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Alternatives

There are a few ways you can get most of the fragrance out of your personal environment. Even if you can’t remove it altogether, every bit you can reduce will lighten the amount of it in your body.

The simplest way to reduce the load is to stop wearing perfume or cologne. Unlike some of the other personal care products we use, this is an optional extra in our daily routine – people won’t reel back in horror if we don’t wear it.

Perfume ( eau de cologne, eau de toilette or any other version of perfume) is a relatively concentrated form of fragrance, so we’re getting an extra big hit if we wear it. We apply it to areas of skin that are particularly permeable and close to blood vessels ( wrists, neck, behind the ears) – so absorption is at maximum. Perfume is also one of the best “travelers” of all the fragrance sources - it wafts far beyond the actual user, up the nose and onto the skin of people all around. It’s designed to do so – that’s what some of those 3,000 chemicals are for. This is especially true of closed spaces where air is re-circulated, such as classrooms, offices, concert-halls, buses and lifts.

Essential oils are readily available (usually in pharmacies) and usually make a less toxic alternative to synthetic fragrances. However, some people are sensitive to essential oils, and some essential oils produce dangerous chemicals when they're exposed to air.  So, even though essential oils are “natural”,  you might choose to use them sparingly.)

Other personal products (shampoo, soaps, deodorants, after-shave, sunblock etc) can usually be found in a fragrance-free form (though see above about “fragrance-free” products). The best thing is to read the label. If it contains “fragrance” or “parfum”, keep looking along the shelves. Even in supermarket products you may find one that is unfragranced, or fragranced with essential oils rather than synthetic “fragrance”.

However, supermarket products, on the whole, are heavily fragranced. To find a good range of alternatives, try a health food shop or a pharmacy – there are many good alternatives on the market once you start looking.

The clothes-detergent aisle of a supermarket is always overwhelmingly fragranced, because of the large amounts of fragrance in them ( especially the gender-bending synthetic musks, see above). One of the main ingredients in any kind of soap or detergent is oil of some sort. Whichever kind a manufacturer uses, the smell is not great. The choices are animal ( tallow – animal fat), vegetable (usually coconut oil) or mineral (oils derived from petro-chemicals). None of these smell very good, so the smell of the ingredients has to be masked with something nicer.

Heavily-fragranced detergent releases a lot of fragrance into the air and onto the skin of the wearer. Once you use less fragrance you become very aware of how strongly peoples’ clothes smell of fragranced detergent. Because clothes of one kind or another are worn next to the skin 24 hours a day, ( plus sheets are slept in for 8 of those) and because the heat and moisture of the body helps to absorb the fragrance, people who use fragranced detergent get an extra big hit of chemicals.

But alternatives are available in most supermarkets. Detergent labels are very coy about their ingredients, which are often disguised by innocent-sounding words that are brand names for powerful chemicals. But products without fragrance are usually proud of the fact, and advertise it on the pack. (The makers know the size of the market for non-fragranced products, which of course reflects the large number of people sensitive to them.)

Do these products cost more? Yes, they sometimes do. But think how many hair-washes or clothes-washes you get out of a bottle of shampoo or a box of detergent. How much extra are you paying per wash?

Your choice of product will make only a tiny difference to your budget, but it might make a big difference to the health of you and your family (not to mention your colleagues and family).

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