Women's Health Matters

Text Size
Jump to body content

Scent-Free Spaces

A growing number of people experience symptoms when exposed to perfume, after-shave and other scented personal care products. Commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Watery eyes
  • Stuffy nose or sinusitis
  • Coughing, tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing, shortness of breath

Some people also report feeling anxious and/or depressed, having problems concentrating, a loss of appetite, seizures, muscle pain and numbness.

In workplaces and schools, the ability of people who have environmental sensitivities to work or study effectively may be negatively affected if they are exposed to fragrances. In hospitals, there is the added concern of exposing people with compromised immune systems to potential stressors.

A growing number of workplaces, schools, hospitals, places of worship and public places are adopting scent-free policies because:

  • Workplaces, schools and hospitals want to ensure good indoor air quality, to promote healthier and more productive environments for staff and students, and to protect clients and patients.
  • Indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outside air. Fragrances are the most obvious indoor air pollutant, second only to tobacco smoke.
  • Perfumes and other strong scents have repeatedly been reported to trigger symptoms in people with asthma and people with environmental sensitivities.
  • Recent Canadian Human Rights legislation requires people with diagnosed environmental sensitivities to be accommodated in the workplace.

It’s Not the Smell, It’s the Chemicals

There can be up to 500 chemicals in one perfume. In most modern fragrances, up to 95 percent of these chemicals are petroleum-based.

Many of the chemicals used in fragrances are known respiratory and skin irritants. Some of the chemicals used in fragrances have been linked with long-term health problems, such as cancer, birth defects and nervous system disorders, when used in larger amounts.

How to Start a Scent-Free Workplace

What Can You Do?
If you want to improve the air quality in your workplace and reduce health problems related to scents, consider initiating a scent-free policy.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • It is important to educate all staff and management about why such a policy would be beneficial. If your workplace is unionized, speak to your union too.
  • Work with your Occupational Health and Safety Department to develop the policy or guidelines.
  • Develop and post a clearly worded scent-free policy. Keep it simple yet specific.
  • If you have clients or patients, notify them of the policy prior to appointments and ask them to not wear scented products.
  • Make it easy – provide information on alternative scent-free products.
  • Develop a communications mechanism, such as notices in payroll envelopes and articles in the company newsletter.
  • Consider making other improvements to the indoor air quality in your workplace, whenever possible. For example, make sure there is proper ventilation – open windows (when appropriate); use alternatives to scented office products, such as scent-free markers; and avoid pesticides and harsh, strongly scented cleaning products.

What to Avoid

  • Perfume
  • Cologne
  • Scented aftershave
  • Scented hairspray, hair gels and other styling products
  • Scented creams and lotions
  • Scented sunscreen and self-tanning products
  • Scented antiperspirant and deodorant

For more information, contact the Lung Association.

 

Jump to top page

Related resources

Air quality at home

Alternatives to common household products

Avoiding mould

Scent-free spaces

Avoiding pesticides


Discussion Groups

Share knowledge and talk about your environmental health-related experiences with other women.

Environmental Health Discussion Forum


Read personal stories

Read stories from other women and learn from their experiences.

Your stories


How you can help

Visit Women's College Hospital Foundation

  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital