Some of us have a keen olfactory perception, or sense of smell, and can be overwhelmed by the many odors in our environment, natural as well as chemical. I can smell someone smoking inside their car two cars ahead of me and my neighbor’s casserole baking in the oven. I don’t believe I suffer from allergies from either of those things. However, we all know of people who suffer from allergies to odors from strong perfumes and fragrances.
Almost every product we use has some type of chemical or fragrance. I am thinking of personal products such as shampoo and conditioner, make-up, hand and body lotion, body wash, nail polish. And then there’s hairspray…I can choke myself out of the bathroom trying to control my frizz and fly-aways with hair products.
I love a great perfume as much as anybody.
However, many years ago at an arbitration hearing, just before the hearing began, the arbitrator informed the five of us in the small conference room that many people today are allergic to perfume and that someone is wearing too much. We all tried to explain that it wasn’t us. There were comments like “I hope it’s not my aftershave,” “I’m not even wearing any cologne,” “Maybe it’s my shampoo,” and then there was my comment, “I just put on hand lotion; can you smell it?” That particular day it was obvious to me and probably everybody in the room where it was coming from. A participant in the hearing had walked in after most of us were already seated, and the room filled up with her strong fragrance. Naturally, nobody wanted to point her out or make her feel bad.
The arbitrator went on to explain the symptoms that people suffer from perfume allergies and sensitivities. He was right, of course. Since that day, I have been more aware than ever of perfumes. In our position as court reporters, we work in sometimes very confined areas. A cramped doctor’s office readily comes to mind, but there are some rather small, crowded conference rooms also. In CART jobs, we generally sit right next to the person we are working with. If we or someone in the room is wearing too strong a fragrance, we have nowhere to go to get away from it. We can get up and walk out, but at some point we’ll have to come back in.
Fragrances are often made with chemicals that may have a toxic and sometimes neurotoxic effect on some people, which can cause serious personal health consequences.
Some work places have implemented a fragrance-free policy.
Fragrance allergies suffered by people in our society are on the rise. Symptoms can range from sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes to severe headaches, dizziness and an inability to concentrate to respiratory issues such as breathing difficulties and wheezing to skin reactions such as itching or hives.
Most of us today are aware of our personal fragrance use and know that a little goes a long way. I, for one, no longer apply perfume before a job and only use a tiny amount on other occasions. Hair products, on the other hand, I cannot do without.
However, there was one day at a deposition I had wished I had a strong perfume. This is the other “smelly” in my title. It is a somewhat embarrassing story about my own smell and my black silk turtleneck sweater. That sweater went well with a couple of my suits. The first time I wore it, someone in the deposition room stunk. I wondered who hadn’t showered. The second time I wore the shirt, I thought, there’s that smell again. That’s when I realized it was coming from me. I was embarrassed. I had showered and used deodorant that day and wished I had used perfume. I still did not realize it was my sweater, and so I had the sweater drycleaned and wore it one more time. Same thing…that awful body odor. That silk turtleneck went into the trash that day. Apparently, my body has an offending reaction to certain silk fabrics.
Which is the more tolerable smell, excessive perfume or body odor? I now keep a small vial of my favorite perfume in my handbag in case I can smell myself. Otherwise, I keep it light.