We are carpooling with a kid whose clothes smell so strongly of Tide detergent that I can smell him the moment he walks through a door twenty feet away. When we are all loaded in the car together, the aroma is so overwhelming I can taste it, and my daughter and I each sneeze several times during the short drive. As I write this 45 minutes after dropping the kids at school, I can still sense laundry detergent on my tongue and my eyes feel scratchy.
A few years ago I picked up The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession, by Chandler Burr, a fascinating story about the sense of smell and where the fragrances in our modern world come from. Reading it reminded me that aromas are made of molecules, albeit molecules that are invisible. Even though you can’t see a smell, the molecules are still there.
The familiar scents in today’s consumer society are added to products using modified, or “designer,” molecules constructed by one of six massive chemical fragrance companies around the world. These six companies supply the scents for everything from Pine-Sol to Clorox, Herbal Essences shampoo, Tide laundry detergent, Bounce dryer sheets, Glade air freshener, and even Opium perfume.
If something says “fragrance,” “natural fragrances,” “aroma,” or “perfume/parfum,” you can be assured that the smell came from a chemist’s lab at one of these companies. The only safe, natural aromas in products are labeled “essential oils”.
Breathing in chemically-altered molecules can contribute to your body’s overall toxic load, and in today’s America we are exposed to more chemically created fragrances than ever before. They are everywhere you turn. Cross your personal toxic threshold and your body will make you pay in miserable ways. For me, three years of daily hives was one of my wake-up calls.
Many so-called “natural” products use chemical fragrances that fool you into thinking they are really, you know, natural. This makes it even more imperative to read labels carefully. A journalist friend did a story of such “natural” cleaning products years ago and her sources said that because they “claimed” to be natural smelling, users tended to inhale even more of the aroma molecules than with conventional cleaning products, leading to the conclusion that natural cleaning products were actually more harmful than chemical cleaners. I don’t agree, but I do think you should avoid sniffing chemical fragrances as much as possible.
I’m conscious that each fragrant whiff of our carpooler’s clothing sucks chemically-altered molecules deep into my lungs, where they have the potential to get stuck in that mass of alveoli and continue to irritate my immune system. I wonder if his family is using too much detergent with each load, or if this is what Tide would have us believe freshly-laundered clothes should smell like.
In our house we avoid these chemical fragrances whenever possible, using natural laundry detergents like Ecos and Seventh Generation that don’t leave heavy scents on our clothing, and skipping the dryer sheets. We also use natural cleaning products that don’t leave behind chemicals in the air; a “fresh, clean scent” at my house is usually associated with the smell of vinegar, not Chlorox or Lysol.
Without a bunch of chemicals floating around my indoor environment, my sense of smell has sharpened, and my appreciation of foods has increased along with it. But maybe the best effect for me personally is the reality of living a hive-free life for more than eight years now.
I wonder how I can broach the subject with my carpooler’s mom in a delicate way. I’ll welcome any ideas in the Comments below!