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Fragrance is everywhere

Fragrances were originally made from flowers and other natural good smells, preserved and enriched by other natural substances such as oils and ambergris. Older perfumes were expensive to make - it takes a lot of rose petals to make a dab of rose perfume. That’s why, until recently, perfume was such a luxury.

Starting in the late nineteenth century, chemists found that they could make many of these good smells in the laboratory. Since then, fragrances and perfumes have been nearly all made from synthetic substances that mimic the natural aromas.

When fragrances could be made synthetically they became a lot cheaper. These days we can all afford to splash and squirt our fragranced products about with abandon. Every kind of personal care product now comes with fragrance: shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, skin cream, cosmetics, sunblock.

When fragrance got so cheap, manufacturers realized it could be used to mask other smells besides bodily ones. The active ingredients in household cleaners don’t smell great, so they’re now hidden by fragrance. Ditto laundry powder and fabric softener. Any product that’s around bad smells is fragranced: toilet cleaner, toilet paper, bin liners. Even places that don’t necessarily smell bad are now fragranced: cars and homes have fragrance diffusers, airconditioning systems circulate fragranced air, shops burn scented candles.

With that much fragrance floating around, the nose gets overwhelmed, so you’re not always aware of the scents you're breathing. The more fragrance is around you, the more you need to actually be conscious of it.

Even if you don’t use fragranced products yourself, you’ll be near someone who does, and you’ll be breathing air that’s full of the fragrances of cleaning products. You’ll be getting “second-hand fragrance”, just the way non-smokers get second-hand smoke. These days there’s no avoiding fragrance.

But why would you want to avoid something as sweet as the smell of a rose or a pine forest? Because some of the ingredients of fragrances have been linked to health problems.

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