A few years ago, Melanie was diagnosed with several new allergies and among them was an allergy to fragrances. This is admittedly an unusual allergy, but it seems our family specializes in unusual allergies.1 And by fragrances, this means all artificial fragrances added to products, including some which say they don’t have them. In fact, the product has to say “fragrance free” for it to be possibly safe, and even then it’s not a certainty it will be. There is also a big difference between “unscented” products and “fragrance free.” Unscented usually means that there is a masking scent added, but there’s still a scent or fragrance added, whereas fragrance free really means free of fragrance. Usually. (I don’t think there’s any government regulations on this this labeling.)
Thus our house has fragrance free shampoo and soap and laundry detergent and dish detergent and hand sanitizer and toilet paper and fabric softener and surface cleaners and, well, the list goes on. What I didn’t realize before is that fragrance isn’t just to smell pretty, but it covers up the smell of the chemicals that are combined to produce certain products. Soaps and cleaners don’t smell particularly good on their own and need a masking agent. And if you take away the cheap and easy one, you end up with a more expensive product. And so allergies are expensive.
But there’s another interesting consequence as well. After a while without being surrounded by the artificial fragrances in products, even if you don’t have the allergy, you become really sensitized to them when you encounter them.. When you’re not soaking in the smell all the time, you actually begin to sense the odors again.
Have you ever noticed how suburbia stinks of fabric softener and laundry detergent? Whenever I take a walk around our neighborhood, the smell is almost overwhelming, even from the sidewalk. There were times when the smell would drive me from my backyard because one of my neighbors was doing laundry.
And I’m not even the one with an allergy!
Likewise, using a restroom in public or at someone else’s house and washing your hands with the provided soap makes my hands stink afterward. I usually have to be careful not to touch Melanie again until I’ve washed my hands again at home with non-fragrant soap so she doesn’t get a rash.
Even Ben has said he wants to start carrying his own soap with him to his Scout meetings because the soap in the bathrooms there smells so much.
I’m not writing this because I think the world needs to change to accommodate us, but as a point of interest and as something to think about: We use the fragrances to mask unpleasant odors, but we become so inured to them, we stop smelling them and so we use more and more of them, until the fragrances themselves become an unpleasant odor blanketing us.
- Like our child who is allergic to wheat (not gluten), some nuts, dairy, eggs, and corn. Or their aunt who is allergic to things like coffee and tomatoes. ↩