Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Perfume Seems to be Doing some Perfumistas In - Bloggers Report on Having to Stop Wearing Perfume

Synchronicity has struck. In one day I stumbled upon three perfume bloggers who have written how they have either had to stop using perfume altogether, or at least drastically cut back on their use of perfume. I was idly searching back through the Urban Farmer blog and found this post, dramatically titled The End of Scent. When I read the comments, I noticed that Heather of Memory and Desire discussed her problems with scent and having to stop using fragrance entirely. I was wondering why she hadn't blogged since May - now I know.

With Heather, it's headaches, for Lou, well, she had a litany of problems. Savvy, they cut back on scent usage. It's tearing their souls up, but their bodies are healing.

It's been barely three years since the birth of perfume blogs. I'm wondering if we're now seeing the "canary in the coal mine" syndrome starting to surface. Often I have read on forums snarky comments from perfumistas about those who complain about strong perfume. There are two sides to every coin: perhaps the perfumista with a snark doesn't have sensitivities caused by overexposure to strong scent, and the complainer does. There are few biological certainties, generalities, yes, but few certainties. I'm reminded of when I used to frequent a beauty and fashion forum and we'd all lemming a new face cream or cleanser and every time - every time - I'd have an adverse reaction. Others would write that they have cast-iron skin and nothing bothered them. It's all in the genetics and the amount of exposure, I guess.

Strong perfumes and perfumes containing lots of modern synthetic aromachemicals - they're probably the culprit. Anyone who spritzes on a lot of them will probably wind up - if they're predisposed - to a sensitization as described by Lou and Heather. I base this generalization on the fact that laws have been enacted in the past two decades banning fragrance, lawsuits filed to force people to stop wearing scent, etc., and that, at least to me, coincides with the rise in use of synth aromachemicals and the overuse of fragrance in household items. Strong scents and scent everywhere.

I was mulling all this, and posted to Heather privately about a similar situation for me - with natural aromatics! - following 9/11, and and a few hours later another blog popped up on my screen with the same sad lament: a perfume blogger is suffering from chemical sensitization.

I pay attention. I notice threads and whispers and signs - three in one day - Wow. Yes, with a capital "W".

The blogger at Scent Signals has a good take on the problem, and a good approach on how to get her fragrance fix in a softer, quieter way.

Before anybody thinks I'm slamming synth perfumes, know that I live my life practically unexposed to them. Yes, in the past, I have held my breath in an elevator, or developed a sore scratchy throat and nasal irritation from them. Now, somehow I manage to avoid places with lots of folks who wear them - Sniffapalooza would not be my choice of a good time, although I can appreciate the wit, appreciation and passion those who do attend share. I'm not against synth perfumes intellectually - they just really assault my respiratory system.

As I mentioned before, I had my own sensitization period and blogged about it briefly here, and wrote about it extensively in the past on my Yahoo group on Natural Perfumery.

I never get colds or the flu. I must have a cast iron immune system, the inner equivalent of those ladies on the fashion forum's skin. Still, pesky irritating mango pollen caused me annual bouts with a stuffed head and runny nose. After the account referenced on my blog, and a course of liver support herbs accompanied by "safe sniffing" practices, I have never even had the mango pollen annual head case return! Yes, a "!" for emphasis. Quite amazing. In my online perfumery class, I emphasize safe sniffing also, and two students who didn't listen, one in the UK and one in AU (who had a predisposition) are suffering nose burn out.

Love perfume? Protect yourself. Cut down, for goodness sake. Maybe alternate with some gentler fragrance options, like yummy rose or neroli hydrosol. Spritzed in the hair or on clothes, they are moderately long-lasting. Dilute essential oils and attars, discover softer, gentler natural perfumes that are kind to your nose and your neighbors.

The synchronatic reading materials today are the kind of things I pay attention to and just sit back and watch develop further. Heck, I know enough aromatherapists, raw material suppliers and perfumers who have these problems. They overdose on naturals, sniffing out of the bottle, diffusing essential oils into the room constantly.

Everybody just needs to slow down, take some liver support herbs - I'm not a doctor, so I should just suggest that, since it worked for me - and stop being scent gluttons. We're overdosing, we're damaging our ability to use and enjoy the lovely perfumes and essences, and it's about time we woke up and took care of ourselves.

I live a surprisingly scent-free life. I use unscented soap for my laundry and dishes. I occasionally use some lightly-scented shower products from members of the Natural Perfumers Guild, and I never burn incense. I just received some fabulous incense from a Guild member, and I sniffed it appreciatively, but I know smoke molecules are very, very bad for me, so it won't be burned. Occasionally, maybe once a month, I'll diffuse some light scent into the air. I save my scent pleasures for the perfume-formulating table and evaluating raw materials. I wear perfume maybe twice a week. I play with scent memory constantly. I live the scent in my head and enjoy it. Memories of Mandy Aftel's Pink Lotus or Worth's Je Reviens? They're there, to be drawn up in an instant. If I get really moved, I may open a bottle and apply a tiny bit.

My life is a rich, full tapestry of scent. Scent occupies almost every waking hour - but it's often unsniffed. I know this sounds strange, but it's lovely, fulfilling and I'm totally satisfied.

It would be a shame if the explosion of interest and conversation about raw materials, perfumes and the scented life would be the extinction of the ability of some of the passionate people's ability to enjoy their muse and their calling. With this in mind, I ask you to reconsider your usage of scent, I ask you to get a little more conservative and I ask you to protect yourself so that you may live out the rest of your life with the ability to keep on enjoying scent, responsibly.


  1. Anya - Your timing couldn't be better. I've been agonizing about how to write about my last two and a half scentless months; fragrance has become a huge part of my creative life, and when I decided to give it up (which I hope to explain more fully on M&D in coming days) it was truly a last-ditch effort to reduce headaches that had begun to control my life. I've always used perfume in moderation, or so I thought. I avoid sillage like a plague and I (perhaps rare among perfumistas) personally don't like to smell perfume on those who are not intimate acquaintances, and I practice the same courtesy. Still, I'd done a lot more sniffing, both in quality and quantity, over the last year. I'll take the liver advice very seriously - I have regular liver checkups and nothing has turned up in the labs over the last year, but I do also believe that the body is more sensitive than a lot of medical tests, so perhaps I have some work to do there.

    There is, of course, much more poetry to explore, and I intend on doing it. Giving up fragrance suddenly, and finding that it was a good health move, kind of knocked my feet out from under me.

    I know I owe many well-wishers return emails and a better explanation of all this. For those who stop by here, I hope you will indulge me a little longer with your patience.

    And again, thank you Anya.

  2. hi, anya - lovely article. you make a good, solid case for being careful with scent without going all militant (which is what some perfumistas seem to fear and detest). liver support is an excellent idea. i've also found that acupuncture does wonders supporting the entire immune system and helps with thyroid issues.

    isn't it interesting how fulfilling life can be even if you're not sniffing perfumes all the time?

    take care - minette/

  3. Hi Heather:

    Timing is everything ;-)

    The fact I stumbled upon three bloggers on the same day - wow, I just had to address this.

    Do you have any neroli or rose hydrosol? I'll send you some, if you wish. They're lovely, soft, complex and a nice way to ease a little scent into your life.

    Re: the liver herbs. I took them daily for six months or so, to build up my system for the next February/mango pollen season. Breezed through it. I take them sporadically now, in fact, I can't remember the last time I took them. I'm of the opinion that I don't want to overdo them, or anything.

    Can't wait until you blog again, and you may actually have some of my Transport in hand by them ;-)

  4. Dear Minette:

    You took such a logical approach to what you recognized as a system out of whack. You may be at the forefront of perfume bloggers who take a newer, more moderate look at scent wearing and scent in the environment.


  5. There is an emerging realization that some people are, because of their genes, more predisposed to fragrance allergy than others - natural or synthetic. They are said to be "polysensitive" because they react positively to patch tests of multiple fragrance materials.

    A separate issue is whether people are more likely to react to synthetics than naturals. There is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence, and a little hard evidence that this is the case. It may be connected to the liberal use of high-impact single chemicals. Or not.

    The more you are exposed to something the more likely you are to become sensitive to it, though the majority of perfumers don't develop sensitivities at all. I probably spend an average of one full day a week at my "bench" - much more than that, and I don't feel so good.

    Finally, despite conventional wisdom, there is some evidence that fragrance sensitivity is reversible in time. But, if you develop multiple sensitivities, a very long complete break - months or even years - might be advisable.

    Robert Tisserand

  6. Anya, this is Greyson.

    Would you mind giving a few instructions on 'safe sniffing' in either a post or a comment back in this one? I think all the people we're referring to your post will appreciate the information.

    Grey :)

  7. Hi Greyson

    I suggest you join the Yahoo group I host and get in the discussion there. That way, you'll be able to get the shared info from me and all the group members.

  8. Hi Anya, I am glad you are writing about this. I am one of those hated people who becomes completely incapacitated by fragrances, to the point of requiring emergency treatment for migraines and asthma attacks whenever I am seated near saturated co-workers.

    I never asked for this, and I am not a nut. I used to wear perfume myself. Now I am one of the most hated people at my job, simply because I became so sensitized to chemical fragrances that I have to sit alone at the office in a "safe" room.

    It is gratifying to see so many of you writing about it with sympathy, because it is a real problem, and most of those of us who become ill end up on disability and/or welfare. I am simply trying to hang onto my job at this point, but I do not know how much longer I will last because the use of perfume, cologne and plug-in air "fresheners" is so widespread in my building.

    I hope you will all keep healthy, and try to read up on the latest studies about how devastating these synthetic fragrance chemicals are to ALL of us.

    Thanks! Faith W.


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