Before splashing on aftershave or dabbing your neck with perfume, you have to think carefully about where you're heading for the day. That's because, out of respect for the aerial commons, more and more local businesses are going fragrance-free.
Turns out that most perfumes and scented products on the market contain chemicals that don't agree with everyone's airways. And some of these lab creations, notably artificial musks, are persistent in the environment and appear to result in undesirable changes in fish and other aquatic creatures.
Regulating agencies, as per usual, feel that in tiny amounts these substances won't hurt us.
Meanwhile, one-third of us have allergies, and one in 10 have asthma. These numbers are way up from a few decades ago, thanks to the deteriorating quality of our air. Individuals with allergies can develop sensitivities (which are different from allergies) to perfumes. Clinicians say their symptoms can range from tearing and sneezing to migraines and life-threatening anaphylaxis.
But are all smells no-nos? Therapeutic-grade organic aromatherapy oils from plants and nothing else tend to cause very few reactions.
Myself, I've never spent much energy worrying about exuding an exotic odour. If I do desire a fragrance, it's usually to boost my own spirits rather for its dramatic impact on others, and I use an essential oil diluted in water (a hydrosol) like rose or sandlewood.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Our brain developed from our olfactory bulb. We think because we smell. What I know from my practice is that many people who have allergies and sensitivities can handle natural aromatic products that are made for therapeutic purposes. Removing synthetics makes sense, and (in using natural scents) we won't be denying the human body and human spirit the beauty of aroma, which is integral to our being."
SUZANNE CATTY, aromatherapist, author, Hydrosols: The Next Aroma Therapy
"A person with sensitivity can be breathing with a mask and will still respond when the fragrance hits specialized nerve endings in the eyes. Our patients uniformly react to the presence of fragrance and other chemical mixtures in the air even when they cannot smell it. Research done in Scandinavia has found that one of the major contributors to poor indoor air is the chemicals that come off people's bodies and clothes. I have some patients who have life-threatening anaphylaxis when exposed to perfume.'
ROY FOX, MD, director, Nova Scotia Environmental Health Centre
"The Food And Drug Act specifically states that no person shall sell any cosmetic that has in it or on it any substance that may cause injury. Ingredients in perfumes have a history of safe use in Canada. Health Canada recognizes that certain individuals suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). At this point, there is no conclusive medical or scientific evidence to support a link between MCS and environmental exposure to any specific ingredient.'
MARGOT GEDULD, spokesperson, Health Canada
"The worst air pollution comes from cars. They cause smog, perfumes don't. But in a small office, what's the irritating factor? You could say perfume. I've had people needing to leave work or getting off a subway car because of perfume. The worst reaction a patient's had was an asthmatic attack that required a visit to the hospital."
HOWARD LANGER, MD, allergist
"We think scent-free businesses are misguided. When we explore workplaces that are considering scent-free policies, they're usually doing it based on a lack of knowledge of scented products. There's been a lot of misinformation out there. The anaphylaxis is total nonsense. We don't know of a single scientifically documented case in the world of anaphylaxis due to scented products. Environmental illness and chemical sensitivity are not accepted by the mainstream medical community as organic diseases.'
CARL CARTER, Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association
"I come from a radical environmental background. We've tried to make the studios as healthy as possible from bottom to top. Our paints and carpets don't off-gas. Our cleaning supplies contain no perfumes or synthetic chemicals. It's tortuous for people with allergies to manoeuvre around.'
TED GRAND, director, Bikram Yoga Toronto and Bikram Yoga Danforth, both scent-free spaces