Carnegie Mellon University
May 24, 2019

Why the Non-Scents?

By Anonymous

I am an Osher member who was asked to write an article for Osher about my adverse reaction to fragrances. This article also provides a brief over-view of a larger issue.

Sensitivity to perfume is an allergic reaction to a chemical or a combination of chemicals in a scent, a condition affecting many people. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine published the results of a study in March 2018 that found that more than 25% of Americans reported sensitivity to chemicals and nearly 13% have been diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS).

Chemicals found in fragrances, insect sprays, paint, cleaning supplies and petrochemicals fumes are causing many of us to become sick. "MCS is a serious and potentially disabling disease that is widespread and increasing in the U.S., population," according to Dr. Anne Steinemann , the author of the study. She found that in the past decade, chemical sensitivity has increased by more than 200 percent and MCS by 300 percent, affecting an estimated 55 million adult Americans. An estimated 22 million Americans missed work or lost their jobs as a result of exposure to consumer fragrance products in the workplace in 2017.

The study found that people with MCS may experience migraines, dizziness, breathing difficulties and heart problems with these effects disabling 76% of them. My symptoms include inflamed nerves and pressure in my head, brain fog, chronic sinusitis and itchy eyes. Fatigue and dizziness may also occur depending on the chemical(s) to which I have been exposed. I can no longer exercise at any gym due to the fragrances their clients wear and the cleaning products they use. Exhaust and diesel fumes also make me sick.

More than 5,000 chemicals are in use in our country today and more are being introduced. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that many scents contain only trace amounts of natural substances but typically have a 12 or more “hazardous synthetic chemicals, some of which are derived from petroleum.”

When you wear a scent, you are likely to be putting petrochemicals or other hazardous substances on the largest organ of your body and, because skin is porous, they are absorbed into your blood stream. To protect trade secrets, the FDA does not require perfume manufacturers to list the ingredients in their products, so consumers will never know what substances they are actually using.

Note from the Board President: We know our Osher members (men and women) will make a special effort to not ever wear scents to classes.  We can count on our members to be as respectful of these sensitivities as they are to those with physical or visual challenges.