If you stepped from the shower and abruptly felt confused, nauseous and disoriented, would it occur to you that you might be having a scent reaction? If you use scented products, this could happen to you even if you’ve never had a scent reaction before, because the fragrance industry routinely includes sensitizers in its formulas (http://safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=222).
Sensitizers are chemical agents which, upon repeated exposure, can lead to permanent sensitivities or allergies. Once a person is sensitized, every exposure – even to increasingly smaller amounts – causes an adverse reaction. Reactions may set in more quickly and increase in severity over time (http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/fragrance-allergies-a-sensory-assault).
The fragrance industry’s refusal to disclose the common allergens in its formulas makes it difficult or impossible to figure out which sensitizer to avoid. Avoidance of all scented products becomes necessary yet complete avoidance is impossible because we are all subject to second-hand scent. Of all known allergens, fragrances are ranked among the top five and the most frequently reported (http://safecosmetics.org/article.php?id=644).
Often people are unaware that they are even having scent reactions and they may not realize that symptoms from scent reactions can be mental, emotional and/or physical. Mental symptoms may include problems with memory and concentration, dizziness or light-headedness. Emotional symptoms such as depression, anxiety, irritability or mood swings may also be experienced.
An incomplete list of physical symptoms includes headaches, nausea, sore throat, fatigue, insomnia, respiratory difficulties, asthma attacks, pain, dizziness, eye irritation, contact dermatitis or eczema (BC Lung Association: When No Scents Makes Sense; Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Scent-Free Policy for the Workplace).
The routine use of scented products on the body and in the home is risky. The older we get, the less our bodies can cope with chemical insult, thus increasing the risk of activating that irreversible switch – fragrance allergies.
If you’d like to reduce your risk of developing scent allergies, the user-friendly, non-profit Guide to Less Toxic Products (http://www.lesstoxicguide.ca/), the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/) and the Environmental Working Groups’ Guide to Healthy Cleaning (http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners) are excellent resources to help ease the transition to unscented products.