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Scent wearers and the scent sensitive: what's the balance?
January 16, 2014 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Last night at a social event, a person seated at my table had to leave because my scent was bothering her. Her eyes were tearing and she was obviously uncomfortable. Am I doing it wrong?

Does this mean I was wearing too much? I have been experimenting with scent recently, and I thought I was using it judiciously on my wrists and behind my ears. I know some folks are sensitive, and I want to be sensitive to them. And ZOMG, this incident was so embarrassing that I fear I may never be able to wear scent in public again. What is the right balance? Input from the scent sensitive as well as from scent wearers is welcome.
posted by summer sock to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (59 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
(To clarify: she told me why she was leaving, so this is not a case of unwarranted assumptions.)
posted by summer sock at 1:30 PM on January 16


Did she say why specifically she was bothered by it? Was it the intensity of the smell, the fragrance itself?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:31 PM on January 16


I asked a similar question awhile ago, you might find the answers there helpful or at least interesting.
posted by cabingirl at 1:31 PM on January 16


What fragrance were you wearing? How did you apply it, how much did you apply, and how long before the event started? Do you have a trusted friend you could ask, who would tell you honestly if it's too much?

It could have been you were wearing too much. It could have been that you were wearing a little, and others at the table were also wearing a little, and cumulatively it was too much for her. It could be she has allergies to other things as well, and a little bit of fragrance added to the mix pushed her over the edge from merely uncomfortable to unbearable.

You said she was "at the table." Was she seated right next to you? Did she say specifically it was your fragrance that was bothering her?
posted by payoto at 1:36 PM on January 16


She did not say exactly what was bothering her about the scent. She did say "your scent," so yes, it was me, and yes, she was sitting next to me.
posted by summer sock at 1:37 PM on January 16


You may have been wearing a perfectly normal quantity and this person was just super sensitive, or you may have been badly overdoing it. Unfortunately we can only speculate! Some people are inherently more sensitive than others, and really the only absolutely certain way to prevent annoying/sickening these people with your cologne is to never wear any.

Extremes like that aside, in general the only people who should be able to smell your cologne/perfume are people who are close enough to hug/kiss you. Never should a cloud of scent precede you, nor should it persist once you have left the room.

(Also, and I would think this is common sense but have nevertheless seen people who are apparently unaware, it is never appropriate to spray cologne or perfume on yourself in an enclosed area like an elevator, a subway car/bus/tram, or on an airplane.)
posted by elizardbits at 1:37 PM on January 16 [18 favorites]


Could be super sensitive. I would have asked gently if someone could switch seats with me as a first step unless I was just trying to get the hell out of there anyway.

My eyes are watering RIGHT NOW, actually; I've been migrainey a few days and thought my usual mint lotion would help so I applied it and I want to peel my skin off to get the scent away from me.
posted by tilde at 1:40 PM on January 16


How muuuuuch?

One spray or drop on one wrist, dab your wrists together, then apply wrists to your neck. If other people at your table can smell it, then yes, too much.
posted by Elysum at 1:42 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I find many perfumes unpleasant. It is ironic, because I understand that the wearer is hoping to please. Remember that these scents intrude on other people's space in a very direct way.

I remember once conducting a job interview, and I disqualified a candidate because it was unpleasant for me to be in the same room with her.

So what I'm trying to say is that there could be unintended consequences, even if you are wearing a scent that you and many others find attractive.
posted by elf27 at 1:42 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Do you have some close friends you can run experiments with? I find that experience is kind of the only way to solve this. Put on your favorite perfumes one at a time, give them about 30 min. to "settle", and then have a couple of different friends smell you in varying proximities (sniffing coffee beans between each test helps 'reset' the nose so you get better data on proximity and strength.) This will help you determine if you're wearing so much that you can be routinely smelled from a distance or if this person was allergic/highly sensitive/otherwise unusual.

Do not attempt to do this alone. Er, obviously it wouldn't hurt you or anything, but our noses get used to the way we smell waaaaay too easily. You not being able to smell your perfume is not a very good way to judge how strong your perfume is, no matter how careful you are. I can swear my perfume is gone and it's time for another reapplication and a friend will hug me and say, "Oh, you smell so good, what are you wearing?"

As a matter of politeness, I would consider it normal to have to be fairly close to someone before I can smell their perfume. If you walk into the elevator and I can smell it, that's too much. If I'm squished against you in the elevator 'cause it's full and I'm catching alluring little whiffs of something awesome, that's perfect.

Bear in mind that if you're unusually warm or your heart rate is high, this will "throw" your perfume farther, because of the body heat, so that others will be able to smell it more. Also, if you don't think you're wearing too much but are still getting bad reactions, ask your friends to describe your perfume from a distance of about a foot: different "notes" have different throw distances and it's possible that something that smells wonderful up close is really piercingly shrilly floral or overly musky or what have you from further away. If you wear the same perfume and the same unwashed items of clothing every day, be aware the scent could be building up on your coat or scarf and seem quite strong; and, just like the distance thing, sometimes perfumes on clothes instead of skin smell totally different (I have a couple that smell wonderful on my wrists but like The World's Worst Laundry Detergent if too much gets on my clothes.)

Hope that helps! Perfume is great, but stinking people out is not great. With friends, though, you should be able to recalibrate your balance!
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:43 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


There isn't really any way for us to know without having been there. Some people seem truly unaware of how much scent they're putting on, and some people seem determined to overstate their sensitivities because they want to feel special or whatever, and there's no way to know which was which (or if it was neither).

But it sounds like your scent wasn't bothering anyone else at the table, and it also sounds like she left instead of maybe trying to switch seats with someone sat further away from you, so in your situation, here is what I would do:

I wouldn't really sweat it, and I would continue to wear whatever my favorite scent was* in modest amounts (as elizardbits says, the ideal situation is that only people who are really close to you can smell it particularly well), which it sounds like you're doing, and then I would refrain from putting any on if I were going to a gathering this person were going to be attending. If something like this happens again with a different person, then yeah, cool it with the perfume. Otherwise, like I say, don't sweat it.

*Karma, from Lush, if you're curious.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:43 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


And it might have been the scent, not the strength - I hate Obsession and how it interacted with one of my exes. I finally got it through to him it wasn't the strength, it was that scent at all.

If I went so far as to mention it to someone I hardly know, I would have made sure to emphasize it wasn't the strength if it wasn't the strength. And if it was the strength, I'd mention it.
posted by tilde at 1:43 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I am extremely sensitive to some scents. I have on more than one occasion left the theatre or a restaurant or been asked to be re-seated or gotten off a bus because of someone's cologne/perfume.

elizardbits' advice is what I would give you (even though I may still ask to be re-seated away from you, depending on the particular scent you wear) Extremes like that aside, in general the only people who should be able to smell your cologne/perfume are people who are close enough to hug/kiss you. Never should a cloud of scent precede you, nor should it persist once you have left the room.

So, put on your scent, and then ask people you can trust to give you an honest opinion about how far away they have to be before they smell it. If they have not invaded your personal space before smelling it, you are wearing too much for the office or the theatre or restaurants or public transportation.

Note that you will stop smelling your own perfume long before you actually stop smelling like your perfume. Don't re-apply it all day long.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:44 PM on January 16 [10 favorites]


Although, with the caveat that checking the strength is still a good idea, now that I'm thinking more about this, "her eyes were tearing" sounds like either an emotion or allergic reaction to me. I'm quite sensitive to perfumes and have been given migraines by them before, but have never had an eye-tearing reaction. If it was allergic or emotional, there's not a lot you can do, except not wear that perfume or, in extreme cases, any perfume (which is why they ask nurses and doctors not to: too many people with allergies and nausea already in the hospital.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:48 PM on January 16


Don't re-apply it all day long.

Yeah, that's something I forgot to add - in my personal (mine me mine not a law not a rule) opinion, reapplication of scent is never necessary. The formulation of modern scents is such that they have planned for the day-long wearing away of the scent and different notes will become apparent as others wear off. The purpose of modern scents is this scent "story" that unfolds throughout the hours of wearing it, and to reapply halfway through the story is akin to stopping the movie 3/4 of the way through to start it again twice as loud, such that the ending is lost and the beginning annoys.
posted by elizardbits at 1:49 PM on January 16 [16 favorites]


First of all, I understand being sensitive to scent, but someone being rude enough to make a big deal about leaving and then telling you that it's because of your perfume, that seems a bit much.

I have a friend who is super-sensitive to certain fragrances. Mrs. Myers Lemon counter cleaner, for example, but she likes my lavender softener sheets just fine.

I apply perfume once, in the morning. That's it.

I spray on my wrist, crook of the arm, cleavage and the nape of my neck. I get it good and on there. Then it dissipates. You can't smell me, unless you hug me.

So ask trusted co-workers and friends, and if everyone gives you the thumbs up, then this broad is just too sensitive to be out and about with other humans.

It was really not nice of her to embarrass you like that.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:51 PM on January 16 [17 favorites]


the only people who should be able to smell your cologne/perfume are people who are close enough to hug/kiss you

I agree with this.

Also, when are you applying the scent? Most perfumes contain some alcohol, and as that evaporates it puts off more of the scent that should be what remains once it's "settled" a bit. Personally I wouldn't apply a scent any less than 30 minutes before being around other people.

Then again, this person could be super-sensitive to smells, but I'd think she'd have explained that in a, "It's not you, it's me," sort of way if that's the case.
posted by whoiam at 1:52 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


What scent was it? Do you apply it in spritzes, squirts, drops, roll it on? Those can impact the "strength" of it, too.

I do one small spritz roundabouts my, ahem, decolletage. And a smaller spritz on the back of my neck if I'm feeling fancy. It's too much if it's rolling down my skin, so if the boob squirt is runny, I'll rub it on my wrist and apply to the neck.
posted by sm1tten at 1:52 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


She might have just not liked the particular scent you were wearing. I wear perfume and there are many that do not bother me, but if I'm ever in the room near someone wearing a floral or super spicy perfume, my eyes are watering and I'm in migraine territory.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:57 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


First of all, I understand being sensitive to scent, but someone being rude enough to make a big deal about leaving and then telling you that it's because of your perfume, that seems a bit much.

It may not be. In the interest of remaining polite, my threshold for telling someone that their scent bothers me is so much higher than the level at which I'm bothered that if I do complain or leave it's because I can no longer breath.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:57 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


Some scents have a much stronger sillage (basically, the amount a scent radiates out from the wearer) than others. Scents with a softer sillage cling to your skin and tend to be less noticeable to others. So if you know you're going to be in a setting with a lot of other people who will be in close proximity (office, theater, restaurant), you may want to pick low-sillage fragrances for those events.

You can check your different perfumes at Fragrantica, which indicate a scent's sillage tendencies.
posted by scody at 2:02 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I absolutely agree that this person was incredibly graceless and even if you had bathed in perfume, she could have made an excuse that would have spared your feelings. I have never been in a situation where a person's perfume made it necessary for me to leave their presence and I sure as hell would never dream of saying such a thing to someone. Maybe ask a close friend if you're wearing too much, but I would chalk this up to a rude one-off. She's the one who should be embarassed, not you.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 2:09 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


I had someone walk behind me in the library and make the most horrific faces at my perfume. A woman in her 40s, tongue out, disgusted nose wrinkle and all. But it was one person, so I didn't take it personally. This is the same scent that never fails to make my sweetie say "mmmm you smell nice!" so there's no accounting for taste. I vote that the lady was rude. (This is coming from a woman who will pass out if she smells Bounce dryer sheets. That shit is lethal! If someone has a strong scent, I leave. If I know them well, and if they are habitually stinky, then I tell them kindly.)

As you use perfume, you get accustomed to the scent. So then you want to apply more, to be able to smell it. And more. And more. Don't get into this cycle. Therefore, keep it at a 2 spritz maximum. You may be allowed a third spritz if your scent is especially light. I put this third spritz in my hair.

I've given permission to close coworkers to give me "the talk" if I ever show up in a cloud of perfume.

Also do not rub your wrists together... dab, dab, no rub.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:09 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I think the appropriate amount of scent is that which someone you are being intimate with or cuddling with can smell, and no one else. Others might get a fleeting whiff at first but then not at all. If others can smell you continually (not a fleeting whiff), you wear too much. Of course this depends on the sensitivity of the smeller. I think on any day you may be directly beside a person for more than a second, it is considerate to go very, very light on scent (err on the side of not smelling at all). This includes going on public transportation, dinner parties, meetings, etc. I once had an absolutely horrendous flight from Germany to the US because the guy next to me was doused in cologne ( I had to cover my nose repeatedly with the blanket, then couldn't breath so had to uncover and take a deep full breath of horrible scent, and this went on and on so I couldn't fall asleep). For what it's worth I think men are much more likely to overdo scent than women.

I myself dab a tiny bit on the back of my neck and no where else, and I get told (by some people) that they can smell me very faintly at times, but never too much.
posted by Blitz at 2:15 PM on January 16


The amount that is "too much" depends entirely on your tolerance for annoying/inconveniencing others. Some people will be annoyed and/or physically uncomfortable if they can smell any perfume at all; as you increase the amount you use, the number of people negatively affected goes up.

So it really depends how much joy you get from your perfume vs. how much you care about other people being bothered by it. If you draw the line at "bothering nobody", any amount is "too much". If you draw the line at "not bothering most people", it's almost impossible to tell without being there, since most people will never complain even at eye-watering levels. You could ask some of your less-tactful friends for opinions. One spritz is probably not going to annoy many people.

I'm not physically sensitive to perfumes but I find them very obnoxious at any detectable level and I'm eternally grateful for no-scent workplace policies (and resentful of the people who break them, although I'm not rude enough to complain). Perfume feels very intrusive and distracting to me, like someone constantly humming quietly or tapping their fingers on their desk for hours on end. Lots of people don't mind it though, so it all depends how accommodating you want to be.

(Please, please avoid wearing perfume in places where others are in close proximity and can't politely escape, like planes or pretty much anywhere else with assigned seating)
posted by randomnity at 2:18 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


Does this mean I was wearing too much?

Absolutely. How clear can it be? You're driving away strangers who say the reason is your scent.

being rude enough to make a big deal about leaving and then telling you that it's because of your perfume, that seems a bit much

Tell that to my sister-in-law. Perfume and cologne give her migraines. If it gave you a headache, I bet you'd be rude, too.
posted by Rash at 2:18 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I am not sensitive to scents, I just think they almost universally smell terrible. If I am at work or something having a conversation with you, and I can smell your perfume, then you are wearing too much. Way too much. It's so incredibly intrusive to push your smell onto other people, whether that's a good (in your opinion) or a bad smell.

So basically I agree with other people who say that it's the sort of thing that someone you are very close to (hugging, etc) should be able to barely detect, and that's it. (And I know this was a social event, so this doesn't apply to you in this circumstance, but I would strongly argue that you should never, ever wear perfume to work).
posted by brainmouse at 2:18 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Nthing those who are sensitive to certain scents. The smell of Polo is revolting to me because it reminds me of my abusive ex. It used to give me panic attacks for a few years post-breakup, but now it's just annoying.
posted by luckynerd at 2:27 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


If her eyes were watering, then that sounds like a physical reaction, not an excuse for dislike. I absolutely have my eyes water at strong/harsh/allergy inducing-scents. Secondly, I am not in control of my physical reactions.

I'd interpret her actions as, I have to leave suddenly, I don't want you to think it is a personal dislike, it's not you, it's your scent. People jump to conclusions that an action is motivated by personal dislike, so if it was me, I'd prefer you to know it's an allergy/scent thing, instead.


Kind of on-topic: I just went with a hippy gathering last night where they were using white sage, and I get odd looks every time I quietly ask/motion ask if I can not be smudged (have sage smoke wafted in my face), as I don't want to be sneezing/blowing my nose for the rest of the evening.
I didn't care, but I used to go regularly, and it happened to a fair proportion of other people too (usually newbies, who didn't come back - self selection).
And then, there was one woman who actually had an asthma attack after being smudged/in a small room with too much smoke. It really sucked, as people seemed unusually unsympathetic (I think they were kind of defensive - like it's a personal weakness or something?), and she never came back. It really put me off that gathering for awhile.

Look, it sucks having health problems like this, or being more sensitive to smell than 90% of the population, but it does affect a minority of people, and yes, it might be their problem, but from what I've seen, it doesn't get much sympathy.
Compared with super-tasting or food allergies, it's easier to avoid food. Smells/vapours/smoke aren't as big of a problem, but they are also a lot harder to avoid.
posted by Elysum at 2:33 PM on January 16 [7 favorites]


I agree that scent can often be a very real invasion of personal space, despite it being seemingly "intangible". Also, like randomnity emphasized wearing scent is very much an issue of social consideration. That's why I say always err on the side of not smelling at all, even if that is not what you would like, over allowing people who are not cuddling with you to smell it. No one should have to smell another person's scent and it's just not nice to put someone in the situation of having to move, wait for the next train, or whatever.

Also, my scent seems to accumulate on things I don't wash regularly, I can tell because I get whiffs myself. So often my coat, scarf, and cardigan smell. That might add to your scent effect, especially if you use an oil based perfume as I do.
posted by Blitz at 2:35 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


The earth is crowded so we live closer together in elevators, apartment buildings, office cubicles. Many people have allergies that were unheard of a few years ago. Children who classically loved peanut/peanut butter now have scary life threatening reactions. (Not that any sane person uses peanut butter for perfume.) Thus, I do not wear any scent except what is unavoidable in soap and shampoo.
posted by Cranberry at 2:36 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I can speak as someone who seems to have a heightened sense of smell for some reason and who is bothered by most perfumes and colognes. That's kind of rude she said that, but I think maybe you were wearing a lot or it was a strong scent if her reaction was that strong. Musky smells really bother me a lot. Smells of fruit or fresh airy sort of flowers can be OK sometimes. And body mists don't seem to bother me as much as perfume, which is stronger and designed to last longer. Body mists will eventually wear out and perfume will stay there until you wash your clothes.

I feel like the point of perfume is that if someone gets close, they smell something nice other than human hair smell or the stale smell of, you know, being a person. I don't think the point of perfume is to have people two feet away from you be able to smell you. Thus, perfume should be very light and understated. I don't understand the dabs on the wrist and behind the ears idea that is so popular -- that seems like way too much to me and way too concentrated. I would try one small spritz a foot or two away from you and let it disperse over you. If I do spray anything on me, I spray it over my head so it gets on my hair and chest, basically. And they are only body mists.

I sat next to a guy wearing cologne on a plane the other day and I was practically clawing at the walls together away from him. I don't think he wore an abnormal amount, but it was clearly a strong fragrance with staying power and it really bothered me. I buried my head into the window of the plane trying to escape the smell.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:05 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I don't really think it was rude of her to tell you why she was leaving -- maybe she was worried that if she just up and left without explanation, she'd seem even more rude.

I absolutely agree that sometimes it's the scent itself, not how much you're wearing. Vanilla-based scents, for example, give me a raging headache no matter how lightly they're applied. The vanilla smell just seems to spread a lot, and cling to everything. Musky scents, too.

On the rare occasions I wear any scent, I just do a small spritz in the, er, chest region, and perhaps a little in my hair (like, I spray a tiny bit into the hair and walk through it). That way, unless you're really close to me, you can't smell it at all.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:06 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Any scent you wear - whether it's perfume or hairspray/lotion/other - should only be noticeable to someone who is very close to you, like hugging you.

When it comes to perfume, most people apply too much to begin with. I apply one squirt to my chest and one to my forearm (and rub forearms together). I wear a very light scent, but with stronger perfumes, this could very easily be too much. I avoid applying perfume to clothing as it seems to last longer on fabric. I try to apply perfume only to areas that will be covered with clothing.

Don't apply scents to places where someone may touch you. Some people apply perfume to their necks or around their faces and there's nothing worse than hugging someone and finding that their cologne has transferred to your skin. For whatever reason this happens with men more often than women in my experience. I'll hug a male friend hello and cologne from their face will rub off on my face and then I smell like them until I'm able to wash my face with soap. Yuck.

The time to decide how much to wear should happen when you first get the perfume. Once you do the initial evaluation regarding amount, don't change it and add more later. Your brain becomes desensitized to scents that you smell frequently. Too many people take this as a sign that their perfume is somehow becoming weaker and that they should wear more and they increase the amount that they apply. Meanwhile, people around them are swimming laps in the smell. You should fully expect to not smell a perfume on yourself if you've been wearing it for awhile as you've become desensitized.
posted by quince at 3:10 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I don't know... I'm not sensitive to scents in a physiological sense - I don't have a physical reaction to them or anything. But, I still think that ANY scent is too much. I just don't like to smell anything on other people in public, other than normal soap/shampoo smells.
posted by barnoley at 3:11 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I have no idea how much perfume you were wearing, but I regularly can smell cologne/perfume on clients across my desk, and these are clean professionals who abide by most US cultural standards who should know better. So yes, it's pretty normal to apply too much. If I can smell your perfume, it's giving me an active headache that will last hours after you leave my office; it's making me breath through my mouth instead of my nose in an attempt to minimize the damage; and it makes my opinion of you drop a bit.

I'm pretty sure most people are aware, from things like this thread, that some people are very sensitive to scents. Continuing to wear them in anything but the most modest, imperceptible-unless-we're-hugging amounts communicates that you are totally ok with compromising the health and comfort of others for your own selfish pleasure.

I'm not saying that's what you're doing (you are obviously trying to be sensitive), but please, before you write this lady off as a big mean hater jerk, try to see things from the viewpoint of the person who probably had to go lay down at home for a bit instead of enjoying the event.
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:14 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


First of all, thank you for asking this question instead of dismissing this person out of hand. The thing about modern scents is they are almost universally NOT just plant/animal extracts as they were in the past; they are random molecules cooked up by chemists for the fragrance industry. Most of them have never existed before and we don't know exactly what they do, and no testing is required if they are used only for fragrance purposes. Part of the magic of fragrance chemistry is the way they are able to make scents that throw themselves across the room and persist all day long. Most essential oils dissipate within a few hours.

The other thing is that if you can smell it, it's because actual molecules of it are hitting your olfactory receptors. It is literally an invasion of personal space.

The third thing is that we are all living and working in much closer quarters now than ever before. You can't get away from they guy on the plane, the lady in the elevator, the girl on the subway.

So given all of the above, I really think that the burden lies with the fragrance wearer to wear very, very, very little--so little that only someone purposely looking to smell them would smell it. Not the guy in the next seat on the plane. Not the lady next to them in the elevator. And in fact I would argue that since we all have access to clean running water and adequate hygiene is no longer a problem, perhaps modern etiquette argues in favor of NO fragrance. Perhaps the most polite thing when crammed in with a million other humans is to smell as unobtrusive as possible. Why should I have to smell you? Why should I have your perfume molecules up my nose, affecting the taste of my dinner? How does that actually make you more attractive to others?
posted by HotToddy at 3:15 PM on January 16 [14 favorites]


I can tell in an instant when a person near me has a perfume on that will give me a terrible headache. It's the common musky smell in a lot of perfumes (there are some perfumes I actually like, but not the ones with this frequently used note). You can bet knowing how much that headache is going to incapacitate me, I'm going to do whatever I need to do to get away from the source. If someone asked me why I was moving, I would be honest about it being nothing personal, but their perfume is a headache-inducing one for me. I wouldn'tgo out of my way to announce it though, if I wasn't asked.

Any amount of a bad one for me is going to send me running. But a light amount of a non-offensive one can be pleasant. All this to say, wearing scent is a crapshoot for you and and your audience.
posted by cecic at 3:20 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


It may have been an allergic reaction - I generally like the smell of a bit pf perfume, but I remember one time a close friend was wearing a new one that made me sneeze and my eyes water whenever I got near her!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:26 PM on January 16


I don't have a sense of smell and have major sinus issues, so I have no idea what perfume (or much anything) smells like. But I have really intense allergic reactions to some scents anyway. For example, this Christmas, I picked up a wrapped package to give to someone, and immediately started having a really bad sinus attack (very stuffed nose, watering eyes, sneezing, etc). It turned out that the present was a (packaged, never-opened) bottle of lavender cologne. I literally couldn't be in the same room as that bottle without having a bad reaction, despite not being able to smell it at all.

Since her eyes were watering and she had to leave the event, I think this woman was having an allergic reaction. That she had a reaction to the scent doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the smell being strong (to her or anyone else), though.
posted by rue72 at 3:31 PM on January 16


if someone is being assaulted by unpleasant molecules wafting through the air into their nose, to the point where they tear up and are forced to flee, i think it is a kindness, not a rudeness, that they inform the unwitting perp of this fact, to spare this well-meaning soul the guilt and shame that would come from driving away significant others, employers, children and animals.
posted by bruce at 3:32 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I'm of the opinion that unless someone is all up in your business, they shouldn't be able to smell you, so I'm voting for you were wearing too much.
posted by ktkt at 3:59 PM on January 16


Most people who attend social events where they know they'll be seated by some stranger can pretty much bet that someone in the room will be wearing scent. I don't see why she told you--there was nothing you could have done, other than leave yourself. If this was the Golden Globes, I'd think the room was awash in perfume. And next time you go to some shin-dig like this, you could go fragrance-free.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:02 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I love scent, always wore it, enjoyed it on others - until my lungs went south and eventually I had to go on oxygen. Even then, for several years, it only irritated a little bit - but now that I'm at a very severe level of lung disease and using 8 liters of oxygen, just a little too much scent and my throat and lungs tighten up dramatically. Even the scent trail left behind in an elevator or in a small room - or a car, oh my - will send me into a wheezing fit.

I still love the fragrance, but I simply can't be near it. If I were seated next to someone at a table and I could easily pick up on their scent without trying, I'd say that person was wearing too much fragrance, and, sadly, I'd probably have to move to a different place or leave entirely. I doubt that I'd turn to that person and announce that I had to leave because of their perfume, but if that person asked me why I was leaving and expressed concern - was I okay? - I'd tell them the truth, that I can't breathe worth a darn when exposed to perfumes and fragrances.

The same is true of cleaning products, BTW. Some I can handle, if diluted well, but no aerosols, absolutely no Febreze, and I don't do well at all in the laundry room around all those heavily scented laundry soaps. Fortunately, I have a lady who does laundry for me now - it's just too heavy to handle - so she's the one in the laundry room instead of me.

Too much rambling - sorry - just consider that sometimes people have severe reactions to scent and they can't help it. I'm sure the lady was sad to miss the evening when she had to leave because of your fragrance.
posted by aryma at 4:25 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


tl; no time to read the whole thread.

I'm sensitive, but not morbidly. I would sneeze near you but not be physically miserable.

But I HATE the idea that others feel they can impose on me their own ideas of what I'm required to smell ALL EVENING. That they can decide for me the kind of atmosphere I'll be allowed to breathe.

I have no idea why anyone should be entitled to wear a foreign smell that radiates from them into my nose. I urge you to just stop, and urge your family and friends to stop as well.

(elizardbits has it -- see her post near the top.)
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:39 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


Hi I'm scent sensitive (migraines) AND someone who loves perfume. When I apply mine, I spray one squirt on a cotton ball and lightly apply it to the usual spots, otherwise it's too intrusive. I can't stand being able to smell my own perfume without sniffing my wrist. My rule is that if I do the cotton ball thing, but find myself irritated and overwhelmed by the intensity of the scent then it's too strong. Don't do perfume lotion and perfume together - oh God, it's the worst. One or the other; not both.

The worst offenders are cheap perfumes - there is just an odd industrial/synthetic component to the perfume that lingers under the primary scent. Some of the more expensive perfumes have it too, but the manufacturers of the cheap stuff seem to add it to their stuff by the metric ton. The longer it's on the wearer, the worse it smells - the more pleasing part of the perfume has worn off, leaving the strange industrial solvent scent behind. Stay away from the cheap, synthetic stuff.

So to sum up: apply lightly (you don't have to go as light as me, just use a lighter touch), if you can easily smell your own perfume without touching your nose to where you applied the scent it's too much, don't use two scented products together, stay away from the cheap stuff.
posted by echolalia67 at 4:49 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I'm another sometimes-sufferer - some people's perfumes are perfectly fine and others I'm extremely sensitive to, so that I have to hold my breath/mouth-breathe if they've just walked past me. It's not just synthetic perfumes for me - there are many flowers that are just fine but some things (asiatic lilies for example) that just give me a headache and make me feel nauseated if I'm around them. I've asked people at work to move flowers further away from me but done it in a way that makes it clear it's my sensitivity, not them being rude. A lot depends on the delivery, as with many things. So you may have been wearing too much, you may just have been wearing too much for her.

That being said, I do wear a fairly lightly-applied eau de toilette (which, as a class of perfume, is fairly dilute and weak anyway). I've never had anyone complain, which possibly makes sense given I'm one of the most smell-sensitive people I know. However reading some of the other comments here I'm going to make a few changes to my own scent-applying habits - mostly making sure not to apply where it could "rub off" on someone else. That could be a good rule of thumb for your future perfume-wearing efforts as well?

Also an interesting side note: I was recently at a distillery and tasting some rather expensive and nice whiskey. My friend was drinking Lady Grey tea. I found the aroma of her tea actually changed the way I was experiencing the whiskey - in a nice way, maybe because I quite like bergamot. But it's worth bearing in mind that taste and smell are really intertwined and it may also be that the same scent in a non-food-involving situation (ie not at dinner) would also be fine. Imagine trying to have a lovely meal while the waitress is wiping down the table next to you with a cleaning solution involving bleach - bleach isn't necessarily inherently unpleasant, but in that situation it would probably inhibit your enjoyment of your food!
posted by Athanassiel at 5:30 PM on January 16


Nobody should be able to smell your perfume unless they're close enough to put their arms around you. If they can even smell it at all from further away than that, then you're wearing way too much. Add to that the fact that most people start off with a cocktail of scented soaps, laundry soaps, lotions, cosmetics, and other products, and you really need to err on the side of less.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:50 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Scents can, in some people, cause migraine headaches. Some migraine headaches include a day of hiding in a dark room, vomiting anything consumed, including water. So thank you, _thank you_, for being considerate.
posted by amtho at 6:23 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I'm so surprised by the people upthread who're saying the woman who left was rude or graceless. How bizarre.

I've gotten increasingly sensitive to scent as I get older, to the point where I've occasionally had difficulty breathing on planes or other enclosed spaces, and I sometimes get headaches for hours afterwards. It's always annoying and sometimes terrifying, and it makes me really mad at the person wearing the scent.

I was thinking about this while reading the comments here, and I realized I have literally *never* smelled scent on someone with whom I'm not intimate, and enjoyed it. Smell is profoundly personal to me, and when someone carries around a little forcefield of it, giving me no choice but to inhale and experience it, I resent it, a lot.

That said, I like lots of perfume, and used to wear it publicly. Now though, I wear it only at home alone, or sometimes I put a tiny amount just under my nostrils, so I can smell it myself. I don't inflict it on other people any more: that just seems (honestly!) weird and rude.
posted by Susan PG at 7:32 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


There are enough people out there that are allergic, asthmatic, overly sensitive, or just plain hate perfume out there that I eventually threw out all of mine. It is incredibly common to have one or more of these issues where I live, apparently. It seems to cause a lot more trouble to others than it's worth, sorry.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:05 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I don't really think it was rude of her to tell you why she was leaving -- maybe she was worried that if she just up and left without explanation, she'd seem even more rude.

That's what I was thinking. With no advance warning, and while dealing with symptoms, she had three choices: Leave abruptly with no explanation; come up with a lie on short notice; or tell the truth about why she had to go. I wasn't there, of course, but just going from the short description I'm not sure there was really a much better way it could have gone down.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:58 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


With her eyes watering she was clearly having an allergic reaction. It might be something that just started recently with her (everyone I know with scent sensitivity started symptoms as an adult) or the result of pregnancy (fourteen years later I still vividly remember all those smells).

I assume you like to smell your own scent, I wonder if you could apply a tiny amount directly below your nose so you can smell it without anyone else being imposed on?
posted by saucysault at 9:28 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Scents are really tricky. What is nice to one person can be almost toxic to another. Also, some perfumes hang much more heavily in the air than others. Sandalwood and sweet vanilla scents for me are particularly offensive and strong and last way past the point when a person has left the room. I don't think that woman was being rude by telling you why. If I was wearing enough perfume to cause someone else physical discomfort I sure as hell would want to know.

The main rules of perfumes (for me at least) are:
1. One squirt only.
2. Never reapply during the day. Other people can probably still smell it even if you can't smell it anymore.
3. REALLY respect 1 and 2 if you are going to work. Heavy scents and noticeable perfumes are generally seen as pretty unprofessional, at least where I am. Also, I have had persistent HR issues with a woman in my office who insisted upon wearing a LOT of perfume and reapplying at her desk during the day. It triggered pretty severe migraines in me and it impacted my ability to do my work.
4. Squirt perfume someplace that can be removed if necessary (ie. don't spray into the air and walk through because then you'd have to change your clothes). My husband and I are both scent sensitive, though I still wear perfume. Only one specific type that neither of us react to. Sometimes, though, he WILL have a reaction to it so I will need to remove it, usually with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol or something.
5. If someone who you haven't just hugged or been physically very close to comments on your perfume, it is probably too strong. Maybe not for the person who commented on it, but pretty much guaranteed that it is bothering someone else.
6. if you want to wear it and want to be able to smell it during the day, spray your one squirt for the day on your wrists and rub them together. During the day you can smell your wrist when you want to get a whiff of it. (I do this.)



I have never been in a situation where a person's perfume made it necessary for me to leave their presence and I sure as hell would never dream of saying such a thing to someone.

I have been in that situation many times over. Hell, just a couple of days ago I had to switch aisles at the grocery store because a woman shopping ahead of me was wearing so much perfume that it was giving me a headache, and I could tell which aisles she had already been in because the scent was still there. It was awful. Speaking as someone who HAS had to leave, at some point it is an unkindness NOT to tell the person why, especially if they are a repeat offender. I would want someone to tell me if I was offending them (and likely others). A lot of people have very significant reactions to scents - some scents trigger in me bad migraines and flare up my asthma - and the desire for a person to wear a perfume should not trump my ability to breathe.


Ideefixe : I don't see why she told you--there was nothing you could have done, other than leave yourself. If this was the Golden Globes, I'd think the room was awash in perfume. And next time you go to some shin-dig like this, you could go fragrance-free.

If the woman hadn't told the OP she never would have known that her perfume was too strong, and she wouldn't have known to ask this question and she wouldn't have known that she should have gone fragrance free. That is why the woman told her - to keep her from doing it again.

posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:10 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


For some people strong scent can cause unpleasant errr ... Gastrointestinal stuff.

OP, get a reliable friend to tell you if they can smell your perfume. Preferably in a neutral space and not your home where the spray might linger. And when they first see you, so their noses are not already accustomed to the aroma.

Have them stand 3 feet away, sniff and report, then step in 6 inches. Repeat.
posted by bunderful at 5:19 AM on January 17


I'm not scent sensitive and in fact have a really crappy sense of smell. And yet even I am regularly surprised (and not in a good way) by the amount of scent people use. Someone will walk by and all of a sudden it's like I have every scent strip in a double issue of Vogue wrapped around me. I'm sure they would say they are being judicious, but a little goes a long way and a lot goes way too far.

I agree with everyone who said that no one who isn't hugging you should be smelling it. The woman who had the reaction did you a kindness by letting you know that you were overdoing it.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:57 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I'm thankfully growing out of my scent allergy, but when I was younger strong scents and perfumes would cause me to have watering eyes, itchiness and sneezing. At a social event, I would absolutely need to excuse myself before I became a complete allergy face mess, and had mascara running down my face.

I would tell someone I couldn't be next to them because of their scent if I wanted them to know it was nothing personal. It really is a difficult position to be in.

I think a good rule of thumb is to avoid scent on days where you will be sitting in close proximity to others.

It also could not just be your perfume, but your soap, hair gel, moisturizer, etc. While the scent of those things tends to dissipate quicker, it can still be enough to trigger a reaction sometimes. I tried certain brands of shower gel that caused me to end up being allergic to myself and needing a second shower to try and scrub the stupid scent off so I could stop sneezing. So if you're layering scent on with several different products, you might want to reconsider.
posted by inertia at 11:15 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I feel for both of you: I love perfume generally, but the superabundance of cheap artificial smells in certain places make me feel very unwell. I was once on a flight to Hawaii where they pumped "air freshener" through the plane. As if soaking in fire retardent for hours wasn't a toxic enough atmosphere.

Best way to apply scent: spray it in the air once and walk, skip, or jump through it. It's nearly impossible to overdo it this way.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:09 PM on January 17


One other point: It's not just women - some men absolutely reek of after-shave or men's cologne.
posted by aryma at 3:57 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


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