As part of our Share the Air initiative, we created this toolkit to provide:
- The basics about being fragrance-free, why it matters, and what chemical sensitivities are
- Tips on making your home, office, event, or any space at UCLA fragrance-free and accessible
- Information on research around fragrances and chemical sensitivities
Download this guide as a PDF!
Download a handy, printable version of this guide.
Download a tailored fact sheet designed to help faculty, staff, managers, teaching assistants or campus resources make UCLA more accessible:
WHAT IS FRAGRANCE?
- Fragrance is an ingredient in many personal care and cleaning products, also often listed as “scent” or “parfum.”
- These terms refer to synthetically-created fragrances or scents that can be made of thousands of petroleum-derived synthetic compounds, including chemicals that are on the EPA’s hazardous waste list.
- Studies show that chemicals found in synthetic fragrances are harmful to people, animals and the environment. For example, the use of cleaning products has been recently shown to be as toxic as smoking 20 cigarettes a day.
WHAT DOES FRAGRANCE-FREE MEAN?
- Being fragrance-free involves both individuals and spaces. It means making personal decisions and establishing policies to make spaces accessible for everyone.
- People who are fragrance-free refrain from wearing any perfume, using fragranced laundry detergent/dryer sheets, and applying any personal care products that contain fragrances—such as lotion, deodorant, and hair products.
- Spaces can be made fragrance-free by ensuring that they are cleaned using only chemical- and fragrance-free cleaning products, and by asking people coming into the space to refrain from wearing products containing fragrances.
AREN’T THESE CHEMICALS REGULATED?
- No law or FDA regulation requires that fragrances be tested for safety.
- Fragrance ingredients are considered trade secrets: manufacturers aren’t required to them, so it’s difficult to know whether a fragrance contains harmful substances.
WHY IS THIS AN ACCESSIBILITY ISSUE?
- Some individuals have immediate reactions to fragrance due to allergies or sensitivities to fragrance and/or chemicals. A 2016 study found that 34% of the US population reports health problems when exposed to fragrance. Symptoms include:
- Sinus congestion, sore throat, wheezing, coughing, runny nose, and shortness of breath;
- Headache and dizziness;
- Anxiety, anger, nausea, fatigue, mental confusion, and an inability to concentrate.
- These symptoms can greatly impact people’s ability to attend class, work, or events, and to participate fully in their communities.
- If campus spaces like classrooms, lectures, or special events are not fragrance-free, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for some people to attend without getting sick.
- Just like providing wheelchair accessibility and interpreters, making spaces fragrance-free increases accessibility and supports the inclusion of many people!
CUT OUT THE MOST OBVIOUS OFFENDERS
- First, avoid wearing perfume or cologne: perfumes can be triggering for many people, not just those with fragrance allergies.
- Avoid essential oils. Essential oils labeling is not regulated and some seemingly “natural” oils may also contain hazardous ingredients.
- Avoid any strong-smelling personal care products with smells that may linger, including lotions, deodorants, laundry detergents, and fabric softeners. If you need to use these products, choose fragrance-free versions.
LOOK AT THE LABELS
- Fragrance-free versions of many products are available!
- Check product ingredient lists: if you see the words “parfum” or “fragrance” in this list, you will know the product likely contains harmful chemicals.
- Look for products labeled “fragrance-free.”
- Beware of products that are only labeled “unscented”: many of these still contain masking scents, neutral-smelling synthetic fragrances that hide the smell of other ingredients and are hazardous.
- Even small steps make a difference. If you can’t avoid fragrance altogether, choose products with fewer synthetic ingredients. Products that are labeled as free of fragrances, parabens, dyes, and preservatives are considered to be safest!
- You can also look for products formulated for sensitive skin as they tend to contain fewer chemicals.
- Other organizations have created handy websites and phone apps to help you easily identify which products are safest:
CHECKLIST: PRIORITIZE YOUR DECISIONS
Can’t eliminate all of your fragranced products? Prioritize based on this list of products, ranked from most offensive and harmful to least.
Most Offensive (avoid completely):
- Perfume/Body Spray
- Dryer Sheets
- Scented laundry detergents
- Fabric softeners
- Scented deodorant
- Body wash
- Hand soap
CHECKLIST: ARE YOUR PRODUCTS FRAGRANCE-FREE?
- Check the labels and ingredient lists of products in your bathroom and when you shop.
- If products contain any of the following, look for an alternative:
- Masking scent
Cleaning and Laundry
- Ditch your dryer sheets: these are a major source of hazardous fragrance.
- Check the labels and ingredient lists of your detergent and fabric softener. If they contain any of the following, consider choosing a fragrance-free alternative:
- Masking scent
- Replace detergents and disinfectants with safer alternatives such as vinegar,
baking soda, or castile soap!
- Making your spaces accessible and fragrance-free involves making sure both the physical space and the people who come into that space are fragrance-free.
- To start making an office, classroom, work space, etc. fragrance-free, check whether scented products are in use.These can include air fresheners, cleaning products, dish soaps, hand soaps, and even dry-erase markers.
- Eliminate unnecessary fragranced products and select fragrance-free alternatives when appropriate.
- Notify users of the space of your fragrance-free policy:
- Place signage in easy to view areas, like entrances. See below for a template to print and post.
- Send an email to the people who use the space notifying them it is now fragrance-free and explain what that entails. See below for an example.
- Add a fragrance-free statement to your email signature, which can serve as a reminder for those who visit your space. See below for an example.
- In your outreach materials, emphasize that this is an accessibility issue and be prepared to answer questions and educate your community.
- In places where you have less control over cleaning product choices, avoiding fragrance may be difficult. We suggest approaching people who make such decisions with as much information as you can! Share details on why fragrance-free is important for accessibility and provide product suggestions.
- Consider partnering with existing initiatives—such as green or sustainability initiatives—that already understand all the benefits of greener products and can support efforts to replace products that may be bought in bulk by institutions.
INTERSECTIONALITY & CULTURAL SENSITIVITY
- Fragrance-free policies are intended to make spaces more accessible. But if not implemented thoughtfully, they risk exacerbating other experiences of exclusion.
- For some individuals, using fragrance-free products may not be an option. Many fragrance-free products are cost prohibitive, and fragrance-free alternatives to some products—for example, hair care products designed for people of color—may be difficult to find. For some, fragrances may have cultural or religious significance.
- For that reason, we recommend referring people to the “prioritize your decisions” checklist on page 8. It can help them identify which changes they can make, however small and incremental. Even small changes can help!
- Before implementing fragrance-free policy, it’s important to reach out to all members of your community so that they understand the rationale behind the policy, can discuss their concerns, and can contribute to developing practices that make spaces accessible for all.
Implementing fragrance-free policy requires working with all members of your community to find solutions that are inclusive for everyone.
CHECKLIST: PRODUCTS TO AVOID
- Scents linger in unexpected places! The products below often contain synthetic fragrance. You can prioritize which to eliminate from your space based on this list of products, organized into most and moderately offensive.
- Fragrance-free versions of some of these products are available and are a great alternative to eliminating them altogether!
- Most Offensive:
- Air fresheners
- Scented candles
- Moderately Offensive:
- Floor cleaner
- Carpet cleaner
- Window cleaners
- Cleaning wipes
- Dry erase markers
- Bathroom cleaners
- Hand soaps
- Dish soap
- Dishwasher detergent
CHECKLIST: MAKING YOUR SPACE FRAGRANCE-FREE
- Switch cleaning products and office supplies to fragrance-free or use natural alternatives like vinegar.
- Use air purifiers instead of air fresheners.
- Print and post signage in easy to view places. See below for an example.
- Write a fragrance-free policy asking all employees, clients, and visitors to refrain from using scented products in your office or events.
- Tip: Use one of the many policies already available online: http://action.lung.org/site/DocServer/fragrance-free-workplace.pdf
- Send an email to people who use the space notifying them that it is fragrance-free. See below for an example.
- To ensure a greater commitment from all, let employees know why these policies are in place and why it is necessary to adhere to them. Make it clear that this policy applies to everyone as it may affect all peoples’
health and that unanimous cooperation is vital to the success of the policy.
- Consider adding a brief notification in email signatures. See below for an example.
BASIC STEPS FOR FRAGRANCE-FREE EVENTS
Hosting a fragrance-free event is a challenge, but it is a great opportunity for education and outreach
- To ensure that the space can be made fragrance-free, work with the venue managers/administrators and custodial staff to replace fragranced products with fragrance-free options.
- Request that spaces either be cleaned with fragrance-free options or with no chemicals the day before the event, providing time for the space to air out.
- If the hand soap in venue bathrooms has a fragrance, provide hand-pump containers of fragrance-free hand soap. Make sure they are clearly labeled so that people use these instead of installed soap dispensers.
- Alert event attendees early and often! Add a prominent fragrance-free statement on all event advertisements, including posters, flyers, web announcements, social media posts, emails to guests, etc. See page 22 for examples.
CREATING FRAGRANCE-FREE SEATING AREAS
- Consider having a fragrance-free seating area at events, even if the event is already designated fragrance-free.
- This reserved section provides fragrance-sensitive individuals with extra protection.
- The seating section should be clearly marked, in a well-ventilated area, and away from areas with high foot-traffic.
- Providing air purifiers in this section is an added bonus!
- Have staff/volunteers working registration tables point this section out to arriving guests.
FRAGRANCE-FREE ACCOMODATIONS FOR OUT-OF-TOWN GUESTS
If guests are traveling to your event and require fragrance-free accommodations, there are steps you can take to assist them.
- Contact local hotels in order to locate one that can accommodate a fragrance-free and hypoallergenic request. Most major hotel chains are accustomed to these requests.
- Request that rooms either be cleaned with fragrance-free options or with no chemicals the day before the event, providing time for the space to air out.
- Request that linens and towels not be cleaned with scented detergent during your guest’s stay.
WHAT IF ATTENDEES WEAR FRAGRANCES?
If people arrive wearing fragrance, you have several options:
- Welcome them, but request that they avoid the designated fragrance-free area.
- Present this as an accessibility concern and approach it as an educational opportunity. Be courteous and friendly and approach these situations as a chance to educate about the importance of fragrance-free and accessibility.
- Ideally, you could request that guests who wear fragrance leave your events or return after removing any fragrances. In practice, making such requests can result in uncomfortable reactions and even anger. Your organization should discuss whether this is an approach that will work for your community. If you do plan to ask guests to leave your event, we recommend including language explaining this policy on all publicity material and invitations so that you can prepare people as much as possible.
- Consider providing guests with alternative methods of participating. For instance, if you are able to live-stream your event, you can request that fragrance-wearing guests participate remotely. Or if you can create video recordings of your event, you could invite fragrance-wearing guests to view them at a later time
CHECKLIST: PLANNING FRAGRANCE-FREE EVENTS
- Before booking a space, contact administrators and request fragrance-free or chemical-free cleaning procedures. If not available, consider alternate venues.
- Request fragrance-free hand soap and be prepared to provide your own.
- Notify speakers, participants, volunteers, employees, interpreters, and attendees that the event is fragrance-free. For sample text, see below. Include language in:
- Event RSVP forms
- Event websites
- Posters, flyers, advertisements Event program
- Send an email 1-2 days before the event reminding people that the event is fragrance-free. See below for examples.
The Day Of
- Print and post signage in easy to view places. See below for a template.
- Print and post signage for fragrance-free seating sections. See below for a template.
- If volunteers/staff are welcoming people or helping people locate their seats, have them mention the fragrance-free seating section and ask people wearing fragrances to sit away from that area.
- Provide air purifiers.
SAMPLE EMAIL SIGNATURE
______ is a fragrance-free environment. Please refrain from wearing scented products such as perfume, cologne, and fragrant personal care products while using this space, as they can trigger serious health issues for those with fragrance allergies. We appreciate your cooperation in making this area accessible! For more information, visit http://sharetheair.ucla.edu.
SAMPLE EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT
Please be aware that _____ is a fragrance-free event.
Please refrain from wearing scented products such as perfumes/colognes, hair products, cosmetics, and scented lotions while attending this event, and avoid using scented soaps, shampoos, and detergents prior to the event. These products can trigger serious health issues for those with fragrance allergies and/or chemical sensitivities.
Fragrance-free seating sections will also be provided for those who require an additional precaution during the event. When possible, fragrance-free hand soap will be provided in restrooms for the use of all guests.
Thank you for your consideration for all members of our community. More information on being fragrance-free can be found at http://sharetheair.ucla.edu.
SAMPLE EMAIL TO STAFF
Dear _____ Community,
Please be aware that, to increase the accessibility of our office/classroom/space, we are implementing an office-wide fragrance-free policy. We are limiting the use of products that contain fragrance in our space and also hope that you can do your part in helping us create an accessible and welcoming environment!
“Fragrance” is an ingredient in many personal care and cleaning products that refers to synthetically-created fragrance or scent often listed as “scent” or “parfum” on labels. The chemicals found in synthetic fragrances are harmful to people, animals, and the environment—they can cause sore throat, shortness of breath, headaches, migraines, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and memory loss for those who are allergic or sensitive to such chemicals. As you can imagine, these symptoms can greatly impact people’s ability to attend class, work, or events and to participate fully in their communities.
Just like providing wheelchair accessibility and interpreters, making spaces fragrance-free increases accessibility and supports the inclusion of everyone!
We ask that you:
- Take easy first steps: Refrain from wearing scented products such as perfume, cologne, and fragrant personal care products while using this space
- Be mindful: Consider limiting your use of personal air fresheners, hand sanitizer, fragrant lotions, scented lip balm, lotion, etc. while using this space
- Go above and beyond: Consider washing your clothes in fragrance-free detergent and refrain from using additional scented products like dryer sheets
What we are doing:
- Switching many of our cleaning products to chemical- and fragrance-free alternatives
- Using air purifiers instead of air fresheners
- Switching to fragrance-free hand soap
- Changing office supplies to fragrance- and chemical-free
Together we can make our space more accessible for those with fragrance allergies and for everyone! For more information, visit http://sharetheair.ucla.edu, and please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns.
Thank you for contributing to a healthy and accessible environment!
OTHER FRAGRANCE-FREE GUIDES
Accessibility: A Beginner’s Guide to Fragrance and Chemical Sensitivities, Hedonish, http://hedonish.com/accessibility-fragrance-and-chemical-sensitivities
Fragrance Free Resources, East Bay Meditation Center, http://eastbaymeditation.org/accessibility/scentfree.html
Fragrance Free Femme of Colour Genius Draft 1.5, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, http://www.brownstargirl.org/blog/fragrance-free-femme-of-colour-realness-draft-15
FRAGRANCE-FREE PRODUCT LISTS
Fragrance Free Resources, East Bay Meditation Center, http://eastbaymeditation.org/accessibility/scentfree.html
Hair, Body and Laundry Fragrance-Free and Natural Products, Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign, https://cleanerindoorair.org/shop/hair-body-laundry-fragrance-free
INFO ON THE HAZARDS OF FRAGRANCES
Cleaning products as bad for lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, scientists warn, Josh Gabbatiss, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/cleaning-products-lungs-damage-cigarettes-smoking-20-day-scientists-warning-a8214051.html
EPA’s Safer Choice Criteria for Fragrances, Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/safer-choice-criteria-fragrances
Fragrance in the workplace: what managers need to know, Christy De Vader, Journal of Management and Marketing Research, http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/09244.pdf
Is “Fragrance” Making Us Sick?, Brian Joseph, Mother Jones, https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/02/toxic-chemicals-fragrance-cosmetics-safety
Get Mad When Folks Ask You to Be Scent-Free? Here Are 8 Things to Consider, Adrian Ballou, Everyday Feminism, https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/being-scent-free
‘Hypoallergenic’ And ‘Fragrance-Free’ Moisturizer Claims Are Often False, Patti Neighmond NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/10/02/554365324/hypoallergenic-and-fragrance-free-moisturizer-claims-are-often-false
Fragrance Sensitivity: A Disability Under ADA, Labor Law Center, https://www.laborlawcenter.com/education-center/fragrance-sensitivity-a-disability-under-ada
The Truth About “Fragrance-Free” Products, Jessica Chia, https://www.prevention.com/beauty/skin-care/a20454834/the-truth-about-fragrance-free-products/
Unpacking the Fragrance Industry: Policy Failures, the Trade Secret Myth and Public Health, Women’s Voices for the Earth, https://www.womensvoices.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/FragranceReport2017Update.pdf
Fact Sheet: The Fragrance Industry’s Policy Failures and Trade Secret Myth, Women’s Voices for the Earth, https://www.womensvoices.org/fragrance-ingredients/fact-sheet-fragrance-industrys-policy-failures-trade-secret-myth
Fragrance Sensitivities Can Actually Be Very Severe, Study Finds, Anthea Levi, https://www.health.com/allergy/fragrance-sensitivity-health-effects?xid=time
Fragranced consumer products: exposures and effects from emissions, Anne Steinemann, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11869-016-0442-z
Scent of Danger: Are There Toxic Ingredients in Perfumes and Colognes?, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/toxic-perfumes-and-colognes
How a baseball-sized tumor woke me up to the dangers of everyday chemicals, McKay Jenkins, Quartz, https://qz.com/607454/how-a-baseball-sized-tumor-woke-me-up-to-the-dangers-of-everyday-chemicals
For a list of academic publications on fragrance and related research, review the CSW Chemical Entanglements Working Group bibliography.