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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • July 2018
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The importance of being fragrance-free

When most people think about harmful substances that are dangerous to inhale, they think of cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes and some cleaning products, paints and glues. Most people would not consider things like cologne, perfume or body spray to be potentially harmful. People buy these products because they want to smell nice and think that if they are buying something meant to spray on their body, it must be safe. Most people also assume that these products can only be harmful to people if they have a reaction, such as people with asthma or allergies. This is not true. The toxic chemicals used in these products are dangerous for everyone and can have long-term chronic effects on our health, whether we feel a negative reaction or not.

Around the late ‘70s, manufacturers switched from using natural ingredients like flowers to using mostly synthetic petroleum-based chemicals. This is because it is cheaper to use these chemicals to recreate a scent and because the chemicals cause the scent to linger. Today, perfumes are about 95-100 percent synthetic and many of the chemicals used to make them are carcinogenic chemicals. The Environmental Protection Agency has only tested 200 of the 85,000 chemicals that are in use. This is very scary, because the particles that we breathe in go right to our lungs to be absorbed into our blood and transferred to other organs, including our brains. Our skin, which is our largest organ, is porous and soaks up the toxic chemicals in products like lotion and cosmetics.

In today’s world, synthetic fragrances are found in most household products. Shampoo, soap, lotion, deodorant, hair products, cosmetics, air freshener, candles, laundry detergent and other cleaning products usually contain fragrances made from harmful chemicals. Ingredients in fragrances are considered to be a trade secret, so the manufacturers don’t have to disclose what chemicals are used to make the fragrances. They can lump them all together and just list them as one ingredient: “fragrance.”

Fragrances can cause a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathing issues, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, skin irritation, sore throat, eye irritation, allergies, sinus pain and congestion, among others. According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, about 72 percent of asthmatics report their asthma is triggered by fragrance. Some people are just annoyed by these smells, but for a lot of people, one whiff of these toxic chemicals can be completely debilitating. Because of this, many workplaces are now enforcing a fragrance-free policy.

Many people are exposed to so many chemicals on a daily basis that they don’t think they are bothered by them, but in reality, they are just conditioned to them. A good way to test this would be to stop using products like perfume, hairspray and harsh cleaning products for at least a month. After this hiatus from these products, you will most likely notice that you feel much more sensitive to these fragrances because your body got used to breathing cleaner air.

If you would like to learn more about fragrances and the chemical industry, you might want to check out The Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign, a program of the Invisible Disabilities Association. Another good source of information is the documentary called “Stink!” by Jon J. Whelan. Jon is challenging the chemical industry after his wife died of cancer at a young age.

Respiratory issues and other health problems can start at any point in our lives. For myself, it was in my mid-20s that I developed many allergies and was diagnosed with asthma. I had chronic headaches and sinus infections and it made life very difficult. I am now much more careful about the products that I use and I try my best to make sure they are free of toxic chemicals. I am eager to spread information about toxic chemicals because I hope that as more people become aware of this issue, less people will have to suffer with pain and illness. 

Reference: “Why Go Fragrance Free?” A Publication of the Invisible Disabilities Association.

Sheryl Bauer

Sheryl Bauer and her husband, Ben, are the owners of The Salt Room Appleton, the Fox Valley’s first salt therapy location. She is passionate about helping others to “Inhale. Exhale. Stay Well.” The Salt Room is proud to be a fragrance-free facility. For more information, please visit


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