Perfume is a fragrant fluid which many people feel makes them more attractive. It is also found in household products, such as cleaners, hair dye, and paint, to mask the offensive aromas inherent in these products. To some, however, perfumes are anything but attractive and represent a health hazard.
The earliest perfumes were incenses which gave off odours when burned. The word perfume is derived from the Latin per fumum, meaning “through smoke”. Today perfumes can be made of natural ingredients, such as essential oils distilled from herbs, flowers, or stems, animal products, or synthetic materials.
Fragrances are classified by their dominant odour.
- floral: jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, gardenia
- spicy: carnation, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove
- woody: sandlewood, cedar
- mossy: oak moss
- herbal: clover, sweet grass
- leather: leather, tobacco, birch tar
Aromatic ingredients, however, are only a small portion of the final product. They can range from as little as 0.5 percent in some aftershave lotions and splash colognes to 25 percent for perfume. The remainder of the product is made of fixatives which preserve the fragrance and provide for a constant evaporation rate to put the fragrance into the air. Fixatives are made from mosses, resins, and synthetic and animal substances.
Today there is a growing awareness of health problems related to the use, or overuse, of fragranced products. According to research done by the Candida Research and Information Foundation during the winter of 1989-1990, symptoms provoked by fragrances can include “watery or dry eyes, double vision, sneezing, nasal congestion, sinusitis, tinnitus, ear pain, dizziness, vertigo, coughing, bronchitis, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, laryngitis, asthma, anaphylaxis, headaches, seizures, fatigue, confusion, disorientation, incoherence, short-term memory loss, inability to concentrate, nausea, lethargy, anxiety, irritability, depression, mood swings, restlessness, rashes, hives, eczema, flushing, muscle and joint pain, muscle weakness, irregular heart beat, hypertension, swollen lymph glands, and more.”
The American Lung Association, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Johns Hopkins University, and the Mayo Clinic all recognize that perfumes and fragranced products are asthma triggers. For other people, the symptoms triggered by these irritants are more like allergies. In our increasingly scented culture, especially around Christmas and winter holidays, a growing number of people are forced to chose between becoming ill or withdrawing from friends and events.
There are over 5,000 ingredients used in creating fragranced products. Of these, 80-90% are petroleum based. Safety testing has been done on less than 1,500 of the ingredients and only the effects on the skin have been tested, not the effects of inhaling them.
Fragranced Products Can Kill
In Scotland, a man was convicted of assaulting his ex-wife by smearing fragranced shampoo on her doorhandle. He had originally been charged with endangering her life, but the jury returned a verdict for a lesser charge. Special precautions, including denying entry to anyone wearing perfume or having eaten certain foods, were taken in the court room before the victim was allowed to enter and testify.
Try to remember what it was like before smoking was limited to outdoors and private homes. You would encounter smoke while you were eating, waiting to see the doctor, or squeezed into an economy seat on an 8-hour trans-Atlantic flight. When you returned home from a meeting or shopping, your clothes would smell of cigarette smoke. It is easy to see when someone is smoking and see the smoke in the air you are breathing. Now think about the chemicals you are inhaling from invisible fragranced products.
People who should NOT wear cologne or perfume:
- medical personnel, especially doctors, dentists, and nurses
- flight attendants and passengers
- teachers and students
- waiters and waitresses
- jury members, lawyers
- orchestra and chorus members
- concert, theatre, and cinema goers
- meeting attendees
- any one going to be in an enclosed space with other people
Fragrance Free Progress
In 1991, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, became the first city in North America with a fragrance free policy when they banned scented products from the local hospital. Recently an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal urged banning these products in all Canadian hospitals. Searching for other laws found results in the USA and Canada, but little in Europe and nothing in the UK.
As with the smoking bans, a fragrance ban can only take place when the public is behind it. To see how bad the problem is, desensitize your nose to the daily onslaught of fragrances by eliminating scented candles, air fresheners, scented cleaning products, perfume, and aftershave from your life for a week. You will be shocked by the intensity and pervasiveness of fragrances filling our world. You and those around you will enjoy breathing some fresh air for a change.