Why Your Workplace Should Be Fragrance-Free
There's no question of how popular fragrances are. They're in almost everything--laundry soap, dryer sheets, bathing soaps, shampoos/conditioners, lotions, perfumes, air fresheners, candles, household cleaners, and even cat litter, to name a few; but, is the nature of fragrance really only about "smelling nice?" No. Certainly, I don't believe there is this massive conspiracy to poison or control people through the use of popular chemical combinations; but, that's not the same as it being harmless, is it? Nearly 1/3 of the U.S market (approximately 30.5%) is allergic/sensitive to fragrance. For some, this could feasibly be because some people are born allergic to things that others could eat all day--like peanuts. For others, it can also be because many of the ingredients used are known/suspected toxins/irritants. If I had to guess, these ingredients are allowed to be used b/c:
1. Fragrance is protected as a proprietary aspect of a product, which means it doesn't have to be listed, which means there is zero oversight on whether or not it's used.
2. The ingredient hasn't been banned from use in fragrances. As far as I'm aware, none have been banned in the U.S, though several have been banned in other countries.
3. It accounts for, presumably, less than 2% of a product and, thus, is considered to be sufficiently low-risk.
Someone told me a while back that there's no way so many people could be allergic to fragrance, that it must be an inflated statistic from some alarmist website. For the record, the UK's statistic is comparable at approximately 28%. The reason for it is quite simple: “Fragrance" rarely refers to an individual ingredient, though, of course, it can. I can legally put just lavender essential oil in a product and list it as "fragrance." Usually, fragrance oils are far more complicated. As of 2015, the International Fragrance Association's (IFRA) stock list contains almost 4000 chemicals, both natural and synthetic. These are just the ones that were voluntarily listed by IFRA affiliate members. Meanwhile, there are thousands of fragrance oil combinations that are commercially available by themselves, plus the likelihood of thousands more used in various products. Then, there are the innumerable people who aren't allergic, per se; but, they have breathing or heart issues that are triggered by strong smells and/or individual fragrance ingredients. Case in point, I love terragon in cooking. I also like dill weed, italian herbs, etc. However, though using all of the above together tastes terrific, the smell can make it harder for me to breathe and/or irritate my hypertension.
How is this relevant to the workplace?
Ultimately, it comes down to the employees and clients who may have this allergy or another related condition. In a perfect statistic, 3 people could walk through your door and 1 may walk right back out. Most people are allergic to something, so, whether or not you are allergic to fragrance, there's a good chance that you know what allergies are like. On the minor end of things, an airborne allergy means a headache, sniffling, sneezing, and congestion. On the more serious end of things, it can also mean difficulty breathing, your blood pressure going up, that headache being a migraine, and mild to severe nausea. There have even been cases of people going to the ER after a whiff of someone else's body spray.
Some will say that this can be solved by simply standing further apart, or will argue that it's just a little bit of lotion the representive is applying and the other person can just take an allergy pill in the morning. The reality, though, is that fragrance is designed to fill a space. In an enclosed space, spreading approximately a quarter-size amount of lotion over your hands and/or arms has a strong enough scent to be smelled 15-20 feet away. It's not enough to use "unscented" lotions b/c even they often have fragrance in them, to mask the scents of other ingredients used. Depending on the product and/or the amount used, the smell can easily become overwhelming for someone with an allergy. Among clients, even 1 person walking back out is a loss we all prefer to avoid. Among personnel, the loss is one of efficiency, which also translates to money lost. It's really hard to concentrate on your work when you feel like curling up and dying--which means a lot less work is getting done and/or something could go out with errors in it, errors that would have been caught any other day.
Granted, statistics aren't applicable on a uniform basis, so there's a chance that no one in your company, and few of your customers, have this allergy. However, there's a higher chance that someone does--even if it's only 1-2 people on your 30-person team. It's a small change to make your business fragrance-free. Of course, you can't really apply that to customers in most settings; but, what you can do is post a publicly-viewable sign asking that people refrain from spraying/applying perfume or lotion in the building or shortly before walking in. For the occasional cases that will happen anyway, a good ventilation system is invaluable.
Essential oils and extracts
I love essential oils and extracts; but, in a fragrance-free workplace, they would also have to be treated with caution. I can't currently estimate how many people could be allergic to these; but, what we can safely establish is that they are a potential issue. Essential oils and extracts are distilled from plants. Thus, if someone has an airborne allergy to citrus, for example, a lotion with citrus essential oil or extract in it could be a problem. Likewise, a person with a ragweed allergy would probably have a problem with chamomile essential oil. There are also people who are allergic to grass, certain trees, and/or shrubs.
Fortunately, essential oil and extract allergies are still much easier to work around, usually without banning them en-masse. A person with a nature-based allergy will generally know what s/he is allergic too. It's much easier to avoid 1 ingredient than 4,000.
What to do about dry skin, while at work.
Thankfully, there are practical solutions for those who really do need to apply a moisturizer in the course of the day--especially as the weather gets colder and, sometimes, drier. There are fragrance-free versions available in many mainstream brands or, for something that will usually last longer and penetrate better, there are natural products. Coconut, olive, avocado, and jojoba oils are fantastic moisturizers, as are shea, cocoa, and mango butters. Of the products I make, one of my current favorites is a mix of avocado and jojoba oil, with or without essential oils added. My other favorite is the body butter--made with shea butter, coconut oil, olive oil, soy wax, and vanilla extract.
If you feel that you can't part with your scented lotion--whether a natural or synthetic scent--it's also, usually, enough to apply less of it; apply it at least 5-10 minutes before arriving; excuse yourself from the area before reapplying; and/or make sure you're in a large room with excellent air flow, whether in the form of a great HVAC system or fans and open windows.