I have a strong aversion to artificial scents. They not only give me an instant headache, but I can detect them from a mile away. There’s absolutely nothing acceptable about these pervasive odours, and it seems like they’re bombarding us from every direction.
Deodorants, shampoo and conditioners, baby wipes, washing powders, plug-in air ‘fresheners’, textas and scratch and sniff stickers are just a few examples of products containing artificial fragrances.
These fragrances often contain hundreds of chemicals, chosen from a list of thousands, and there are no laws requiring companies to disclose every ingredient used – it’s their trade secret.
As a result, society is enduring the consequences.‘Research from the University of Melbourne shows that one in three Australians report health problems, including migraine headaches and asthma attacks, when they are exposed to common fragranced consumer products such as air fresheners, cleaning products, laundry supplies, and personal care products.’
Unfortunately, I am one of the “one in three”. Fake, synthetic fragrance has a serious impact on my health and wellbeing. It often makes visiting public restrooms, restaurants, hotels, casinos, airports, areas surrounding supermarket cleaning aisles, beauty departments etc., a sickening task.
The Environmental Working Group rates fragrances as an 8/10 for toxicity. Several studies have been done on the chemicals often found in fragrance and the results are concerning: those with asthma may have fragrance-induced attacks; some chemicals in fragrance irritates the eyes, nose and throat of individuals; nausea and headaches are common amongst many; in 2010, a study of 17 fragrances found 4 hormone-disrupting chemicals in each, linking exposure to gynaecological abnormalities, infertility, and unusual reproductive development for baby boys.
Some of the chemicals found in fragrance may accumulate in human tissue, such as diethyl phthalate, which was found in 97% of Americans and linked to sperm damage. Synthetic musk is known to accumulate in fat cells and presents in breast milk and has been found in newborn umbilical cords.
In 2016 I went on a family trip to Singapore. We had an amazing time, there is so much to do there! What I noticed almost instantly, however, was the fake smells everywhere. Seriously, EVERYWHERE. Even at the otter enclosure at the famous Singapore Zoo, to mask their ‘unpleasant’ odour. I would rather the otters’ natural smell, than the fake, headache-inducing, musky scent they had spraying endlessly. Those poor, poor animals.
Then there was the disgusting fake smell in the first aid room at Malaysia’s Legoland (I won’t get into why we were there!). I got an instant headache from the room’s sickening ‘air freshener’, attached to the wall, squirting its toxic gas every 2 minutes. Ironic that a room designed to make people better, is actually affecting their health, whether it be instantly (like me, and my nausea and intense headaches), or slowly with its endocrine-disrupting cocktail of chemicals.
Every airport terminal, public toilet, hotel lobby and visitor centre we set foot in was the same – grotesque fake smells. I found myself holding my breath a lot and wondering how the staff must feel working in those conditions all day?
I knew from an early age that me and fragrance didn’t get along. I had aunties that wore such strong, deep and musky perfumes which had me feeling ill almost immediately when in their presence. I now know it is a normal physiological reaction from my body, warning me against the threat of synthetic odours on my health.
I’ve met a lot of people who look at me with disbelief when I tell them that a key step toward a (mostly) toxin-free existence is to ditch the perfume/fragrance/aroma/cologne.
Giving up fragrance doesn’t mean you can’t smell nice.
Essential oils (provided you are using a reputable brand) are gorgeous and safe alternative to synthetic perfume, and they offer therapeutic benefits too. I love dabbing a little jasmine on my wrists, my daughter goes for spearmint and my son loves orange. You can even make your own signature blend in a roller bottle. If you must use perfume, apply it sparingly to your clothing, rather than the sensitive skin of your neck and wrists. That is, if you must use perfume.
So, in light of the research emerging regarding the dangerous health impact of synthetic fragrance, and the obvious and immediate impact it is having on 1/3 of us, how can we still accept its use as normal behaviour among the general population?
Something needs to change. We need to make more noise and make them listen. Speak with your voices and your wallets. One store, toilet block, zoo enclosure at a time.