How to Get a Shop Assistant’s Assistance Without Going Into the Shop

Sometimes, there are essential items just waiting for us, sitting on shelves inside buildings that are impossible to access. This is most commonly true when it comes to accessing Australian pharmacies that dispense medications and medical items, and sell personal care products: it’s the fragrances that are the problem. (Ironic isn’t it? Going to get medical items causes you to get sick?!)

I know, getting sick while trying to cash a prescription prescribed to you so that you don’t get sick, or that is to help you with pain, is just plain butt-naked, cruel irony.

Most ‘designer’ fragrances are kept guarded behind an impenetrable wall of glass, locked up like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum (but without the alarms)! Yes, their prices are high but it’s the status of wearing them that is valuable–to some. Designer or fake, it makes no difference because they all contain solvents and petrochemicals and whatever else is hidden behind that controversial and contentious term, ‘fragrance’.

However, due to lack of monetary value, the fake Dior, Armani and Brittany Spears bottles line the shelves; testers positioned prominently and imminently, just daring shoppers to seize a free spritz (or drench) of ‘pretend status value’. Or for the really time–and money–poor, perhaps, they can don a few short bursts of each, in the hope of skipping their next shower. Because, *hey*, no-one will be able to smell yesterday’s and today’s BO, nor will they smell the le-undouched-smelly arse odour. Or will they? (I mean, if a person’s immune system is fully misfiring and they have a heightened sense of smell, well, they are going to be able to smell EVERYTHING!)

Consequences abound for canaries, and the immune compromised: these free testers make it inhumanely difficult to access the services we so direly need such as trisalts, pain medication, sinus medication, various steroidal medications, eczema creams, eye drops and whatever else it is our doctors, specialists or natural therapists prescribe. Another consequence is that we sometimes have to go without. And, then there is the amount of time spent trying to find the right pharmacy who have ‘non fragranced’ staff available to make up our prescription without getting fragrance on it (or in as in the case of compounding medicines (those that are made to a physicians specifications, or rather, recipe)), or getting fragrance in it: light years beyond cruel irony.

Try finding a pharmacy that does not sell fragrances? Try finding one that doesn’t have testers out on display? It’s a fucking minefield of women, men and free range children, spraying testers out onto their necks and into the air beyond. While the unsuspecting trample past through chemical molecules floating through the air.

A man who suffered with chemical sensitivities had to walk this exact fragranced conundrum. Admirably, he took his problem to the Australian Human Rights Commission:

“A man who has adverse reactions to perfumes complained that he was unable to access his local pharmacy because of fragrances, in particular near the checkout area. The matter was settled when the pharmacy chain agreed to develop a system of zones in its premises including fragrance free aisles, and a home delivery service.”

If you cannot access a pharmacy because of fragrances, here are some other things you can do:
  • If you need items that are nonprescription, then phone from home and ask if they can post your items out. However, depending on your postcode, you will be waiting 2-5 days, possibly more.


  • Stand outside, call the phone number on the outside of the shop, then ask the assistant to come outside to fill your scripts… For newly chemically sensitive people, often, this is the first thing they try, only to end up standing there, feeling like a mongoose wearing a mink coat mask in summer, because the whole caper is a symptom-inducing-futile experience. Earnestly, even though they are avoiding the fragrance chemicals inside the shop, the chemicals– from the traffic fumes and fragrance wearing passersbys–outside the shop can bring on debilitating symptoms. Ergo, for people moderately or severely sensitive, an experience like this can severely impact on their health, taking them days, or even weeks to recover.



  • Stay at home, phone in and ask if they can “please take your order over the phone”. This can work for non-prescription items like Trisalts but for scripts, you will need to have visited there at least once so that they can access your information and know that you are who you say you are. You could post the prescription in, or if it’s possible you could have your doctor fax it in, then he/she could post the original in later: this option usually takes prearrangement and a pharmacy and health professional willing to do this (trust is huge factor).


  • If you have a car, drive to the pharmacy, phone them and ask the assistant to come out to your car. Forget about this if your script is for any kind of pain relieving medication; we no longer live in that kind of world: they may peg you for a junkie who wants to rob them.



  • Wait until someone you know (who doesn’t use fragrance) can go in as your ‘agent’ and pick up your items



  • Any of the above may work for items like make-up bags, heating pads or fragrance free personal care items. (Hint: if buying something like these, it may be best to ask for something that has been kept out back, or at least, is still wrapped in its plastic. Yes, fragrances, by their very nature, are shared, but not only that, the molecules land on everything that’s in their vicinity. If your purchase has been in the shop for a while, you could be airing it out for twice that amount of time, or end up giving it away to charity because the fragrance chemicals may never air out.)



  • You can call and ask if they have the particular item(s) you need.



  • Next, ask if it’s stored near the fragrance testers. (Explain that breathing in, or/and touching fragrance causes you to have health problems. Then ask “could they please do you a favour?” But first, you need to find out if they are wearing any fragrance or any aerosol types of products, if so, then ask if you could ‘please’ have another assistant who is not wearing these. (If they have no-one available, thank them kindly, hang up and find another pharmacy. (*Don’t feel like an nincompoop. Hey, you just planted a tiny seed of awareness in someone’s head.*)))



  • If they do have the item that you need, ask them to sniff it and see if it’s got any fragrance on it. It’s a dumb thing to ask, seriously, everyone’s perception is different, and if fragrance is not acting as an irritant to the person’s immune system, then it may or may not be noticeable, and if it is, it will be “only a tiny bit; and actually, it’s a *nice smelling one. Not one of those cheap yucky ones!” Once you’ve found the item you need, ask them to take a photo of it (or a selection of photos of different colours and/or styles), and text it to your phone. After, you’ve decided, ask the shop assistant to wrap it in a plastic, or preferably, put it into a paper bag, ready for you or your carer to pick up later. At this point, you may have to pay, by credit or direct debit card, over the phone.



Photos of Personal Care Product Travel Bags, Texted to Me By a Shop Assistant

Photos of Personal Care Product Travel Bags, Texted to Me By a Shop Assistant

The Big One with the Handle is the One I Chose

The Big One with the Handle is the One that I Chose

These are just some ways that you can get your items from shops. Of course, the easiest way is to order online. But staff still need to be made aware of the fragrance issue. You, like me, can slowly chip away, creating awareness, or you can do what this man did:

“A man who stated that he has sensitivities to a range of chemicals complained that a retail shop was inaccessible to him because of strong fragrances worn by checkout staff. The matter was settled without admission of liability when the store agreed to request staff to avoid strong fragrances, and to raise with its departments issues of use of the least toxic paints, glues and building materials available, non-allergenic carpeting, and warnings when toxic materials were present.”


Australian Human Rights Commission 


Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

About Michellina van Loder


  1. A cosmetics/perfume counter is like an invisible wall to the chemically sensitive. You have good suggestions. For prescriptions, we are lucky to have drive through windows at the pharmacy. The drive-ups work great unless the guy in the car in front of you is smoking. :)

    • Michellina van Loder says:

      I love the idea of drive-through pharmacies. There are many things we can buy online; but many things we can’t. Yet! (I so get the simile of an “invisible” wall.)

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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