Why Can’t Scientists Wear Perfume in IVF Labs? (Quick Facts)

A nice perfume can help calm the mind, recall a pleasant memory, and even build confidence. But these benefits are more harmful than useful when scientists are working in an IVF lab.

Environmental factors can negatively affect fertility. Fragrances release volatile organic compounds that create threatening conditions for embryos. In order to increase pregnancy rates, laboratory conditions must be pristine and air quality must remain high, which is why scientists can’t wear perfume in IVF labs.

As you continue to read, you’ll gain a better understanding of what can be done to create a supportive environment for embryos in a lab setting.

Why Can't Scientists Wear Perfume in IVF Labs
Photo from wikimedia

Why Is Perfume the Enemy of IVF Labs?

Infertility can be a sensitive topic. It is “defined as a state when a couple fails to conceive a pregnancy after one year of regular intercourse without the use of contraception.” There can be many different potential causes, but sometimes no common cause is ever found.

Some couples or individuals rely on in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to help them reproduce. It’s a minimally invasive but complex set of procedures. Part of this multi-stage process involves artificially fertilizing retrieved eggs with sperm. Once

Due to the amount of stress generated by multiple IVF rounds, you want to do all that you can to prevent negative outcomes.

As I wrote about previously, there are certain work environments that either limit or eliminate use of fragrances in the workplace. This is largely due to the possibility that your fragrance can trigger an allergic reaction or cause respiratory distress for your coworkers.

When scientists are working in laboratories, particularly a fertility lab, then there are additional reasons why scientists can’t wear perfume. If a scientist were to wear perfume to an IVF lab, then they would diminish that embryo’s best chance at survival. But how?

Even natural fragrances made with essential oils contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The term volatile can be misleading. It doesn’t mean that the compounds are necessarily dangerous. In terms of VOCs, it means that these compounds easily evaporate in the air at room temperature.

Essential oils are generally non-toxic but depending on the concentration and essential oil being used the oil may cause harm or an allergic reaction to an individual. In terms of embryos, essential oils can potentially be as harmful for them as they are for children. As some oils can pose harm to the nervous system.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines VOCs as gases that are released from liquids and solids. Synthetic fragrances and other products like paint and cleaning detergents can contain a host of toxic ingredients that can be harmful in the short-term and/or long-term.

These gases are being released as they’re being used, or worn, as in the case of perfumes. The rate of exposure indoors is greater than it is outdoors. And gases can continue to be released after a person wearing perfume has left the room.

Prolonged exposure to products containing VOCs can lead to symptoms as mild as eye, nose, or throat irritation to severe conditions like cancer.

Considering the fact that exposure to fragrances can also pose a health risks, like headaches, nausea, skin irritation, and confusion, to children and adults with sensitivities and allergies, it follows that embryos would be at a greater risk of harm during their retrieval and incubation.

How Does Perfume Affect Embryos?

Scientists can work with dangerous pathogens but also with delicate samples, like embryos as well. Regardless of the kind of lab, safety of both the scientist and the specimen or genetic material are of utmost importance in any laboratory.

According to the Singapore-based National University Health Center, embryologists “work with gametes (oocytes and sperm) and embryos as part of fertility treatments.” They monitor their development and some of these specialized medical professionals conduct research on the fertilization process as well.

In-vitro fertilization procedures are the most effective method of infertility treatment, and its chance of success depends on many factors.”

The same study additionally explains, “the provision of safety to the embryo is directly translated into its quality and, consequently, the probability of achieving pregnancy …”

This is a fragile time period. According to the World Health Organization, “exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins can be directly toxic to gametes (eggs and sperm) resulting in their decreased numbers and poor quality, leading to infertility.”

Due to these reasons, more extreme measures are taken to create the optimal environment for genetic matter that’s stored and developed in IVF labs.

In addition to a cosmetic and fragrance-free environment, some of those good lab practices include:

  • Restricted entry into the laboratory (essential personnel only)
  • Use of steel instead of wood furniture
  • Superior air filtration systems
  • Restricted use of specialized disinfectants
  • Use of artificial lighting
  • Consistent temperature control
  • Use of high quality incubators

Lab safety is so important that typically third-party entities are hired to ensure that laboratories remain in compliance with safety measures and medical standards.

It can take up to 6 days for an embryo to develop in a lab. Once this time has passed, the scientist assesses the quality of the embryo. Then they determine whether to freeze it, transfer it to the patient, or allow for more development.

With all of the above environmental factors controlled for, multiple research studies have reported higher fertility success rates.

Can A Perfume-Free Lab Improve Fertility Chances?

There are multiple factors that contribute to fertility outcomes. “Fertility and the health state of the baby depends on genetic, environmental, social factors and healthcare…”

The combined factors of genetic material, environmental state, and healthcare are all at least partially connected to IVF lab conditions.

Guidelines have been created to help increase positive outcomes. One such set of guidelines was written in response to “the increasing awareness that embryologists have a duty to prevent unintentional incidents that might result from poor practice in the laboratory.”

In this set of guidelines published by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, they highlight high quality practices, procedures, techniques, and strategies in order to support and guide IVF laboratory staff with safety at the forefront. These guidelines are periodically updated.

But the lab and doctor’s office are the only factors involved in this process. Patients who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant are instructed to refrain from wearing perfume, scented lotions or creams, and cologne. Future parents are also instructed to eliminate alcohol consumption.

You may also be asked to remain active and reduce stress as much as you can, as well as, get good quality rest. Another thing to avoid is toxic substances like cleaning detergents, fertilizers, pesticides, paint thinners, or any toxic substance that can release volatile organic compounds.

Your doctor will offer more detailed guidelines but know that in most cases, it’s a combined effort. They’re doing all that they can on their end to yield desired results, and you’re expected to do the same.

Should Scientists Risk Wearing Perfume in IVF Labs?

The aim of in-vitro fertilization treatments is to increase fertility rates in patients. One of the best ways to carry out this task is to create the best environmental conditions for the eggs and sperm to thrive when in the lab setting.

When putting the needs of their patients first, it’s best for scientists to honor the smoke-free, cosmetics-free, fragrance-free workplace rule.

Research has shown that wearing perfume in an IVF lab would pose significant risk to the embryos. Since the aim of an IVF lab is to increase clinical outcomes by helping their patients to conceive, scientists would best serve their patients by adhering to lab guidelines urging them not to wear perfume.

If you’re an IVF patient and have concerns, you may want to speak to your specialist about their lab guidelines and procedures.


Hello and welcome to Fragrance Advice! My name is Grace Young, and I’ve been drawn to fragrances since I was a little girl. There's just something about scent that brings me so much joy! 

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