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Those [Expletive] Cinnamon-Scented Pinecones

Those [Expletive] Cinnamon-Scented Pinecones

Dear Cinnamon-Scented Pinecones,

You make me sick. I don’t mean that in the figurative sense. You literally make me sick. If you had your way (and you usually do), I’d wind up with a migraine every time I shop from September through December. I don’t mean I get a headache when I’m around you. A headache I could deal with. No, I get a migraine that renders me non-functional for at least an entire day, often two or three. For another few days after that, the migraine hangover continues to drag me down.

Every sense feels heightened

Beyond not being able to function, those migraine days are horrible. My head screams in pain. I’m so nauseated I can’t eat. I can’t think well enough to work or even carry on a conversation. I’m so fatigued I don’t even have the energy to get up to pee (which, by the way, migraine makes me have to do all. the. time. during an attack). My neck and shoulders are tight and sore. Lights are as bright as if I’d just left a movie theater in July. Sounds are so loud that listening to the radio or watching TV at a normal volume is like being in a nightclub. Smells are so bad that I run a medical grade air filter even though I use no scented products in my home. (I also hallucinate odors that aren’t even there, like the time I was sure there was a cigarette butt in my clothes dryer). I can’t stand being touched. My teeth yelp in pain every time I take a drink. My ear aches and itches.

Not just migraine attacks

Those are only the highlights of my symptoms during a migraine. And they’re only my migraine symptoms, other people have all sorts of different symptoms. Despite what you might think, I have not lost my marbles. Many people have migraine attacks after forced to spend time with you. Fragrances can also instigate asthma attacks, impair the breathing of people with COPD, trigger allergy symptoms, and cause those with multiple chemical sensitivity to become ill. Scented products are irritating to 30.5% of the population and 19% experience adverse health effects due to scents.1

No escaping you

You mostly loiter at grocery stores, though you also congregate at craft stores, home goods stores, and even some clothing stores. Thanks to online shopping, I can avoid you everywhere but grocery stores. (Though I wonder if the stores who use you to “entice” customers know how many you turn off). No matter how much shopping I do at farmers’ markets, I still have to go to the grocery store at least twice a week. And, thanks to you, I have to drive an additional 30 minutes each time to get to a store that confines you to an area where your presence doesn’t spill through the produce aisle or permeate the parking lot.

The last time I went to my usual grocery store this fall, I explained to the manager that I become physically ill every time I shop in that store for nearly four months of the year. He said there was nothing he could do because you have seduced someone in the corporate office. He was kind, but couldn’t help. At least he didn’t balk when I started crying about pinecones.

Do you even understand?

I wasn’t crying about pinecones, of course. I was crying because, for a third of every year, going to my regular grocery store makes me so sick, I spend days in bed. Can you imagine how awful that is? If I didn’t drive an extra hour each week, I would spend months each year in bed because of you.

Do you get what I’m saying? Every time I’m around you, I lose at least two days of productive life, more often it’s four or five days. Life is so short and I’m losing precious time because marketing departments think your odor is festive. I’m far from the only customer in this predicament. If you’re not sympathetic to people with migraine, at least think of those who literally cannot breathe when you’re around.

Please move along

I’m the loving, accepting type, which makes these words difficult to write. But I need you to know that I will always, always, always hate you. There’s only one thing you can do to change my mind: cease to exist.

Actually, I take that back. I could coexist with you if you’d just stop polluting the air of grocery stores. Please, please hang out somewhere that’s not required for everyday life. At the very least, wrap yourself in plastic so your stench doesn’t permeate the store. I, and many others, would be forever grateful if you moved along.

Kerrie Smyres
(on behalf of everyone with a health condition exacerbated by your horrible, unnecessary odor)

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

  1. Caress, S. M., & Steinemann, A. C. (2009). Prevalence of fragrance sensitivity in the American population. Journal of environmental health, 71(7), 46.


  • billadonna
    2 months ago

    I confess to throwing the automatic air-freshener dispenser in the trash the last time one ON THE TOP OF THE TOILET TANK sprayed directly on me. How I detest those things.

  • Martha Growdon moderator
    2 months ago

    hehehe! How perfect! Thanks for the idea, billadonna….;-)
    -Martha Team

  • Kyla3
    7 months ago

    Thank you for writing this! I have multiple Chemical Sensitivity and I am having a hard time to get my food because of the cinnamon scented pine cones and brooms in grocery stores. The stores reek and anything I buy reeks. I have just made complaints to three different store chains. Whole foods has these VOC producers right next to what is supposed to be organic vegetables. The scent stays in my coat for two days after a store visit. I was told by a customer service rep that they will be gone after Christmas. So I guess i am supposed to go on a hunger strike.

  • realprincess
    9 months ago

    So…totally in agreement with the article and title 🙂
    I contend however that “we” are the canary-in-the-mine…being able to detect VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) by smell is NOT a handicap rather, it is preventing us from staying around long enough to experience brain damage! It is our bodies attempt to save us from harm!
    As to the odor aura…I am not a doctor, but my guess is that; it is still associated with the bodys’ detection of some sort of “off-gassing” of chemicals or VOC’s. Make no mistake, many of the chemicals used in perfumes are toxic and not regulated by any sort of agency.
    Clean, fresh air and lots of water to help detox our system, is the best antidote. Even showering to remove the tiny volatile oils that end up deposited on skin and clothing is important. Winter is the worst, because coats and jackets absorb these chemicals as well, and then follow us home to infect everything from our automobile to our shoes. Air fresheners that dispense a mist are some of the worst offenders. Some gases are odorless and tasteless and just as harmful or even deadly.
    I contend that, a migraine is your bodys’ early warning system, and it forces you to remove yourself to a safer distance!

    Think princess and the pea here…

  • pa2d05
    4 years ago

    Personally I love cinnamon and it’s not a trigger. It is actually one of the only things I CAN handle. I have had chronic daily migraines for 47 yrs now. I have ALWAYS said and thought that it was and is my issue and not everyone else’s to have to work around. So I wouldn’t I guess be as bold to go to running to the store manager asking them to move,cover( etc) items for me that have odors and smells that are offensive and my triggers. If I’m in the store and need something in an area that contains tons of odors I hold my breath dash and grab. I avoid isles that I know stink ( cleaners,perfumes etc) and move FAR away from people that stink( smokers,heavily cologned perfumed), but sometimes that just cannot always be avoided in this world and you get stuck with a checker or someone that gets in line. We all have our “cross to bear” and we all deal with it differently. I chose years ago not to push my migraines on others,deal w them myself and above all not take everyone else down w me….meaning..if I feel like crap,I don’t have to treat everyone else like it,or take it out on them. This is my own battle. Like I said I have had them all my life,I have learned how to live w them. They do not control my life.

  • Crystine
    4 years ago

    Since this is a seasonal problem that certainly affects more than just migraine sufferers, would it be possible to petition the company or companies who provide these to enclose them in packaging to help with the overwhelming smell? I think that is reasonable considering the number of people who are affected by strong smells.

  • Sondra Miller-Prowett
    4 years ago

    I purchased a personal air purifier to try to relieve some of this problem Kerrie. I so hate volatile chemicals, perfumes, and these nasty pinecones. What they are scented with seems to be a chemical ester, not a true cinnamon, which is why I react so badly. Same reason I react to “air fresheners.” I have the lovely addition nowadays after 20+ years of daily chronic cluster migraines and the occasional classic one thrown in for fun, is that my blood pressure drops from pain now instead of rising and gives me syncope…(I faint.) Lovely times, huh? So if I’m ambushed too heavily and quickly by any scent and it raises my pain level quickly enough, my blood pressure can plummet and I’m suddenly waking up on the floor. I’m still looking for solutions that will allow me to be in public without risking major harm.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    4 years ago

    What an awful twist your migraines have taken. Does the personal air purifier help? Have you figured out a way to manage other triggers outside your home? (Asks the woman who wears ear plugs grocery shopping.)

    I definitely do worse with artificial scents, but natural ones are bad, too. Cinnamon and rose do me in no matter if they’re artificial or not.

    I hope you find some relief soon.

    Take care,

  • Alisha
    4 years ago

    The overwhelming odors of potpourri is why I avoided stores like Kirkland’s and Bed Bath and Beyond.

  • Sher77
    4 years ago

    I think you have a very good way of putting how we feel about those nasty pinecones down in words! Way to go!
    The words that struck me in your article were “hallucinating odors”. I have never told anyone that it happens to me during a migraine because I thought I must be, well, hallucinating… So, is there really such a thing?!? Evidently you have experienced it?

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    4 years ago

    Yep, it’s a thing! The official term is phantosmia. It’s considered pretty rare, but has been documented. A study published in 2011 found that phantosmias are more common in women, typically last between five minutes and an hour, and usually come before or at the start of head pain. Because of the timing and duration, it’s thought to be a form of aura. People usually hallucinate a specific unpleasant odor, usually a burning smell. That’s according to the research–a lot of people tell me they smell poop.

    And thanks for the kind words! I’m sorry you know what I mean, but appreciate the show of solidarity.

    Take care,

  • Becky B
    4 years ago

    I feel so validated. I accidentally picked these pinecones up in Target thinking they were “natural.” I literally started to have my eyes water and nose start itching and watering too. I thought I was getting sick and then I realized there was some disturbing smell following me around. When I found out what it was and I was closer to it, it physically made me ill. I tried to find plain ones for decorations in town but they don’t exist. Who has highjacked the pinecones? I never thought my multi-day migraines might be related to this culprit. Thank you for the insight!

  • Judy H
    4 years ago

    Validated is right. I hate the smell of them too, and the way Bed, Bath and Beyond smells hits you when you walk in the door. I could really rant about all the scents that are popular right now. Fortunately my kids are adults, so I can shop online for the holidays and avoid the plethora of smelly junk out there. I have had to cancel store credit cards because I could not convince the stupid folks in management to NOT send me perfumed enclosures with my credit card statement.
    I have learned to be bold when it comes to being a guest at someone’s home where they are using candles or those d**n Glade plug in air fresheners. I ask politely if they can douse the candle – if they don’t, I leave. I have even bought my own small bottle of liquid hand soap to leave at my mother-in-law’s because she buys the nastiest smelling hand soap. Same is true for work – the stuff in the dispensers is awful.
    One of the worst perfume encounters I had was when I resorted to the ER for a migraine – and the nurse assigned to my room was wearing perfume!!!! I asked her p-o-l-i-t-e-l-y as soon as she walked in if she was wearing perfume. She became very rude and snotty and said I would have to go to a different room because this was her room. My husband insisted that I be moved. People who work in the healthcare profession should definitely NOT wear perfume. Everyone has to go to the doctor, dentist, etc at some point.

  • MargieQ
    4 years ago

    Nailed it!! Just the thought of the smell of those pinecones and broomsticks hurt.

  • 4hands
    4 years ago

    AMEN to ALL of this and ALL of these comments!

  • Goulartn
    4 years ago

    I feel so validated by this story! I have been cringing for years during the fall season when I enter stores and smell those cinnamon broomsticks, only to be followed during the holiday season by the cinnamon pinecones. And, not to be a sour guest, but everyone seems to burn candles in their homes during the holiday season and I end up sitting there uncomfortably and leaving with an awful headache. I joke with my husband that if he ever wanted to torture me that all he would need is a cinnamon broom! I hate others are affected by it as much as me, but I do take some joy in knowing that I am not alone 🙂

  • SeasTheDay
    4 years ago

    I can’t believe there is story about those dang pine cones. Two times in ONE week, I had a migraine after going to our local Kroger. (in Forney, TX) I tweeted about it, and believe it or not, they listened. No more cinnamon pine cone smell when I walk in, it’s now in the Christmas section, where it belongs!!!!! It’s amazing what tweeting can do…….I was sure to tweet again, thanking them for listening to me and responding!!!!

  • mgh4348
    4 years ago

    Yes, cinnamon-scented pine cones and brooms are obnoxious, but the worst for me is the toxic smell of the Ace Hardware store near me. I think it’s rubber stuff, although I can’t get close enough to tell. I had to go out before I barfed.

  • Belle
    4 years ago

    You nailed it!! All of it to a tee! I just need to cut and paste everything you stated and post it all over. Cinnamon scents, no!! Perfumes, ugh!! Colognes, shoot me!! The list goes on and on and on… Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Tim Banish
    4 years ago

    Yes! These pine cones are the worst things they have ever created. At least at the store I shop at they are keeping them outside this year. I use the opposite entry to avoid them, although that’s where the trees are.
    However once inside it’s deal with the ladies who wear way too much perfume. At least that gets me extra exercise when I have to aisle jump when a smell approaches.

  • onehsancare
    4 years ago

    Those pinecones get me, too! I’m at risk all year, though, a target of almost all perfumes and other fragrances. (Don’t get me started on AXE deodorant!) I have finally decided that I do not leave my home, car, or office without my mask*. It’s not a pretty sight, but I no longer am a victim to random perfume bombs on the sidewalk or in stores.

    Restaurants are still a crapshoot–I have to take my mask off to eat, so they are a treat, reserved for special occasions. Still, I am amazed at how many food service workers wear scents–don’t they know we want to smell the FOOD, not their perfume? I’m batting about .300 at restaurants.

    *I wear a Respro Techno Mask that I get online from It’s about $60, and has disposable filters I change every month or so.

  • Auemerald
    4 years ago

    Tired, rubber of any kind, fish tackle that plastic smell unique to them. Although I do like to fish.

    I avoid those stores with heavy scents, but I know a lot of people think it’s delightful and I am sure it helps the sales. They just lose business until the kill you with “festive” scents has ended. So January, anyone care to go shopping?

  • Panda2015
    4 years ago

    Ugh, I’m so sorry to hear this, Kerrie. I can relate, but with a different smell – PERFUME. I’m currently living in Dubai, where perfume and cologne use is over-the-top. There are days I have to breathe through my mouth, or keep a vanilla scented scarf around my neck that can mask the perfume scent. But sometimes, I just have to straight up avoid the heavily perfumed areas of the mall or city. It’s frustrating.

  • Jeannette
    4 years ago

    Sometimes it helps to breathe through your nose exclusively, so as to not trigger the trigeminal nerve through noxious scents. I will even walk around holding my nose to be extra careful, and people seem to get the hint! I hate those pinecones too, but especially i despise plug-in scent dispensers. Arggggghhh!

  • laurahc
    4 years ago

    Too many triggers to even list. But the worst is even a whiff of cigarette smoke. I know I’m doomed when that terrible odor enters my nostrils.

  • L-nuttall
    4 years ago

    Musk oil does it for me. The paragraph were you describe your pain is exactly how I feel goona vopt tha and when folk say it’s just a headache I will just hand them the words and walk away as they quite clearly have never had a migraine xx

  • kball
    4 years ago

    Excellent post! This is a huge, I mean HUGE trigger for me. Not just for migraine but also allergic reaction. Try going to an ER needing treatment for an allergic reaction and can’t talk to the staff because of the pain and aphasia from migraine. This time of year tries to kill me every year. Pine cones and the scented
    brooms, the air freshers, baked goods-
    so many things have cinnamon either
    artificial or natural either way it’s like
    playing Russian roulette. Which will kill
    me first the allergy or the migraine. Thankfully my husband does the store shopping if I can’t get it online. I feel your pain. I share this nightmare. Hang tough!

  • sungurl
    4 years ago

    While not a migraine trigger for me but an allergic one I cant be around any pine or Christmas greenery I break out in hives and any smells of it causes asthma attack. Makes going out to stores, hair salons, restaurants, even friends houses during the holiday season interesting.

  • jlar
    4 years ago

    My killer smell is the smell on dark washed jeans. It smells like gasoline which is an instant trigger.

  • Krystolla
    4 years ago

    I hate those pinecones too. I actually like the scent of cinnamon but not when it’s climbing through nose to stab my brain. My local grocery store finally started keeping them outside, where the wind can dull the odor.

    That just leaves the potted hyacinths in the spring, the displays of soap, and all the people who think layering lotions and perfume covers up body odor and cigarette smoke. Oh, and those automatic stink dispensers in public restrooms.

  • billadonna
    2 months ago

    I confess to throwing the automatic air-freshener dispenser in the trash the last time one ON THE TOP OF THE TOILET TANK sprayed directly on me. How I detest those things.

  • BethBlue
    4 years ago

    We all have our triggers, and yours is terrible. I feel badly for you.
    Mine? Smelly people. Try telling someone that they smell bad. “Um, excuse me, but you smoke too much and you reek. You’re making me sick.” Or this: “Um, excuse me, but did you skip your deodorant today? Yeah, uh, don’t ever do that again, okay? And don’t stand so close to me.” Our world sucks, plain and simple, and we seem to be the only ones who understand — which sucks even more. Big hug (I did bathe today, I promise), and happy holidays. 🙂

  • Krystolla
    4 years ago

    I think there is probably a bigger contingent of “don’t stink at me” folks than is widely recognized. Even people who can enjoy certain odors have a point where it becomes too strong.

    If companies knew how many sales they are losing as people either hurry through the stink zones (or avoid the store entirely) there would be a lot more changes. In the meantime I’m hoping my city is the next to deliver groceries so I can avoid the stores.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    4 years ago

    I’m sorry these make you so sick, Kerrie. I hate to admit I enjoy these!

    On the other hand, the fertilizer smell in big box stores gets me!


  • BBergstein
    4 years ago

    I thought this post was really interesting. Not so much because of the problems with scented pine cones, but because of the “hallucinating” smells. Before I get a full blown migraine, I am totally convinced that something is rotting in my refrigerator or garbage. Even though I am already sick and can hardly keep my eyes open, I throw out every trash bag in the house and I start throwing out most of the food in my refrigerator. The smell is repulsive. I sometimes think that an animal has died in my attic. My doctor says I have “scent auras” with my headache (along with flashing lights in the corner of my eye that sent me running to the ophthalmologist). I basically spend all my time in my house now – I no longer drive (too dangerous, if I turn my head to quickly I can get dizzy, get an immediate migraine, get nauseous and I don’t want to cause an accident). Thankfully, most places in my neighborhood deliver, including my supermarket. And I also do a lot of shopping online (on the days that I can see and can type). I do know that my migraines are from a significant neck injury (with 4 level fusion), but I wasn’t prepared for everything else – debilitating migraines, fibromyalgia, insomnia, crazy scent aura, total/permanent disability, becoming a hermit, losing most of my friends, no longer able to clean my house, unable to participate in family gatherings, spending several days each month in the dark, under my blanket, pillow over my head. I have had my front yard fenced in so I can just open my door and let the dogs out – no longer able to walk them. Smells, lights, noises – they can all send me running back home to throw up (and I always keep a doggy poop bag with me to be used as a throw up bag).
    I can truly feel for all of you – wanting to enjoy this season of happiness, but having to say “no” to invitations to parties. One of my doctors recommended acupuncture (which I had tried before at with my chiropractor). I went to a lovely Asian practitioner, went thru the acupuncture with no problems, but left with one of the worst headaches I’ve had in a long time -almost told my cab driver to take me to the ER). I thought it was the acupuncture, but maybe it was her aroma therapy scents! Thanks for all the great info.

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