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.
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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