Mr. Cologne Man strikes again

Mr. Cologne Man Strikes Again

Last week, I met with a college student who is doing a project on insurance and liability for businesses (note to self: thank goodness there are people who are interested in that work, and thank goodness those people are not me).  He and his teammates came to the bookshop to talk with me about the business, our building, our insurance coverage, and more.  The moment this kind young guy entered the bookshop, I was hit with a veritable wall of cologne.  Instead of shaking hands as I usually do, I waved hello from afar.

It was really cold and rainy outside, so asking him and his classmates to step outside was not an option. I tried to keep the conversation brief and found myself backing away in really awkward ways in order to not be too close to their cloud of Axe body spray or Old Spice aftershave or $5,000 cologne whatever the heck they were wearing.  I’m sure I looked kind of odd.

This week we were set to meet again, and I decided to write the group leader an email a full day before our meeting.  Here’s the relevant excerpt of my note to him:


I have migraine disease and scents are a major trigger for me.  Would you and your teammates please refrain from wearing any aftershave or cologne tomorrow? That would help me a lot (and this is something I have to ask of all my employees and anyone I have meetings with). 

There was no response from him last night or this morning, but I figured I had done my best and that he and the rest of the group would show up scent-free.

Oh, I thought wrong.

Turns out he didn’t check his email. (Did you know that this is a common pattern for a lot of college-aged students, at least here in Athens? I check my email about 100 times a day; many of the students I work with never do!)  An hour and a half before we were set to meet, I sat at a cafe during my lunch break and realized I had a migraine coming on.  I drank a couple of glasses of water and decided to refrain from taking my triptan just yet.  When I got back to the shop, I had a small cup of coffee. I almost thought I was starting to feel better.

Until the meeting, which I rushed through while trying to look casual by putting my sweater sleeve over, like, my entire face.  Such a confident look for a business owner!  Ha.  Only the main guy showed up, and I asked him if he’d gotten my email—that’s when he revealed that he hadn’t checked his email since early the day before.

D’oh.

At that point, I felt super-awkward saying anything about his scent. I’d already stepped out of my comfort zone by mentioning something via email, and there was nothing I could do then to control the situation—I’d already smelled the smell, after all, and saying something would probably just make this shy person feel really uncomfortable.  In order to shorten the exposure time, I just kind of kept things brief and simple—I wonder if I pretty much rushed him out the door.

By the time he left about twenty minutes later, the migraine was on full force and I took my naratriptan.

No big lesson here, and no big question for you guys. I just wanted to talk about yet one more quotidian situation (e.g., someone wearing cologne) that would never, ever bother someone without a sensitive nose or migraine brain. How many of you out there can identify with this?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (35)
  • menopausalmigraineur
    4 years ago

    It strikes me as so sad that many who posted here are like me and are affected by smells most strongly, and some are like me and disabled from chronic daily cluster migraines…some call themselves migranuers even to make it clear that it is a NEUROLOGICAL DISORDER they have that is called migraine disease that is actually, I’ve been told researchers are thinking, related to epilepsy. And yet, like me, every one of your FIRST RESPONSES, is to be apologetic as if you are in the wrong for requesting these people not impinge their notion of fashion, culture or vice onto your clean air. THEY are violating YOUR health and livability, and you (we) feel as if we must apologize for their bad manners in using a scent so heavily it carried beyond their personal space, or for smoking so much in an enclosed space that their skin and clothing reeks of it and is making us literally, sick. Lol. I talked about this with my shrink just today… I have purifiers through my whole house, I even wear a personal one, and I still apologize to them that they are causing me pain…classic doormat. When am I going to learn? But at least I fall in good company.

  • Prov31Kathy
    4 years ago

    I have to be very careful with scents; whether cologne or any other scent. I am OK with some, others not so much. However, I find the smell of cigarette smoke and cologne scented lotions hit me the quickest, and it can be from far away. Most colognes I can tolerate, as long as they are not overpowering scent and/or someone hasn’t bathed in it. If I hit that too long, time, then I feel my head start to ache. I had to sit in the office, one day, with a student, who got a spray tan, the night before. I had already woken with a headache to begin with (which always means it’s going to be a long day), by I physically ill by the end of the day. It took me several days to finally get completely rid of that migraine.

  • Ramm
    4 years ago

    I cannot go buy the “cologne” without first the attention getting “sneeze” then the hot poker to the eye, followed by the throbbing that starts and runs behind my eye up to the top of my head down the back, pooling in the curvature, then knots in my shoulders; all while pounding so severely I feel the nausea staring and the lights are like knives.

  • LorriM1976
    4 years ago

    Sents not only cause me headaches they make me nauseous. Ban all sents!

  • dzgirl
    4 years ago

    Scents are the major cause of my migraines. Colognevin particular. There was a man in the office that I used to work in who wore so much cologne that you could still smell it in the elevator bay 30 minutes aftervhe’d stepped out. My migraines were so bad that I was blacking out. He was asked to “tone” down the amount of cologne he wore, but I was told he could not be forced to do so. They moved me to different areas of the offices, but it was with no luck because he soon found reasns to come near my desk and stand just to taunt me. I ended up loosing my job of ten years because of hospitalizations and abscentisms. I sued the company for harrassesment & although my case was settled oit of court; there happened to be 3 other similiar cases in federal court at the time. Due to these cases, there is now a law that states if someone in the workplace suffers from migraines due to cologne, a no cologne policy must be put into place. This can be found if you go to the Americans with Disabilities website. Its a shame that these policies are enforced for people with asthma and such, but simply because a migraine can’t be seen, its dismissed. I hope that this law will prevent happening to others what happened me.

  • Laurie Vincent
    4 years ago

    I run into this problem riding the Max train to and from work. I have to move if possible. Then I have to pull out some peppermint lotion to rub under my nose and all underneath my chin area. I use Origins brand On the Spot lotion. What is everyones’ opinion on telling complete strangers that their cologne smells really strong and causes Migraines?

  • Luna
    4 years ago

    I have no problem telling strangers that their perfume/cologne smell causes health problems for people with asthma, allergies, migraines, even COPD. People without health problems don’t enjoy all that smell either. It may not change the smelly persons habits but at least they know.

  • anaenlima
    4 years ago

    I am amazed! A scent free policy? This would never happen in Peru, where I’m from. We are light years behind you in this respect. I always run away from perfume selling ladies in department stores because they just drench you with the stuff, although I must say now some spray it onto a piece of paper that they then push into your hands. I tell people I’m allergic to perfume and mostly they look at me as if I’m a really odd person.
    As a child I would get terrible headaches at home every time the wooden floors were waxed, or if we stopped to load the car with petrol. At the time I’d never heard the word migraine and until I read this article and other people’s responses I hadn’t realised how many people are sensitive to perfume or the chemicals in stuff like floor wax. Fortunately my flat has laminated floors that I just need to brush. I’m really getting an education here and I love it.

  • Delaney
    4 years ago

    Scents are not a problem for me, but lighting is. I’ve been annoyed because while awareness about scent sensitivities grows, I’ve had to push and advocate to get out from under fluorescent ights – or, my worst nightmare – fluorescent light panels with a ceiling fan mounted underneath so the fan blades give a double strobe effect.

    in one of my last workplaces, explicit instructions about scent were circulated and reinforced by managers, including not using scented fabric softeners on clothes we intended to wear to work. Yet the fluorescent light panels remain! *sigh*

  • sparker96
    4 years ago

    I hate perfumes, air fresheners, carpet deodorizers, etc.! My husband and I have a favorite Chinese restaurant (in Athens, GA no less!). There is a waitress who has worked there for years. One night she came to our table to give us our menus, and she was very perfumed. I didn’t even have to tell my husband. As soon as she walked away, we moved to another table, and he explained to another staff member very tactfully that we needed another waiter or waitress. They obliged and explained that it was against policy for her to be wearing perfume anyway. I did develop a migraine, but not nearly as bad as if the exposure had continued. We have gotten dirty looks from her since then, but no more perfume!

  • Jeannette
    4 years ago

    How about elderly ladies and perfume? I can’t bear to hurt their feelings, and yet they lose their sense of smell and wear more perfume than anyone else. What can you say to an octogenarian?

  • sparker96
    4 years ago

    I grew up in a Southern Baptist church and also went to many local concerts and plays. I can’t count how many times I have moved to a different seat or just suffered through it. I just can’t tell an elderly lady that her perfume is making me sick. Usually, the smell is so strong that the damage is done, and there’s no point in saying anything anyway.

  • Hijinx98
    4 years ago

    I do work with the public and have found people do not understand what a scent is therefore I always wear a mask in public. This has cut down my migraines from 24/7 to maybe once per week. I can live with this.

  • Hank
    4 years ago

    Yep, cologne is a killer. In one office I worked in, the cubicle behind me was home to Ruth, who LOVED whatever the perfume of the moment on TV was. One day I was on a customer conference call at my desk and she decided to “freshen up” by drenching on a new coat of perfume. I started gagging immediately and had to literally run for the restrooms, even though I was leading the conf call. When I later asked Ruth not to ever do that again, she denied even using perfumes. (You could see the cloud hovering around her, but never mind all that…) My other pet peeves are any professionals who are going to be in my face (dentists, hair stylists, docs). If those people are wearing cologne, then I will go elsewhere with my business. And I particularly despise those LUSH cosmetic stores that they have sometimes at malls. Those things are like instant death for me. I think they sell cosmetics anyway — I can’t get within 50 feet of them without wanting to throw up so I have never really looked closely at one of their stores.

  • Suki G.
    4 years ago

    Here is a blog about what it’s like to live housebound due to chemicals (not smells). It’s really important to know that petrochemical “fragrance” contains what are known as “sensitizers” and they are barely regulated. What this means is that by repeated exposure one becomes more sensitized until very small amounts can trigger the neurotoxic symptoms. That’s my life. I must wear heavy duty masks (not tissues) when I go out and my house is full of air purifiers to keep out the fumes from dryer vents of my neighbors.

    https://lindasepp.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/what-if-an-industry-was-allowed-to-disable-us-and-keep-us-housebound/

  • Hijinx98
    4 years ago

    Thank you I thought I was the only one.

  • LAnnSmith
    4 years ago

    Hi Suki, I’m sorry that you suffer so much from chemicals. It’s clearly a horrible life, I can only imagine how miserable it must be for you. However I think that our sensitivities that trigger migraines are different. As 1h0erv said, it can be true natural scents as in flowers, foods, cooking, any outdoor smells.

    When those of us who are sensitive to smells are in a “migraine-weak” phase, almost any scent might trigger a migraine. And yet another time that same smell might be pleasant and not trigger anything. Or a smell might always trigger, BANG it’s migraine time. It’s different for all of us. It’s not allergies to a flower or pollen either, that’s a different discussion altogether.

    Thanks for letting us know about chemical sensitivities, it’s an eye opener for sure.

  • Motley
    4 years ago

    It is reassuring to see your comments. I also experienced this at my neurologist’s office when I was there for botox treatments. He shrugged his shoulders. I was tactful and just asked if his office would consider posting signs. Airplanes are the worst for me as well. Relatively early in my career, I had a subordinate who would douse herself in a spice based perfume. Two other staff came to me to complain. She was about 40 ft from my office and I would work with the door almost shut. When I spoke to her about it, I explained that I was allergic to her fragrance and it triggered a migraine for me. I didn’t throw my other employees under the bus. She left my office and proceeded to tell others that I had called her in and told her that “I made her sick and she stunk” so naturally i had 8 women who then wouldn’t speak to me. While I will still try to tell folks I still pick my words carefully. People just don’t understand as a rule. I have many smells which trigger – even laundry soap on linens. Vanilla seems to be on every body’s person these days and this is one of the worst.

  • LAnnSmith
    4 years ago

    Your comment reminded me of a staff member I had. She believed that eating a raw onion and a number of raw garlic cloves every day would ward off cancer. After awhile she was fragrant with her preventative, and her job was receptionist. That was a difficult conversation!

  • Suki G.
    4 years ago

    It’s not the smell, it’s the chemicals. Educate yourself about the contents of “fragrance”. Read the research by Anne Steinemann.
    Perpetuating the misapprehension that reactions to colognes, incense and perfume are reactions to “smells” is doing a disservice to the Chemical Caution Community. There are conditions called Toxic Induced Loss of Tolerance and/or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity that are serious, and ahve nothing to do with the smell, but with the petrochemicals that are contents of many many cosmetics, personal products, household cleaners (including those marked “green” or “natural”).
    See Women’s Voices for the Earth, or Safer Chemicals or the movies “Stink” or the “Human Experiment” for more information.
    If the public goes on thinking that it’s the smell, and not the actual neurotoxic ingredients, nothing will change.

  • 1h0erv
    4 years ago

    Hi Suki,

    While it often is the chemicals, sometimes it is actually the scent. Sometimes strong natural smells trigger a migraine for me or make a current migraine worse (BO, rotting food, certain strong smelling flowers or bluming trees to name a few).

  • KatherineO
    4 years ago

    This is a trigger for me as well. I teach college and during advising week, I had two students (women) come in for their appointments wearing what I think might have been the same perfume. I knew very quickly I was facing a major problem. My office is small, and even with the door open, the smell was overwhelming. Luckily, they both knew what schedules they wanted and I authorized them for registration quickly and they left. They are both good students and I like them, but would have had to say something had the meetings gone on one more minute. I’m always nervous about cologne or perfume in a confined space, especially airplanes. And sometimes elevators. At my dentist’s office, they have a sign that says not to wear any scent because one of the staff is highly allergic.

  • onehsancare
    4 years ago

    For airplanes, I have to wear a mask.

  • onehsancare
    4 years ago

    I often say, “Sometimes it’s the yummiest colognes that hit me the hardest–it’s just a crapshoot,” so I’m as clear as can be that it’s nothing personal, even if the scent in question is vile.

  • JFinDC
    4 years ago

    Scents are also my main trigger. Even though I find the smell offensive, I try and explain to people that it’s the chemicals I’m reacting to, not necessarily the fragrance. It makes it less personal even though I’ve had people tell me I’m being rude. Some things I do enjoy the smell of but my body doesn’t react well to them. Most people understand and will be accommodating but then…there are always the others.

  • onehsancare
    4 years ago

    Perfumes are my biggest trigger. My office (government) finally (after NINE years of my lobbying!) adopted a fragrance free policy this year. I’m afraid that it’s not universally enforced–I was in an office I only visit occasionally yesterday, and discovered to my great dismay (level three migraine) that it’s not enforced there.

    When I make an appointment to meet with someone, I send a confirming email with this PS:

    PS–(Have I mentioned to you before how sensitive I am to perfumes and colognes? Fragrances of any type—even lotions and things you might not think of at first, like a dress that you wore when you last sprayed perfume, or Old Spice deodorant–trigger migraines for me, so I’d really appreciate it if you all could refrain from wearing any scents. I know it’s an imposition, and I can’t tell you how great it is to work with people I can feel free to ask. Thanks.)

  • b5d5d
    4 years ago

    Me too! My poor family knows I am oversensitive to smells and knows the consequences, but its awful when most people do not understand. There really is no way to politely tell someone, particularly a client, that their odor is offensive to me, so I usually do as you did, Janet, which is suck it up, shorten the meeting, and then take some maxalt.

  • Chronic Mark
    4 years ago

    Scents are a huge trigger for me. Its very frustrating at times. Its a problem even in places you would think would be very aware of it. I was at a migraine clinic in Philadelphia the other day and when I walked through the door the perfume smells from the staff hit me like a slap in the face.. that wasn’t bad enough…I was filling out some forms and a lady sat down next to me with sooo much perfume on it almost made me gag. I moved and did the best I could untill I saw the doc. I mentioned this to him since they used to have a sign up about a scent free and quiet zone. Since they moved into this new building its no longer there. He said they share the space with MS patients and docs and thats probably why. This migriane center has been a Godsend for me so I don’t want to disparage them too much, but you’d think something like this, something that is such a big trigger for us, would be dealt with a little better.

  • Dsukie
    4 years ago

    Scents are my biggest trigger!
    I brought the issue to the attention of our HR department. A survey was done, and it was found out that I am but one of many. Our company now has a scent sensitive policy. I have made it know that any meeting I am involved in must be scent free. If there is anyone from outside our company that is invited, they are informed of the company’s policy and that a migraine sufferer will be in attendance.
    As for my home, it is a scent free zone. Anyone with scents is turned away! I have no issues hurting someone feelings to stop a migraine!

  • LAnnSmith
    4 years ago

    Scents are one of my major triggers, and I’m not too shy about mentioning it. But I’ll say something like “There are scents here that might trigger my migraines, so I’m going to hold this cloth to my nose. I hope you’ll understand.”

    Then as the meeting closes perhaps you can ask the leader how they prefer to be contacted for follow up questions. Telephone, text, email, or whatever, seem to be generational preferences now. Since they’re college students, letting them know that wearing scents isn’t business appropriate might be a nice mentoring touch.

  • Melissa
    4 years ago

    If it’s between me not having a migraine and being nice, I will always choose not having a migraine.
    If someone reeks because of a their fragrance marinade, I’m not shy about talking to them through a tissue from a safe distance.
    This tends to make them ask me what’s wrong.
    When I tell them I can smell them from where I’m standing with a tissue over my nose and mouth, they tend to blush and say they’re sorry. Even if they never ask why I have a tissue pressed to my nose that never moves, you know they’re wondering if they smell.
    I like to think that this is a teaching moment and next time they pick up their preferred bottle of funk, they’ll think twice about how many squirts they drench themselves in. After all, no one likes the idea that they stink.

  • Luna
    4 years ago

    I am not shy about my health. When they first walked in the door I would have said “I am sorry but scents trigger migraine attacks. We need to put this meeting off until you can return without scent. Thank you very much.” Of course it can be awkward but when suffering is the alternative stand up for yourself. Put a sign on the door or say something when you make the appointment. People will not know unless you inform them. Especially someone hoping to get into the business world. You are doing the world a favor by educating them now.

  • Lynn Marie
    4 years ago

    This is a big issue for me. I have asthma in addition to my migraines and artificial scents trigger both. I used to sit quietly and try to get away from people with scent as quickly as I could, now I often say something. But I always feel awkward. It’s hard to believe that people don’t know that their scented products affect people around them.

  • BethBlue
    4 years ago

    Cigarette smoke almost ruined my Mother’s Day gift. I’ll explain: My family gave me tickets to an event that I attended last night. Two men sat down next to us, and the man next to me reeked of cigarettes. (My husband was out parking the car.) I kindly asked him, “Are you a smoker?” (Duh.) Then, “Would you mind switching with your friend? I am sensitive to the smell.” No, he smokes too. So I simply got up and switched with my husband, and took a pill. I just didn’t make it a big deal. Yes, I could still smell it, but we had great seats, and it was an event I really wanted to attend. Honestly, I knew I was going to be sick afterward, but it was mind over matter for me, and I just had to roll with it. That’s life for all of us until the world understands and changes, right? 🙁

  • 1h0erv
    4 years ago

    I’m totally the same, but the worst for me is cigarette smoke. Sometimes I feel a little crazy weaving through people on the sidewalks of NYC holding my breath trying to avoid people smoking.

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