Scent of a Mormon

eternityThe program for the annual convention of the Modern Language Association regularly includes the following request:

The Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession reminds attendees that refraining from using perfume, cologne, and other scented products will help ensure the comfort of everyone at the convention.

The MLA is an organization that knows something about holding meetings involving people with many different needs and backgrounds. Are allergies and other adverse reactions to perfume and cologne something we need to worry about in LDS meetings? I’ve never heard of this issue coming up, but it’s something that would be easy for people who aren’t affected to overlook or discount. Do we need to let go of our Obsession, change our Chanel, and stop using common scents so that a fellow ward member will be able to attend church?

25 comments for “Scent of a Mormon

  1. ben orchard
    August 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Wait, you’ve NEVER seen this come up? Wow, in 3 of my past 4 wards, this has been an issue. The ward I grew up in included a sister who was a Chemistry Professor by profession, and she was allergic to everything under the sun–including tomatos and perfume. We also had to be careful about what kind of bread was used for the sacrament, or she couldn’t partake of it.

    Last ward has a sister who was VERY allergic to perfume. I’d say that wearing perfume to church should be highly discouraged. Cologne as well. After all, except in singles branches/wards, the point of church Is NOT finding a mate or impressing others.

  2. Bill
    August 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    My wife will never be able to attend Relief Society because of perfume, hairspray, etc. She barely tolerates being in a chapel or cultural hall. On Sunday we sit in the front row because there is no one in front of us and the air tends to flow from the front of the chapel to the back. However, if someone sits behind us with a liberal dose of perfume or aftershave she will violently start coughing. Once the coughing episode starts it is very difficult to stop and can be incapacitating. Many sisters will say: “I only use a small amount.” However, a large number of people using a small amount creates a large problem in small rooms like the Relief Society room. I have known other people worse than my wife and they can not stay in the chapel even if they sit in the empty choir seats.

  3. Saguaro
    August 8, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    There’s a woman in our ward who has a chemical sensitivity so severe she can’t come to church and can barely leave the house. She was left with a chemical sensitivity after removal of a brain tumor, they did another surgery to attempt to correct the chemical sensitivity and it was successful for only a short time. Now she is scheduled to have surgery again to completely remove any remaining olfactory nerves to the brain in order to completely kill any sense of smell, but her quality of life would go up dramtically if she couldn’t smell at all compared to now. She can’t be around anything scented, perfume, soap, deodorant, hair spray, cleaning products, etc.

    Perfume has no place in church in my opinion, and I rarely notice it. My work discourages it as well so when I do pass by someone wearing a lot of perfume it about knocks me over.

  4. Janell
    August 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I had a friend who could barely make it through sacrament meeting while sitting in the lobby because the ward building changed the chemicals they were using for cleaning. Whatever the compound was gave her migraines. Unfortunately, the Bishop said there was nothing to be done to change the chemicals.

  5. August 8, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    I don’t wear scents to impress others, I wear them for my own comfort and pleasure.

    I would not wear them, if I knew someone had a problem. But I think this should be a case-by-case and not a general pronouncement.

  6. August 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Several years ago, I was an ordinance worker at the Oakland temple. On my shift, we had a session once a month that was scent-free because there was a sister who had chemical sensitivities. The ordinance workers and the patrons on that session had to forgo all scented products, not just perfume. (i.e. we had to use unscented soaps and deodorants, etc.) The session was always very small (5 or 10 people as opposed to the typical 50 or so), but I’m glad that this sister had an opportunity to participate.

  7. jks
    August 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    My husband is mildly allergic to some perfumes and hairsprays. For years he couldn’t even talk his own mother into going easy on her perfume or hairspray. Can’t imagine trying to talk an entire group of people into it.

  8. Manuel
    August 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    I am with SilverRain. I wear cologne for my own pleasure. I do admit one has to know how to use it. I can understand if someone is not comfortable if fragrances are used in excess. I believe they are meant to be used very sparingly. I do wear mine extremely sparingly or not at all if I know I will be confined in a room with a large group of people.

    There are certain fragrances that give me headaches. But I would never discourage anyone from wearing them. They usually give me headaches when I wear them and as a result when I am constantly smelling them.

    I think wearing fragrance is part of a healthy hygene routine and I think it is silly to assume people who wear it do so to impress others or to find a mate.

    Fragrance has never been an issue in any of the wards I attend though. Morning breath on the other side… that is an issue in almost every ward I have been to.

    Therefore, if someone decides to skip on the fragrance, that’s fine, just make sure not to skip on the tooth brushing, tongue brushing and mouth rinse. It would make church so much better!

  9. dangermom
    August 8, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Yes, I have known people who could not attend church because they couldn’t tolerate others’ perfumes and whatnot. I’m quite surprised you’ve never seen it come up before.

  10. queuno
    August 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    I’ve seen ig come up, but never addressed… “There’s nothing we can do,”

  11. August 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Jonathan: Since you obviously have never been exposed to anyone who is chemically sensitive, I can understand why you would not be familiar with it.

    There is a name for it. It’s called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Google the term and you’ll get overviews from two good websites, including the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation.

    I agree with SilverRain that a Church-wide solution would be excessively intrusive. This is best resolved by each bishop/branch president on a case-by-case basis. By the way, MCS sufferers who cannot attend church can have the Sacrament taken to them in their homes by Priesthood holders, just as they do for other invalids or shut-ins.

  12. Al
    August 8, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Someday we can all have an infirmity that will allow us to ask for an accommodation.

  13. Bro. Jones
    August 8, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    It would be interesting to observe the results if Pres. Monson gave an address at BYU in which he stated, “And another thing–I have observed some sisters of the Church spending much money on perfume. I submit that if you practice good hygeine, then you have already made yourself smell fine in the nostrils of the Lord. Anything else does not show respect to the beautiful temple that is your body.” Would perfume be banned at BYU? Would attendees at Stake Youth dances be sniffed for traces of fragrance at the door?

  14. Amanda
    August 8, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    From # 8 – “Fragrance has never been an issue in any of the wards I attend though.” I doubt that you would know. My mom is very sensitive to smells, including things like scented hand soaps not to mention perfume, hairspray etc. But she rarely mentioned it to anyone and would usually come home from church with a headache. She just never vocalized that it was a problem for her.

  15. el oso
    August 8, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    My daughter had an issue after the gym floor was redone. She stayed in the primary or RS room during sacrament meeting for about 6 months until her allergies subsided.
    You never know what is an obstacle to someone attending or fully enjoying church meetings. Seat preference is not just about being in a routine. Several people have told me that they cannot sit in certain seats due to various reasons. Hot and cold, extreme discomfort (after 1 hour or more), and misbehaving kids (in the back near a door) are frequently mentioned.

  16. mmiles
    August 8, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    The AZ temple has/had a policy of no perfumes, colognes, etc.
    My last ward asked members from the pulpit to please not wear it for sensitive members. I kinda wish they’d do it in my ward now, not because I’m sensitive, but because some people use too much–and mix that in an overheated room full of people…

  17. CS Eric
    August 8, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    I am sensitive to perfume and cologne, and I can only wear a few scents and there were only a few my wife could, too. I can tolerate most of Bath and Body Works, but not much else. There are aisles in grocery stores I cannot go down, and I have to avoid the perfume/cosmetic section of department stores. The guy in the office next to me is “old school” about slathering on aftershave, and I can’t get near him until the scent has started to wear down. Luckily it isn’t bad at Church–but maybe that is just because I am the organist and don’t sit by anybody else up on the stand.

  18. Rob Perkins
    August 9, 2011 at 1:47 am

    I’m part of a family of people, most of whom don’t care for perfumes or colognes, but I’ve never seen or heard of any institutional guidelines which direct otherwise, even in the Temples, except for Temple ordinance workers.

    There have been rooms in some Church buildings which send my seasonal allergies into overload. It would be nice if the people in charge of the physical plants in those buildings thought about HEPA-grade filtration. Who knows; maybe they’ve thought of it already.

  19. Jason
    August 9, 2011 at 2:58 am

    I’ve seen, in the changing room of more than one temple, a notice asking brethren not to wear cologne or strongly-scented aftershave to the temple, for precisely these reasons.

  20. Geoff-A
    August 9, 2011 at 5:17 am

    I have a brother who has suffered with “chronic fatigue syndrone” for more than 10 years. When it was rumored that his chapel was up for a refurbishment he called church offices to see if they could use non allergenic paint and carpets.

    After much tooing and froing they agreed but when the refurb happened standard products used which made it impossible to come to church for 6 months(I think) until things had settled down.

  21. Manuel
    August 9, 2011 at 10:37 am


    Oh yeah, I meant it has not been an issue for me. And I agree with you if it was an issue for someone it would likely be unreported.

  22. MD
    August 9, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I’m fine with an all-out ban on perfume and cologne as long as leadership reminds people to bathe/shower and brush their teeth before church.

    The B.0. of the people sitting in front of me two weeks ago was intolerable. I thought I would vomit. (And in case anyone asks, they were not homeless or otherwise unable to bathe–just lazy).

  23. August 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Although it might be a good idea to forgo perfumes at church for sensitivity reasons, I think that the art of perfumery should be an important part of the restored gospel. We are to seek after all things that are virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy.

    In church, we talk constantly about what we should and should not see, hear, taste, and touch. But we never talk about what we should smell.

    Why not? A beautifully designed perfume is as much a work of art and spirit as a symphony by Mozart. As much genius and creativity has gone into it. Like great music or art, it can lift our spirits and inspire our minds.

    Of all the physical senses, scent is the most elusive, the most subtle, and thus closest perhaps to the experience of the Holy Spirit. The scriptures speak of the Holy Ghost as a “sweet smelling savor.”

    We need not use excessive amounts of perfume, broadcasting our signature scents to all the world, the way gangbangers do with their favorite music blaring from their boom boxes.

    But it is an art I believe can and should fill our lives with, to bring joy and gladness to the heart.

  24. CatherineWO
    August 10, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Though our stake has a fragrance-free policy, and our buildings all used fragrance-free cleaning products (readily available from Waxies, the company that provides all such products for LDS buildings in the western US), I have not been able to attend church in my own ward for over four years, simply because of a few people who refuse to comply. They think that is too much to ask of them and have been quite vocal in their complaints. Before I quit attending, I had several serious asthmatic reactions, which one person insisted I was “faking.”
    It’s very hard not to take it personally.

  25. Birdylynn
    September 11, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    This is ridiculous and I have decided to look for another church where I can be myself and not be judged by the perfume I wear or the makeup I wear or the clothes I wear or because I wasn’t born into the covenant. Church is a place for sinners and if you were a saint wouldn’t belong there. I moved into my ward 1 year ago and just started going again 5 months ago and have yet to make any friends because they are all so wound up in judgment they are failing to realize while we are there and are going through the motions. God apparently gave them a special gift to judge others. My sister in relief society I leave you with “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Romans 2:1). Walk a day in the other persons shoes and grow some empathy. Very sad:(

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