One in Three People Are Sensitive to Fragrances

I picked up the Saturday Age (the Melbourne paper) today at Mum and Dad’s and happened across an article called “On the Nose” by Kate Grenville, popular Australian novelist. She was talking about how fragrances give her headaches, make her eyes feel dry and sore and mess with her sinuses. I immediately related. I though I was just becoming oversensitive because I’ve been living out in the country, away from artificial scents, for two decades now. I thought I was just being a bit silly.

But Kate Grenville is about to release a book The Case Against Fragrance exploring this topic in depth. Apparently studies from the University of Melbourne and other places show that one person in three gets some kind of health problem from fragrance. I am not alone!

You just need to take a look in any cosmetic or beauty section now to find increasing ranges of products that are fragrance-free to know there is an issue. Increased sensitivity is being caused by the increasing level of irritating chemicals and fragrances in our environment - put into the things we use every day on our bodies, on our clothes, in our homes. There are over 5,000 types of these chemicals used in these types of products.

I do find it challenging to go into large shopping centres - particularly past fragrance counters, candle shops and into bathrooms with automatic scent releasers. Office buildings aren’t much better, particularly lifts. Restaurants and theatres are not great either - any place really where people get dressed up and spray on their finest perfumes. Thankfully my way of life does not include the necessity to go into many of these places.

I suppose it’s a bonus being sensitive to fragrances - it gives me real incentive to eradicate these things from our lives. I can’t sleep well in sheets washed with synthetic fragrances or wash my hair with shampoo with synthetic fragrances. Even if I use a moisturiser with small amount of fragrance, my skin becomes irritated and I can’t wear make-up. Scented toilet rolls, scented bin liners - a lot of things down the cleaning aisle at the supermarket I need to avoid too.

I’ve found the only cure is avoidance and I choose to make a lot of my own products and buy natural items.

By choosing the ‘hypo-allergenic’, ‘sensitive skin’, ‘fragrance-free’, ‘unscented’, ‘for babies’, ‘children’s’ products, I thought I was safe. However, I just read that I might need to be wary of products that are labelled "fragrance free" or "unscented" as they may still contain fragrance chemicals, but that they might also contain a masking fragrance to cover up the odour. I’ll soon find out which ones are the genuinely fragrance free ones though.

Thankfully, there is a growing trend of scent-awareness policies in public places - universities, hospitals workplaces and other centres. There are signs requesting people to refrain from wearing scent. Still a small movement, but the awareness is growing. It’s not a small amount of people this affects.

My general plan for reducing contact with fragrances and odours that irritate me is:

Are you affected by fragrances? What do you do to cope?

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