It’s About Health, Not a Preference
Think of a pleasant odor that makes you say, “Ahhh” and it’s likely to be a food or floral smell or one relating to a memory from youth. Scents can enhance our lives but while some people are bothered by certain smells, many people are flat out made sick by odors, even natural, pleasant ones.
It’s hard for some to understand, but being “sensitive” to fragrance is not about a preference. It’s a health issue that has left many feeling out of control in this modern, uber-scented lifestyle. Fragrance is added to cleaning products, personal care products, foods and beverages. As many are now realizing, their love of fragrance has also contributed to symptoms like headaches, rashes, dizziness, migraines, asthma attacks, mental confusion, coughing and others. For them, the only healthful choice is using fragrance-free products.
Synthetic air fresheners are considered sources of air pollution by health organizations like the Canadian and American Lung Associations which warn against their use.
Commercials Create a False Need
TV commercials now show housewives spraying already clean sofas and sheets with perfume, creating a false need. Clever marketing states that adding chemicals into the air is cleaning it and even reducing allergies. But is it really? Men and women are taught that their bodies stink and teens are shown how a chemical scent will turn on the opposite sex over their natural smells. The culture today has brought kids into the fragranced fold like never before. How many products are they using on their bodies and breathing in every single day? The health risks, effects on moods and learning are taken seriously enough that many schools have fragrance-free policies.
What’s in Air Fresheners and Laundry Products?
Anne Steinemann, an environmental researcher from the University of Washington just released the results of a study which found the following:
* 6 best-selling items (three air fresheners and three laundry products) contained nearly 100 volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
*None of the VOCs were listed on any product label.
*10 of the VOCs are regulated as toxic or hazardous under U.S. laws.
*3 of the ten are classified as hazardous air pollutants.
Watch The Environmental Working Group’s video “What is Fragrance” here.
Is Natural OK for Everyone?
No. While some people tolerate natural ingredients over synthetic ones, others suffer allergic reactions. The scent of pine, orange, incence and certain essential oils can trigger symptoms. Even a whiff of nuts or fish provides enough of the food to trigger an attack in allergic individuals.
*Remove the source of the smell. If it smells bad, it could be an indication of bacteria, VOC’s or mold, all of which need to be taken seriously for the health of occupants.
*Create cross-ventilation to remove odors. Open windows in different rooms to create a current of air.
*Filter the air with a carbon filter. Hepa filters remove particulate matter like that in smoke. For VOC’s, a carbon filter is necessary. Be careful of ozone, an irritant which adds to the problem.
*Absorb the odor with zeolite bags or baking soda. Tea bags have been proven to absorb formaldehyde. Discard and replace with new ones.
*Essential oils smells are potent, but they also have physiological and psychological effects. Use with caution. A drop of a theraputic-grade oil may not affect everyone the same way while it adds fragrance.
*Mix water and add a few drops of an essential oil and spray into the air.
*Vinegar neutralizes some odors. Mix 1 tsp vinegar with one tsp baking soda and 1 c. water in a spray bottle. Spray for cooking smells. Or, use it alone on carpets with pet odors. Or, leave a bowl of vinegar out overnight to remove odors in a room. Beware that some people cannot tolerate even the smell of vinegar.
Products labelled as unscented may contain synthetic fragrances that mask the smells of the ingredients. This Guide to Less Toxic Products has done the detective work and recommends fragrance-free products which don’t contain masking agents and which are less toxic.
The Bottom Line
The home is a good place to create a healthy environment. Unlike the workplace and other public buildings, we can control what comes in and by spending the most time here during the day, we’re helping our bodies recuperate and heal.
Search tools to find out what is in household and personal products as well as alternatives.
We discussed this topic in episode 7 Living in a Chemical Soup Talkcast. Listen to mp3 here.