Perfumes She Wears Flares Up My Nose

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about Irritating Perfume

I work in a family practice, one of our doctors wears/bathes in perfume that I know when she is in the building before I see her. No one else complains or acts like this is bothering them. The perfumes she wears instantly flare up my nose and this causes me to get irritated, I have actually used some medical orange scented spray to try to neutralize , but I am too busy to continue this on a daily basis! Now the reason I haven’t approached the office manager is because when many times I have mentioned that perfumes/colognes should not be used in a medical office, she blows it off. We do have a few signs that say not to wear perfumes as they may cause migraines or allergies to other patients or office staff.

Obviously these signs do not work. I finally approached the doctor drenched in perfume yesterday. In a nice quiet voice I told her I had a favor, if she would not wear perfume or fragrance, that it is very strong and bothers myself and some patients, to my surprise this doctor denied wearing anything with fragrance! Over and over she stated that nothing has ever been said in past, I responded that I have wanted to talk to her many times regarding this , and she kept denying and repeating herself that nothing was ever said before, and when a patient complains I should let her know so she can explain?

Finally I left her feeling baffled as to why the denial. I know the office manager will say she doesn’t notice a smell. I know this is totally immature and unprofessional, but one time I got so frustrated that I doused myself with peppermint body spray and went to work, well that backfired, I could not tolerate myself! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Signed, Denied

Dear Denied:
A family practice setting in which some odor or fragrance evokes distress is an environment in which harmony is challenged by an assertive victim. That appears to be your problem. Unfortunately your office manager has “blown off” your requests to follow a policy “not to wear perfumes as they may cause migraines or allergies to other patients or office staff.” And your individual confrontation with the Doctor who wears the offending perfume has met with adamant denial. In short, you appear to be at a point of wearing a clothes pin over your nose, raising hell, or seeking work elsewhere. From this distance far from being able to smell what you smell, I know of no quick-fix. Possibly, the middle alternative of raising hell is worth a try before you look elsewhere.

Raising hell doesn’t have to be loud and demanding. Rather it can entail a formal request to your office manager, who should be responsible for dealing with this problem, to investigate and implement the “not to wear perfumes” policy. Your office manager “blowing it off” is not doing her job; perhaps she works scared to confront the doctor. A log of your attempts to cope should provide evidence the seriousness of your allergic reaction and courageous effort to resolve it. Also your request (in writing) should be supported by medical evidence. I assume you are a long-time valued employee and that this should make your request important. It’s not easy to find a replacement for a valued employee. A formal request is best received when accompanied with a face-to-face firm statement. So far, from what you say, you have not shown this side of you. Rather you’ve attempted a variety of ways to minimize the adverse effects of the doctor’s perfumes.

Before you raise hell, you might read or re-read some of our past Q&As on this topic.
Workplace Doctor Tina Lewis Rowe has provided detailed advice that you should have read if you had scanned some of our past Q&As on perfumes. (Listed below) In light of your distress and persistent attempts to resolve this problem, I have copied one segment of her suggestions of language to use when communication with a co-worker’s persistent use of an offending perfume: <>
I have spoken to dozens of people about their perfumes, hand lotions or strong fragrances in hair spray, deodorants and even their shower gel fragrance that lingers! I have a series of almost memorized statements that seem to work.

Employees nearly always protest that his or her fragrance is very light or that many have said they like it. But, I just stick to the message: It’s bothersome to some, including me, so you’ll have to reduce it significantly or not wear it at all. (Sometimes the specific fragrance is a problem, no matter how light it is, and sometimes the fragrance is OK but they’re wearing too much of it.)

Here’s some of the things I have said (which sound a bit awkward when written, but they worked in real life!)

“Hey, Jana, that fragrance you’re wearing must have a chemical in it that sets off my sinus reactions. Some of the best perfumes do! Whatever it is, it’s just too much. Could you find a way to wash some of it off now and then reduce it way, way down or not wear that one? I’ll really appreciate it.” (I keep a confidential tone, as though this is between them and me and I’m confident they’ll cooperate.) Or, “Ava, I usually like that fragrance, but it could be the recirculation of air in this office makes it get stronger. Could you help me out by washing some of it off now and either not having it so strong or not wearing that particular kind anymore? (Sympathetic smile) That may be one you’ll have to save for the weekend!”
“Vince, men’s cologne is nice for some settings, but, sad to say, I think the combination of it and a small work area is too much. Could you do me a favor and tone it down to about 1/10 of what you’re wearing today or not wear it at all? And for the sake of my sinuses could you wash some of it off in the next few minutes?” Or, “Bill, I don’t know what the fragrance is on your clothes or hair, but whatever it is, it’s really strong after a while. Do some investigating and figure out what it is and reduce it or don’t wear it, OK?” (It turned out, that was the spray that stops static cling. It kills my sinuses and was bothering others too.)

If someone has been wearing too much fragrance for a long time, but nothing has been said before, I have called him or her aside and said something like, “Lisa, I’ve been meaning to say something about the level of fragrance I notice when I’m in your work area. Between the closeness and the air recirculation, it’s just too much. I even notice it a lot now, standing here next to you. You don’t notice it I’m sure, because you’re wearing it and used to it, but you’ll need to wash some off now and reduce it way, way down or not wear it at all. “

As a coworker I said, “Marge, my sinuses can’t handle some fragrances, and the one you’re wearing is one of them! Or maybe it’s layered up and too strong for me. But, could you please do me a favor and wash some of it off and lower the level when you’re at work? It would help my headache a lot!” I’ve had managers tell me that they simply went up to someone and said, “That perfume is too strong, go wash it off and don’t wear it again.” But, I keep in mind that I’m going to be working with this person the rest of the day and in the coming days. I don’t want to ruin our working relationship over perfume. I also want to apply the Golden Rule: How would I want someone to approach me about an issue like that? I would want them to use tact and to not talk to me as though I knew it was a problem but wore it anyway, of as though I was stupid to not realize it was too strong.

I try to put the blame on the perfume not the wearer. If I’ve asked nicely and they still don’t comply, THEN, it’s the perfume- wearer that is the problem!
Please let us know if any of this makes sense and what you elect to do. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.
William Gorden
Perfume Worn By Medical Assistant Is Too Strong!
July 9, 2012 Tina Rowe Edit
Perfume Odor
August 27, 2010 Tina Rowe
Fragrances in the Workplace
March 19, 2009 Bill Gordon Edi
Perfume-Free Work???
December 3, 2008 Tina Rowe Edit
Suggestion About Fragrance In The Workplace
November 5, 2007 Tina Rowe Edit