Olfactory Political Correctness

Fragrances Offend

Oh dry shampoo, why must you smell of pineapple or tropical blooms? Are you not made of cornstarch and propellant?  Must I trail the mists of Hawaii behind me when I cannot bear wet hair?

Hand lotion! Spare me your false vanilla, green tea, and orchid! Make your fragrance-free products affordable and prolific!

Palmolive dish soap, you lie! Your unscented soap reeks of weedy melons!

Alas, the preponderance of fragrance!

Before Unilever shot rockets of underarm deodorant over the iron curtain, I lived in Moscow.  Masses of summertime people pressed against me on public transport. Subway after subway, bus after bus, the aroma of tangy onions and tinned meat clung to humanity.

The uniform and predictable odor of the people became familiar, comfortable, even.  Humans really don’t smell so bad, rather we have been conditioned (brainwashed?) to be revolted by personal odors.


So, if the purpose of hygiene products is to prevent offense, should I be less offended by the lady standing next to me, shoveling bucketfuls of lilacs into my nose?

I don’t mind if our culture is compelled to smell like flowers or fruits or trees, provided they do so with temperance. One can look away from an unwelcome sight or muffle excessive noise, but an unsolicited smell is inescapable.

Olfactory political correctness should be de rigueur. Let personal odors have a context, an intimacy. Let personal odors be a whiff, a breath of molecules as you draw near, not a drenching monsoon of semi-insecticidal body spray that fills each visited room.


Be kind to unknown strangers who may have autism, asthma, allergies, or other sensitivities. Keep perfumes private, within your walls or arms reach. Many will appreciate your olfactory discretion.

Axe to Grind: I rate this popular men’s fragrance!

Common Scents: Adventures in Autism and Chemical Sensitivity

The Guide to Living Life Unscented

28 thoughts on “Olfactory Political Correctness

  1. “Olfactory political correctness” Love that!! What a cleverly written post! I find myself covering my nose with my shirt, coat, hand, hair whatever I can quickly stick near my nose to counter the offensive smells that attack me on a daily basis. However, it makes me cough or gag at times when people come near me who are layered with those intrusive scents. Relate very much to what say here. 🙂

    1. Yay! Angel! Fragrances have always seemed so personal to me, so your use of the word “intrusive” is spot on. I wish I could wear an LED display shirt to politely notify others of offending odors. I work hard not to be rude! 🙂

  2. I love your pink flower photo, in the sense: I can see how it smells! Not the flower petals, but it brings up the vision (in an olfactory sense) of a certain type of person with a certain type of perfume smell!

  3. It is interesting how certain cultures (Russian, Slavic, and some other East European cultures) tend to smell of food (I presume it is) when they sweat. I’m actually finding that even more offensive than being overwhelmed by artificial flower odeurs, albeit I find that offensive too. Perhaps with the rare exception if I was starving! Except for that, I also find many types of human odoeur pleasant and/or interesting, and it can be quite informative too. I like the ways most people smell when exercising/freshly exercised (not all though). I can clearly pick up a “nervous smell” (unpleasant) and masculine smell (obviously), and the smell of a sick person makes me want to run! Sometimes I feel a person smells “sick” but the person doesn’t look or behave or consider him/herself sick, but I still want to run!

    Generally, I also think it is a pity that most people tend to cover their personal odoeurs with – even fragrance free – deo. A person’s smell is unique just like the way the person looks or the person’s voice, and just like looks & voice it conveys information about the person’s condition and emotions. I suspect personal odeours play a role in bonding and getting to feel familiar with people, for some people perhaps more than vision and sound. I suspect it does for me, or at the very least it is an important co-factor.

    Not to speak of how confusing it must be for dogs when people smell of flowers! and different flowers on different days!

    1. Mados! 🙂

      I know what you mean about food. My husband is a big fan of garlic, and while I do have some upon occasion I can enter a room and tell in a whiff that he had lunch at his favorite restaurant. Spices and food absolutely alter one’s odor. I can smell celery on myself or curry. While these are not necessary evil smells, the fact that they are *food* smells result in more revulsion. The only thing more personal than your odor is what has been digesting in your stomach. I really don’t want to take an internal tour of a stranger!

      “Fresh” perspiration is like you said, is pleasantish, but once fermented can be foul. In America, embracing one’s natural odor is taboo–shamefully so. I use unscented products to reduce the number of stares I publicly earn, so I can say “Woo!” to myself with more confidence!

      I pity the pets of perfumed homes, indeed, if I find something cloying, I cannot imagine how a sensitive dog would feel!

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you!


  4. I love it. Nicely put. I get migraines that are triggered by certain scents. I think scent is good as long as you keep it private.

  5. What a brilliant post 😀

    A few years ago I went on a trek, and I discovered the greatness of Marseille Soap bars – good for the skin, affordable, no added perfumes (smells lightly of… soap), wonderful for clothes handwashing too. Since then, Ihave never used anything else for my shower. Plus, those rare times when I put some perfume on (that is, essential oil of something), I don’t have to worry about the smell of perfume mixing with that of shower soap.

    Speaking of perfumes, to me they smell all the same: of alcohol. It’s so overwhelming that I can’t distinguish one from the other (unless they contain no alcohol or very little). I wonder why a simple dab of scented oil is not enough – especially since most branded perfumes are made by a handful of companies that have nothing to do with the brands themselves except that they get money from them.

    1. Happy! Thank you for the great information! I will check out the soap you recommended. I used to order a soap from Florida that sounds like the soap you are describing, but they went out of business. They had HUGE bars that just smelled-soapy! I like essential oils, but they are strong for me and I have to dilute them with olive oil, which does not work out so well at times!

      You make a very good point about perfumes, they do have that sharp alcohol scent. For me most perfumes are so concentrated, it’s overwhelming. I did not know that branded perfumes were produced that way. Curious! I wonder how much of a fragrance is just branding? I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences with me!

      Lori D.

  6. Yes! My husband has bought me perfume on several occasions and I don’t think I’ve worn a single one of them more than once. Not only is the smell of even a tiny bit overwhelming, I feel like I can still smell it on me 3 showers later. Also, is it me or are laundry detergents becoming progressively more weird smelling?

    1. When we were dating my husband bought me “Sun, Moon, and Stars” perfume because the spokeswoman was Daryl Hannah (such a fangirl!). He could never understand why I would not wear it! His mom is a very perfumey woman so this was quite mysterious to him.

      I know what you mean about being able to smell something on you after trying to wash it away. The worst are the soaps in public bathrooms. Once I get a strong smell on my hands, its like a low-key medieval torture, in that it zaps my nose every fifteen minutes all day!

      Thanks for joining me! I always look forward to reading your comments! 🙂


    1. My mom has chemical sensitivities and she’s not autistic, either. I like the warmth of vanilla if it’s *real* vanilla and not to strong! 🙂

  7. Oh yes! It’s absolutely terrible, when someone walks past and then you get this cloud of perfume/deodorant/aftershave. I often have to cover my nose in order to not choke. It really gets to me.
    One annoying thing is that it’s so difficult to call someone out on that. Also: once the scent is there, it’s not easy to get rid of it, without showering.

    1. Thank you so much for the understanding! I know just what you mean, the hard thing is approaching someone about something so personal and so obvious!

      I often wonder what possesses people to overdo fragrances. If we could understand this, it might help us to advocate for a friendlier work/social environment. I never know what to say, I am awkward enough as it is without having to cross a gulf to make myself understood!

      And yes, I *hate* scents that stick to your skin. the worst is when public restrooms have scented soap that doesn’t wash off when you get home! I can smell fake pears for hours on my hands!

  8. Ahhh yes perfumes are awful. I made dry shampoo (by stuffing cornstarch in a container in my room, basically) and recently my mom started making soap homemade from goat milk and coconut oil and stuff, and that is lovely and non scented and now I totally wash my hands and my face so much more than I used to.

    1. Wow! Homemade goat’s milk soap? Dream come true! When I was a kid, we used corn meal as a dry shampoo. I love the idea of using plain corn starch, but I fear I will sport giant corn starch clumps from enthusiastic sprinkling! I wish they made a plain spray without added nonsense!

  9. Yes Yes Yes!!! Oh Thank God!!! I have all of the above and can become a drooling inexpressive idiot looking person, really ticked off on the inside that a good day has become neurologic wasteland.

    1. “Neurologic wasteland!” I love that expression! It is a perfect way to describe the disorganizing effects of sensory over stimulation. I appreciate you sharing that with me! 🙂


  10. Must admit there are far too many perfumes – whether costly or not – that smell like insecticides to me. I really mean it. I find them offensive. They can make my nose twitch and I start to feel uncomfortable.

    But when I used to travel through the Turkish countryside by bus, I soon began to realise it was better not to wash so often. The people weren’t dirty, they just realised a bit of honest sweat wasn’t such a bad thing, and thought it a waste of good water and time to bathe as much as western urban society demands. So I joined them. Without washing quite so regularly, we all smelled the same, and nobody got bothered. Except by the people who stepped on the buses washed up to the eyeballs and smothered in after shave or perfume. They smelled awful.

  11. The irony and agony of having olfactory hypersensitivity is that while ‘bottled smells’ may be confrontational and upsetting, ‘au naturel’ can be and often is, to me, even more overwhelmingly horrifying. Sweat and clinging rancidity of human bodies, wearing clothes that seem not to have been washed for weeks, send me into even greater depths of nausea, which sometimes end in unpleasant retching episodes. Of course, a sweaty human body enshrouded in sickly perfume is the ultimate horror trigger. To perfume or not to perfume? A huge conundrum.

  12. I like your writing style..very dramatic but with an aim. I feel rudimentary with all of my literature experience after reading your posts! I’m a student who always wanted to pursue English, but am pursuing Finance..maybe that’s where my problem lies! I’ve been suspended from campus and all of my classes for being “disruptive” when I simply raise questions and am vocal of my opinions! I would love to be friends with you, your “wordpress buddy” and am so excited I’ve come across your page!

  13. As someone who lives in Eastern Europe and takes public transport, I can somewhat agree with this. I can’t enter a Lush shop without getting ill and i purposely seek out unscented products. However, I’ve been the unfortunate witness to many people who don’t practice good hygiene and smell so bad that I swoon. And they don’t appear to be homeless people! They somehow always seem to choose to sit next to me. Sometimes it’s so bad that I have to get up and move before I get ill.

  14. Having some allergies, and past history of severe migraines, I remember going to the emergency room for a migraine…and almost vomiting on the front desk girls who were wearing a particularly nasty perfume, combined with microwaving buttery popcorn! I am a fan of deodorant, especially if it smells of coconut, but…frankly..I don’t see the need to spray stuff all over myself…I wish others were the same!

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