Friday, January 25, 2008

We've all seen the signs. At school, work, hospitals. "Scent-free building s.v.p." And like most, you've probably thought, "Well I don't wear a lot of perfume, so I'm fine to enter."

The average person wears 10-20 different scents on any given day. Really! I've counted (and smelled most of) them. Think about it. You jump in the shower in the morning and wash your hair (#1), rub in some conditioner (#2), wash your body (#3), maybe shave various body parts (#4). Then you brush your teeth (#5); put on deodorant (#6), styled your hair (#7) and sprayed it in place (#8). Keep in mind you aren't even dressed yet. Clothing means laundry soap and usually fabric softener (#9 and #10). You might splash on some perfume/aftershave/cologne/or hugged a person wearing any of these (#11). Perhaps you are a smoker (#12). Perhaps you wore your coat to a bar the night before and had fajitas (#13). Perhaps when you brush your teeth you also use mouth wash (#14). Or you spilled some gas on your shoes when you filled up the car last night (#15). You wash your hands in the office bathroom (#16).

For most people, this is an average day and they think nothing about it. But for many, myself included, any one of, or all of these scents can cause all sorts of problems ranging from hayfever-like symptoms, to migraines, to anaphylactic type reactions. For these people, day to day life becomes very difficult. No longer is it easy to make a quick trip to the store for milk. Or in my case, to even work in an office environment. My reaction to scents is the severe kind whereby my breathing is hindered greatly. I can smell every one of the 14 scents on a person multiplied by each person in my workplace. That is a lot of scents to have to absorb when you have bad lungs. For me, exposure to scents of any kind is equivalent to feeding a person with a nut allergy a peanut butter sandwich. My lungs shut tight and if I am not where I can get access to the inhalers and breathing apparatus I need to reopen them, the result could be deadly.

It's not just the scents on a person to worry about. There are the cleaning products used to clean your dishes, counters, floors, glass, appliances; and household air fresheners. This add even more scents to the mix. These days, more and more products are becoming scented. Recently I've seen ads for scented bath towels and storage totes. There have even been scented billboards trying to encourage people to buy some smelly thing. And with more and more people being diagnosed with asthma and/or allergies, I just don't get it. As the world becomes more dependent on their vanilla cinnamon potpourri, the lungs of the next generation are becoming more weakened.

Unfortunately our government needs to recognize the issue before more will be done about it. Currently the terms "odor-free" ,"unscented" or "fragrance-free" on products are not regulated. It just means that no extra fragrance was added to a product. It does not take into account for the product's ingredients. Dove bar soap is a great example of this. Dove Unscented bar soap has a heavy perfumed smell. However, Dove Sensitive Skin bar soap is much more tolerable. It still has a bit of a scent but not one that makes me run for my inhaler.

Also, as there is no legislation on scent-free products, there are no rules in place for the stores that actually carry some of these items. For the most part, they are stored on the shelves, along side their smellier counterparts. As a result, scents from the perfumed items usually permeate the packaging of the "safe" items, thereby defeating the purpose. And then there are the stores like Shoppers Drug Mart, where you have to walk through the entire perfume section to even get to the product you want to buy.

In Canada, I have also found it hard to even find some scent-free products as compared to our American neighbors. A lot of perfume-free products cost more too and can be very hard to find at your local grocer, making your quick trip up to Loblaws become a long trip to Loblaws, Shoppers Drug Mart, Home Depot, Natural Health Food store. For this reason, I learned to buy in bulk. Slowly though, we are getting more perfume-free options.

Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia has created a list of products that should be safe for the chemically sensitive. As every person has a different trigger, not all these are safe for everyone but it's a great reference tool.

Method has a great line called Go Naked. With these products, I've been able to wipe off the kitchen counters or wash my dishes again. While this line can be hard to find in some areas, it is quite affordable at $4.99 an item.

While a little more expensive, Seventh Generation also has some great cleaning products in their Free and Clear line such as unscented bleach, window cleaner and dishwasher soap. In Ottawa, these can be found at Canadian Tire and Rainbow Foods. offers a good variety of products that are delivered right to your door rather than having to go to 5 different stores to find them. Shipping is $10.50 though so it's best to order a few items to get good value for your money.

Refreshingly Free is a web-based business out of North Carolina that offers a wide range of products. They offer everything from cleaning products to odor-free nail polish (which was a welcome sight to someone who still has some vanity left). Shipping to Canada can be a little pricey but to get the best selection it's worth it.

I would love to be able to go to work in the office; to go to a movie; to get my hair cut; or even just walk my dog around the block. Things that I am sure most of you take for granted. These are all things I have been forced to give up because no where is safe for me to go. Like anyone, I like to go out for dinner every now and then. To do so, I have to go either before dinner hour or after when the restaurant isn't as busy in order to be able to get a table that isn't around anyone else. Recently, I went to a restaurant a few blocks from my home. It was almost empty so it would be safe. Or so I thought. Turns out this restaurant has "air fresheners" attached to their heating system and every time the heat would turn on, the place was flooded with an awful flowery smell. The other day, I went to visit my uncle in the hospital. Sure, hospitals are supposedly scent-free. Except that the place is infested with Purell. Why they can't switch to a scent-free product such as Hands2Go or Soapopular is beyond me. After my visit, I spent 2 days in bed, trying to recover.

Am I preaching to the choir here? Probably. Do I honestly think that this article will make everyone stop using products that make me sick? Nope. But if I have empowered even one person to change their ways, my ability to breathe just became that little bit easier.

Renzo's latest masterpiece!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I knew it was coming. It was only a matter of time. But I had truly hoped I would never see the day. Unfortunately that day is now here...

I can't eat ice cream anymore. After one or two teaspoons, I start to wheeze and choke. I've accepted that I will never have flowers again. I've accepted that I will sound like a space alien for ever. But to take away my ability to eat ice cream? That's just plain mean!

This better not expand to my beloved cuppa tea. That would mean war for sure!