Friday, May 22, 2009

A Fragrance-Free Future for All?

I am a second-generation Vietnamese American who grew up in Anaheim. I had a variety of friends but I was very conscious about the smell of my house. The Vietnamese are notorious for not only pho (beef noodle soup) but also their nguoc mam (fish sauce). My mother was aware of it too, and we usually wanted the house to smell more "American" so she clipped out coupons for Glade Plug-Ins every weekend.

I remember how the plastic Glade Plug-Ins would soften and eventually burn its plastic cover if we left it in for too long. At one time each power outlet had a Plug-In, but the combination of "Tropical Breeze" and "Pinewood" started to give me dizzying effects. My mother eventually stopped buying them...and now she has turned her passion into buying air filters.

It led me to wonder about the fragrance industry in the world. With Americans generally bathing or showering each day, it's quite amusing to research history. In Elizabethan times, about 500 years ago, bathing once a month was the epitome of cleanliness. Perfumes and potpourri were created from dried organic materials, but nothing was really synthetic at that time. Nowadays, it's much cheaper to create chemical compounds imitating the scents of these fragrances without environmental threats (ex. musk).

I read an article that was reprinted online. It made me think about the fragrance industry and the chemicals we create in pursuit of fragrances.

Synthetic fragrances are used to scent products, and sometimes to mask odors or unpleasant smells that a chemical compound may produce. One good example is a product that I've used in my home for years, Comet, which I recently bought in a lavender scent. I was not particularly happy with the change, as it smelt nothing like lavender.

Since the rise of synthetic fragrances we've been layering ourselves day in and out with chemicals. I have eczema-prone skin and while I lived in Riverside, the dry air caused several major outbreaks. I thought air purifiers would help, which it did, but my condition did not improve as much as simply using oatmeal-based skin products and moisturizers. But beware, just because it is unscented or fragrance-free does not mean that they are chemical free.

Not to mention that some people are just plain allergic to some fragrances. Do you remember any product you've used that caused your skin to break-out? I remember that applying anything on my inflamed skin would cause a burning, itching feel. And have you tried any scented product that gave adverse reactions? For you lucky ones, no. But for those who have...there's a good reason for it. Reactions in fragrances can quickly become medical lawsuits, so much that magazines must adhere to a strict fragrance protocol to prevent accidental exposure.

It is very creepy to know that most fragrances can be launched on the American market without any approval process. Basically, until it makes some kind of adverse reaction, the fragrance manufacturer can go about its business and the FDA would not have any jurisdiction over the matter.

I would recommend simply investing in a good air purifier over the hundreds of dollars you may spend in home fragrances and to begin using organic and wholesome chemical-free products. Granted, some individuals prefer the scent of ocean in the morning, or dew in the evening, but the truth is that it is most likely chemicals and toxins you are exposing your body to. Potpourri may also be an alternative, but keep in mind that some potpourri is also soaked in fragrant chemicals. Fragrance yourself free from chemicals. I am sure it would not only be good for the environment but for your body, too.

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