The Scent of Progress

20141001_fragranceHave you ever taken notice of the amount of different fragrances that are inflicted upon us on a normal day in “civilization”?

I feel compelled to write a post about this – and am not planning on making any friends today – because I find it the most absurd and overlooked assault, not only on our intelligence, but on our most basic well-being. You may contest that there are more important things to talk about, such as climate change. But I would argue that it is in the most subtle and ordinary, yet all-pervasive, that we are most likely to see the depths of our confusion and our conditioning, and gain the awareness to free ourselves from the limiting beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world.

So… the joys of fragrance. I am of course talking about perfume, but also about the synthetic fragrances that infest all our personal care products, from shampoos and soaps, to body lotions, make-up, shaving creams, laundry detergents, cleaning products, etc.

The problem is that the term “fragrance” just so happens to encompass a mixture of various scent chemicals and known harmful ingredients, which are not disclosed and do not need to be, under pretext of trade secret preservation. An estimated 95% of these chemicals are made from petroleum, and  many are also found in gasoline and cigarette smoke – Think about that, next time you spray your Cologne on!

The further problem is that the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics database – which assesses the safety of personal care products based on published scientific research – rates fragrance as an 8 in overall health concern (out of 10). That means high hazard: “Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system”.

As if that was not enough, there are countless studies documenting the neurotoxicity of many of the synthetic components found in fragrance – meaning their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and cause brain damage, leading to a host of unpleasant symptoms – of which this blogger can testify firsthand. (For more details, you may want to read this article, and check out the links on the MCS America website).

So, let me summarize: the dozens of products we use on a daily basis all contain fragrance, which is harmful to our health, causing among other things, allergies, brain-fog, dizziness and migraines. And yet, in our minds, it is most likely that fragrance is associated with pleasure and beauty, with attractiveness and self-confidence.

How is such an absurd thing possible? How is it possible that we have alienated ourselves so far from our most basic reflexes that we are drawn towards that which harms us? You see, I happen to believe that if we were to listen carefully, our bodies would signal to us what foods to stay away from, which smells are good for us, and which ones aren’t. Has it ever happened to you that you looked at a plate of seemingly nutritious food and you didn’t really want to eat it, but you did anyways – finding no logical reason not to – and then you felt sick? That’s what I mean.

As I was pondering this question, I came across The Joy of Living with Fragrance – a 1960s promotional video, part of a series called “How to be a Woman”, and I was reminded of Pavlov’s dogs. In the video, we are emphatically told how “fragrance selected with care and worn with grace is the very essence of being a woman”, how it will “give you added confidence, a heightened personality”.

And so it came to be. Fifty years later, fragrance is a far cry from being composed purely of the “breathtaking beauty of blossoms in a spring”. And yet, fragrance is still “the projection of you as a woman” – or you as a man, for that matter. A projection which ultimately has found its way into every single care and cleaning product found in a household. And yet, the smell of these particular chemicals has as much to do with beauty or cleanliness as a bell has to do with a bone.

I can only salute the handful of pioneering offices in North America that have recognized that fragrance is just as offensive to many as second-hand smoke, and have instituted fragrance-free workplaces.

So here is a challenge for you: do yourself a favor, try going for a week without using any product that has “fragrance” in it – which obviously does not preclude you from using products that have 100% organic essential oils in them that will appeal to your sense of smell. And try to observe whether you notice any difference in your clarity of mind…

Ultimately this is just another invitation to move away from the all-pervasive products that are not only harmful to our health, but also to the environment we live in and are a part of.

Willing to take up the challenge?

  8 comments for “The Scent of Progress

  1. Michael Lehnert
    October 1, 2014 at 11:26

    I hope you gain many new friends through this post, because what you outline here and argue for is very true indeed, and quite a taboo within the consumer society civilization. J’adore!

  2. Fab
    October 1, 2014 at 11:27

    I so love this post! Tell us more on how you tackled this yourself! Because, as you say, it is not only about fragrance in perfume, but really about so many aspects of daily life. Tips? Products you love and use?

    PS: I’m taking your challenge (even tho’ I am not miles away from a fragrance-free way of life, there is surely some room for improvement!)

    • Nicole
      October 1, 2014 at 13:33

      Thank you! I am glad there is some resonance here. So, how do I deal with this:

      1. When I am asked to participate in a meeting, I now frequently ask whether the meeting can be scent-free. People think I’m crazy, but I prefer that, than having to endure a migraine mid-way through.

      2. I have narrowed down the number of different products I buy to the bare necessities: soap, shampoo, conditioner (i.e. read coconut oil), face/body cream, sunscreen, toothpaste, laundry soap, general cleaning product. That’s it: 9 different products – which I sometimes narrow down even further by just using oils (coconut or olive oil as face/body lotion and conditioner), and Savon the Marseille liquide for cleaning/laundry etc.
      – But if we want an “intermediate” alternative, for the 9 items above, I look for organic products, products that have very few components in them, and I read ALL the labels. Good places to look are organic grocery stores – or stores that specialize in essential oils, which often have derived products using essential oils as scents.
      – When I see the word “fragrance” – even on some products that are labelled “organic” – I don’t buy it. Usually if the fragrance is made purely from essential oils, there is either the list of oils used or the word fragrance with a * next to it, indicating that is the case.

      It has taken me about a year to replace every single item I come into contact with, by a healthier, environmentally-friendlier version that I like. It takes a bit of searching and testing what works for you. But in Geneva there are actually quite a few options. My favorite brand is Weleda – you can’t beat biodynamics – otherwise, the Florame store in Eaux-Vives and Attitude Bio in Carouge have a number of good options on offer.

      It’s possible, but initially, it takes a bit of effort!

      • October 3, 2014 at 20:55

        While reading your blog article, I realized that I have some perfume bottles laying around – have had them for years, never quite used them, but didn’t dare throwing them away “because, maybe, one day I’ll want to wear some”. Well, now I definitely don’t want to wear that kind of stuff, so they are going to the bin!

  3. jj
    October 4, 2014 at 10:09

    I really enjoyed the article. This week there were also several articles on research indicating that losing your sense of smell is strongly correlated with death in the years thereafter. In addition to our sense of smell there is an opportunity to move towards a more natural and healthy direction with all of our senses. Looking forward to your next article!

    • Nicole
      October 4, 2014 at 10:44

      Thanks for that very interesting piece of information! On the topic of senses, I couldn’t agree more. There is also some research suggesting we have many more senses than the 5 we assume we have, and by paying attention, we can unlock our awareness of the world in may different ways – as exemplified by Daniel Kish, a blind man who taught himself to “see” using sonar. Perhaps a topic for my next post!

  4. November 8, 2014 at 12:37

    As a purveyor of 100% organic, therapeutic-grade essential oils, I wholeheartedly take up the challenge!

    • Nicole Schwab
      November 8, 2014 at 12:47

      Excellent! Just what we need 🙂

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