The Importance of Being "Scent-free"

The Importance of Being “Scent-free”

by Rebecca Ford

Environmental Health Co-op

Often times people do not take scent-free spaces very seriously. Many people think it just refers to sneezing fits caused by an obvious overabundance of cologne or perfume. Their response is, “I don’t even wear enough for anyone to notice”. However, what people rarely realize is that the concern does not lie in the fact that a product has a scent, but rather that the largely petroleum- based chemicals used to make the scent can cause serious health effects. Even if you do not wear cologne or perfume it is quite likely that one of the many products you use regularly has fragrance in it. Everything from soap to baby bum- rash cream has fragrance in it these days. In order to keep yourself and those around you healthy, it is important to become educated about what to watch out for when purchasing products.

To make the job a little easier the Wilena MacDougall Environmental Health Resource Centre (W MEHRC) has recently created brochures on cleaning products, fragrance, personal care products, healthy homes, and baby products. I will outline some of the helpful hints here. However, if you would like a copy of each of the brochures mentioned, or would like to learn more about issues surrounding environmental health, drop by our Resource Centre at 81 Prince Street, Charlottetown.

Since W orld W ar II and the ensuing development of the petroleum and synthetic chemicals industry, most fragranced products are made with synthetically derived chemicals. The health effects from these chemicals range from irritant to immune system toxicant. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been quoted as saying, “the fragrance and cosmetic industry is the least-regulated industry”. So, it is up to us to ensure we keep ourselves safe from harmful products. With so many ingredients contained in current products, it can sometimes be overwhelming to understand which is truly better for you. The following is a list of ingredients which should be avoided when purchasing personal care and cleaning products: Fragrance; Phthalates; ingredients containing Paraben, ingredients ending in “eth”; Xynol, Cereath, and Oleth; Toluene; PEGs; DMDM hydantoin; Cocamide MEA; Lead; Ammonium/ Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Laureth Sulfate; Colour/ dyes. “Ingredients to avoid” wallet cards are available at the Resource Centre.

W ith growing concerns surrounding health issues related to the ingredients in products, many people have turned to “natural” options. With regard to fragrance, this usually means products made with essential oils. The first thing you should ensure when buying such products is that the oils are not synthetically derived. The ingredient list should have the name of the plant

that the oil comes from and not just simply read “essential oil”. Also, just because the product is “natural” does not mean it is necessarily safer for you. Such products often include tea tree oil, citrus oil, and pine-derived terpenes. These are all known to trigger asthma and cause negative symptoms to the central nervous system. Essential oils can also trigger allergic reactions, so if you are going to be in scent-free areas naturally derived scents cannot be considered an alternative to human- made scents. The best solution is to look for fragrance-free products. If your favourite shampoo, lotion, deodorant, laundry detergent, etc does not have a scent-free version, consider contacting the company to ask them to make one.

At first, it can seem overwhelming to have to sift through each product to pick out which one is right for you. Don’t fret. As you start to make yourself more aware of what you are purchasing you will gain a better understanding of how to purchase for your health. Like anything, less is more. There is no need to feel you have to use hundreds of products in order to be ready for your day.Itisimportantthatpeoplebeginto realize that scent-free spaces are important for everyone’s health and not just for those with chemical sensitivities. For more information contact us at

PEI Environmental Health Co-op

Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia