by Rebecca Sanderson
Fragrance sensitivity and allergies are becoming increasingly common in our society. Unfortunately, artificial fragrances are added to almost every skincare, bath, beauty, and even cleaning product on the market. There are several reasons behind the scent overload of our culture. While it may take a little extra care, there are ways to circumnavigate the waters when attempting to avoid these synthetic fragrances.
Those with fragrance sensitivity or allergies may not always readily tell you that they are sensitive to a fragrance you are wearing or using in your home. Why, you may ask? One reason is that they may have been ridiculed or not believed previously about the allergy. It is not one for which you can take an antihistamine to treat, and not all people understand that. Another reason for not verbalizing their discomfort is the fact that they know how hard it is to avoid these fragrances, and they feel guilty for asking you to make drastic changes in your life or routine simply for them. And yet, the symptoms of a fragrance allergy can range from migraine, hives, nausea, asthma attack, and throat swelling to name a few. This is a very serious allergy and not one easily understood by those who have not lived it. Even for those not allergic, artificial fragrances are not healthy. The term “fragrance” on a label is a blanket sum of up to 3,000 constituents, many of which are not tested or regulated by the FDA. Of the few that have been tested, several have been shown to be endocrine disruptors, others are linked to sperm damage, and some are known to accumulate in human fat tissue and breast milk. Quite a number of these “fragrance” elements are also derived from petroleum (Scheer & Moss).¹
Why are artificial fragrances added to so many products? The simplest answer is: our society is obsessed with smelling pleasant. More than the simple absence of smell by being clean, we feel the need to advertise our cleanliness with layers of soap scent. Many consumers are more concerned with enjoying the scent of their shampoo than with the cleansing power of such. Another reason behind the bombardment of perfumed products is that it masks the odor of lower quality ingredients, thereby saving the company money.
How can we avoid artificial fragrances in our daily lives? Many a fragrance sufferer has spent hours perusing the bath aisle, reading every label to find the one or two products without added fragrance or even a masking fragrance (which may not be stated on an otherwise unscented product). Others have turned to homemade products with the ability to know and choose every ingredient. Homemade soaps, lotions, makeup, and other cleaning products may seem old-fashioned and time-consuming to some. To others, knowing every component of what they put on their body or use to clean their home gives a feeling of security, knowing that no harmful substances are being inhaled or absorbed through the skin. This makes it worth the added time for fragrance sensitivity.
As we avoid artificial fragrances, that does not mean we have to live our lives in a drab, unpleasant-smelling world. Many companies have even joined the new movement of using healthier and less harmful ingredients, although most of these are still much more expensive than their artificial counterparts. In the homesteading circles, we have our own choices for adding a pleasant aroma to our homes and bodies. The main choices include herbs, absolutes, and some of the best essential oils for soapmaking. Herbs, whether fresh or dried, are naturally very fragrant. These are easily grown in a garden or even small containers. If you choose to have a countertop herb garden, you even get the added benefit of some indoor air purification. Dried herbs go nicely in homemade soaps while fresh herbs can be infused into cleaning products. Essential oils, quite the rage right now, are probably the main choice for those avoiding artificial fragrances. What are essential oils? Typically steam distilled from the plant, though they can also be extracted by boiling or pressing, an essential oil is heavily concentrated in not only scent but also the other properties of the plant from which it came. For example, lavender essential oil has the same soothing qualities as the live plant but at much higher concentrations. Essential oils are not without fault, however. It is still possible to be allergic to an essential oil, so do not assume everyone will automatically appreciate your product. Some essential oils are so potent that they can burn the skin if used without proper dilution. Others will make the skin more prone to sunburn for hours or even a couple days after application. Also, most essential oils should be avoided around infants as their tiny bodies are more susceptible to the effects, both desired and adverse (Erika Krumbeck, 2015).² With these warnings in mind and some proper education, essential oils are still a wonderful way to add fragrance to soaps, lotions, and other products. An absolute, similar to essential oils in that they are a concentrated, highly aromatic oily liquid extracted from plants, are extracted using solvents such as hexane followed by ethanol (which evaporates off, leaving the absolute oil). Absolutes are often produced from plants from which it is difficult to produce essential oil at an affordable rate. Jasmine and rose are two examples of absolutes being more affordable than essential oil.
In a world where synthetic fragrance has become harmful to our bodies, we can avoid and replace these harmful chemicals with natural substances for the improvement of our health and consideration of those with allergies or fragrance sensitivity. This may be done with a little extra time and care, and benefits greatly outweigh the cost. Whether you or a loved one has discovered an allergy to artificial fragrance or if you simply want to avoid them for the sake of your health, you can have confidence in your pursuit (and creation) of fragrance-free products.
How have you found ways to deal with fragrance sensitivity? Let us know in the comments.
¹ Scheer, R., & Moss, D. (n.d.). Scent of Danger: Are There Toxic Ingredients in Perfumes and Colognes? Retrieved March 27, 2018, from Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/toxic-perfumes-and-colognes/
² Erika Krumbeck, M. (2015, January 3). When to NOT use essential oils (Essential oils can cause seizures in kids). Retrieved April 3, 2018, from Naturopathic Pediatrics.com: http://naturopathicpediatrics.com/2014/09/08/essential-oil-safety-danger-essential-oils-seizures-children/