Thursday, March 7, 2013

Simple Suggestion #154... Go fragrance-free

Anyone out there remember Avon's Sweet Honesty perfume? It was my first foray into the world of scents. My mom's friend was the town Avon Lady, and she gave my sisters and me some perfume samples in little tiny vials. I didn't really 'wear' them, but I loved to smell them... until the day Sweet Honesty spilled... I can't remember where -- on a rug? In the corner of a dresser? No matter. I just remember how the lingering, overpowering fragrance made my stomach turn ever after. I outgrew Sweet Honesty in a hurry! But it didn't last...

I grew up to love fragrances of all kinds, and used to wear perfumes frequently. I had my favourites, and stocked up on them when there were sales, enjoying a stroll through the cosmetic department to test new fragrances just for fun.

And then I fell in love with a man for whom perfume is something like torture. My poor hubby reacts to fragrance the way some people react to paying taxes, except he also gets itchy eyes, scratchy throat, and headaches (yes, I know, paying taxes gives a lot of people headaches!). For most of the years of marriage, my perfume has been hidden away in a dresser drawer, and our household has gone fragrance-free (except for our teen daughters' bedrooms).

What's really interesting is that since I've stopped wearing scent, I've developed something of a sensitivity to it myself, and can't stay near perfumed people very long. Last week I was waiting in a doctor's office when a woman sat beside me. She was wearing a lovely fragrance -- gentle, not overpowering at all -- but all of a sudden, I had a tickle in my throat and started to cough. By the time she left the area, I had a headache. And it was, as I said, a pleasant fragrance. Since then I've been doing little experiments with my own neglected cache of perfumes... just putting a tiny bit on  my wrist in the mornings (so it's gone by the time my man comes home from work)... and I've discovered that my own favourite fragrances also give me headaches. What gives?

In snooping around on the internet, it seems that, in the past, perfumes were made mainly of plant extracts. Unfortunately, as technology has advanced, chemical compounds that are not naturally occurring have been added into the mix. And fragrances have been added to everything! Even as air fresheners and scented candles have cornered a huge market, fragrance-free products are slowly claiming their own shelf space, but perhaps not enough of it. Our human love affair with parfumeries from Armani to Yves seems to have created more sensitivities and allergies (some even say perfume related asthmas) in the general population. Have you noticed an increase in the number of shops and public places that bear signs saying 'Be "scent"-sitive' or 'This is a fragrance free workplace'?

Two years ago, the David Suzuki Foundation listed parfum as one of the dirty dozen toxic ingredients in personal care products -- the problem with it being that 'parfum' is a blanket term that can be used to cover all sorts of chemical cocktails that are now added to fragrances. Somewhere online I read that up to a third of the population is affected by those cocktails that often end up going down our drains, and that the related allergies can be very debilitating.

I also can't help but wonder about the effect that all those perfumes are having on our environment. I mean, when we wash our bodies, our clothes, our dishes, and our homes, the fragrances in the cleaning products we use get mixed into our water systems. In our developed world, we've got water treatment plants to filter them out, but I feel for people in the developing world where water often isn't treated. If you've ever tried to drink from a container that was once used for something fragrant, you know that water tastes better with no odors of any kind. So wouldn't it make sense to refrain from polluting water in the first place?

When you really think about it, perfumes are another one of those non-essential things that consumer culture has conditioned us to believe essential. A hundred years ago, fragrance wasn't such a big deal -- as it usually only occurred naturally (except for great grandma's rose water). Now, when I think about those people for whom fragrance causes health problems, I really feel for them. It must be terrible to have to limit your time in public just because someone is wearing perfume.

These days, it's pretty much impossible to go places without running into someone who smells terrific -- or terrible to a person with allergies. My husband and I enjoyed our last play at the Citadel Theatre, except for the fragrant lady sitting in front of him whose perfume gave him a headache. Fortunately, the effects he experiences are mild, but some people can hardly breathe...

So today's simple suggestion is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who can't handle perfumes, and cut down on the use of products that carry fragrance. We've been refilling our laundry detergent containers at Earth's General Store, which carries all sorts of unscented products for personal care and cleaning. It's worth making the effort, and not just because of my hubby's sensitivities. Why not try it? It's not likely that anyone will notice or thank you if you go fragrance-free, but there's probably someone you'll meet today who will unknowingly appreciate your efforts toward air they can breathe without concern. Think of it as a random act of kindness!

P.S. For more Simple Suggestions, look here.

1 comment:

  1. I cut out all un natural things a while back and now all perfumes smell like to me, are chemicals.
    Which they are, really.


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