Scent and I don't get along as well as we used to. But there was a time, not long ago when I shopped for products based solely on smell. I shopped with my nose. The more coconut, mango and vanilla aromas in a shampoo or lotion, the better.
My fragrance addiction wasn't limited to my morning primping routine either. I had an army of air fresheners going 24/7. Turns out masking the fumes from my cigarette-smoking neighbour had me bathing in chemicals like formaldehyde (a carcinogen), naphthalene (a suspected carcinogen) and xylene (a neurotoxin). How was I to know those toxins were undercover, camouflaged as 'ocean breeze' and 'forest fresh'?
I was being led around by my nose. Now I know better. Fragrance is a combination of hundreds of chemicals, most derived from petroleum or by chemical synthesis. And it won't matter how good you are at reading labels, because the precise ingredients that go into "fragrance" are kept a secret.
You might feel better knowing that Health Canada systematically tested fragrance ingredients for safety in your personal care products. But they don't.
On the other hand, Environmental Defence and the Environmental Working Group tested perfumes, colognes and body sprays in their new report Not so sexy: the health risks of secret chemicals in fragrance. They found most brands had on average 10 sensitizing chemicals. It's these sensitizers that can trigger allergies and asthma, and cause headaches, wheezing and contact dermatitis — better known as a rash.
Lucky for me, I now live and work in scent-free spaces. I no longer shop with my nose. You, too, can walk away from synthetic fragrances by taking a few simple steps:
- Avoid personal care products with "fragrance" or "parfum" on the label. They're widely used and often appear as the last ingredient.
- Find "fragrance-free" or "perfume-free" products and don't be fooled by those labeled as "unscented" because they often contain fragrance.
- Scent-free offices are a new way to do business. Have your office to adopt a scent-free policy. Check out the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
- Grab a product you own with "fragrance," "perfume" or "musk" then ask the company to use non-toxic ingredients and fully disclose all ingredients.
Have you already taken steps to avoid harmful ingredients in your personal care products? Shocked by what you found when you took our survey? I'd love to hear more about your tips to avoid fragrance.
Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green