Not All That Smells Is Roses


Our society is obsessed with smells. But is this obsession really worth our future offspring?

Each and every one of us has to smell fresh at all times. Our clothes have to smell fresh – even after a night out in a smoky club (well, now mostly a thing of the past), and even natural baby scent is not good enough any longer. Yes, now there is even a perfume for babies.

We don’t buy body care products that only have a subtle smell. I only realized the full extent of this recently when my husband proclaimed that my homemade shower gel just didn’t smell strong enough. I was confused.  I had added grapefruit oil and rosewater, and, at least to my own nose, it was pleasant, yet not overbearing. But then again, I am the person that cannot walk the perfume section of a department store without feeling nauseous and developing a headache from all those overpowering scents. Yet usually my husband is the one with the sensitive nose.

It all comes down to a formula

Unlike with many other things, when we smell something, good or bad, we don’t readily associate some chemical formula with it. Regardless though of whether it is the smell of an orange or Febreze, in both cases there is a chemical compound entering our system through inhalation and it reacts with our olfactory system creating a sense of smell in our brain. Sadly, that’s not the end of it.

More and more people these days seem to be affected by ‘fragrances’ used in deodorants, air fresheners, shower gels, perfumes – you name it, and exposure often triggers migraine, allergies and asthma symptoms. Moreover, most of the ingredients used for fragrance, have actually not been tested for toxicity, alone or in combination. So why are these chemicals not simply avoided by companies? Simple. Since they haven’t been tested, there is no law in effect that enforces avoidance or even disclosure of the danger behind these ingredients.

Naturally Irritating – and so much more

So how can you detect them? Only with diligence and reading ingredient lists. If you were to look at any deodorant, all you may find is either the generic term ‘fragrance’ or a short list of names that no meaning to most people such as Limoene, Citral, Geraniol or Linalool. They all sound harmless and somehow related to smell we know – lemon, citrus, geranium. No? None of these ingredients are derived from the natural source of lemons or geranium, and in fact, many of these compounds are irritants.

Lastly, some fragrance ingredients are not actually perfuming agents themselves but enhance the performance of perfuming agents. One such widely used ingredient is diethyl phthalate, or DEP, and is added to make the scent linger. Phthalates are choice ingredients in cosmetics because they are cheap and versatile. However, the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has listed DEP as a Category 1 priority substance, based on evidence that it interferes with hormone (endocrine) function. Phthalates have been linked to early puberty in girls, reduced sperm count in men, and reproductive defects in the developing male fetus (when the mother is exposed during pregnancy), not to mention liver and kidney failure in young children when exposed for extended periods.

So what’s a girl or guy got to do to smell nice and stay healthy? Look for products with the least fragrance, avoid DEP at all costs, and maybe mix your own. A mixture of essential oils of your choice mixed with some alcohol and glycerin goes a long, healthy way.