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Your scent makes people sick

Katrina, our Grade 6 daughter, reported the other day that scents are being banned from her classroom. Apparently some people have been slathering on a bit too much, and that’s that. No more stinky stuff.
Brian Zinchuk

Katrina, our Grade 6 daughter, reported the other day that scents are being banned from her classroom. Apparently some people have been slathering on a bit too much, and that’s that. No more stinky stuff.

Michelle and I could easily relate to that, having chaperoned many an air cadet dance at the time when Axe body spray was all the rage. The boys seemed to bathe in it before attending. The Canadian Forces never issued us gas masks, but perhaps they should have.

It’s becoming common these days to see signs posted at workplaces declaring themselves to be scent-free.

It seems that more and more of us have become sensitized to all the stinky stuff that’s out there.

We have one friend who has dealt with this for many years. Roxanne says, “I stopped breathing due to Axe cologne at a former workplace and they had to call an ambulance and put me on oxygen. A lot of the time policies don’t get put into place until someone has had a severe reaction or episode, which is great after the fact, but not very helpful when you’re struggling to breathe and trying not to pass out.”

In some ways, scents have become the peanuts of our society. A few people, but an increasing number, react so badly to peanuts (including potentially fatal allergic reactions), their presence can simply no longer be tolerated. Pretty much anywhere you have kids now, peanuts are banned, and for good reason.

The question is, will the same become the case with scents and adults? Due to some people’s very strong reaction to scents, they may become banned from where all adults are. In other words, banned, period. You can smell nice at home, but don’t go anywhere like that.

I suspect the increase in allergic sensitivity (myself included) and scent sensitivity are related. Is it all the chemicals in our environment we are bombarded with from birth? Who knows?

The challenge is nearly all consumer products have some sort of scent included. Name one hand soap, lotion, dish soap, shampoo, deodorant, antiperspirant or clothes detergent that has zero scents. You might score on the clothes detergent, but good luck on the rest.

I’m not sure how scent-intolerant people handle those day-to-day scents, but I think the larger issue is the overpowering stuff – the perfumes and colognes.

They don’t seem to be nearly as common today as in days past. I was at a hockey tournament the other day, and my nose caught a whiff of the perfumes a small handful of women were wearing. But that was entirely it – perfumes were so few and far between that it registered in my mind. These days, I very rarely encounter any sort of strong perfumes.

Those scent-free signs pose a conundrum to the perfume-wearers. Do they turn around and not go in? Do they have a shower before entering? Do they come back another day when (if ever) they are not wearing a scent? Or, if they actually work there, do they simply not give a damn?

Roxanne adds, “There are still a fair number of people who seem to think it’s a personal attack on them if they’re asked not to wear scents in the workplace. I have a former co-worker who now works at a different place that has been cautioned not to be obvious when someone who continues to wear perfume keeps stopping by her work area and causing allergic reactions, in case that person decides to file a grievance with the union because they feel their character is being assassinated.  My friend has had to miss work due to the severity of the allergic reactions to this person’s perfume, but her employer is not being supportive.”

Then you’ve got places like pharmacies, whose stores are designed to force you through their fragrance and cosmetics departments before picking up your antihistamines.

This might sound like nanny-state thinking, but the ability to breathe is appreciated by most.

Like smoking and peanuts, strong scents may soon become the next pariah of our society. For those who can’t stand these scents, the sooner, the better.

Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at