May 12, 2012

Scents and sensitivity: go fragrance-free

May 12 is Environmental Sensitivities Day.

First my nose stings, then it runs, then my eyes get itchy. The skin of my nose feels tight, swollen, even pink. My breath becomes shallow — at worst I have difficulty breathing at all. I probably start coughing. I feel stressed and anxious.

This is what happens when I’m exposed to synthetic fragrance. I’m not alone, and I’m lucky: for some people it can trigger asthma, headaches, and allergic reactions that are worse than mine. But it’s still not fun, and I feel like I’m the only one in the vicinity suffering. Sometimes, I’m the only one that can smell it.

I never had this problem until I did a detoxifying cleanse three years ago, which is why I don’t believe it when I read claims that people with my affliction are simply overburdened with toxins. I think it’s the other way around — that most people, generally unbeknownst to them, are full of toxins that are preventing reactions to toxic chemicals.

Products, like cosmetics and cleaning products, that are a toxic cocktail tend to contain fragrance — an umbrella term for a mix of dozens of toxic chemicals — to mask their unpleasant odors. Unfortunately, the mixtures are considered trade secrets so manufacturers are not required to disclose the list of ingredients in fragrance. Health hazards of fragrance are wide-ranging, and can even be toxic to wildlife and the environment.

So I’m sensitive to perfume, to the fragrance in deodorant, shampoo, laundry detergent, and hand cream. But I use very few products for personal care and cleaning, and what I do use is fragrance-free (not just “unscented”). It’s not difficult to find alternatives. When you go fragrance-free, you’ll also rid your life of a lot of other yucky toxics.

And if you’re wanting to smell good for your love interest? If you’re trying to attract a mate, your natural pheromones won’t get to work their magic if you mask them with an artificial scent. So ditch the Axe and buy them some lilacs instead. His or her nose will thank you.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying biking to work, and avoiding fragrances on the bus.

Does your workplace or home have a scent-free office policy?