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After you read this article, get on YouTube and watch the documentary, STINK! I beg of you. You may be intolerant to fragrances like I am. Maybe you’re not. But EVERYONE needs to know that the ingredients used in chemical fragrances are unregulated. They aren’t just toxic to those who are aware of how miserable they make them feel.
Fragrance Sensitivity: Chemical Scents Are My Enemy
Fragrance. Fragrance is a word that is supposed to imply, pleasant scent. For me – not so much. I’m not quiet about my fragrance sensitivity or my desire for the elimination of the toxic chemicals that are in SO many of our every day products. Through my sensitivity, I’ve been blessed to become more educated about their toxicity (which led me to now using safer products).
Even if I’m able to discover a way to eliminate my sensitivity, I will never go back to scented candles, chemical plug-ins, fragranced hair products, fabric softener, fragranced laundry detergent, etc.—-ever.
I would, however, like to be able to live in this world without feeling miserable.
*It is a difficult sensitivity to have. When someone else in my space is using products that affect me, I’m either miserable or I have to find a kind (and usually apologetic) way to tell them I’m sensitive. Not easy at all!
I'm Not A Doctor
As I often clarify, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a medical professional. I’m not a researcher. I am not offering medical advice. I just share my personal experiences in case they might help someone else.
My experiences have led me to believe that there is a connection between diet and my sensitivity to chemical fragrances. Or maybe it’s the lifetime I lived with un-diagnosed celiac and what it did to my body that made it more difficult for my body to handle toxins. Whatever the cause, I need to avoid synthetic fragrances as best I can (if I want to avoid feeling miserable).
Through my metamorphosis (from sick to healthy when I was diagnosed with celiac) I have become more aware of how food affects my body.
Fragrance Avoidance: A Challenge That Started In My Early Forties
I’ll never forget that discovery. I liken it to the whole Pavlov’s dog experiment. I really don’t know how long it took my brain to make that connection between smell and misery, but something clicked. I had a handful of navy blue, highly scented votive candles that I loved. One day I decided to put them in a bag and in the drawer. I felt better. Brought them out. Bam. Miserable. Put them in the drawer – better. Next step–in the trash. (Update 2023: My Fragrance Sensitivity: Where It Began.)
That scent I once enjoyed quickly became a scent that disgusted me. When an unpleasant experience (feeling miserable) follows a pleasant one (a fragrance), that pleasant experience translates to unpleasant in the brain.
And through the course of the next several years, and as my sensitivity increased, I had to get more and more strict with avoidance. Synthetic fragrance all smells so different to me now. All I smell is the chemicals.
How Chemical Fragrance Affects Me
Since we live in a world where fragrance is in just about EVERYTHING, I have had many opportunities to discover how I react.
- Brain fog. The longer and more intense the exposure, the more difficult it is to think (or speak) clearly.
- Emotions. Whew! Just ten minutes in a room filled with the chemicals from a plug-in has me battling my emotions. I can cry on demand. And this has nothing to do with the fact that I don’t feel well. That’s not how my emotions are affected. It is truly a hormonal type reaction. (It wasn’t until recent years that I discovered the reason I feel so hormonal after exposure. Most of these synthetic fragrances contain pthalates. Hormone disruptors!)
- Muscle stiffness. Mostly in my back and neck. And this isn’t from the stress of not feeling well. This is a reaction.
- Feel like crap. No other way to describe it. Yup – I can start my day out (in my fragrance-free home) feeling just fine. If I have to sit next to someone wearing perfume at a meeting— BAM! You might as well just knock me down and kick me a few times.
I’ve always wondered, WHY do I have such an adverse reaction? It is SO much more difficult to control than diet. A person can sit next to me in the lunchroom with a plate full of pasta, garlic bread, and all kinds of gluten-filled foods without affecting me. But if that person chooses to use scented laundry products or personal products – my world goes immediately downhill.
I’ve searched for years to find an answer to my fragrance sensitivity. That search, and my vigilance to seeking answers, always happens during peak sensitivity times. And what is a peak sensitivity time? Stress. When I’m under stress.
Like Living In Hell
Last summer included some extra stressful ingredients. We sold our house and moved into an apartment while we looked for a smaller home. It was time to downsize and minimize. And through that process, I had not been eating as well as I should have.
I hadn’t been taking the supplements I generally take, either. On top of that, my home, which has to be my safe zone (my fragrance-free detox zone) became a combat zone. Living in the temporary apartment meant that I was exposed to the chemicals from the new carpet AND the chemicals that came through all those dryer vents! It was absolutely HORRIBLE!
My apartment would seem fine one day, and then filled with some highly scented laundry product on another. I was MISERABLE! I wasn’t even safe in my own living space!
I ended up purchasing a high end air purifier. And this helped. This helped a LOT! It was a life saver! (Actually, Amazon didn’t have black, which is what I wanted, so I ordered it directly from Austin Air.)
Putting The Pieces Together
Like I said, I hadn’t been on top of my daily supplements, either. One of these supplements, molybdenum, is something I discovered a couple years ago through my internet research.
*(I am NOT a medical professional. This is NOT a recommendation. I am just sharing what I take and what I’ve learned.)
It seemed as though my sensitivity was decreasing while taking it. Gone completely? No. Tolerable? Definitely more so. Was it in my head? I don’t know. Maybe it was something else I was doing. (I am not a medical professional; please do your own research.)
Something else I noticed. The more stressed I am, the more sugar I consume. The more sugar I consume, the more sensitive I seem to be to fragrances.
Again, coincidence? I don’t know.
Sometimes It Takes Having To Feel REALLY Horrible
A couple weeks after moving into the apartment, I started experiencing a period of ultra hyper-sensitivity to fragrances. It was followed by a horrible nervy-pinchy-spasmy type pain in my mid back. I’ve had this before, this nervy-pinchy-spasmy thing in my back. It happens once, maybe twice a year. I had never connected it to the fragrance issue, though.
That pain always seems to take several days to leave. But it leaves. This time, however, it was intense — for more days than usual. It took well over a week to go away.
I'd Been Neglecting My Routine
Feeling the impact of chemical fragrances everywhere, and feeling super hyper-sensitive, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been taking my molybdenum (or any of the supplements I normally take). So I googled it again. And I found articles that confirmed what I had thought before. It was benefiting me! (Again, I’m not a doctor or medical professional, so please do your own research).
I’m not good with relating (or even completely understanding) all that technical medical jargon, but this is what I got out of the articles I’ve read: My body is not breaking down and eliminating certain toxins appropriately, which results in pain, brain fog, and hypersensitivity to chemical fragrances.
We learn to handle a certain amount of discomfort, for a certain amount of time. We all have our levels and tolerances and we all have things we are willing to live with for the things we don’t want to give up. But I had reached a point where change was needed!
Fragrance Sensitivity: An Article That I Needed To Read
Here’s one article that not only explained the fragrance sensitivity, but connected my back pain to it as well: MCS Acetaldehyde Candida Article Perfume Sensitivity – Must Read. It’s a bit lengthy, but dang, I got a lot out of it!
A Work In Progress
I’ve been working on greatly reducing sugar. Do I slide backwards in diet? Yup! This is one I struggle with. But I can surely feel the difference when I reduce sugar (and grains). I’m already gluten free, 100%, but I do like the way I feel when I limit grains. Unlike the fact that gluten is a 100% avoidance requirement, I have yet to discover the best balance of other foods. It’s a process.
I’ve only had that nervy-pinchy spasmy thing in my back once since last summer, when I had finally made those connections. This time it wasn’t nearly as intense and I was able to eliminate it in just a few days. When it hit I immediately reflected on my recent eating habits, and yup!–I’d been over indulging in the dessert category.
I’ve never (not once) cheated on my gluten-free requirement since I was diagnosed with celiac in 2000. Not one bite of anything with gluten (intentionally, anyway). Sugar, however, is another animal. I struggle with this daily. Recognizing it’s connection to pain and sensitivity has me working harder on avoidance. I pay much closer attention to carbs and sugar on labels. At times when I do allow a treat, I limit myself. One cupcake not two, thank you.
Not Everyone Is As Sensitive As I Am - But Everyone Is Affected
Laundry: I always use unscented detergent and I never use fabric softener. White vinegar in the rinse cycle and wool dryer balls in the dryer work great!
House Cleaning: I keep spray bottles with a mixture of white vinegar, a bit of dish soap and water for cleaning counters, sinks and toilets.
Essential Oils. 100% natural oils do not seem to bother me.
Personal products. It’s been difficult to find products I can tolerate and that I like, but that’s where Amazon and Vitacost have been amazing friends. So much easier to find those products that aren’t always available in the local store.
My dermatologist recommended Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream and Vanicream bar soap. They are both gluten free and fragrance free –and best of all –I love them! It’s not always easy to find products that are safe for me and that I like. These work for me in all categories.
Check the Products You Use
The Environmental Working Group does the research for you.
Check the personal products you use.
Check your cleaning products.
While it can seem like an overwhelming and daunting task to check all your products, an easy way to start is to remove all scented plug-in, candles and room fresheners.
Another simple way to make a difference is to use fragrance free laundry products. You’re not only removing that chemical fragrance cloud you (and your family) carry around with you, you are helping reduce the amount of chemical fragrance released into our great outdoors through dryer vents.
Getting My Life Back!
I have been working on brain retraining since March 2021 for my fragrance sensitivities. This has been, and continues to be, an amazing journey. I shared part of that journey in the following post: Brain Rewiring Part 1: I Wasn’t Ready