Survey on Fragrance Use and Effects on Health


This survey was done via the Internet. It was posted on 11 newsgroups and 3 lists. There are obvious limitations to doing a survey in this manner. Those bothered by fragrances would be much more likely to respond. It does shows that there are a number of people that are adversely effected by others' use of fragranced products. It demonstrates that there is a need for much more investigation into this topic. The survey was done over a 30-day period of time.

This is a summary of the results of the 74 surveys.



Health Effects:

The majority of responses were from those that found fragrances

objectionable. 51% found fragrances objectionable, 43% found them

objectionable sometimes, and 5% did not object to fragrances. 58%

said fragrances affected their health and 26% said their health

was affected sometimes. 77% said they had pre-existing health

conditions that were made worse by fragrances.


Most complained of more than one symptom from fragrance exposure.


Headaches were the most common complaint and were cited by 67%.

Stuffiness was the next most common symptom at 62%. Difficulty in

breathing was indicated by 58%. 43% indicated that they had

difficulty thinking clearly and 35% indicated that exposure to

fragrances caused nausea. 39% cited other symptoms that ranged

from general malaise to serious neurological symptoms.


Of the 57 respondents that indicated pre-existing health problems

allergies and sinus problems were the most frequent with chemical

sensitivities and MCS closely following. Asthma was the next most

common health problem. Most respondents indicated more than

one health problem. 28 of the 57 indicated asthma, allergies, or

migraines or a combination. 29 of the 57 indicated chemical

sensitivities and/or chemical sensitivities in combination

with other problems.


Most cited multiple reasons a fragrance was objectionable. 22 of

The 74 indicated causing health problems as the only reason for

Finding fragrances objectionable. Wearing too much was the next

most common response with a specific odor following. The least

common reason was that fragrances clashed. 52% found heavy

concentrations objectionable, while others were bothered only by

certain fragrances. 27% found all fragrances objectionable.


72% of the 74 respondents were bothered by the air around perfume

counters and detergent aisles. 63% were bothered when those in

the health care fields wore fragrances. 25% were bothered sometimes.


Use of Fragranced Products: 

Most people that had negative health effects used fragrance free

products as much as possible. But it is difficult to find some

products in an unscented version. Shampoo was the most frequently

used fragranced product by those that were negatively effected.

81% would use all "fragrance free" products if they were

available. 93% said they have purchased a particular item because

it was "fragrance free". Most that had few negative effects from

fragrances used a mixture of fragranced, fragrance free, and

naturally fragranced products.


Attitudes and Trends:

 35% of the 74 respondents found fragrances objectionable or

offensive. 31% liked some and did not like others. 8% enjoyed

them very much.


The reasons given most often as to why fragranced products are so

often used were that most products are scented and marketing.


55% found fragrances and cigarettes equally objectionable. 31%

objected more to cigarettes and 8% to fragrances. 74% would tell

someone that their smoking offended them. 37% would tell someone

their fragrance was offensive.


65 out of 74 would stop wearing a fragrance if a co-worker told

them it caused health problems. 2 said they would ignore it. 90%

said they would give up using fragranced products around someone

they were close to if that person was very sensitive to fragrances.


70% said they would be relieved if fragrance use was regulated in

public as cigarettes are. 48% said they should be. 20% said they

should not be regulated and 28% said under certain circumstances

such as in hospitals and medical facilities they should be




 A significant number of people have negative health effects from

others' fragrance use. This subject needs further investigation

and study. Chemical sensitivities are a relatively new area of

medicine and not understood or well accepted by the medical



Asthma, allergies, and migraine headaches are well recognized and

documented diseases. The incidence of asthma and allergies is

growing and represents a significant percentage of the

population. Further studies need to be done to establish how much

of this population group are negatively effected by fragrance



Although many people would be willing to curtail fragrance use if

they made a co-worker ill, it only takes the one or two that

ignores the request to put the worker's health in jeopardy. This

brings up some hard questions. Should others' personal habits

endanger the health of those around them?


In the case of cigarettes the answer has been no. Does this

principle apply across the board or is it selective? Part of this

is because of what is socially and politically acceptable. It is

acceptable to regulate smoking in areas because of publicity and

education. Even though many of the same chemicals are in

fragrances that are in second hand smoke, a person is much less

likely to complain about someone's fragrance.


If in no other place, the health care field needs to be educated

on the effects fragrances can have. For those that are sensitive

to fragrances it is often difficult when seeking medical care. No

longer is sensitivity to fragrances an isolated event. With the

widespread use of fragrances in many products more people are

developing adverse effects from fragranced products.


By virtue of the nature of the health care industry, the

population it serves is especially at risk.


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