Sunday, 22 January 2017

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:

  • No chemical cleaners
  • Real fragrance-free products - personal, laundry, shower, kitchen 
  • No perfumes
  • No indoor pets
  • No VOC paints
  • Hard floor surfaces
  • Lots of natural ventilation.
  • Minimal soft furnishings
  • Keep away from places where people wear lots of fragrances
  • Living in the country
  • Working from home
Are you affected by fragrances? What do you do to cope?

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  1. I know if I go anywhere near the 'washing powder' aisle in the supermarket - the smell of the chemicals hit me, it's in the air.
    A friend has trouble with the fragrance in his flat-mate's after-shave, it is so strong it irritates his sinuses.

  2. I have a terrible reaction to strong fragrances, my tummy does a flip flop and then I can be left feeling nauseous for days. The cheaper the fragrance the worse it is. I thought I was very weird... I feel comforted in some solidarity the sounds of things...many others! Jess Egobi (Melbourne)

  3. I am allergic to synthetic fragrance. I get bad rashes on my skin if I put it on ke or hayfever and asthma if I breathe it in. My children have been brought up in a fragrance free household and they dont cope well with strongly scented environments as a result. I have recently discovered essential oils and asude from the health benefits for us (which is why I use them) I can finally have fragrance in our household that is safe.

  4. Same here. I have removed all synthetic fragrances from our home. The worst for me is the cleaning products used at my work, they make my chest hurt when the cleaners come past with the mop or wiping surfaces. I wonder how it affects the cleaners who use the chemicals all day. Its hard to bring up the issue because so many people are unaware and think I'm just whinging about nothing...

  5. Yes! I am sensitive to fragrances in products and I think I am becoming more sensitive too. I avoid the perfume section of department stores & the cleaning aisle of supermarkets because my eyes and nose will itch and I will leave with a headache. Walking past those nail salons, with whatever chemical smell it is that wafts out those doors, just makes me feel sick. Once, my Mum left a bottle of conditioner here after a visit and I used it. I could smell that fragrance wafting off my hair and felt ill for a couple of days. To avoid these kinds of chemicals, I use natural cleaning products, olive oil soaps, I don't wear perfume or make up and my deodorant is a simple one scented only with a rose essential oil. Strong natural scents, like the peppermint and lavender essential oils don't affect me the same way and I feel that must be because they are naturally derived and not some chemical concoction dreamt up in a laboratory a million miles away from nature. Meg:)

  6. I'm a no fragrance person, too (although I love the scent of my husband's aftershave). I can't bear scented washing powder and staying in other places where they use those products is torturous. I methodically worked my way through a pack of scented bin liners recently. I didn't buy them as scented but they had a horrendous odour. I couldn't bring myself to throw the roll out so held my breath each time the bins was changed. I don't understand why people feel the need to overspent themselves and their environments.

    1. Overspent themselves, probably overspending in the process!

  7. I used to work in a big pharmacy and thought nothing of spraying myself everyday with a different perfume, oh how times have changed. I can't remember the last time I doused myself in a perfume and haven't owned one for years. I don't use a bought deodorant, preferring my home made one with a little essential oil added for fragrance. My darling sister has chemical sensitivities and she can be quite ill just walking past someone wearing a perfume, same goes with cleaning products, she now only used vinegar, bicarb and eucalyptus for cleaning. Although I don't have the sensitivities to chemicals I now only use natural products on me and around my home. Have a wonderful day.

  8. I had to leave full time employment, due to the migraines I was living with from the various perfumes my lovely workmates continued to wear. Modern perfumes contain synthetic versions of the natural essential oils they used to use in expensive perfume. This is why perfume has become cheaper, and why it smells stronger and lasts for longer. Some people are allergic, and get allergy symptoms. My issue is neurological, and thankfully a neurologist found a drug that controls my reactions... they're less violent. I still get the headache, but not the full-blown migraines. And I have to avoid prolongued exposure. Why are people allowed to pollute our air with harmful chemicals, when we prevented smokers from doing this some years ago?

  9. I have some sensitivities; I get a massive headache if the scent is too much. This goes with car exhaust, too. I make my own scent with essential oils and water. I spritz after my shower and I'm usually good for the day.

  10. I can relate to your post Morag. I kept getting migraines and had no idea why. A good allergy specialist said I was chemically sensitive. I have felt so much better since removing artificial fragrances from my life. I printed a sign from the AESSRA support group asking that visitors to our house not wear fragrance. It has been a polite way to inform friends and family. Liz, Brisbane

  11. In Santa Fe , New Mexico many good restaurants have signs outside saying " Fragrance-Free or Please - No Fragrance Allowed " .