep. With the rise of “food insensitivities” that now seem to plague every American kid, the list can get a bit out of hand. It isn’t fair to ask an entire classroom to make egg, soy, and nut free lunches (and yes, this has started happening). That said, legit allergies ARE on the rise, so this is also just part of people trying to navigate the new reality of food in public settings.

  118. theLaplaceDemon
    July 21, 2012 at 8:35 am

    @101 Jenna 7.20.2012 at 6:53 pm

    I appreciate the suggestion :) These days, though, the significant other typically does all of the bathroom cleaning.

  119. July 21, 2012 at 9:03 am

    I don’t get it. Why scare-quote “help” like that? If someone has a scent allergy and you know it, and you wear cologne around them even though you know that it aggravates their condition… well, yeah, I think that’s kind of an asshole move.

    Can you point out the bit in the original post where she said this only applies to a situation where ‘someone has a scent allergy and you know it’?

    I assumed she was making a blanket statement and can’t find anything in the OP where she qualifies it like that. However, if you can point it out to me, I guarantee I will give you my heartfelt apologies.

  120. Andie
    July 21, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Fat Steve, you missed two very key words in my OP – when possible

    Which means:

    – if you have access to such products
    – if you can afford them without undue hardship
    – if you’re not putting your own health at risk (like with the poster who said zie is allergic to most kinds of deodorant)

  121. Andie
    July 21, 2012 at 9:26 am

    I didn’t say “if someone has a scent allergy and you know it.”. No, I did not say that. I probably should have.

    However, (and this relates more to heavy perfumes and such than lightly scented soaps or laundry detergents) if you’re moving around out in public, in crowded spaces, it’s probably safe to assume – especially if we go by the number of people in this thread alone who claim issues with scents – that you’re going to encounter someone with some kind of allergy, sensitivity or even anxiety issue (seriously, Li, I had no idea that was even a thing) to scents… So if you’re going out and wearing a lot of perfume or cologne and are not willing to put the least bit of thought into that possibility, yeah, then I’m not going to think very highly of your regard for other human beings.

  122. July 21, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Fat Steve, you missed two very key words in my OP – when possible

    Which means:

    – if you have access to such products
    – if you can afford them without undue hardship
    – if you’re not putting your own health at risk (like with the poster who said zie is allergic to most kinds of deodorant)

    Yes, but what you don’t mention are those of us who don’t come into close contact with people who have these scent-sensitive situations. Anyway, I wasn’t taking offence, I was merely saying that seemed to be the sticking point for those who were.

  123. July 21, 2012 at 9:31 am

    ooops…you answered my question before I asked it…

    you’re good…or psychic

  124. July 21, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Offering support and solidarity to the folks posting here about their struggles with scents and chemicals. My own sensitivities are minor, but if my grandmother’s and mother’s symptoms are an indication, my sensitivities are going to increase with age.

    I want to give a shout-out to the East Bay Meditation Center, a place that i think has done a good job of establishing a fragrance free policy while also being mindful of issues of class, race, and ethnicity. They provide a very comprehensive list of possible cleaning and personal care products on their website, but they don’t force it on anyone (I realize some of the resources are specific to the San Francisco Bay Area, but many are not). They also have an air purifier on-site so that folks are able to sit near that if other attendees unfamiliar with the scent free policy have come wearing lots of scented products.

  125. sugs
    July 21, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Fascinating discussion. As an asthmatic I’ve spent years trying to pin down my triggers, and some perfumes are definitely on the list. An added problem is that over the years my constant allergic rhinitis has lead to me losing my sense of smell. I’m no longer able to tell if I’m near someone wearing a triggering perfume so I can’t move away in time. I do know that I need to hold my breath and try to run through department stores to escape the perfume department. I’m lucky that my asthma is relatively moderate, the salbutamol still works for me.
    What I don’t get is why people would want to cover themselves in perfume anyway. It makes them less aware of the all the smells in the world around them, good as well as bad. You don’t think you’ll miss the smell of BO, tyres and stale curry until you just can’t can’t detect them or any great smell either. I’d gladly put up with those (and the triggering perfumes) to be able to smell the world again.

  126. July 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

    So if you’re going out and wearing a lot of perfume or cologne and are not willing to put the least bit of thought into that possibility, yeah, then I’m not going to think very highly of your regard for other human beings.

    Totally. It’s only because I agree with this so much that I wanted to differentiate this from something like using scented deodorants which people are unlikely to notice due to them being under your arm (unless of course you are a professional wrestler.)

  127. Jennifer
    July 21, 2012 at 10:40 am

    I don’t suffer any bad health effects from scents, but I do have a very good sense of smell and find many scents annoying/distracting. I’ve found it pretty easy to find unscented products at no extra cost at most big stores–laundry detergent (arm and hammer among others), target brand lotion, many deodorants. For soap I’ve gone with sappo hill, which is pricey. Shampoo/conditioner I haven’t used but the smell isn’t as strong there. Some of it is just a mindset–e.g., strong-smelling sprays in bathrooms. Personally, I don’t like sh*t plus some strong fake flower odor any more than just sh*t by itself, ya know? I’ve found that when I gave it some thought, I didn’t need a lot of the products I was using anyway and am happier without them.

  128. miga
    July 21, 2012 at 10:57 am

    @pheeno: I’m slightly ashamed to say that Britney Spears’ vanilla scented perfume made me dislike her for bringing it into the world. And I’ve never met the woman~ I just hate artificial vanilla scent so much.

  129. Partial Human
    July 21, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Lauren – the post is about an asthma attack. Every comment but ONE has been about asthma (or other respiratory conditions), migraine, or allergies. They are all recognised as legitimate, harmful, and potentially fatal health issues. Devastating sequelae from migraine are rare, but documented.

    I’m not sure if anyone knows/remembers/was subject to this, but asthma used to be thought of as a psychological conditions. Often it was blamed on ‘over-protective’ mothers”*. It wasn’t uncommon for children to be refused access to emergency “relievers”**, as that would make the problem worse by “coddling” them.

    Partial Human is crossing into impartial here, because certain memories associated with that fucked-up, misogynist legacy, are making me cry at the thought.

    So, see my very rudimentary asthma simulation upthread? (ctrl+f for ‘Capri’)

    Try or imagine that. Then imagine you’re a terrified kid, that your medication works and may prevent your imminent death, but nobody will hand it over. What you get, instead of a lovely blast of bronchodilators, is something along the lines of this:

    Come on girl, put some effort into it. You’re not in playschool now you know, mummy isn’t here to kiss it better. Come on, just BREATHE properly, it’s not hard, look – everyone else is managing. Come on, don’t be soft, in out in out in out. I don’t know why I bother, you brats today are spoiled. Getting hysterical does nothing. You’re not even trying now. Oh look, tears! Marvellous .

    If a classmate hadn’t run up and shoved her reliever in my mouth, I’d have joined the oxygen-deprived, brain-damaged sixth former, or the 16 year old who died, after her manager (at £££HUGE local warehouse store) ignored her protests, and forced her to clean the shop’s glass frontage.

    That’s why accusations of “whining”, implications of overreaction, making things up, attention-grabbing etc. send me into nuclear mode. I’m 11 again, with a 70 year old ex-brigade-captain-turned-teacher screaming at me to “Push through it”, mocking my inability to breathe, laughing in my face as I went blue.

    Asthma’s killing people, mostly poor people, ethnic minority people, people who are already disadvantaged by existing autoimmune problems, then develop this one because genetics is cruel.

    1200 people a year die in the UK.

    3500 in the US. In the US there are 19 million ER cases, due to asthma, every year.

    That upsets me, it scares me, and when I consider that American asthma-sufferers (again, mostly poor WOC) need to factor their lifesaving relievers into their budgets, I can feel my chest tighten in sympathy. I want to scream, and cry, and never stop.

    I can juggle my free inhalers, stack the boxes high in my cabinet, have one in every room of the house, in the car, in my rucksack, in my coat pocket. Meanwhile, outrageandsprinkles (upthread) has to ration their usage. Poor American kids have to guard theirs literally with their lives. Meh, what’s a few jumbo jets full of deaths? So a few housing project and rez kids die, and Latina cleaners leave behind their kids, cos everyone working together to improve the environment, to ask manufacturers to knock it off with the scent overdosing, to just be not giant honking ableists when consideration and empathy are required, is JUST SOOO HAAAAAAARD,. Dismissing, mocking, accusing those stupid wheezy whiners of wanting to infringe your rights- much easier. Wrapped in that blanket of warm, toasty privilege, comparing potentially fatal reactions to being annoyed by farting, loud colleagues, and them dirty ethnics eating their stinky weird food.

    Fucking hell. If only I were fat, disabled, poor and brown, I could get my own post about how I’m oppressing the ‘normal’ feministas by drinking full-sugar pop, paid for with my welfare benefits, while not even attempting to grow my own organic veg in my garden, politely asking you not to blow cigarette smoke in my face (in case I die), and refusing to be silenced about the genocide against my people.

    Sadly I’m white. Firmly accepting of my place in the oppressor class, attempting to learn whatever I can about what my people have done, so as not to carelessly step on any toes.

    I will never be Public Fenemy #1.

    [weeps]

  130. karak
    July 21, 2012 at 11:40 am

    There’s something kind of… hostile, in me, to be asked to change the form of my passive existence to help other people. Like I don’t get to decide how to present my public image without consulting strangers. Not just considering strangers, but actually consulting them.

    My active existence–the things I choose to talk about, the way I approach other people, I’m more receptive to. If there’s someone in my workplace who politely tells me my conditioner causes her migraines, I’ll make an accommodation, but I’m not going to change the way I live my life on the grounds that someone, somewhere might have a reaction to it. (Actually, if my coworker told me my conditioner gave her migraines, I wouldn’t be able to change it–I’m allergic to most forms of shampoo and *can’t* change my brand without risking my life).

    And I say this as someone who is allergic to shampoos and perfumes, degreasers and almonds (I had to move on a plane because I was so allergic to someone’s almond hand lotion). It sucks, but that’s kind of the de facto state of having a disability–your life sucks. I’m not going to go around kicking wheelchairs and throwing peanuts at people, but if you can’t be simply passively exist in a normal public environment, then the issue is with you, not everyone else.

  131. July 21, 2012 at 11:51 am

    @ karak

    I’m not sure how a smell that you actively control applying is part of your “passive existence”. I mean, I get it if it weren’t something you had any reasonable agency over (as I mentioned way above, I’ve worked in situations where there were very unpleasant smells because of people’s living situations, which they could not do anything about), but that’s not what you’re describing at all. It’s a scent, sure, but it’s not something you would passively exude – it’s something you would actively apply.

  132. July 21, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Putting on perfume or cologne isn’t a passive thing. It’s similar in kind to smoking: it’s an active decision that you’re actively doing, that may cause harm to other people, for the sole reason that you wanna and you don’t wanna stop.

    I’m overgeneralising; smoking is an addiction. But try asking smokers to stand away from doors, and you’ll get a number of folk saying “gosh, do you just walk everywhere with an oxygen tank?”, or “you can’t ask me to stop smoking by the door, until you’ve (a) attacked the industry and (b) stopped all pollution”.

    The OP covered the issue of “if you can’t because it means your health, then don’t”, so what this leaves is people finding all sorts of ways to make it the allergy-sufferers’ faults that they dared to ask people to be more considerate of their perfumey choices. Calling wearing perfumed stuff a passive act is a new one on me, though.

  133. Partial Human
    July 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Shit, forgot my notes!

    [*] “coddling” children gave them asthma. Not doing so made them autistic. But only the mother’s behaviour counted. Obviously.

    [**] The two most common types of asthma medications are +preventers’ and ‘relievers’

    The first type are usually a mild corticosteroid taken daily to prevent symptoms. The second are used during attacks, to stop the airways spasming and clamping shut.

    They’re both pretty much essential to managing asthma successfully on a day-to-day basis. However, certain triggers will provoke a flare in even the most symptom-free asthmatic. It’s literally a case of “Get reliever or face death”.

    If the reliever doesn’t work, then it’s paramedic/ER time, for nebulised, brute-strength relievers, oxygen, and often a big dose of prednisolone. Sometimes a course of pred at home too, and all the faff that involves, like ten pills at a time, and ‘tapering’ so. you don’t, ah, die. I know, I know.

  134. July 21, 2012 at 11:57 am

    (That being said, I totally get where problems arise because of conflicting health needs, e.g., your need for a particular shampoo because of allergies vs. your coworkers headaches. Those situations of conflicting accommodations do come up and are complicated, but I still don’t see where that conflicts with the basic tenet of this post which is if you can wear less, wear less, barring complicated circumstances which warrant more consideration. What I’m running into is a lot of people who have no allergies or like conditions at all and have no fricking clue that what they wear and how much of it, for purely personal preference reasons, can have a really negative impact on people around them.)

  135. Jade
    July 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    If making a small adjustment in my life can make someone else’s life better (let alone prevent a life threatening situation), why wouldn’t I? If I really just “need” that cigarette, it’s worth it to me to walk a little farther from the building. I’ve been known to wear a specific jacket while smoking and take it off before going around sensitive persons just to reduce the amount of exposure I caused (Yes, it worked well.). Within my own circle of family and friends (and even myself), I’ve encountered many different allergies, asthma, exzema, and countless other medical conditions. I know that I appreciate it when people are considerate to me, so why not return the favor?

  136. Partial Human
    July 21, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    TW for emetophobic readers. Probably best to scroll past this.

    @pheeno – URGH VANILLA. That or cinnamon, huge migraine triggers. Like being suddenly smashed
    in the face and head with a metal baseball bat, and having norovirus, at the same time.

    My dad used to pick me up from my part-time job, there weren’t any buses at weekends. He got there early on one particular Saturday as he needed some floppy disks (ahh, nostalgia). He came over and said hi, and I felt like my stomach lurched out of my throat. But it had been a long day, busy, under hot fluorescent lights in a vile uniform. It passed, I carried on sweeping up.

    We tidied and restocked the store, and we were done, yay! Saturday night! Out on the town! “See you at 8 lads, outside [cheap noisy pub]”.

    I walked over to the car, opened the door, and BANG! Brand new vanilla Magic Tree, bright yellow, swinging maliciously from the rearview mirror.

    The vertigo hit first, and I fell over. Got up, got into the car, vomited into my mouth, didn’t dare do it on the dash. I was panicking, sweating, looking for any sort of receptacle. I’m an emetophobe, so I was shaking, tears pissing down my face, I had to swallow it. But the treevil smell hit again. All I could do was pull off my sweatshirt, hold the neck-hole shut, and vomit my insides out all the way home. I even threw the tree out of the window, to no avail.

    Guess who else has a vomit phobia? My poor dad. Who had to drive, while his 19 year old daughter, dressed only in her bra and trousers, emptied her guts out. Poor bastard managed to limit his reaction to dry heaving until we got home.

    God only knows what the neighbours thought. Our parking space is across the street! My poor mother opened the door to a puking husband and a half-naked, inconsolable kid,who each bolted to one of the two toilets.

    I stayed in that night. In a dark quiet room, with ice packed around my head.

    @Li – there’s a common, every day household item that everyone uses. It’s associated with specific past traumas, and while the sight unnerves me, the smell makes me feel like I’m plummeting.

    It’s such an innocuous item, I will never, ever disclose the item, not even to a mental health worker (if I had one). There’s also an action associated with the item, and the sound of it triggers me very badly. I told one person, my best friend of 12 years. She combined the two whenever possible as a joke. She thought it was hilarious. She was also training to be a paediatric trauma therapist.

    She fucked me up so badly one weekend that I walked out and never went back. Smell and sound, to me, feel worse than my visual triggers because they’re harder to block out.

    Hugs if you need them, it sucks.

  137. July 21, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I told one person, my best friend of 12 years. She combined the two whenever possible as a joke. She thought it was hilarious. She was also training to be a paediatric trauma therapist.

    Oh fuck, what a shitty piece of nonsense. I’m so sorry she did that to you and I hope she either smartened the hell up or switched professions.

    It blows my mind how often people don’t understand how badly our bodies can betray us in an instant because of seemingly innocuous or otherwise “normal” life events. It’s like if you aren’t visibly injured or sick with a disease that’s considered socially-legitimized, you’re just wussing out. I don’t have allergy triggers, but I do have very severe dysmenorrhea which involves a number of symptoms besides horrendous cramping (black-outs, headaches, cold sweats, joint pain, skin sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea – I’m a mess). Unless someone has seen me curled up on the bathroom floor or passed out in front of them (or knows someone else or has personal experience with such symptoms), they often don’t understand how I could possibly have justifiable anxiety about my period or why I wouldn’t just suck it up and go out anyway.

    And if there were small, simple actions with no economic or personal consequences (like many, though by no means all of the suggestions given in this thread) that people could take to help me avoid my menstrual symptoms, I sure as hell would wonder why they wouldn’t bother.

  138. July 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Fucking hell. If only I were fat, disabled, poor and brown, I could get my own post about how I’m oppressing the ‘normal’ feministas by drinking full-sugar pop, paid for with my welfare benefits, while not even attempting to grow my own organic veg in my garden, politely asking you not to blow cigarette smoke in my face (in case I die), and refusing to be silenced about the genocide against my people.

    This seems a bit all over the place. I mean what does drinking ‘full sugar pop’ have to do with anything? And not growing organic seems to be exactly the sort of thing that triggers others, I mean how is it good to spray pesticides in your garden?

    If high fructose corn syrup triggered migraines would you be against it? for it? I really don’t get where you’re coming from with this (and I agree with your stance on the scents.)

  139. EG
    July 21, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    What I don’t get is why people would want to cover themselves in perfume anyway.

    OK, that’s absurd. It’s one thing to say “don’t do this because it can hurt people,” and another altogether to say “you shouldn’t even want to do this.”

    Why do people wear perfume? For the same reason they wear decorative barrettes or necklaces. It’s a form of decoration they find pleasing.

    There seems to be an assumption here that wearing perfume is “covering yourself,” “dousing yourself,” “wearing a lot of.” And that is confusing to me. Is the problem any perfume at all? Or is it simply a matter of overapplying?

  140. samanthab
    July 21, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Christ, really, Karak? Having your life suck is the de facto state of having a disability? I think that’s only if you’re around people that suck. I have a stack of disabilities, and I also have a lot of joy in my life.

    You’re essentially arguing like a bad interpreter of Darwin and suggesting that life exists in hierarchical tiers. Read your Stephen Jay Gould! Difference is what allows for evolutionary success, not what works against it. It is not the end of the world to fail to conform to arbitrary norms.

    Furthermore, a lot of people who don’t have short term reactions to toxins will have long term reactions (cancers, etc.) A toxin is a toxin, whether you know you’re reacting to it or not.

  141. pheenobarbidoll
    July 21, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Is the problem any perfume at all? Or is it simply a matter of overapplying?

    Over applying most of the time, though some perfumes are so strong it’s impossible to not over apply.

    My mother used to wear Red Door. I could tell you what rooms in the house she had been in HOURS after she had gone to work.

    If I can track you via your perfume, it’s either over applied or so strong it crosses from perfume to stench.

  142. Partial Human
    July 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    Steve. – I’m referring to the site as a whole.

    Evil fatties were castigated for drinking pop, because “OBESITY CRISIS!”.

    Various BME* people are told that reparations are bullshit, they’re stereotyped, told “make mixed babies and heal the world”, exotified, objectified, and whitesplained at. Pheeno (sorry to single you out!) has patiently explained the dismal state of life on reservations. In return she’s pelted with so much bullshit that she looks like she’s been dumped in a sewer. Then when she responds with anything other than humility, people cry “MEAAAAN! I’m trying to explain why I’m not to blame, OMFG YOU’RE TRYING TO ETHNICALLY CLEANSE AMERICA!!!! WHITE PEOPLE MADE THIS PLACE!!!!!”

    Disabled people have been called lazy, accused of exploiting foreign workers and the welfare system. They’ve copped shit for not having their own vegetable gardens (“It’s so EEEASY!”), making their own clothes, eating convenience/fast food, not cooking from scratch, not hunting for organic/fair trade/cruelty-free products, and now for wanting to breathe.

    Poor people, where to even start? Everything the disabled commenters are accused of, plus daring to breed, and a whole host of other nasty bootstrapping. A kind of ‘prosperity gospel’ attitude, that trying harder and positive thought can lift people out of poverty.

    People complaining about the price of eating out in [expensive city] , splitting the bill when you didn’t have lobster, and various topics that are out of reach of so many. People pipe up, “I’m poor, I can’t afford to shop around for organic food, sometimes a Dollar Menu burger is my only meal of the day”. What’s the inevitable comeback? “Can’t be that poor if you’ve got internet access”.

    It hurts, really fucking hurts. Social justice is, or should be, about intersectionality. Instead, here, the WOC are expected to fix racism, fat people should shut their mouths and stop reminding people that they exist. Poor people are allowed no luxuries, no little stress busters, people with disabilities should just stay at home because that’s easier on the majority, people with mental illnesses are “over sensitive” and oppressing people, they.so language-policing, because. they politely ask people to not use crazy/insane/psychotic/mental as synonyms for “bad”.

    I’m gay. I’m a dyke. I know for a fact that if someone expressed displeasure at something by saying “Oh god, that’s so fucking gay!” or said “That actor is so f*ggy”, they’d be run out on a rail.

    Another site I love has a huge problem with misogynist trolls. It’s so bad that high-profile professionals, very important people in the movement, have publicly targeted some women in such an overtly vicious fashion in real life, that some serious harm has been done.

    Two actual idols of mine are involved. I’m still a bit in shock/disbelief, and their flying monkeys are gleefully flinging the hate around because they feel they have a green light. So. if one wandered in here and tried their tricks, here’s a really ‘normal’mild example:

    “You’re a typical whining femin*zi, You should be punched in the c*nt. I know where you live, I could easily get there, but I don’t. I don’t because I respect women, I believe in women’s rights, but you’re a hysterical b*tch who thinks she deserves special treatment. That’s why I hate feminists”

    Imagine that, in here? It wouldn’t get out of mod.

    My identity as gay is protected, not up for dispute. As a woman I can count on misogynist crap being stamped on. Why aren’t the other facets of my existence, legitimate social justice concerns (for everyone affected) treated the same way? Why is the onus on economically deprived feminists and disabled/mentally ill feminists reduced to mere annoyances on the fringe?

    I’m not a WOC, I’m not. trans, I can only just imagine the disillusionment and pain at their rejection and marginalisation. It seems like people are parroting back trans inclusive phrases but without necessarily understanding why. It shows, and it doesn’t work.

    We need transfeminism, we need more WOC, more people from outside North America, a place where disabled/MI people and working class (and the underclass) people feel safe and respected.

    I’m seriously longing for a fourth wave, a radical feminism where all women are given equal voice. Where colour, chromosomal status, class, location, sexuality, Neurotypicality and ability are not sticks to be beaten with, but positive facets that can give a more nuanced perspective on ensuring equality for all. But I’m not gonna get it, because some people cannot let go of their privilege. Threads like this show that only too painfully and clearly.

    Sorry it took so long Steve, I keep falling asleep! It got long too, I has a lot of feelings.

  143. pheenobarbidoll
    July 21, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    @pheeno – URGH VANILLA. That or cinnamon, huge migraine triggers. Like being suddenly smashed
    in the face and head with a metal baseball bat, and having norovirus, at the same time.

    Cinnamon doesn’t trigger migraines for me, but it makes me sick to my stomach ever since the unfortunate night I drank half a bottle of Hot Damn all by myself.

    Shopping around Christmas time is not too pleasant LOL!

  144. EG
    July 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    If I can track you via your perfume, it’s either over applied or so strong it crosses from perfume to stench.

    Ok. Well, that’s good to know. It is classic style advice as well: “Your perfume should neither precede you into the room, nor linger after you have departed,” is how I heard it. Or read it, probably.

    My personal feeling is that I should not feel like I’ve been smacked across the face with a washcloth that has been soaked in your perfume just because I’m in your presence.

  145. Li
    July 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    I’m not going to go around kicking wheelchairs and throwing peanuts at people, but if you can’t be simply passively exist in a normal public environment, then the issue is with you, not everyone else.

    Or it’s with the ‘normal’ public environment. I mean, it’s normal for a lot of stores to have the “just one step” at their entrance, but that doesn’t make the resulting inaccessibility the fault of wheelchair users, it’s the fault of the way we construct our public environments.

  146. Partial Human
    July 21, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Ok Jadey, my full sympathies and a boatload of hugs. I have endometriosis, so I suppress my bleeding hormonally to stop me going off the deep end. I become literally psychotic with rage and pain, danger to myself and others and all that junk.

    I walked out on my “friend” in 2004 after her attempts at using exposure methods on me without my consent, laughing, and minimising the very real terror I felt. I’m not a lab rat, I know it’s bizarre to fear that object and such a common sound, but I do. I couldn’t live with her after that.

    I never saw her again. She texted me joking about it, I changed my number. She sent letters to my parents’ house, to me and them. She called them, got my mother to harangue me into forgiving her. I didn’t feel safe anywhere. The letters were full of trite fauxpologies, and demands that I accept my own part in the problem! Yeah… Right.

    I don’t miss her. I saw her once in a shop, and nearly went into a meltdown. I remained outwardly composed, but inside I was dying. I could have easily run to the stationery aisle, grabbed scissors, and plunged them into my throat, I was that distressed. I don’t need that in my life.

  147. Partial Human
    July 21, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    EG-I had a colleague, in my call centre days, and I could taste her perfume. If I happened to be sharing a pod. (group of four stations) with her I couldn’t eat, and had to drink really strong coffee all night to wash the taste out!

    It was a nice perfume, one I used occasionally, but the taste was freaky. I used to spend half my shift in the loo, and the other half jittering from the caffeine. One of the night staff was on oxygen, and I used to gaze longingly at that tank full of clean air.

  148. DonnaL
    July 21, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I wore perfume regularly for a while after I first transitioned — one of the many things I’d never had “permission” to do before, like wearing makeup and jewelry. But (unlike with makeup and jewelry, although I wear less of both than I did at the outset) have been out of the habit for some time now, and do so only on extremely rare occasions at this point. Partly because even when I used to wear it daily, all I put on was one or at most two drops on each wrist (someone told me that’s how much to put on; what do I know?), and after about an hour I couldn’t smell anything anymore. So I wasn’t sure what the point was. I also never figured out the whole process of wearing different scents for different occasions — I have one kind, that’s it. Sort of the same way that someone advised me 8 years ago that a particular brand and shade of lipstick looked OK on me, and that’s the only one I’ve ever worn. (One of my great fears is that it will be discontinued!) I can be pretty hopeless that way.

    Almost none of the women who work at my office — there’s one extremely noticeable exception, a woman who works in the accounting department whose presence I can detect for some time after she’s departed — wears a noticeable amount of perfume. Which is fine with me. I don’t understand why people find it so difficult to be at least minimally considerate.

    I’m lucky that most of what people have talked about here isn’t a physical problem for me. (I have enough medical problems as it is!) Although I can only use fragrance-free moisturizer, especially on my face. Anything else turns my skin bright red. For the most part, immediately and disastrously. It took me many years for the light bulb to go on in my head, enabling me to figure out why that was happening!

  149. Partial Human
    July 21, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Donna – WRT lipstick, I have a rotten habit of seeing a lipstick, thinking “Ooh, pretty!” and getting it.

    Then I’ll get home and realise that it’s identical to every other lipstick I own. Oh well, that’s ok. But then I had not one but two people saying “Your lipstick always looks so nice. It’s the exact shade of your lips, so it gives you a really natural look, it enhances things so subtly”.

    I was puzzled, were they bloody colourblind? I went to the toilet on my break and, sure enough, my 500 identical pretty lipsticks were indeed the exact colour of my lips.

    On the plus side, I’ll never have to buy lippy ever again. I don’t have to worry about my shade being discontinued, because I have at least a dozen sealed tubes. Oh, and the lip thing. I could always just eat something greasy and get the same effect.

    Perfume can be put on any pulse point like your wrist or your throat. I think! That’s what I’ve always been told anyway.

    As per my other comment, forgot my note again, so:

    [*]BME = black/minority ethnic

  150. July 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Partial Human- Your comment at #130 got me a little emotional. Having never had breathing problems until last fall, I wasn’t prepared for it at all, and what really makes it awful is the PANIC. Not being able to breathe, even just feeling that first bit of difficulty, is terrifying. Panicking makes it worse, but it’s almost impossible not to panic.

    Anyway, I don’t expect people to never use anything scented ever. I know at least one person upthread said something like that but I don’t really agree. It’s just nice to be aware of your presence, and smoking near doors or putting on perfume is not passive, it’s a choice, and pretty easy to control. I find myself getting angry when I go outside my apartment and I can smell smoke in the hallway. People are supposed to only smoke near the walkway outside the building but they smoke on the stairs and in the halls all the time (it’s an outdoor building so they probably don’t see the big deal. They figure they are outside, right?). Well, the smoke lingers, and it does upset my breathing when I walk through it. So now, because someone couldn’t be bothered to walk away from the building to smoke, I have to worry about my breathing just going in and out of my own home. Clearly I’m asking too much, eh?

  151. Tamara
    July 21, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    For what it’s worth thanks for this post and all your personal contributions. I don’t have any respiratory or allergy issues and this really opened my eyes. I have no issue with reducing my fragrance use to make life easier for others.

    Anecdote – our national telecom company opened a new ‘green’ building here for its head office. One of the tenants was supposed to be Subway sandwiches. It appears that 2 years later Subway still hasn’t opened its shop because the building owner has a no fragrance policy and Subway insists on the use of the synthetic bread baking fragrance in all its franchises. Good to see this major local company is on the right track and protecting its staff.

  152. July 21, 2012 at 11:45 pm

    our national telecom company opened a new ‘green’ building here for its head office. One of the tenants was supposed to be Subway sandwiches. It appears that 2 years later Subway still hasn’t opened its shop because the building owner has a no fragrance policy and Subway insists on the use of the synthetic bread baking fragrance in all its franchises. Good to see this major local company is on the right track and protecting its staff.

    Hmm, I can’t find any confirmation that it’s a synthetic and added fragrance, but it is definitely a powerful (and putrid, to my nose) odor, so good on them. They put one in my old inter-city bus depot and it sucked because that was my main way to travel out of town. It’s just such a pervasive and over-powering smell, like no other restaurant I’ve ever be in the vicinity of.

  153. July 21, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Hmm, I can’t find any confirmation that it’s a synthetic and added fragrance, but it is definitely a powerful (and putrid, to my nose) odor, so good on them. They put one in my old inter-city bus depot and it sucked because that was my main way to travel out of town. It’s just such a pervasive and over-powering smell, like no other restaurant I’ve ever be in the vicinity of.

    I’m with you…I find it utterly revolting, but I assumed it was the onions, no clue about synthetic bread smell.

  154. Free and Clear
    July 22, 2012 at 12:12 am

    For places such as the grocery store try masks with carbon filters. Also, the WEIN personal air supply helps.
    I got a migraine just walking outside tonight in my neighborhood from the horrible detergent and fabric softener chemicals coming out of the laundry vents of my neighbors.
    I do believe that the chemical companies have a lot at stake here, just as the tobacco companies did during the non-smoking era. Also, the fragrance industry is knowledgeable about how to make fragrances addictive- I know quite a few folks who become rabid about giving up their perfume- as only a true addict can.

  155. Lauren M
    July 22, 2012 at 3:39 am

    The only place I have encountered a low-scent environment is at my Doctor’s office. There are signs posted all around instructing all patients to be mindful of their scents and to not wear perfume and synthetic fragrances to their appointments. My Dr. specializes in the treatment of Fibromyalgia along with other low serotonin disorders which almost always include MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity.) I have always been super-sensitive to smells and have a far stronger olfactory sense than anyone I know. I feel so bad to hear about the people who have had such massive asthma attacks from these synthetic perfume oils and chemical smells. The worst that happens to me is usually nausea or migraine, which is bad enough. They do, however, sell plenty of natural perfumes or essential oils at the office. I find that wearing a naturally scented lotion is the best way to keep a nice body smell while not being overpowering to others or myself. I have some friends, who even wear synthetic perfumed lotions and they don’t bother me. Maybe it’s something about the spray perfumes that is different? I am not sure what the reaction to others with MCS might be. They might be more sensitive than myself.

  156. Matt
    July 22, 2012 at 4:25 am

    I have a huge problem with cigarette smoke and one of my boy scout leaders was a big smoker. He was covered in nicotine smell 24/7.

    One year we were on our “High Adventure” to Florida and I had a digital tape recorder that I used as a music playing device, because it was cheap, that I listened to to deal with my social anxiety during the trip. He decided that I wasn’t paying enough attention, even though I could hear and respond to everything they were saying perfectly well and so he stole it from me. Now he might not think it was stealing, because he was a scout leader and I was just a 17 year old boy scout, but fuck that.

    I was getting really upset without it to help relieve my stress, a lot of boys in my troop would huge assholes and bullies and so I grabbed it out of his car. It was disgusting. It smelled horrible and I just couldn’t get that smell out of it, but I needed it. As we were driving back to Missouri he saw me with it and started yelling at me saying I stole from him, because its not like it was my fucking thing or anything like that… He refused to let me keep it so I gave it back but I said fuck you.

    My driver, who was a new addition to the troop with his son, decided that he needed to get involved with something he didn’t know jack shit about and started yelling at me, and I had to hide myself in a nearby bathroom for a while and cry because I was so upset. I was doing pullups on the bar, which I know perfectly well can support my weight and he comes in and yells at me for making drama and tells me to stop because I’ll break it, which I won’t. I of course had to stop which means I wasn’t burning off my anger energy anymore.

    In any case it was our last night on the trip and we had to do our scout circle thing, and I told the main scout leader I was quitting. Of course the smoker had to then say no, I am kicking you out for your behavior, even though he didn’t have the authority to do that. I was only like 3 merit badges and my project away from Eagle when I quit.

    After we got back and unloaded everything he gave me back my thing out of his pocket. With a dirty wrapper and a used cigarette entangled in my head phones. I ended up throwing it away in the trash can nearby because it smelled so horrible I couldn’t hold onto it.

    And of course I couldn’t complain to the other scout leaders about the smell because I couldn’t trust them to support me. When I had been like 7 in the cub scout unit that fed into that troop we were at the Scout Troop’s annual dinner and he had yelled at me and grabbed my arm, and I wanted to throw up, but we all know that when you throw up its your fault according to the adults so I held my mouth shut really tight and ran to wash off my arm, and I couldn’t even eat that night because my throat was sore from stomach acid, and when they saw what I did, everyone yelled at me, and the best my parents did was speak normally when they told me how rude and embarrassing I was.

    And so for years prior to the digital recorder incident I had to be on the lookout in case he tried to touch me, had to always make sure I stopped myself from throwing up, and never tell anyone how upset I was. My “favorite” time was when we were working at a homeless shelter and on the way back he was smoking out the window. Then it started raining, so he closed the window. Not that his car needed him to actively smoke to make me sick. Once I was not able to go on a scout trip because the cars were full and I refused to ride with him.

    To this day I will avoid any of those scout leaders if I see them on the street because I hate them so much. They had a lot of other problems, like their strategy to deal with bullying, but those are not on topic.

  157. Partial Human
    July 22, 2012 at 4:34 am

    @Outrageandsprinkles – It must have been so terrifying for you. I vaguely remember my first attack, sat at the dining table with my parents and toddler brother. I was four though, so all I remember is my mother saying something like “Stop it, come on, eat instead of messing about”.

    It’s blank after that (Dad picked me up, threw me into the car, and took me to get help) until the GP appointment where I got a prescription for Salbutamol syrup, tiny pink Salbutamol pills, and tiny red prednisolone pills.

    The medicine tasted like lemonade syrup. Imagine my devastation when the manufacturer switched to a sugar-free formulation. I was only five, I was horrified! If I had to take it every day (or die) then why was it so nasty?

    That’s all I remember of the beginning, so I’m really lucky. From about six/seven though, I remember that horrible tightening in my chest, the wheezing, and time slowing down so that every terrifying second turned into hours. Like you said, panic doubles the symptoms, but you can’t exactly be Zen when your most basic function stops working. It’s nightmarish to feel like you have three minutes to live.

    I really feel for you on the smoke thing, because it gives me the asthma+migraine double whammy. It’s just so disgusting to me that I can smell tiny traces. I can’t imagine how stressful it is for you, my heart goes out to you.

    People don’t question their need or ability to just breathe. I sort of understand their complacency and skepticism in the face of someone like us, because mammals breathe, we just do it. Someone saying “I can’t do that” must seem strange.

    I hope you can get help, concrete medical and social support.

  158. Past my expiration date
    July 22, 2012 at 5:25 am

    I also can’t find any confirmation that Subway smells like Subway because of an added smell, rather than because of the inherent smells of Subway food. There is an article on Food Republic dot com (a site I know nothing about) from December 2011 that quotes a Subway exec saying that they don’t add anything.

  159. July 22, 2012 at 8:10 am

    I totally support and understand the need to rebuild public spaces so that they don’t disable people – and that doesn’t just include things like stairs, but also allergens.

    But basically I agree with EG and chava:

    It seems to go along with how much easier it is to tell individuals not to do something than it is to take on corporate malfeasance.

    I think that part of the rancor is these debates lies in the onus for searching out and using these products falling on the individual consumer, rather than pressure being put on the companies producing such products to change.

    Telling individuals they should change their consumption is a seriously ineffective way of making any change on the world. A lot of the products discussed have scents that are completely independent of their actual purpose (deoderant, laudry powder etc). in those cases, companies are putting out products that make people really sick by adding components that have no reason to be there. (I would contrast that with some food allergies – I’m incredibly, incredibly intolerant to milk – but that’s no reason to get rid of milk entirely – although I live in NZ – and food companies add milk powder to a lot of things unnecessarily).

    Rather than suggesting a lot of people individually go out and spend money they don’t have on hard to find unscented versions of products that have unnecessary scents – why not just say ‘these products are dangerous and should not be manufactured’? That to me is a lot less oppressive than a boss being able to tell their employees what (perfectly legal) deoderent to use. Why not look at production?

    This doesn’t take away, in the meantime, the need to be respectful to people around you and not behave in ways you know makes them sick (see Li’s friend and the incense). I think that’s always a really important value. But political effort that makes a different in people’s lives is rarely best directed at trying to make individuals all better, and instead best directed at trying to change the structure of society.

  160. July 22, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Telling individuals they should change their consumption is a seriously ineffective way of making any change on the world. A lot of the products discussed have scents that are completely independent of their actual purpose (deoderant, laudry powder etc). in those cases, companies are putting out products that make people really sick by adding components that have no reason to be there. (I would contrast that with some food allergies – I’m incredibly, incredibly intolerant to milk – but that’s no reason to get rid of milk entirely – although I live in NZ – and food companies add milk powder to a lot of things unnecessarily).

    Very well put. Which is why I’ve been hesitant to really elaborate about my particular issues with scent based ‘triggers’ despite the fact that literally all my comments from yesterday on this thread were made from my bed, where I was curled in the fetal position with my Macbook Air next to me, due to a sinus related migraine triggered by brother-in-law cologne or after shave or whatever that musky cologne-y smell is. I have a lot of respect for people who are able to be open and honest with people in their life about things like that, but unfortunately I am NOT one of those people and I just couldn’t ask someone to change their behaviour for my own personal comfort (if I had asthma or something else potentially life threatening I assume I would. I just get 2-3 day headeaches with nausea and enormous light sensitivity.) I’d probably be a lot happier in certain circumstances if I was more comfortable speaking up for myself but y’know… old dog, new tricks and all.

  161. Alara Rogers
    July 22, 2012 at 11:33 am

    I’m in favor of both, actually. Pressure on companies to change and pressure on individuals.

    When I was a teenager, I had a very hard time riding in the car with my grandmother because of the ton of perfume she’d wear. And my mother doesn’t drive (she used to faint frequently and without warning, so she felt that she couldn’t do so safely), so my grandmother always drove us to go shopping. My mother and grandmother both called me rude for my ostentatiously putting my window down and sticking my head out and panting, or my keeping the car door open until my grandmother had actaully turned the car on because the windows were power windows, but her perfume was making me *sick*.

    I’d hold my nose while walking into a department store because you had to go through the perfume aisle to get there. I showered as rarely as possible because of the stench of the chemicals in the shampoo. I complained when other sstudents sprayed hair spray on the bus, which made them go out of their way to bully me.

    Nowadays I almost never encounter scents I can’t handle (aside from my asshole daughter spraying air freshener when I have told her approximately a million times NEVER SPRAY AIR FRESHENER IN THE HOUSE FOR ANY REASON EVER). And part of the reason is that people like me bitched at other people and their ludicrous overuse of chemical scent so much that people started to feel sufficiently self-conscious about it that they *stopped wearing so much damn scent*. And another part of the reason is that this caused the demand for unscented, fragrance-free, and lightly-scented-with-plant-derivatives personal hygiene products to become much more popular.

    In 1990, I couldn’t *find* shampoo with a natural scent. Nowadays practically all the shampoo has it. Now, some people may have it much worse than me and have a bad reaction to the use in shampoos and deodorants of plant derivatives and synthetic variants (such as the poster above with the artificial vanilla), but in the 1980’s, *all* the chemicals smelled like chemicals, or else cat pee, and now, every Rite Aid on the Eastern Seaboard of the US carries Secret Unscented, and most of them carry shampoo that smells like mint, coconut or cherries. I also don’t run into nearly as many people who feel the need to douse themselves with an entire bottle of perfume, or really, really stinky personal hygiene products, and I live in a big city and my kids go to public school… I don’t live in a middle-class bubble free of poor people, it’s just that 90% of the people here, regardless of class, race and ethnicity, don’t feel the need to put on a ton of perfume anymore.

    If you pressure companies not to make something because it is “dangerous”, you get pushback from the companies themselves and from the people who want to use that product. If you pressure individual people, you can change their behavior, but if the products you’d rather they use are expensive or rare or don’t exist, then their behavior won’t change. Do both, and you get real change. It’s synergistic, because when people *want* to buy a product to avoid harming others, and companies are being pressured to make it, then the companies that make it make money from it because people are buying it, and that encourages other companies to make similar things. At one point only Aveeno made hypoallergenic oatmeal soap bars. Now several companies do, because people with skin allergies *like* hypoallergenic oatmeal soap.

    Now, I would not tell people “don’t use shampoo with any fragrance whatsoever! don’t use deodorant with any fragrance whatsoever!” Unless your significant other has chemical sensitivities, or your child or grandchild, no one needs to be getting close enough to you to choke on the smell from your hair. But *don’t* put on perfume if you’re going to be in a place with enclosed air circulation (garden party? Perfume ok. Cubicle farm where none of the windows open? Perfume not ok.) Don’t wear cologne pretty much ever, because I have never found a scent intended for men that doesn’t pretty much smell like a chemical factory, but if you must wear cologne, the amount to wear is so little that the only people who can tell are sitting on your lap. And for god’s sake, if you use aerosols in your personal hygiene routine, NEVER EVER EVER employ them in public. The bathroom may seem a fine and private place to refresh your deodorant or apply your hair spray, but the person who needs to poop and has a chemical sensitivity will not thank you for the nausea or migraine or asthma attack they get from having to sit for a lengthy period of time in an enclosed room full of aerosol. You are better off smelling like BO than using an aerosol in public; BO does not actually kill anyone.

    As for bleach… Vinegar makes me retch, ammonia makes my eyes burn, bleach reminds me of swimming pools and I love going swimming. I am not in favor of using vinegar instead of bleach. I am not sure there is a good alternative when it comes to cleaning chemicals. About the only thing I can think is that maybe there need to be two wash cycles, clean with a chemical to get rid of filth and germs and then clean with water to get rid of the chemical. This makes more work for people, and costs more money, so I understand that it’s problematic, but I don’t see how switching from one toxic chemical to another that has just as strong a scent is going to be beneficial… and by definition all cleaners are toxic because how else are they gonna kill germs? Vinegar may be less toxic in that you can eat small amounts of it, but the smell of vinegar makes *me* ill and I bet I’m not the only one (I also don’t eat it; when I order salads I don’t let them put vinaigrette on them, I don’t eat sushi because vinegar is used in preparing the rice, I don’t eat anything pickled…) Really, the best alternative for everyone is probably to require the building codes support a much higher level of air exchange and airflow than they are currently required to. Bleach evaporates quickly, as does ammonia, as does vinegar; pump a lot of air through a thing you’re cleaning, and the degree to which it will harm people exposed to it ought to be greatly reduced.

  162. Partial Human
    July 22, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Please take care of yourself Steve, migraines can have lasting complications. Self-care outweighs the need to be polite. I’m just as bad about it though, it’s hard to speak out.

    I was sleeping all day yesterday on and off, one comment took two hours because I’d drift in and out.

    Pollen-induced asthma, which meant antihistamines and relievers. The massive dose of antihistamines kept knocking me out, the relievers were making my heart race which kept waking me up.

    The relievers. usually cause migraine, so at the first sign last night I started downing abortives. I have escaped with only the mild nausea and slight throbbing.

    Have you tried abortives? (usually triptans like Sumatriptan) If they’re not an option for you then a simple home remedy like ice might work for you. You’ve probably already tried it, but I’m suggesting it just in case you haven’t.

    Look after yourself, ok?

  163. July 22, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Telling individuals they should change their consumption is a seriously ineffective way of making any change on the world. A lot of the products discussed have scents that are completely independent of their actual purpose (deoderant, laudry powder etc). in those cases, companies are putting out products that make people really sick by adding components that have no reason to be there. (I would contrast that with some food allergies – I’m incredibly, incredibly intolerant to milk – but that’s no reason to get rid of milk entirely – although I live in NZ – and food companies add milk powder to a lot of things unnecessarily).

    Rather than suggesting a lot of people individually go out and spend money they don’t have on hard to find unscented versions of products that have unnecessary scents – why not just say ‘these products are dangerous and should not be manufactured’? That to me is a lot less oppressive than a boss being able to tell their employees what (perfectly legal) deoderent to use. Why not look at production?

    And I completely agree and this very sentiment has *already* been raised both in the OP and in many of the early comments. But there was still a lot of “But why should I have to do anything at all, even if it costs me absolutely nothing?” which derailed the conversation as the rest of us tried to explain why, over and over again, and once again the focus on larger action was lost.

    I certainly agree that the most fundamental action is pushing back against the social norms and corporate policies which make these problematic products so much easier to obtain and thoughtlessly use. But doing that doesn’t rule out individual ameliorative actions which, while they won’t change the present system, will at least make it more bearable while we work on achieving more systemic change. In fact, those kinds of shows of solidarity would probably make achieving systemic change a little easier, but not taking so much out of the people most affected by these products and with the most motivation to fight and by being the leading edge to demonstrate that there can be widespread social support for such a change in policy and norms. Systemic and individual change are intertwined and mutually reinforcing, not oppositional.

  164. July 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I think I’m actually missing something, in this case, rather than being snarky. Isn’t requesting individual people to change changing, eventually, the social norm?

    Alara, I entirely agree. Trying to force corporations without encouraging people to change is basically saying “I know people want this a lot, and will pay money, but don’t do it”. Attempting to change societal norms while also pressuring corporations is, in my mind, a pretty effective method.

  165. Kristen J.
    July 22, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    The massive dose of antihistamines kept knocking me out, the relievers were making my heart race which kept waking me up.

    Oh, yes. The cycle. Inhalers also make me dizzy and shaky in addition to the tachycardia and vomiting. Its always fun when someone wears something that triggers my asthma at work because then I get to decide…is it more important to breathe freely or not to look like I’m taking a truck load of amphetamines.

  166. Partial Human
    July 22, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Such a fun cycle! I worked in a call centre with a problem. On walking through the main doors the tickle between the shoulder blades hit, then that horrible tightening.

    On one shift there were six staff members having full-blown attacks. We were all cycling through the speeding (yapping frantically at callers!), the yawning, then the photophobia. then headaches. The rest room was in almost constant use. This went on for weeks.

    It was initially written off as ‘hysteria’ by the (male) ops manager, until the clinical manager said “None of them are anywhere near each other, and asthma does not work like that”.

    It wasn’t until 11 employees were absent with severe upper respiratory tract infections that Sparky the ops manager decided to have the air-con system checked. It was chock-full of dust, and was leaking coolant right over the call-floor.

    It sounds weird, but I was super glad to be among fellow asthmatics, all wheezing, then speeding, then crashing one by one. Certain line managers seemed to view inhalers as benign, almost inert, and couldn’t grasp why the yapping/napping cycle happened.

  167. July 22, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Partial Human @ #158-Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I’m lucky, in a way, that my mom has had asthma since she was in her twenties and my boyfriend has a much milder form than I do, so I have people in my life that totally get how hard it can be. When I am having what I call a “bad breathing day” my boyfriend will help me with laundry or any other heavy lifting. I was also lucky last year when I had to miss about two months of work that my boss just told me “Take as long as you need, your job will be here when you are better.” I don’t get sick pay at my job, so the loss of money was rough, but knowing I didn’t have to worry about my job was a huge relief. Thank you again.

  168. EG
    July 23, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Isn’t requesting individual people to change changing, eventually, the social norm?

    Alara, I entirely agree. Trying to force corporations without encouraging people to change is basically saying “I know people want this a lot, and will pay money, but don’t do it”. Attempting to change societal norms while also pressuring corporations is, in my mind, a pretty effective method.

    Except that this assumes a one-way direction in how supply and demand works, that people want something, so corporations manufacture it. But what happens more and more and, in my opinion, more often than not, is that corporations realize they can manufacture something, and then use advertising to create a desire for it. I can’t imagine that 200 years ago, people were wandering around thinking to themselves “if only somebody could find a way to add a cheap vanilla scent to my clothing while cleaning it.” While the desire to smell good has been around for quite some time, the specific form that fulfillment takes is completely manipulated by corporations with shit to sell us. And expecting individuals who are bombarded with advertising, rows of products, and other media assaults regarding this crap to just individually make the right decision is putting far more pressure on individuals than is ever brought to bear on corporations.

    It also accepts the status quo, which is that our air quality sucks, so people are pushed over the edge by perfumes, rather than addressing the things that are making our air quality suck and so many people so close to the edge, which has everything to do with corporate pollutants.

  169. Sara
    July 24, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I have MCS and have made numerous complaints in my small office about perfumes and candles. Finally, after much stress and bad feelings, my bosses asked the offender(s) to stop wearing scented perfumes, to include lotions. Now, they’ve all (incl bosses) changed over to super scented deoderants, which are just as bad and in some cases, worse. It’s a losing battle and I’m sick of feeling sick. Due to the hostility towards me and fearing asking the bosses to stop, too, I think I’m going to have to quit.

  170. Sara
    July 24, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Un-scented products abound, on every aisle. For example, notice the laundry detergent aisle, every brand now has that white bottle of “fragrance and dye-free”. The only product I have trouble finding is hand soap. So, with more and more unscented products hitting the shelves, it is obviously a huge problem for many people, and it’s giving me hope that one day I won’t have to feel sick at work, etc. anymore.

    Just last Sunday, I man walked in to eat at Red Lobster and I swear he must’ve poured an entire bottle of cologne on. I could almost taste it. Horrible. And what a jerk!

  171. Sara
    July 24, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Un-scented products abound, on every aisle. For example, notice the laundry detergent aisle, every brand now has that white bottle of “fragrance and dye-free”. The only product I have trouble finding is hand soap. So, with more and more unscented products hitting the shelves, it is obviously a huge problem for many people, and it’s giving me hope that one day I won’t have to feel sick at work, etc. anymore.

    Just last Sunday, I man walked in to eat at Red Lobster and I swear he must’ve poured an entire bottle of cologne on. I could almost taste it. Horrible. And what a jerk!

  172. Sara
    July 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Almost every facial product has “fragrance free” (e.g., Oil of Olay 7 Effects). I don’t understand how some of you are saying it’s near impossible. I will concede that it’s a challenge to find fragrance-free hair shampoo/conditioner. However, they can be found at beauty stores and online.

    As far as food smells, come on! While I don’t like the smell of fish or someone’s body odor, etc., they don’t physically impair me, so I do put up, usually.

    I find that the people who are hostile about being asked not to wear fragranced products are those who are self-centered. And it’s a pride thing – noone is going to tell them what to do, by god! Sad.

  173. Sara
    July 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Okay, obviously I’m on a roll and it feels good to vent. ;-)

    It’s hard to even sit in church these days! It was bad enough having to dodge the bottle of cologne wearers, but now, they’re using scented a/c vent filter pads so that the church has an overall “pleasant” smell. One has to try to hold their breath to use public bathrooms because they have those metered deoderant sprays. It’s beyond ridiculous the obsession with scent! And you’ve gotta wonder, could the inhalation of all these chemicals be part of the ever-growing cancer epidemic?

    It’s not that I don’t “like” the smells/chemicals. It’s that they make me sick. You have no idea how many times I’ve had to explain that concept.

  174. L.G.
    July 29, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Thank you SO MUCH for writing this. I cannot begin to describe how much I suffer from cleaning aisles, scented plug ins in other people’s houses or febreze etc., perfumes, hair sprays, so on and so forth. Thank you for calling attention to this!!

  175. Jen
    August 10, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    As someone who has mild asthmatic reactions to scented products, I’ve never had a problem with anyone’s shampoo / soap / underarm deodorant – the scents just aren’t that strong. I do have a real problem with those people who wear excess perfume / cologne – the ones who spray a tonne on themselves, and with heavy smokers who keep taking their smoke breaks in the same unwashed increasingly smoky coat every day. But having to walk through a perfume section to get into a department store is much, much worse. Something added to the perfume, something I’ve never encountered in natural scents like flowers, creates a burning feeling in the airways and causes them to squeeze tight. As for cleaning products, it’s the ones with ammonia that are the worst. That includes most window cleaners and bathroom tile sprays. Oven cleaner is really really bad. For some reason, bleach doesn’t affect me at all, although it probably affects some more severe asthmatics.

    • Sara
      August 14, 2012 at 11:29 am

      I’m a mild ashtmatic as well and I will testify that scented deoderant is causing me shortness of breath and a headache as I type! It’s on a male coworker and it’s filling the entire hallway and my space, all day. I’m about at my wit’s end. Perfumes and colognes have been replaced with highly-scented deoderants! :-( Have you not heard of Axe for men? Horrible.

  176. Sara
    August 14, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Oh, and please excuse the typos. My passion overcame my literary sense (notice I didn’t say scents!). lol

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