Perfume Worn By Medical Assistant Is Too Strong!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about strong perfume:

What is the rule on wearing perfume in a doctor’s office? The back office medical assistant wears a lot of perfume. What can I do?

Signed, Holding My Nose

Dear Holding My Nose:

We have many questions in our archives about fragrances and odors at work. There is no rule about it except the rules established by individual workplaces. If you have an office manager perhaps you can discuss it with her, because clearly there needs to be a rule about fragrances in a medical office.

You may not have sinus problems related to fragrances but many people, including me, do. My whole head starts throbbing before I can actually smell a fragrance that sets my sinuses off. There is a brand of home and body fragrances that often makes my head pound, because people who use them tend to layer with shower gel, body cream, body lotion, THEN a spray of cologne. Too much! Room fragrances and cleansers, especially bathroom cleaners with a pine base, have the same effect on me. I can assure you, if the fragrance makes you have a migraine headache attack, you would find it easy to talk to the coworker about it! I don’t hesitate! If you don’t have sinus problems, that is still a logical reason for asking her to either reduce the amount she uses or stop using it.

Just make sure there is no fragrance that you’re using just as much! The best way for you or anyone else to handle it may be to follow the advice I frequently give to supervisors and managers: If you’ve never said anything to her before, talk to her about it as though it’s the first time you’ve noticed it. If she doesn’t stop or reduce the fragrance, at least you know she knows it’s bothersome and you can be a bit more forceful the next time. If that doesn’t work you have a good reason to talk to the office manager or a doctor about it.Here is one good way to do it. You go into the area and she’s wearing the perfume. You say, “Uh oh. I’ll bet that perfume is nice but it’s too much for my sinuses! Is that the perfume you’re wearing, Jan?” Whatever she says you can check it out and say something like, “Yes, that’s it. Wow, does that hurt my sinuses! I’m sorry, but can you help me with that by washing most of it off or wiping it off or something? And, if it’s bothering me it’s probably bothering other people too, so it’s just as well to not have so much on in the office.”Don’t over-talk the issue, just say it and act as though you know she will comply.

She’ll probably be embarrassed or irritated and may tell you that no one else has complained or that she wears it every day and you’ve never said anything. Just be a broken record; or you can add a bit more. “I’ve noticed it before but didn’t know for sure what it was that was hurting my sinuses. Now I know. So, could you please help me with that by washing it off?”The next time she does it again, say it again, “Oh goodness, I guess my sinuses are permanently acting up with any strong fragrance. Now I can sympathize with patients who complain about perfumes and room fresheners.”Or, “Wow, that hurts my nose and face! My sinuses are throbbing! Could you please wash the fragrance off like you did last time? I think we’re probably going to have to set up a policy about fragrances, just so none of us accidentally wear a perfume that bothers people with allergies or sinus problems.”I realize you might not word your remarks that way, but you can say something equally direct but appropriate.

The important thing is to be courteous about it. You can imagine the reaction if you said, “Good grief Jan, that perfume you’re wearing is strong enough to knock somebody out! Did you take a bath in it? Tone it down! It’s terrible!”It also doesn’t help to hint or make rude comments to send a message, like, “(Cough, cough) can somebody open a window? I think I’m going to choke to death with the smell in here.”Or, “That’s a great fragrance. I could smell it in the other room. It’s pretty strong so I guess some people might not like it, but it’s nice.”

The bottom line is that your office manager should work with your team to establish a fragrance policy, as most offices do. But, until then you will need to be direct about your comments and do something on your own if it bothers you.Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know the solution you develop and what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe