How to Smell Better: The Benefits of Being Fragrance Free

There has been a whole lot of hullabaloo out on the interwebs these last few days after Kathie Lee and Hoda, hosts of “TODAY”, mocked Jacquelyn of Little Owl Crunchy Momma for not washing her hair. To be honest I haven’t watched the clip because it’s not deserving of another view to encourage their ratings.

I have read enough, however, to know that their commentary was disrespectful, shameful, and ignorant. But take heart, I’m not going to go into a tirade about Mean Girls bullying and mocking people who are different than them. That aspect has been coveredRepeatedlyI’m responding in a different fashion, and I want to take a look at why people make the choice to avoid these commercial products (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deodorant, perfume, etc).

An Experiment

If you have commercially available personal products in your home, do this with me. Grab something, anything, and go through the ingredients list. Here are the ingredients for my husband’s deodorant, which actually doesn’t rank terribly on the EWG Skin Deep database.

Ingredients: dipropylene glycol, water, propylene glycol, sodium stearate, fragrance, ppg-3 myristyl ether, tetrasodium etda, violet 2, green 6

Take a look at that list and tell me how many ingredients you recognize. Aside from “water”, I don’t know where I could purchase any of the other ingredients in his deodorant. Maybe I could make violet 2 and green 6 with food coloring.

Toward the end you can see it says “fragrance”. Other products may list “parfum”. What is it? To be honest, I don’t know. Neither does the government, or any regulatory agency for that matter. “Fragrance” and “parfum” are two government approved terms for chemicals the manufacturers don’t have to disclose to consumers for proprietary reasons (so no one steals their secret formula). Only the people who formulate the product know what “fragrance” is.

Cumulative Chemical Exposure

Now think of how many personal care products you use each day. In the shower you may use body wash, shaving cream, shampoo, and conditioner. You get out and put on lotion and deodorant or antiperspirant. If you’re a man, maybe you use aftershave and cologne. Women, well, we have an assortment of cosmetics from foundation to lipstick. Then there are the hair products: volumizer, gel, hairspray, mousse, and pommade, to name a few.

If we count all cosmetics as one item, all hair products as one item, and assume you didn’t shave today, that’s a minimum of 6 commercial products you’re slathering on your skin or inhaling (ex. aerosol antiperspirant and hair spray, perfume or cologne). That’s 6 products with unspecified, undisclosed, proprietary “parfum”. One article I read said the average person uses 11 products each day that contain fragrance.

How to Smell Better

One of the arguments against people “not washing” every nook and cranny of themselves every single day is that we smell. After all, we’re not putting on all that fragrance. The truth is, we may smell, but not in the way Kathie Lee and Hoda are worried about.

If you, as the average person, use a minimum of 6 personal care products each day, that’s a minimum of 6 different fragrances you are walking around with. You probably don’t notice, however, because of olfactory fatigue. Your brain has become desensitized to the scents that surround you to keep from overloading your nervous system. This also frees your brain up to pay attention to scents that may be different, indicating a change in your environment. So you don’t smell. You can’t smell.

If that isn’t enough, let’s look at how fragrances and perfumes work. Most air fresheners or perfumes work in one of the following ways:

  • They overpower another scent.
  • They contain nerve-deadening chemicals that interfere with your sense of smell.
  • They coat the inside of your nose with an oily film, hindering scent detection.

If you are exposed to a lot of fragrances from household cleaners and personal care products, you don’t smell. You can’t smell. Not the way I can, because my nose isn’t coated with oily barriers and I haven’t inhaled chemicals to dull my senses.

Between olfactory fatigue and deadened nerves, it’s quite possible that I do in fact smell better than our previously mentioned talk show hosts.

Choosing to Be Fragrance Free

I choose not to expose my family to synthetic fragrances for a host of reasons, many of which I went into in another post. Besides the specific risks of artificial fragrance, I talk about why we don’t know what’s in our products.

Here are a few links you can check out for more information. I came across a lot of great articles in my research that I wanted to share with you, but here are some of the best:

Do you consciously choose products based on their fragrance? Do you choose things that “smell good”, or things that are fragrance free?

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