Scent-Free Guide

Why is a “scent-free” space important?

While scented products can be a pleasant part of normal, everyday life for many people, they do cause serious health consequences for others and make it difficult or even dangerous to attend events.

We have attendees with allergies and/or Multiple Chemical Sensitivities who are sensitive to various smells including scented products, naturally occurring smells, and smoke. For people with allergies and/or MCS, smells can cause serious health consequences ranging from headaches, dizziness and nausea, to severe asthma attacks, seizures or even anaphylactic reactions. MCS in particular are common in people with chronic health issues, such as fibromyalgia, and are also common among autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people.

Creating accessible spaces and building our communities to be as inclusive as possible is an act of love.

How do I participate in a “scent-free” space?

Basically, anything you can possibly avoid that has a smell, please just avoid it–even things you wouldn’t normally think about as being “scented”. Anything with a scent that you don’t avoid has the potential to make people sick. Doing the best you can is better than not doing anything at all. A seriously scent-free space is a big deal and unfortunately not something we’re in a position to promise anyone (at least not yet), but we will try our hardest to to be scent free. This means that we need everyone’s help to make this space safe and accessible to all attendees. Please read more information below.

What are “scents” to be avoided in a “scent-free” space?

Ideally, scent-free means that people will avoid:

  • scented shampoo & conditioner
  • hair mousse or gel containing alcohol or fragrances
  • all hairspray (even “unscented” hairspray contains allergenic chemicals and masking agents)
  • scented deodorant or anti-antiperspirant (spray-on, roll-on or stick)
  • aftershave
  • body spray (e.g., “Axe” spray; shower-mist, etc.)
  • perfume or cologne (even natural ones)
  • essential oils
  • scented moisturisers
  • scented lip gloss and other scented cosmetics
  • scented laundry detergents, fabric softener or dryer sheets
  • being around tobacco or other smoke
  • being around scented candles or incense

Additionally, we ask that you avoid using scented detergents, fabric softener or dryer sheets on the clothes that you will wear to the conference (you can wash clothes with just baking soda if need be) OR that you air out your conference clothes the day before the conference.

If you cannot access unscented deodorant and refuse to avoid wearing deodorant completely, you can make a good unscented deodorant that is safe for many people from a smell perspective out of coconut oil and baking soda.

Most scented products have unscented alternatives that are safe for many people with MCS. A list is available here.

  • For people who smoke or are around smoke of any kind:

It helps if people wear a jacket (and cover hair) to smoke / while around the smoke and then take that jacket / hair-covering off to come into the space. It also helps to wash hands after smoking. Do not cover up smoke smells with other smells because that just make things much worse.

  • If you require products that smell (for accessibility reasons):

If you need smell-related stims or remedies / medications that have scents, have them in closed containers. Please let us know ahead of time about your smell needs so that we can coordinate with everyone necessary. We will try to work out *how* you can use your scented products in ways that are suitable for you while still being as safe as possible for others. Negotiating conflicting access needs is a process and takes communication from everyone involved.

The reality & commitment of being “scent free”

We know there is a long list of things to be avoided in a scent-free space, but any of these things will make some/many people who attend the event somewhat sick and will make a few people who attend the event very sick.

Not everyone is completely able to avoid wearing all of those smells while living in a smell-filled world (e.g., while navigating public spaces or transit, etc.). That’s part of why we cannot guarantee a 100% scent-free space. But we ask that people wash off any scents they bring with them, and we will ask people to leave if the smell remains too strong.

Also, with allergies and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, different people will be sensitive or allergic to different smells, including natural “unscented” things. What’s okay for some people will not be okay for others. Some things that actually have no detectable smell to most people can still cause scent reactions in others. There’s literally no way to avoid all things that could possibly cause a smell-reaction. But there is a lot that people can do to make spaces safer from a smell-perspective.

A scent-free space takes effort and participation from everyone.

Even when a small amount of smell will make people sick, less is always better than more– doing your best to avoid and minimise scented products actually *does* make a big difference. We recognise this is a big commitment from all attendees and we appreciate the effort.

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