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Fragrance Sensitivity: My Mask Isn’t Your Mask

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Fragrance Sensitivity

My Mask Isn't Your Mask
(NOT Another COVID Article)

There is an illness that 30% of us experience that 100% of the population has the power to control. Wow, that’s a pretty bold statement, isn’t it? But it’s true. When a person gets sick from the chemicals in fragranced products, everyone has a say in whether that person feels well or not. Many people who live with chemical fragrance sensitivity have been forced to wear a mask in public places long before COVID, and will continue requiring them until changes are made.

*Actually, that word sensitivity minimizes the reality of the impact these chemicals have. It is actually a chemical devastation

I hope, as you read, you find yourself wondering, What can I do?  

You can help by choosing fragrance-free laundry products. Choose NOT to use scented plug-ins, candles, air fresheners, and such. Choose fragrance-free lotions. Choose NOT to use cologne and perfume. Choose to look for products that are fragrance free. Start becoming aware of the number of products that contain fragrance and ask yourself if those chemicals are safe for you and your children.

As far as the dryer goes, we are conditioned to believe that we need fabric softener or dryer sheets. I’ve been using wool dryer balls for a few years now, along with white vinegar in the rinse cycle. 

No static
No scent
No polluting the air from my dryer vent.

(And I’m saving money.)

While this post includes some research links and study related information, this post’s purpose isn’t to provide you with data and stats. The purpose of this post is to let you hear the impact from real people who live it. The purpose is to show you the devastating reality of what these chemicals have on day-to-day lives.  

30% Have a Fragrance Sensitivity? Really?!

The numbers are actually higher than 30%, as you’ll see from the stats listed below from a study conducted 4 years ago.

“But I love my fragrances,” a friend once told me. “Show me research that these chemicals are toxic.” 

Anne Steinemann, an internationally recognized expert on pollutant exposures and associated health effects, provides research and resources on her website at Click here for several resources

IMPORTANT: Fragrance sensitivity is NOT a sensitive nose. It is not about disliking a smell. It is about the effect the chemicals that create that smell has on an individual. Big difference! 

Check out Dr. Steinemann’s research study: “National Prevalence and Effects of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.

Important highlights from that study:

Among the population, 12.8% report medically diagnosed MCS and 25.9% report chemical sensitivity. Of those with MCS, 86.2% experience health problems, such as migraine headaches, when exposed to fragranced consumer products; 71.0% are asthmatic; 70.3% cannot access places that use fragranced products such as air fresheners; and 60.7% lost workdays or a job in the past year due to fragranced products in the workplace.

And THIS! LOOK at the substantial increase over just 10 years! With the overwhelming increase of disinfectants (of which MANY include extra chemicals to add fragrance) and due to the simple fact that fragrance in products continues to rise, this is terrifying!

Prevalence of diagnosed MCS has increased over 300%, and self-reported chemical sensitivity over 200%, in the past decade. Reducing exposure to fragranced products could help reduce adverse health and societal effects.

What Reactions are Being Experienced?

The reactions of participants in the study above included:

Health effects were categorized as follows: migraine headaches; asthma attacks; neurological problems; respiratory problems; skin problems; cognitive problems; mucosal symptoms; immune system problems.

My Reactions to Fragrances and My Advocacy

My personal reactions are neurological and cognitive for the most part. Dizzy, brain fog, headaches, sinus issues, muscle tightness in neck and back, chest tightness, and a desperate need to find fresh air to breathe. 

I’ve been battling fragrance illness for over two decades. As long as it’s been, however, I have always felt the need to be hugely apologetic when expressing my needs. It’s hard to tell someone their product choices make me ill. This apologetic approach, however, results in minimizing my own health needs (and simply minimizing myself, period).

Practicing my advocacy muscle with celiac awareness (along with the confidence that simply comes with age) has meant that I speak up more now for what I know, for what I deserve, and for what is right. It takes ONE PERSON to make another feel utterly miserable. ONE PERSON’s product choice. If I was granted one wish, and could either take away my need to be gluten free or my fragrance sensitivity, it would be my fragrance sensitivity, no question.

It wasn’t until learning the vast number of people affected by fragrance chemicals, however, that I developed a much greater need to increase my personal volume. (I turned up the volume even more when I created a Facebook page, Fragrance Free Respect, in August, 2021.)

Fragrance-Free Awareness Campaign

Please check out my Facebook Page, Fragrance Free Respect.

Fragrance is NOT Necessary

*Advertisers have done a great job at making people believe that they NEED to have fragrance in EVERYTHING! While fragrance SELLS and makes companies lots (and LOTS) of money, fragrance is NOT required to CLEAN. It is doing far more harm than good. 

Update 2023

But Everyone Loves The Way I Smell!

Not everyone. You will only hear from those who love the products you use, the candles you light, the plug-ins that fill your home. Those who are negatively affected won’t say, “Oh M.G, you are making me sick with that stuff!” Instead, most will stay silent–and they stay away. 

Those who are living with fragrance illness will avoid the house with scented products and they will avoid the person who uses them. 

It generally isn’t until a situation causes an inability to avoid products that make a person sick before you hear of their needs. Scent devices and co-workers’ perfumes and scented laundry products will often require a person living with fragrance illness to speak up. And I can assure you, it is far from easy to say something–(and it doesn’t always end well). 

Fragrance IS the new second-hand smoke!


It’s 2020. Everyone understands masks. We wear them to prevent the spread of a virus that is killing people. We get that. What many people don’t realize, however, is that by using those laundry products with chemical scent so powerful that it lasts for weeks and weeks (and doesn’t simply wash out), deodorants that literally fill a room with their smell, hand soaps that don’t come out of the skin even after several washings, room freshener chemicals that embed themselves into walls and furniture, and the endless products that are fragranced, are causing a growing number of people to have to isolate. And when they do go out, they require masks (because being around these chemicals is destroying their lives).

My mask is not your mask. 

The Fragrance Impact

Comments below come from many others who are impacted by fragrance chemicals. Thank you to everyone who contributed

While we are quickly affected, it doesn’t mean the health of those who don’t have these same reactions isn’t impacted. People living with fragrance sensitivities are the canaries. We can detect the toxic chemicals. Please listen to the canaries in your life.

Feel free to add more experiences and reactions through comments below. Let others know how these chemicals are impacting you. 

Family and Social Life

 There are family members I can no longer have relationships with because they won’t give up their laundry products. 

 Every time we get together, my sister says, “Oh, I forgot.” I have gotten migraines from fragrances for over 15 years, and yet she still “forgets?” 

 Rocking my granddaughter to sleep gives me headaches. My daughter-in-law uses fragrance free detergent for the baby’s clothes, but the air fresheners, perfumes and scented lotion she uses, stick to the baby’s skin, hair and clothes.   

 I have had to leave funerals of loved ones because the incense made me dizzy and sick to my stomach.

 A weekend visit from my husband’s family leaves him with headaches and muscle aches for days after they leave. I think it affects his thinking as well because he seems to struggle to get a thought out the longer we are together with them. The scent from their clothes adheres to everything they sit on. I have to spend more time cleaning after they leave than before they arrive, airing out the bed for at least 5 days before I can put sheets back on it. But its his family and he doesn’t say anything. My heart breaks.

Public Places

  As far as businesses go, deodorizers in restrooms and fragrances used at hotels and stores make them inaccessible for me.

 I wear my mask with multiple filters and so tight it is hurting my jaw and neck because toxic chemicals are being used excessively!

 Due to my MCS and the chemicals used in public, I am very limited in where I can bring my son. I used to love taking him to museums, zoos, on road trips. I can’t do any of that now because one bad exposure can make me so sick I fear what will happen if I am incapacitated while alone in public with him.

 I can’t go for walks in our neighborhood because of neighbors’ scented dryer sheets. (that are in the air from dryer vents). 

 I finally started going back into stores lately, with a mask of course. Why do disinfectants have to also have fragrance added? I couldn’t handle it! So sick.

 I can’t open my windows on a nice day if my neighbor is doing laundry. My house is soon filled with the very chemicals I have to avoid. Can’t sit outside and enjoy fresh air either. Please don’t use those scent boosters or scented laundry soaps. You aren’t only making me sick, but you are breathing that in all day long. 

The Work Place

 I have had to call parents of my students and ask that they stop putting Cologne on a 7 year old. I have missed out on work carpools to trainings because of car fragrance. I have had to refuse a staff meeting held in a room with air freshener that caused me a severe migraine.

 I was fired from a job I loved because management refused to implement one of their own fragrance free policies. It was easier to fire me than to have others change the products they used, or to accomodate me.

 I had a new job that I loved. Received only praise for work well done through the first 4 months or more. A perfect initial evaluation. Just weeks after that first eval, however, I had to request help. I was struggling due to chemical reactions in my space. I carefully reminded a coworker of my sensitivity and asked my supervisor for an air purifier. Nothing more—just an air purifier. Just a few weeks later I received communication that there were “concerns,” (about my performance?)–and then a couple weeks later a second evaluation where I was diminished in every category (that I had been praised for superior efforts in just weeks earlier)– and I was told I would not be rehired. The impact was devastating beyond measure. 

 I have been fortunate to be able to work from home since covid-19. I am absolutely terrified about returning to my office with the onslaught of disinfectants. I need a paycheck but I get so horribly sick that I am terrified of the impact of the constant use of sprays and cleaners.

Personal Health Impact

 Fragrant products (laundry products, air fresheners, disinfectants, perfumes/colognes/aftershaves, deodorants and body sprays, hairsprays, lotions…) cause my throat and airways to swell and burn. If I don’t remove myself from the offender immediately, my vocal cords swell, my voice becomes extremely hoarse and then I become unable to speak. If I try to force myself to “ignore” my symptoms and stay, I suffer asthma attacks. 

 I was fine this morning, in my own home. A repairman was in the house for 30 minutes. I have a headaches, muscle pain, and I feel disoriented.

 I had a reaction to hair spray on a nurse that made my blood pressure go up, gave me a headache and the shakes.

 My body hurts as it spasms with pain. My head feels like it wants to explode and at times my heart races. I live with constant anxiety if I am out in the public, worrying if I get exposed am I going to get so dizzy that I faint again. I can’t focus. I just want and need fresh clean air. The fragrances and many chemicals are slowly destroying my body, leaving me isolated and unsociable, which then affects my mind and my spirit. Can’t we just breathe clean pure fresh air?

I Wish

 Please stop wearing fragrances, as I can’t breathe, breathing is essential to live. I don’t personally dislike your fragrances, but my body does.

 I want people to consider others with asthma and other health issues when they choose what products to purchase. I want them to choose people over fragrances!

 Understanding. This is not about having a sensitive nose. A sensitive nose is having the ability to smell a gas leak or a dirty diaper before others can. The “smell” does not cause my illness; the toxic chemicals that creates the smell does.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Mary

    The worst thing about MCS is the loss of human contact. It is not being able to hug your grandchild when they come home from school. It is not being able to hug ANYONE when they come in from public places and have absorbed numerous chemicals onto their clothes, hair, and skin. It is having to ask your family to change clothes in the garage and shower before they come into your airspace. It is not being able to be spontaneous with intimacy and having to ask your partner to go take a second shower because they have absorbed so many chemicals into their skin that it is making you sick. It is knowing your children, grandchildren, and others you love are absorbing toxins everyday as they sit in school or go to work. (It used to be just the fragranced laundry products and colognes, now there are cleaning chemicals sprayed in the air every time they change class.) It is knowing our world has become so polluted by chemicals that did not need to exist, but have been created and are sustained for corporate profit. It is knowing that these toxins are permanent – we can’t clean them up. It is growing old and watching our grandchildren’s world become worse and worse and no one is doing anything to fix it. The worst thing about MCS is being isolated and powerless.

  2. Julie Miller

    Thanks for putting together this article! I am sharing it on my Facebook page with a request that people read and share it. I had been mildly sensitive for a couple of decades. I “TILTed” about three years ago yet am still more mild to moderate in my sensitivity than many. I work hard to avoid fragrance and often need to wear a respirator when out in public: grocery stores (especially anywhere near the laundry and cleaning products), church, some doctor’s offices, even outdoor concerts on the lawn as so many people wear bug spray and sunscreen. My mother (93) lives with us and she vacillates between being considerate and inconsiderate. We both had our hair grow out during this shutdown and lack of being able to have haircuts. I had made the decision to stop perming and coloring my hair over a year ago to avoid the chemicals and toxic load on my body. She has always permed her hair also. Now it has grown out, but she isn’t happy with her straight hair and keeps asking me to make an appointment for her to get her hair permed! So far, I have ignored her requests. She purchased a body lotion through the mail that was horribly fragrant. She seemed to think it wouldn’t bother me once it dried! After I got irate and put my respirator on in my own home, she finally threw it away. I am so grateful for the groups that let us know we are not alone and can sympathize and offer strategies to each other.

  3. Jaclyn

    OMG such a great post… I developed a fragrance allergy this year where my lungs can close up when I am breathing in some sort of fragrance. It started at my job. I had informed them that I believe the air freshener in the washroom is toxic and my concerns were ignored and I was told it is safe. As time went by I developed a heaviness in my lungs. I once again approached them and told then I think this stuff is toxic. They used a service that comes every month and changes the air freshener, CINTAS, is the name of the business. Anywho they finally called Cintas and of course Cintas said it was safe so they told me to close the issue. I took it upon myself to email Cintas myself and pose as a potential customer saying I wanted to purchase their product but wanted to know the ingredients in air freshener. Long story short I got a response back validating my suspicions about it being toxic. He said it was very potent and was made of heavy industrial chemicals and said he would not recommend I get it. I showed it to my boss and they were surprised. They took it out of the office but by that time the damage to my health had already happened. Moving forward anytime a patient would come in wearing fragrance my body reacted; heart racing, sweating incessantly, the shakes, lungs closing, stuttering at times. I asked them can you please tell patients to refrain from wearing fragrance? I got so much push-back, ridicule and such that it has left me feeling angry, hopeless and alone. I was told to just wear an N95 whenever a patient comes in however the lack of oxygen puts further stress on my health. I can not even tell you the comments I have gotten. One coworker told me we can not tell patients not to wear fragrance as it infringes on their rights and freedoms. I said well what about my need to breathe. Or “what do expect people not to bathe because of you”, or so so can not wear fragrance because of you. Or why don’t you just get a puffer and take some meds. They say we do not want to offend people by telling them not to wear fragrance and I say so I come to work to support their health and wellbeing at the expense of my own health. I have cried so much it relation to this. I barely go out now. I went on vacation in February to Cuba and on my adventure there even going on the plane was an anxiety inducing experience as people like to wear perfume/cologne on the plane. Even the flight attendants wear it. I brought a doctors note but that didn’t do much to help me. There is so much ignorance about this and it leaves me feeling so separate and hopeless in the grand scheme of things. No with wearing a mask everywhere which sounds good in theory it still hinders ones ability to breathe. I am at a loss. I am grateful for this post though. Very valuable.

    1. Debbie Simpson

      I am so very sorry for what you are going through. Unfortunately, those who just don’t get it now are at a risk of understanding first-hand eventually (with the amount of chemicals we are constantly assaulted with). Finding the FB groups that I discovered made it much less isolating for me. There are several out there. I wish people understood that fragrance isn’t any different than second-hand smoke. That voice was eventually heard, and we can now attend events and dine out without cigarette smoke. I hope we can eventually create enough education that people understand the true toxicity of these chemicals.

  4. Vicci Gates

    I have suffered twice having to live in a closed house for months due to my neighbour’s use of fragranced products. The first time they poured phenol bin cleaner and other disinfectants in the garage (located in the middle of our shared duplex) they hosed them in and they outgassed all that hot and humid Queensland Christmas. Why? To clear it of the odour of their dog’s urine. Then they continued to use it in their bin, and i still couldn’t open my home as i had become sensitized to the product. After months of suffering i finally found a council environment officer that came to my rescue. The others didn’t give a care. One even told me that such laws where to stop odours that distressed normal people, not sensitive people like me. I had no way of stopping the neighbour’s from polluting the air in my own home.
    Then again, a few years later, the laundry products on the washing hanging on the line in their garage 24/7 became so strong that it filled the air in my home. I remember being dropped home one night and the stench from the closed garage was so strong that my face burnt. The worst thing was that my lungs hurt and i was left coughing and it hurt to breathe. Life was a living hell. It was bad enough when i was forced to encounter these products when out, but to have to suffer in my own home was soul destroying. I could get no help from anyone. I had no right to protect my home.from other people’s pollution. I was forced to apply to the department of housing for a transfer. 2 bedroom houses are rare so i was forced to move into a unit block. I also have OCD and moving is not easy for me.
    I have units all around me so there is still air pollution to contend with, primarily from laundry on the line and possibly from disinfectant floor cleaners being tossed outside in buckets of dirty water.
    Many people reek of laundry products due to these new intense products. They need to be banned in the interest of public health.
    I feel so fearful of the future.
    I was at the office of a mental health facility that supports those living with depression etc. The have flags showing how inclusive they are:

    “We acknowledge Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities as the Traditional Custodians of the land we work on and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We recognise that their sovereignty was never ceded.

    LGTBIQ Pride flag
    We are committed to cultivating inclusive environments for staff, consumers and carers and celebrate, value and include people of all backgrounds, genders, sexualities, cultures, bodies and abilities.”

    But the incense sticks displayed in the waiting are says (to me) ‘stuff you though if you have MCS.’
    Clean air is a necessity, not a luxury. I can live with cooking smells, coffee brewing but fragrances are oppressive artificial odours that society can do without.
    Even the need to reek of perfume is nonscense. A smidgen of scent on a night out is a world away from being drenched in the stuff in the work place. That said i read of a young classical musician who had decided that she could no longer perform in an orchestra due to the stench from not just the audience, but the others in the orchestra itself. How tragic that years of study and practice has to be forsaken to someone else’s fragrances.
    We have dreams and desires too. We are being forced into suffering and isolation due to the use of products that those in control should ban. The consumer is not to blame, the companies only have self interest in mind… so it is the people who control what can and cannot be sold that must look out for those who need to be protected from what they cannot defend themselves from.
    And then laws need to be made to prevent business from polluting the air that their customers need to breathe.
    More and more people are being permanently injured by exposures to these substances and at the end of the day we get laughed at, ignored and labelled mentally delusional when all we are is the victims of big industry, ignorance and appathy.

  5. Dianna Douglas

    I had asked coworkers not to where perfume or scented lotions and they continued to do so. HR knew about my issues but didn’t do anything except buy me an air purifier however my body would react before the air purifier picked up on the scent. Since COVID I have been working from home and love it. No fragrances here. I can’t take my dog on walks because of dryer sheets people use. Some days I have issues with people cooking outside on the grill.

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