Fresh or Fatal? How fragrances in the products you use every day could be making you sick…very sick.
What’s your favourite scent?
Maybe it’s the warm, rich tones of a chocolate cake baking in the oven? Maybe it’s your signature oriental perfume or the aftershave that guy at work always wears? Maybe it’s the vanilla bodywash that leaves you smelling like freshly-baked cookies or imagining you’re in a field of flowers as you wash your hair? Maybe it’s the lemony freshness of your favourite cleaning spray or toilet cleaner that reminds you of the smell of the pine Christmas tree from your childhood. Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that fragrances carry strong associations with them – good & bad. Our sense of smell is connected to the limbic area of our brain – the same area responsible for memories & emotions – and product manufacturers know just how powerful this connection is. Often, the way something smells will determine if we’ll buy that product again.
Think for a moment about the products you use each day that are fragranced in some way, whether you use them on your body, in your home or at your workplace. Here’s a list of things that the average person might use:
- soap or body wash
- shampoo & conditioner
- hair styling products
- perfume / cologne / aftershave
- skin care products
- washing powder/liquid
- fabric softener
- kitchen cleaning products
- bathroom cleaning products
- air freshener (home/work/car) &/or scented candles
Most of those products will be scented. If you read the ingredient list on the packaging, it may just say “fragrance” or “perfume”. Hmmmm, it’s just Apple & Berry Shampoo, right? They must just use apple & berry extracts to make it smell like that? Sadly, not so much.
Say it 10 times fast: “Lax Labelling Laws”
One “fragrance” be created from any number of the 3100 chemicals used by the fragrance industry. Can you imagine how much room the products would take up in your home if the packaging was large enough to list each one of those ingredients? Would you even buy the product if you knew how many chemicals were in there? The manufacturers are only required to list “fragrance” or “perfume” as an ingredient. The cosmetics industry (including fragrance manufacturers) is self-regulated & they are not legally obliged to list each component of the fragrance. There is also no requirement for these fragrances to be tested for human safety. Now, while it’s unlikely that you’ll find all 3000+ chemicals in one fragrance, the average fragrance product tested contained 14 chemicals not listed on the label. Multiply that by the number of scented products used each day & you can start to see the burden upon our bodies.
About 20 per cent of the population are allergic or sensitive to chemical fragrances. Symptoms can include a skin rash, hay fever, asthma, migraine, nausea, dizziness, fatigue or difficulty concentrating. These hypersensitivity reactions generally occur soon after exposure to the product, so it doesn’t take long to work out the trigger.
What’s more worrying are the longer-term effects these chemicals can have. Many people these days are aware that BPA in plastics is not a good thing, so ‘BPA free’ has become a strong marketing point. The main issue with BPA is phthalate (pronounced tha-late). Diethyl phthalate also happens to be one of the main ingredients in synthetic fragrances as it makes the fragrance longer-lasting. It’s also a strong endocrine disruptor & a report by the WHO in 2012 showed links to early-onset puberty in girls, reproductive defects in boys (400% increase, mainly testicular issues), reduced sperm count in men (40% reduction), PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids & infertility. Around 70% of women have a hormonal disorder & 1 in 7 are classified as infertile. Those who do get pregnant will detox via the foetus, as when fat stored on the mother’s body goes to the foetus for growth, it takes with it all the fat-soluble chemicals stored within.
Weight a minute…
Not only are we seeing unprecedented rates of endocrine disorders, cancers, autoimmune disorders & neurological issues, rates of obesity continue to rise. Do you know how the body locks away excess chemicals that it can’t quickly excrete? It stores them in fat cells. And not the type of fat that’s easily converted to energy; the type that will maintain its integrity the longest to keep us safe.
Did you know that body fat is not inert? It acts as an endocrine organ & interacts with the rest of the endocrine system to affect hunger, satiety, blood sugar regulation & general metabolism. Research suggests different obesogenic compounds may have different mechanisms of action, some affecting the number of fat cells, others the size of fat cells, and still others the hormones that affect appetite, satiety, food preferences, and energy metabolism. Some obesogenic effects may pass on to later generations through epigenetic changes that affect when and how genes are expressed in cells, without altering the actual genetic code.
The products we use every day are potentially causing metabolic mayhem, regardless of diet & exercise, not only for us, but our unborn kids & grandkids. It is even more important for women who want children to be aware of this when you consider that if you conceive a girl, the eggs that she will use to conceive her own children are developing when she’s still inside you!
“Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?”
― Rachel Carson,
I remember the obsession with scented body sprays as a teen. It’s an age when most people are acutely aware of their own body odor. With kids reaching puberty at an earlier age than ever before, they start using deodorant products earlier, which exposes them to endocrine disruptors for a longer period of their lives than any generation before them….right at a time of their life when there are significant hormonal changes already happening. These chemicals are also neurotoxic & puberty is a time of significant changes in the brain, with the brain not considered fully developed until the early-mid 20’s.
I was recently helping my daughter with a costume change during a dance class. We walked in to the bathroom where the girls were changing in the cubicles & I could hardly breathe. They were spraying various deodorants on & I heard one of the girls say she had six different products in her bag!
It’s not just girls & women who love scented products. Again during a dance class, a young man walked behind me as he entered the room & I immediately started sneeze-coughing. I can only imagine how much cologne he’d sprayed on himself. Now it’s no secret that teenage boys have a unique aroma all of their own, but they don’t realise that the very products they use to cover that aroma could be costing them their fertility or that of their children.
Thirty years ago, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to using these sorts of products, but knowing what I do now, I feel driven to get this message out. I had the pleasure of meeting another Naturopath earlier this year at a business presentation & she shared a story about how she convinced her teenage grandson to ditch his popular brand of deodorant. I re-tell the story in the video below:
Not only that, but think about when you go to the supermarket. You KNOW when you’re in the cleaning products aisle, often an aisle or two before you get there.
For so long, we have associated these smells with ‘clean’, ‘fresh’ & ‘healthy’, but we now know the reality is far from that.
What you can do
These chemicals are insidious. There’s probably nowhere left on the planet where you could completely avoid them. What’s important is minimizing your exposure as much as you can through the choices you make:
- Choose certified organic products when possible. They need to be free of synthetic chemicals as part of the certification process. This is especially important for baby care products (this is a great range)
- Choose unscented products, such as the deodorant in the video above
- If you do want/need to use scented products, look for those which are lightly scented & use only pure essential oils
- Make your own cleaning products without scents or use small amounts of essential oils. If DIY is not your thing, there’s a fantastic range of household cleaners here.
- Replace regular perfumes with essential oils, either blended yourself or pre-blended.
- Purchase natural perfumes that last longer than straight essential oils, but don’t contain any synthetic ingredients. They are available in a range of scents, including Rose & Lemon, Coconut, Incense & Neroli, Ylang Ylang (inspired by Chanel No.5), Rose, and even a scent for men to replace standard cologne.
- Avoid those products you don’t really NEED, such as fabric softener which are highly scented.
- Ditch the plug-ins, room sprays & scented candles. If your house is in need of freshening up, the first step is improved ventilation, but there are safer products such as this & this.
- Use bicarb to absorb smells from carpet & shoes instead of fragranced powders & sprays.
- Download the Chemical Maze app to instantly identify dangerous cosmetic (and food) ingredients with ease
- Download the Think Dirty app which looks at the ingredients of 550,000+ products from over 3,800 brands
I also highly recommend you listen to this podcast with Therese Kerr from The Divine Company. Therese speaks passionately about this topic as it is her mission to educate our young people so they do not have to go through significant health challenges as she did.
There is also a brilliant 8 minute video here that covers this topic so well.
Some people are so shocked when they learn about the health consequences of fragranced products that they want to throw everything in the bin immediately. If that’s not a viable option for you, just replace one thing at a time as you finish it. The products that you’ll want to change first are those left in contact with your skin – deodorant, facial care, hand & body cream, make-up, sunscreen & laundry detergent (residue on clothes).
There’s a fantastic documentary on Netflix called ‘Stink!‘ that I recommend watching. You can watch the trailer here:
Comment below if you have any sensitivity to fragrances, of if you’ve noticed any changes in your health after switching to non-toxic products.
Also, please share this post with friends & family, especially those with existing health conditions or those planning on having children one day, to improve the health of future generations.
Images Credit – © Jan Pietruszka @ www.fotosearch.com
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