Category Archives: fragrance

Treating the symptoms, but not the disease

An article in the papers says that “federal guidelines due this summer are expected to urge doctors to more closely monitor whether treatment is truly controlling eeryday symptoms and improving patients’ quality of life – and to adjust therapy until it does.” It goes on to suggest a campaign to teach patients they need better help, but does it go far enough? Why do we only want to treat the symptoms? We should be looking at the environment of the asthma sufferer as well. But what else is contributing his asthma attacks?

I was 47 years old when I went from and having occasional migraines caused by exposure too much perfume to having daily migraines. In fact, it was at this time that I learned that they were even migraines. I went through a lot of doctors and neurologists at first. Each time I saw a new one, they gave me a different drug to “prevent” the migraines. None of them helped. And I kept asking, “Why am I having these problems now? What happened to suddenly make me have this head pain all the time?” And I got no answers. No one seemed to care about Why, they only wanted to make them go away. But I felt that Why was an important part of how we would make them go away.

I knew that fragrances played a role, but it seemed there had to be more. Even working from home didn’t help 100%. Finally, one doctor’s office gave me a five page list of foods that are known to be migraine triggers – nuts, nitrates, msg, aspartame, chocolate, and on and on. As I began eliminating those items from my diet, I found some relief. I have since been able to pare down that list to those items that I know are a problem for me. And no, the migraines aren’t gone, but they are less frequent. They now seem to be only triggered by fragrance products.

The bottom line is that we had to go beyond the symptoms to determine what was triggering the migraines in order to gain any kind of control. And curiously, I am now on one of the drugs that was tried five years ago. And it is helping.

Rather than just treating the symptoms of your child’s asthma, perhaps you should first try to determine what triggers attacks and try to eliminate them from their environment (as much as possible). My husband has had asthma since he was a child. But since we’ve been together, it is much better controlled because our home is Fragrance Free.

More Tips on Fragrance Free Household Cleaners

Since the ingredients may not tell you that there is a fragrance in a product, you might be tempted to use the “sniff test.” But there are 2 problems with opening a product in the store and smelling it.

First, there are a lot of competing smells in your average store. You may not detect a fragrance specifically coming from a cleaning product in the store. This is especially true if the store has chosen to “freshen the air.”

Second, there could be a masking fragrance in there. If you have severe reactions to fragrances, or are concerned for the environment, then these are still a problem.

The best solution is to seek out companies and products that spcifically state they have no added fragrances.

Are fragrances a health issue for you and your family?

Most people are likely to say, “No.”

The prevalence of fragranced products makes it hard to isolate them as a cause. I first determined I had a problem with fragrances in 1970. There were not near as many fragrance products in our envinonment back then!

Before you answer “No”, answer these questions:

Do you or a family member have:

  • Frequent headaches or migraines?
  • Frequent “sinus” headaches?
  • Asthma?
  • Unexplained “allergies”?
  • Frequent colds or respiratory infections?
  • COPD or other breathing disorders?
  • Emphysema?
  • Fibromyalgia?
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)?
  • Autoimmune Disorders (MS,Lupus, and others)?
  • ADHD?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then you may want to look at fragranced products as a culprit. At the very least, fragrances can often make any of the above conditions worse. Many of these health issues are on the rise in our country. The chemicals in the modern fragrance play a bigger role in these than most of us think.

What Everybody Ought to Know About Fragrances

So, what is a fragrance, really?

According to Wikipedia, “Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils and aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents used to give the human body, objects, and living spaces a pleasant smell.”

That’s an excellent place to start. And it should be enough to ask “Why would I want this on or in my body?” Aroma compounds? Fixatives? Solvents? Sounds more like a chemistry class.

Why all those extra chemicals? Because the makers of fragrances (be it perfume, cologne, aftershave, “air fresheners”, etc) want their product to be noticed. Many of the chemicals used are in a class called Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs for short. Their purpose is to disperse the fragrance in the air.

But what exactly are these VOCs? Unfortunately, the public doesn’t really know which VOCs are in fragrances. If you do some searching, you’ll find the list includes: toluene, ethanol, acetone, formaldehyde, limonene, benzene derivatives, methylene chloride, and many others. An interesting starter listed.

Wait a minute! Aren’t some of those items known to cause cancer and damage nervous systems? The answer is “Yes.” So how do they wind up in fragrances?

First, fragrance industry regulations do not require that they list all the ingredients. They are “trade secrets.”

Second, the fragrance industry claims that the only health issues are contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. They claim that the fragrances only contact is the skin and that they are not absorbed in any form.

Except, is that really true? If you smell something, doesn’t some of that substance wind up in your lungs? Of course. Furthermore, they can be absorbed through the skin and get into the blood stream. It used to be thought that the skin was an impenetrable barrier. But this just isn’t true, absorption does occur through skin and it isn’t localized. That’s the principle behind the birth control patches, the nicotine patches and the pain patches.

Keep this in mind the next time you spray cologne or “air freshener.”

Fragrance Free Household Products

The main problem with cleaning products is that there really are no rules requiring manufacturers to list the fragrances. There are laws requiring them to mention certain ‘known to be’ toxic chemicals, but that’s all.

Sometimes you can get clues from the label. “Fragrance Free” and “Unscented” may mean that there is no fragrance added, and it may not. It could be that there is no detectable fragrance odor, but they may have added a “masking fragrance”. Which, for me, is worse than a fragrance because I can’t smell the harmful part.

Other clues of things to avoid – Anything that says something like “Fresh Clean Scent” has a fragrance in it. It may not be listed, but those words are a definite sign that there’s a fragrance on board.

Products that say things like “Free of Perfumes”, “No added fragrance”, and such are your best bet. That usually means staying away from most of the “commercial” brands. They’re main concern never seems to be health or our environment, but only the almighty dollar!

One of the real quandries I’ve found is in scented automatic dishwasher detergent. A few years back, my husband and I were buying dishwasher detergent. And he asked me, “What fragrance do you want for your dishes?” My answer is NONE. At that point, I hadn’t found anything without a fragrance. So, I had some things that were not allowed in the dishwasher. Such as the lid to my travel coffee mug. I use it everyday, and since the plastic lid absorbed the fragrance, I couldn’t use it if it had been in the dishwasher. I also could only run the dishwasher when I was away from the kitchen or out of the house because the fragrance found its way throughout the room.

And that’s why one of my favorite companies is Natural Choices. I use their Oxy-Dish Automatic Dishwasher Detergent; I buy it in the 18 pound bucket. One bucket usually lasts us a year, so it’s not as expensive as it may seem. I also buy their floor cleaner – Clean & Free Floor Cleaner Concentrate.

A sometimes source for fragrance free products is your local health food store – Whole Foods, Sun Harvest, etc. But, if you’re as sensitive as I am, be careful. Some of the products have things like “Orange Oil” in them. While it is natural, it is often highly concentrated.

Someone just sent me a tip about Shaklee products. I haven’t tried them yet, but am adding them to my list.

Fragrance Free Personal Care

Over at Fragrance Free World , I occasionally review the search criteria that brings visitors to the site. Recently, I noticed a lot of searching for fragrance free products. So I thought that this week’s tip would address a few of my products of choice:

Bath Soap:

Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Soap – I fell in love with this soap from the moment I first heard about it for one reason – its ingredient list: Saponified Olive Oil, Water, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid. That’s it. How simple can you get. (I had someone tell me that they couldn’t use Kiss My Face because of the preservatives, but they must have meant another soap. ) Be warned: not everything at Kiss My Face is fragrance free, so read the ingredients.

Shampoo & Conditioner:

By far, this is one of the hardest things to find. I found some by Earth Science called Pure Essentials. They make Fragrance-Free Shampoo and Conditioner. I find this at both Whole Foods and Sun Harvest.

Hair Mousse:

I don’t think there is one. There must be some really nasty smelling stuff in mousse that they have to add fragrance to cover up. I see that Kiss My Face has one now, but I haven’t tried it. I do, however, use Kiss My Face Upper Management Styling Gel.

Hair Spray:

I don’t think there’s one of these either. The last “fragrance free” one I bought had a “masking fragrance” in it (see below). I took it back and decided that I could live without hair spray.

Laundry Detergent:

All Free & Clear is the only thing I have found that I can use. There are probably some others but I’m sure I would have to order them. I’ve looked at some online, but they are expensive. All Free & Clear works for me so I haven’t really been spurred to buy anything else. Beware though, I once tried an similar product from a major warehouse store. It caused a lot of itching.

You have to be very careful when evaluating products. The laws are rather vague about what labeling is required. It’s not enough for it to say “fragrance free” or “unscented”. Read the ingredients. A lot of products have a “masking fragrance”. If your problem is like mine and it’s actually the VOCs that bother you, well, they’re in a “masking fragrance” as well!

Next week I’ll provide tips on cleaners around the house. Have a question or comment? Got a product to add to the list? Leave a comment.

An Amazing Human Spirit

The first time I read this article “Visiting Kathy – A Severe MCS Sufferer“, I literally cried. But that was only one of many reactions I had. I wanted to print the story and send it to every one I know – friends and family. By the grace of God, I’m not there, yet. But I fear I may be someday. It can be very frustrating trying to explain to people why you don’t want to visit their house, or get in their car, or ride in a car with them.

I would also like to talk with Kathy. To find out how she finds the strength to keep going. My guess is that Kathy doesn’t go out much. There’s so much you encountered when you go out in public. Vehicle exhaust, cigarette smoke, perfumes and other personal products. And then the “air fresheners” as they are so (mis-)named.

I’ve had to severely limit the places that I go, but I still get out. My reactions seem to get worse, in spite of the doctor’s best efforts. I’m afraid that one day I will become a prisoner in my own home.

And yet, we still keep going.

Scent Diffusion Systems???

This was the news piece that put me right over the edge. America Sniffs Secret To Scenting Success

My sister sent me that link one month ago, and my response to her sums it up:

Just what we need. I knew there were places that liked to put fragrance in the air. I didn’t realize that there was an industry just to provide such systems. A well-known lingerie company has done it for years – for ‘branding’. There are hotels and even outdoor venues that do it. The worst is that hospitals have fragrance running through their systems!

The number of people bothered by fragrances is larger than many realize. It isn’t just migraines, but also asthma sufferers and anyone with COPD. You are, after all, ingesting it through your lungs. It’s my belief that there are many people who don’t even realize that fragrances are the source of their problem.

On the other hand, Nova Scotia has gone fragrance-free – in public places. Marin County, California has fragrance-free seating in restaurants. Now that they’ve run the smokers out of most places, fragrances will be the next battle.

I hear people say that they have a “right” to wear perfume. Sure they do, but I have a “right” to be in public w/o being ill.

21st Century Canaries

The love of my life just asked if I had been reading “The Piranha Club” in the comics this week. Seems the whole series has been on perfumes. Hard to believe I didn’t know about it til Thursday. We only have Wed. & Thurs. papers in the house.

So in today’s comic (3/15/07) we have Ernie and his girl Doris Husselmeyer standing by Ernie’s canary cage. Doris has on enough “Eau De Toillette” that there’s a cloud around her. Reminiscent of Pigpen from Peanuts. Ernie has a gas mask on and Doris is trying to pop the question. When suddenly, there’s a BANG from the canary’s cage and Ernie says “My canary’s head just exploded”.

Interesting that there’s a canary in the comic. I read something recently that suggested that those of us with MCS are like the canaries in the mine. When we stop singing, everyone’s in trouble. Thankfully, so far, I’m still singing. Though I have changed my tune of late.

I wonder if the cartoonist, Bud Grace has a problem like MCS? Did you know that he was an atomic physicist as well? I tried to find the comics online and was led to here: The Piranha Club
But they only have the first week of the previous month online. Unless you want to subscribe…