Shedding light on scents

Are you unknowingly harming your fellow students?

Aranda Adams

Shortly after a class last week I began to feel horrendous. The feeling lasted the rest of the day – pains in my sinuses and chest, raw throat, and a headache that took hours to diminish – all because someone wearing perfume sat next to me in class. 

These painful symptoms occurred even though I am only sensitive to scents. They are much worse for people who have illnesses such as asthma, migraines, or heart and lung diseases affected by chemicals such as perfumes, colognes, hairspray, aftershave, skin care lotions, air fresheners and cleaning products. 

Chemical sensitivities are beginning to receive recognition in hospitals – as well as other workplaces – where wearing scents is now banned. However, there is little in the way of scent regulation in classrooms at the University of Winnipeg. 

As much as it is a learning institution, the university is also a highly social place. This means that many in the student body employ heavy use of colognes and perfume. 

The U of W currently uses a guideline to encourage the voluntary reduction or avoidance of fragrance use by all campus occupants.

This guideline recognizes the dangers and difficulties that scented products create for others. 

It states, “we generally think that it is a personal choice to use scented products; however, by their very nature they are shared. Fragrance chemicals vapourize in the air and are easily inhaled by those around us.”

While you can make the choice not to apply scents, it is much more difficult for others to choose not to smell them

The lack of a scent-free policy on campus is cited as being due to the fact that it is a complex decision that affects peoples’ rights. 

This guideline can be found on the university website by doing a search, but is not apparent to the average campus attendee. People who are not bothered by scents are unlikely to know about the issue or to spend time researching it.

Perhaps posting the guideline in major hallways or publishing it once a year in the student newspaper would assist in the stated interest of “increasing the awareness of the University of Winnipeg community regarding the need to eliminate the use of scented products wherever possible.”

Sensitivity issues can cause defensiveness, anger and frustration in scent wearers.

I have often heard people protest that they are only wearing a little, or that it is not a harsh smell. It is difficult for people who do not suffer the symptoms to understand how something that smells great to them can be disabling to another. 

However, the symptoms are very real to an estimated 30 per cent of the Canadian population who have issues with chemical sensitivity.

It is likely that the chemical components of your scents are affecting at least some of the students around you.

Please consider that your use of scented products could trigger eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, dizziness, inability to concentrate, anxiety, fatigue, joint pain, and even asthma attacks in your fellow students.

While you can make the choice not to apply them, it is much more difficult for others to choose not to smell them.

Alexis Kinloch is an art history student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 21, 2010)

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