Going Fragrance-Free is an important lifestyle change we can all make to improve our health. But why? Do you often have providers tell you what to do, but don’t provide the why and how? Do you have people tell you to eat organic and buy organic beauty products, but you don’t really understand why? Everything seems okay so why make the change? I know I am more likely to change if I understand the why and how. Today I would like to share a story of why it is important to go fragrance-free. I hope that it will motivate you and others to make changes.
The Triggering Event
In the Spring of 2018 my life and that of my families would take a drastic turn. We needed to replace our carpets and were told hardwood floors was a healthier solution. But no one talked about the different finishes and the risks. So when it was recommended we do Swedish Finish we didn’t question this choice. After 2 months of being sick, I woke up during the night having difficulty breathing. I went to the ER and everything checked out as “normal”. But as I told the ER doctor that night, I felt something was wrong. Upon returning home I noticed the floors smelled more with the rise in temperatures. The next day I started doing research. I found out that Swedish Finish can off-gas toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde. Formaldehyde has been linked to cancer and other health conditions.
We moved outside and lived in our tipi for a couple of months and I slowly started getting better. However, the smoke from nearby forest fires moved us back inside. And eventually we moved back into our bedrooms where the new floors were located. The formaldehyde levels had lowered below the California standards. But then slowly my symptoms began to worsen again and I finally found an expert who could come out and test. This was all new territory for me and my cognitive function and energy were impaired. But enough of the fog lifted to start seeking help. Unfortunately, because of my symptoms it was recommended we tear out our floors. Nine months after installation they were removed and replaced with cork flooring.
I thought after the floors were removed, I would finally be able to heal. That the Epstein-Barr Virus that had been reactivated from the toxin exposure would be controlled. However, it would take a few months for me to realize that I wasn’t necessarily feeling 100% better because I was now reacting to the various toxins in my environment.
With time I discovered I was now reacting to anything containing fragrance, gas, smoke, car exhaust, new appliances, radio-frequency, etc. Basically, anything that was low in toxins or contained formaldehyde. I stopped going to social events, changed my classes to a fragrance free environment, and replaced unsafe products. My husband started cooking outside as the electric stove top we bought to replace our gas range was off-gassing toxins. And we continue to make changes with the time, energy, financial and mental capacity we have.
What I Learned
I’ve learned how much toxins have been integrated into our lives through various consumer products. Many of which are not regulated. Fragrance contains formaldehyde and is so ubiquitous that even my shampoo and conditioner contained it. While we didn’t use scented detergents or dryer sheets, we did have many beauty and cleaning products that contained fragrance. They all went into the trash.
I now know why people are getting cancer, thyroid diseases, “autoimmune” diseases, depression, and anxiety. The impact on behavior and even issues with violence can also be attributed to toxins. My body tells me every single day when I am exposed to a toxin and toxins are everywhere.
There are very few places that I can go safely these days and I’d like to see that change. I want my friends, family and the community to understand the impact that these products are having on our health. I imagine a day when we are preventing diseases rather than suffering from chronic illness and cancer. I’d love a day where Fragrance is recognized as being equivalent to tobacco smoke in toxicity. Where I and the many of others who are sensitive to low levels of toxins, can feel safe to participate in the community without being injured again and again.
How Fragrance is Affecting Our Lives
Creating Fragrance-Free Zones
My 7 year old daughter and 10 year old son have been affected by chemical sensitivity as well. This requires us to create Fragrance-Free Zones within our home, school and workplace. This means avoiding public and private spaces that use products with fragrance such as air fresheners, scented candles, and scented cleaning supplies. We also need to avoid being around others who wear any type of beauty product that contains fragrance from perfume to lotions to deodorants. We may even react if someone is wearing clothes washed or dried with scented laundry products. Dryer sheets are the worse! People including friends of our children will be asked to wear unscented clothing in our household. The use of scented shampoos, conditioners and other beauty products need to be avoided prior to the day of arrival.
It frustrates me some days that I have to be so obsessive and hyper-vigilant about limiting our exposures to fragrance. I don’t like feeling like a nuisance. But if I relax one day, myself or my children suffer that day and possibly for days later. And finding a fragrance-free sitter is another challenge in itself. We require a lot. I know. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
Why has fragrance become the norm? It isn’t necessarily because the majority like it. It’s what is being sold in the stores and surely that means it is safe. Unfortunately, fragrance isn’t regulated and is considered a “trade secret”. Consumers aren’t required to be notified that the products contain formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals. If we really want to look at decreasing healthcare costs and improving care we need to take a cold hard look at these products.
Talking about Scent
Now having to tell someone I am reacting to their scent, is not a fun place to be in. People are easily offended when I talk about how they smell. Over time, I’m finding it easier by explaining it is an allergy. In part, it has become an allergy for our family. But it is also the body reacting to a toxin. A common reaction I get when I am exposed to fragrance or anything containing formaldehyde is anger, irritability followed by tears. Those of us who are sensitive to toxins may have a difficult time controlling our emotions. This is a normal response from a body that is feeling threatened. Don’t take it personally. If anyone ever tells you that your scent from fragrance is making them sick, respect their space and do what you can to protect them. Just as you would if you found out they had a severe allergy to peanuts or shellfish.
Hugs & Proximity
I love hugs. But if someone is using fragrance or essential oil products, I will not be able to hug. Unfortunately, the scents will transfer to my clothing and hair and I will react until I have a shower. If I don’t give you a hug, please don’t be offended.
I may need to keep my distance from anyone wearing fragrant products. Today when watching my daughter perform at a Cheerleading camp, I had to move myself to the back of the bleachers away from all the parents. I may even leave a large gap when having a conversation with someone.
How Can You Help?
Our family has now become the canaries of the community and offer a gift to you to let you know what is safe and not safe. We not only ask you to reconsider the use of fragrance for our health and the 30% of the population who are affected by fragrance, but also for yours.
We appreciate your support in reconsidering the products that you use so that we can continue to live a “normal” life. A life where we can spend time with our friends and safely go out in public. Even a doctor’s office or clinic can be unsafe.
If we are exposed some of the symptoms we experience include nausea, headaches, facial pain and numbness, stomach pain, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating and fatigue. Please note, this is “not in our head” and anxiety is not what causes us to react. Anxiety is a symptom. Sometimes we may even react before we have noticed a smell.
More Information on Fragrance
We realize there is a need for more awareness and education around fragrance-free as many of the products that are sold and used from shampoo to perfume to cleaning supplies contain fragrance. Learn more about fragrance and how to protect yourself in the blog post “Going Fragrance-Free: The How“.
A family trip to Harrison Hot Springs is more complicated, but so needed for the well-being of our family. When making a reservation we called ahead to request a hypoallergenic room for Fragrance-Free accommodations. We brought our own bedding, towels, pillows, food, blender, crock pot, cooler, hot water kettle, soap and air purifier. Air fresheners in the hotel hallways were taken down by our request. And sometimes we used the stairs instead of an elevator to avoid smokers and people wearing perfume. We used our bedding on top of the hotels’ since the mattresses and pillows had absorbed perfume and cologne from previous tenants. But we did it!