We often think about fragrance as something light, a delight, an aroma that is carried on the breeze. We love the lavender-laden air of Provence, the balm of herbs growing in our gardens, the honeysuckle clambering over a trellis to reach our bedroom window. There’s the smell of rain after a thunderstorm, the richness of soft soil and fallen leaves in autumn, and the heaven of a pot of soup simmering on the stove. In our chemical-dependent world, however, fragrance is not so much a pleasant breeze as it is a heavy storm cloud, making it hard to breathe.
A report by the women’s health advocacy group Women’s Voices for the Earth found that sensitivity to fragrance is more widespread than thought. Apparently tens of millions of people in the U.S. are sensitive to common fragrance ingredients in household and personal care products. What makes it almost impossible to identify and avoid fragrance allergens, however, is the fact that companies are not required to disclose the tens to hundreds of ingredients that make up a scent.
Some companies do voluntarily disclose this information. Seventh Generation, one of the leaders in the green products industry, has been disclosing all fragrance ingredients, including allergens, since 1998. They go as far as listing every essential oil that is added to their products.
Symptoms from fragrance exposure and sensitivity can include respiratory effects, immune system impacts, headaches and allergic reactions. The addition of chemical fragrances is common in cleaning products in particular; the European Union has identified 26 chemicals that are likely to cause reactions in sensitized individuals, including Amyl cinnamal, Benzyl alcohol, and Hydroxy-citronellal. See a complete list here.
You can search for fragrance free products, but it’s not an easy task. Fragrance is found in 96 percent of shampoos, 91 percent of antiperspirants, and 95 percent of shaving products. And it goes beyond the addition of chemical fragrances. The Environmental Working Group has been actively campaigning for safer cosmetics, evaluating nearly 80,000 personal care products. Their findings are alarming: there are an average of 13 chemicals found in the bodies of teenage girls, for instance, including dangerous products such as phthalates, triclosan, parabens and musks, all endocrine disruptors.
Although it may require a search, you can find organic, fragrance free products to support your health, and make you feel beautiful. Some of my favorites are: Nature’s Gate lotion (fragrance and paraben free), Seventh Generation, Nurture My Body (not all fragrance free), Jason (means “healer” in Greek), Kiss My Face (olive oil and aloe vera), and Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Nourishing Lotion (99% natural and fragrance free but not necessarily organic). .
Evan Healy (philosophy: The Skin Breathes) is a skin care line that can be found at Whole Foods. You can also check out Juice Beauty and Jurlique!
If you’d like to learn more about what major cosmetics companies are using in their products, make a visit to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep: a cosmetics product database. You may be surprised to learn that the products you trust contain chemicals that are linked to endocrine disruption, among other concerns.
A book and website you may also find of interest is No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics. The authors, Siobhan O’Connor and Alexandra Spunt, leave no bottle unturned in their expose on the most dangerous ingredients in widely used brands and the best clean make up, hair care and skin care products.
And finally, while you’re treating your body well, check out Julie Morris’s cookbooks: Superfood Kitchen and Superfood Smoothies. Superfoods are the most nutrient desnse foods on earth, with a remarkable ability to heal, energize and promote radiant good health.
Kale is one of my favorites. Here’s a quick and easy way to add it to your dinner table:
Organic Braised Kale
Place 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven, heat, and add minced garlic and onion to taste. Sautee until slightly browned. Add kale and braise until kale is wilted and not tough. Approximately 15 minutes, or longer if you prefer. Sprinkle on some freshly ground black pepper and grated parmesan cheese. Health and good taste in a serving!
My personal philosophy is A Healthy Home is the Ultimate Luxury. A healthy body is the ultimate necessity for a good life. Take good care of yours!