Sue's Blog

7 hints for fragrance sensitivity

toronto2016 Click on poster for printable copy

 Fragrance sensitivity is increasing. Nearly 1 in 5 adults reported adverse health effects from air fresheners and 1 in 3 found scented products on others irritating (Caress & Steinemann 2009).

"Some fragrances give me an instant headache and  make me feel sick to my stomach, I feel as if I am going to vomit and just want to get away from it as quickly as possible" - failsafer comment

Avoidance is the key. You need to avoid any smell that bothers you - not just fragrances, but also other chemicals - such as "new" smells - that are known to be sensitisers. Avoid perfume, ‘parfum’, fragrance and scent including essential oils and natural fragrance such as eucalyptus in ‘fragrance free’ shampoos.

1. Use fragrance free products

Deodorant, makeup, laundry detergent – all personal and cleaning products - and any other commercial products you are exposed to need to be fragrance free. The good news is that there are many more fragrance free products available now than a decade ago.

See our shopping list for :

•    fragrance free personal care and cosmetics

•    fragrance free household cleaners and insect repellants

•    certified organic cotton products such as mattresses, bedding, clothing and toxic free hardwood timber furniture made by a company whose founder Peter Byl was diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity 20 years ago, see his fascinating story at

2. "We share the air"

How to ask others nicely to reconsider fragrance? It’s never easy, but here are some suggestions.

•    Give them the brochure Guidelines on the use of perfumes and other scented products and We Share the Air poster from the University of Toronto Download here or

•   Give them Starving Student’s “Allergies!” story:

“Do people without allergies realize how badly they affect people that have allergies? The answer would be NO! For instance, well, I’m allergic to perfumes ... So, when in class, I have to find just the right seat, where a girl isn’t overly perfumed, but then they take out their fragrancey lotion and I have a nice allergy attack in the middle of lecture. “

•    See more in Letter to Jane at the end of this post

•    See suggestions for managing fragrances in the workplace from WebMD

3. First Defense nasal screens

Like small bandaids, these screens are so inconspicuous that people don’t realise you have them on. I wear them to Tai Chi where one of the women uses a fragranced product that I can’t stand (“But I’m not wearing any perfume!” – some people just don’t get it).  I also find I can walk down the cleaning aisle of the supermarket without discomfort when wearing them. I wish I had started wearing these screens earlier in high risk situations like shopping malls - and especially in what I find to be the poorly ventilated small Dash-8 plane used by Qantas. As Starving Student says "I love it when somebody puts on hair spray, lotion, or perfume when on an airplane. Hello, NO ventilation!!" People really don't notice them, and they may have prevented me from becoming so sensitive.

“The nasal screens have worked really well for me. I have been able to remain in a room with incense, strong solvent glue, and even clean the brass with Brasso, all with no ill effects … I had them on for nearly 13 hours one day.
– from a failsafe nun (story [1208])

First Defense nasal screens (now available in a smaller size for children and women with smaller noses)

4. Personal air purifiers - a small fan or the Wein Air Supply

A small personal fan blowing in your face

A fan can blow stagnant air away and keep odours from lingering in your personal space.

"Being forced to breathe in others' fragrance choices is a lot like being forced to breathe in secondhand smoke" -  psychologist Dr Pamela Dalton, from Fragrance Allergies: A sensory Assault

The Wein Air Supply is a tiny silent wearable device which creates a bubble of pure air about your head and face as a defence against perfume, dust, pollen, bacteria and viruses, mould and smoke.

“The best thing I have done about my perfume sensitivity ever” – Sue Dengate


See Sue's blog post on the wearable air purifier Wein Air Supply

5. AZEP nasal spray (antihistamine)

This is recommended in the RPAH Elimination Diet handbook.

“I have found Azep nasal spray very helpful in dealing with my sensitivity to fragrances and other smells. I’ve used it a few times when suddenly confronted with strong chemicals cleaner, solvent, after shave and incense. It made things much more manageable.” – failsafer, NZ

AZEP nasal spray

6. RainbowAir ozone generator

This is used by major hotels to clear rooms after someone has illegally smoked in them. It will also remove fragrances.

Q. On a recent weekend away within 30 minutes of being in a hotel room with air freshener sprayed throughout, our poor 3yr old son was bouncing off the walls and became very aggressive (thank you inhaled benzoates & salicylates!) We don't want him to have to endure triggers from deodorisers/air fresheners when we go away, so we have been researching ozone generators. Do you have any experience with the RainbowAir machines from Victoria?

A. Good news: the Rainbow Air is fantastic! - we could not do our roadshows without it. We use it while travelling to get rid of the smells of airfresheners, cleaners, toilet deodorisers, fabric softeners etc, and sometimes we use it at home after perfumy guests have left.  The only problem is that ozone generators must NOT be used when people are in the room as they can cause breathing problems.  If a hotel room smells, we set the Rainbow Air running on maximum for 30 minutes while we go for a walk - it's a bit of a nuisance but nothing compared with having to stay in a smelly room. Very occasionally 30 minutes isn't enough and we give it another go later on. See more:

7. Air purifier

We know of several schools that  have provided an expensive and effective air filter - the INOVA AIR E20) so that students  with multiple chemical sensitivity including fragrance sensitivity can remain in a newly renovated classroom.

“I also like the fact that when I first opened the box it came in, the unit didn't have any strong chemical smell that you often get with new appliances and the likes these days.” - from product review “Very Impressed” by Leesa65


“The school toilets with the automatic air fresheners are our biggest problem at school...- from story [1320]

Read more

Prevalence of fragrance sensitivity in the American population

Caress SM, Steinemann AC,  J Environ Health. 2009 Mar;71(7):46-50.

30.5% of the general population reported scented products on others irritating, 19% reported adverse health effects from air fresheners, and 10.9% reported irritation by scented laundry products vented outside.

Could your perfume be giving you headaches? These women reveal their battles with everything from deodorant to scented candles

Polly Dunbar, Daily Mail, 12 March 2015

 FAQs – perfume and chemical sensitivity

FAQ on perfume and chemical sensitivity 

Factsheet on fumes and perfumes

Factsheet on inhaled salicylates

How fragrance sensitivity can affect behaviour and other symptoms

Our 15 page collection of reader stories about fragrance sensitivity

Factsheet introduction to food intolerance

Excerpts from Letter to Jane (my gym instructor) by Sue Dengate

“Sorry to do this by email - it's just so rushed and crowded before class, I felt this may be easier ... my problem is that I am sensitive to fragranced smells in general, and in particular to the fragrance in a product you wear in class - not sure whether it is a perfume, fragranced deodorant or body spray,  something like that …

I was okay in our previous class - would you mind terribly going back to using whatever it was you wore there? I guess another other option would be to ask the gym for a big industrial fan in that room.  Sorry to be such a nuisance ...” (and I included Starving Student’s story, below)

Her reply

“You’re not a nuisance and I appreciate your honesty. I don’t want to make it an uncomfortable experience for you or anyone and I am more than happy not to use the fragrances I have been using. I didn't realise I wore so many different fragrances until I sat down and listed them …

I am more than happy not to wear any of the oils and other products, especially after reading Starving Student’s story.  I certainly don't want you to feel sick or not be able to attend class because of what I am wearing. Hopefully see you next week .  I will be oil/product free and please let me know if that is better for you. Thank you so much for your feedback.”

Starving Student’s story

“Do people without allergies realize how badly they affect people that have allergies? The answer would be NO! For instance, well, I’m allergic to perfumes ... So, when in class, I have to find just the right seat, where a girl isn’t overly perfumed, but then they take out their fragrancey lotion and I have a nice allergy attack in the middle of lecture.

I love it when somebody puts on hair spray, lotion, or perfume when on an airplane. Hello, NO ventilation!!

I try to stay allergy free. Why should I have to suffer for what you think is a “pleasure”? Honestly, years ago, just about everything was fragrance free ... All I'm saying is, have respect for the people around you.”-  - from "Allergies!" by Starving Student (the writer won a scholarship with her story)