How To Tell a Coworker Their Perfume Is Too Strong

  • By: Nathan Cherry
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Every day, you watch the clock anxiously for the arrival of that coworker. 

At 9:00, right on the dot, you begin to detect scent in the air. At first, it’s not so bad, but then the scent grows stronger and stronger, until that coworker opens the door. What was at a distance a lovely fragrance has transformed into a toxic miasma that leaves you choking, tears obscuring your eyes. 

“Good morning!” they chirp cheerfully, oblivious of the chemical WMD that has just swathed a five city block radius in noxious fumes radiating off of them. 

And yet, actually telling them what is so blindingly (literally and figuratively) obvious right to their face can be a somewhat…delicate matter. 

So, how do you do it? How do you tell your fragrant coworker that they need to cool it on the perfume? And how do you do it in a way that doesn’t leave them in tears? 

Telling a coworker that their perfume is too strong can seem awkward, but it’s actually simple. Be honest, but polite, and deal with the matter in private, rather than in front of everyone. If you feel uncomfortable, consult with your supervisor or management for assistance. 

The Problem With Too Much Perfume In the Office

Having been the perpetrator in a situation like this, I can speak from experience. 

When I was, shall we say, that coworker who wore too much fragrance, it wasn’t on purpose. I genuinely believed that I wasn’t wearing too much fragrance. In fact, I could barely even smell myself, so I figured that my perfume was more of a personal experience if anything. 

Much to my surprise, however, everyone could smell me. That’s because I was experiencing nose blindness (more about that here) – a condition in which your nose becomes so familiar with a certain smell that it doesn’t expend the energy to smell it any more. To compensate for not being able to smell the perfume, I sprayed more, thinking that it was just weak, when the opposite was true. I had no idea that my perfume was gassing everyone else out.  

Luckily, my coworkers took the time to approach me in a polite and friendly way. It wasn’t that they thought it was bad…just that it was too strong. They didn’t think that I should stop wearing fragrance, and even said that they liked how I smelled, but they kindly requested that I go easy on the sprays next time. 

Thankfully, that was that. But there are situations in which too much perfume can cause extreme discomfort or even hospitalization. 

Some people are highly sensitive to fragrance, and can get headaches, nausea, or even have an allergic reaction, including contact dermatitis, when exposed to it. Even for people who aren’t sensitive to fragrance, constantly having to smell something can induce headaches, cause distractions, or decrease productivity. 

That’s why you should always take it easy with the perfume at work, even if you’re a fragrance enthusiast like myself. 

But if you’re dealing with a coworker who’s wearing too much perfume, how do you go about broaching the topic with them? What rules should you follow? 

Be Honest, But Polite

The main rule of thumb when dealing with a situation like this is to be honest, but polite. 

There is really no reason to get testy with the coworker in question. It’s very possible that they have no clue that their fragrance is too strong, like I mentioned, and might think that they’ve done nothing wrong. 

Maintain a polite, even friendly (if you’re on such a basis with this coworker) tone. However, be honest. Tell them honestly how you feel and explain your reasoning for the issue. If you’re getting headaches and nausea, tell them. You want to inform them politely, but firmly, that their perfume is too strong. 

Try not to be accusatory. Express how you yourself feel, and use “I” statements, rather than “you” statements. For example, “I just want to tell you that I think your perfume is very strong and is giving me a headache,” rather than, “You wore too much perfume. Can you spray less next time?” Taking such a tone with them might make them feel attacked or embarrassed. 

Talk With Them In Private

Another way to avoid undue embarrassment for your coworker is to broach the matter in private, rather out in the open. 

There’s nothing worse than getting a dressing down in the middle of the office where everyone can hear you. Especially with something as sensitive as a person’s perfume, which after all is a matter of personal taste, it’s best to have a conversation out of earshot. 

Maybe everyone and their mother knows that your coworker wears too much perfume. But no matter how fragrant, they’re still a person with feelings, and someone you’ll have to see every day for the foreseeable future, too.

Talking with your coworker in private allows for you to have your say, while also letting them share their side of the story as well. Bringing the topic up in front of everyone might make things seem more like a confrontation, or the latest office gossip. 

Having a mature conversation in privacy is your best bet. 

If You’re Not Comfortable, Ask Your Supervisor For Help

As simple as it may seem, talking to someone in this manner doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Maybe the coworker is the kind of person who doesn’t take kindly to criticism, or perhaps you don’t know them well enough to have such a conversation. 

In situations like these, your best bet is to ask your supervisor or manager for help. After all, handling delicate office issues probably isn’t in your job description. It is, however, part of management’s duties, and your supervisor is usually trained to handle them. If you’re not confident in your ability to address the problem yourself, talk to your supervisor.

The Final Word

Dealing with a coworker who wears too much perfume in the office can be a risky business. When handled incorrectly, you might have hurt feelings or brewing enmities which can negatively affect the work environment in the long term. 

No matter how difficult it might seem on the surface, resolving the situation is important. Too much perfume in the office can cause headaches, nausea, or even allergic reactions for some, and can put a damper on productivity and focus in the workplace. 

When telling a coworker that their perfume is too strong, tone is key. Be honest about your issue, but make sure to be polite. Broach the subject in private to make sure that they don’t feel embarrassed or attacked. If you can’t handle the problem yourself, inform your management.