One in three people are fragrance sensitive - so why aren't we talking about it?

Posted by Liz Cook on

If it's true that 1 in 3 of your friends feel unwell when exposed to perfume, why aren't your friends talking about it? 

In August 2016, veteran fragrance chemical researcher Anne Steinemann, PhD, published several reports describing the scope of how scented products impact our daily lives. Dr Steinmann’s research in Australia, UK, USA and Sweden study found that 32.2% of the adult population report adverse health effects from synthetic fragrance, experiencing a myriad of symptoms, including respiratory problems (18%), mucosal symptoms (16%), migraine headaches (15%), skin problems (10%), asthma attacks (8%), neurological problems (7%), cognitive issues (5%), gastrointestinal symtoms (5%), cardiovascular problems (4%), immune system problems (4%), musculoskeletal problems (3%), and “other” problems (1%).

​In some countries fragrance sensitivity is so widely acknowledged that it is now considered a disabling health condition covered under disability legislation, affecting around 9.5% of the population.

Further, Dr Steinmann’s research reports that 9% of the population have lost work days or lost a job in the past year due to illness from synthetically-fragranced product exposure in the workplace. Personal estimated costs due to these lost workdays and lost jobs, across the four countries exceed $146 billion (USD) annually.

​Astounding, right? But if all this is true, why doesn't this seem to apply to my friends? If it did, wouldn't I know about it?

​Not necessarily. ​There is huge stigma attached to fragrance sensitivity. Most people who are fragrance-sensitive report to feeling ostracised, belittled, laughed at or ignored when they display or report reactions to fragrance.

So most people don't say anything. They just avoid situations where fragrance might be an issue. And sometimes even avoid going out altogether.

​It's worth starting up the conversation with your friends next time you're out for coffee. And if you're still wearing synthetic fragrance, or using synthetic scents around your home, be mindful of those around you who might not tolerate the scents you love.

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