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Understanding Essential Oils and Scent Sensitivities. Learn why people can have allergic reaction even though essential oils are natural. Tips on how to use essential oils in scent free workplaces.

Understanding Essential Oils & Scent Sensitivities

Understanding Essential Oils and Scent Sensitivities. Learn why people can have allergic reaction even though essential oils are natural. Tips on how to use essential oils in scent free workplaces.Many health and safety committees at workplaces of various kinds are enforcing scent free policies restricting scents such as perfumes, colognes, aftershaves, incense, candles and essential oils.

Many essential oil lovers are struggling with this as they love their oils and many people rely on essential oils for various physical and mental reasons to help them get through the work day. There has been much debate and questioning by essential oil users as to why workplaces are including essential oils in their scent free policy. People are questioning this as good quality essential oils are natural and do not contains synthetic components and aromas, unlike the other scents on the prohibited list.

I personally have not noticed that I am sensitive synthetic to scents yet there are certain essential oil scents like arborvitae and ylang ylang that give me headaches. This made me think that there had to be a connection between essential oils and scent sensitivities. I wanted to do some research to see what it is about essential oil that make people with scent sensitivities feel sick (i.e. headaches, migraines, nausea etc.).

Here’s what I learned:

Essential Oils and Scent Sensitivities

I am now going to attempt to give you a quick and simple (hopefully) summary of my research which explains why some people are sensitive to the scent of essential oils, even though they are free of synthetics.

My understanding from this article is that it is often protein molecules which tend to create an allergic reaction for people, however essential oils do not contain large protein molecules. That being said, they do contain haptens which are small molecules in essential oils which have the ability to bind with essential oils in the body. Once the haptens and proteins combine, it triggers the immune system which can create an allergic reaction.

As I said, this is a very simplified summary of my research. The best article I found which goes more in depth on the subject can be found on the ACHS Health and Wellness Blog.

How to Use Essential Oils at Work When There’s a Scent Free Policy

Please note that these are only suggestions. I fully respect the need for scent free policies and I feel that if these strategies still upset people in your workplace then it is best to avoid using essential oils at work.

Even as an essential oil lover and advocate I feel very strongly the policy should be respected if the essential oils are affecting your coworkers! I feel this way because if I was sensitive to light I would ask for the light near my desk to be changed or if I had back problems I would get a chair support. These are things we can do to make our work space work for us. However people with scent sensitivities cannot simply turn off their nose (obviously) and may not be able to simply avoid parts of the building. This is why it is important to be respectful of scent free policies in the workplace.

So how can you still benefit from essential oils when in a scent free environment?

Apply Essential Oils to Your Feet

Put 1-2 drops of essential oil on the bottoms of your feet. Then cover your feet with socks and put on shoes. This should do a pretty good job of keeping the scent in and away from your coworkers. I have done this multiple times and have been successful.

Store Your Essential Oils Out of The Office

The scent from the essential oils, if stored in your desk drawer could be enough to irritate your coworker’s sensitivities. I would recommend not storing your oils at work and if you do, consider getting a case of some sort that you can store them in the help further reduce the scent.

Avoid Stronger Scented Essential Oils

As you are well aware, there are some oils that have a lighter fragrance and others which are much more powerful. This is not a comprehensive list by any means but as a general rule I would recommend avoiding the following while at work:

  • Geranium
  • Lavender
  • Cinnamon
  • Oregano
  • Arborvitae
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Bergamot
  • Peppermint
  • Myrrh

I would love your input on this list! What should I add to it?

Apply Your Oils Outside of the Office

If you choose to apply oils at work, consider applying them in the car or outside when possible. An open bottle of essential oil could irritate coworkers who are nearby.

Find Out Which Coworkers Are Sensitive to Scent

Please note that no one needs to give you this information and it is within their rights to keep it to themselves in most places with a scent free policy. That being said, if you have a small work place or if you know your coworkers well find out which ones are more likely to be affected by essential oil scents. For example if you know Sally is sensitive to scents, you would avoid wearing essential oils to a staff meeting that Sally would be attending.

Use Your Oils After Work

While this is not always the ideal solution, it is one way that you can still use your essential oils regardless of your work’s policy.

Consider Ingesting Essential Oils

Before I even start on this it is important to stress that not all essential oils are created equally and not all companies support ingestion. It is important to always read the bottle prior to ingesting. Some people are firmly against ingesting essential oils which is completely their choice. I always recommend that everyone do as much research as possible before choosing to ingest any essential oil or essential oil supplement. I have written this post which shares both sides of the debate on ingesting essential oils. I suggest you check it out to help you to come to your decision on whether or not you want to ingest oils.


I hope this post has helped to shed some light on essential oils and scent sensitivities and explain why some people may be sensitive to essential oils scents! I hope it has also provided you with some useful strategies to allow you to be able to continue to use your oils throughout the day while still respecting your coworkers!

Many workplaces now have scent free policies which restrict use of of essential oils. This post explains why essential oils may create sensitivities for coworkers (even though they are natural) and also gives tips on how you can use essential oils with a scent free policy. Click the image to read more!

1 thought on “Understanding Essential Oils & Scent Sensitivities

  1. It also might be useful to make some nasal inhalers to take with you to work. They’re small, don’t release aroma into the outside environment, and allow you to get the aromatic benefits of the oils without disturbing your officemates.

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