I’ve had allergies and asthma for as long as I can remember. Beyond seasonal allergies (fall being the worst) I am allergic to cats (hives + asthma) most dogs, dust, mold, even my childhood stuffed animals. I remember sitting in my 5th grade class having a crazy allergy attack out of the blue. My eyes swelled up, got itchy, my nose started to run profusely while this strong pressure/tingling sensation pulsed through my sinuses for about 5 minutes. These episodes were embarassing for me as a kid.
My asthma greatly improved as I grew into adulthood and only acts up when I have bad allergy attacks or an illness. I moved to Manhattan after college and saw a little improvement in my allergies. I guess leaving behind the woodsy college life in upstate NY was good for the seasonal flare-ups.
At my advertising sales job at Food Network/HGTV I was suddenly having severe allergies again. It was like 5th grade, multiple times a day. I went to an allergist who tested me for multiple allergies and of course I was allergic to everything, except feathers. (Cool, now I could get a down comforter) The answer would be allergy shots, which didn’t thrill me, so I continued on suffering.
Moving onto my next job, the attacks weren’t as bad. I guess each office environment has their own triggers or lack there of. Mainly, I just had a runny nose on and off, sneezing in client meetings, and having to awkwardly avoid handshakes after blowing my nose throughout.
I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I tried allergy pills, nasal sprays, nothing really worked.
It wasn’t until I got pregnant at my next job, while working for Rachel Zoe, that I found my answer. I had just finished seeing a holistic nutrition coach for 12 weeks prior to my pregnancy. I was in search of a healthier lifestyle and was now armed with new knowledge and I was feeling great. It made me want to dig deeper, beyond food, to find ways to continue to improve on my health. Being pregnant was also a huge motivator to create a healthier lifestyle.
Rachel Zoe is friends with Jessica Alba and was always talking about her new company (at the time), The Honest Company, and their amazing products. I started researching their products, reading about their mission, and purchasing the co-founder's book, Healthy Child Healthy World. (Highly recommend it!)
There is A LOT of helpful information in there but one thing that stuck out to me was their information about FRAGRANCES.
I’ll dive into a bit of that research later. First, I would like to focus on the RESULTS.
I started removing fragrances from my life slowly. First, I stopped wearing perfume. Believe me, this wasn’t easy. I’m not a signature scent type. More of a 5-different-perfumes kind of gal who switched up my scent based on my mood, the weather, my schedule for the day. (Am I weird?)
Next, I purchased body and face care products without synthetic fragrances.
Then, I moved to household products. New laundry detergent (got rid of softener all together). New cleaning products. New soap. New candles. Bye bye air freshener. I went all the way.
Did my health improve immediately? Did I start to feel better right away? Unfortunately, no. I had pretty bad congestion throughout both of my pregnancies. A weird side effect of carrying a baby.
After giving birth to my son in July, that’s when I noticed the difference. The pregnancy congestion was gone almost immediately. The exciting part? it was not replaced by my typical allergy symptoms. My eyes weren’t itchy. My nose wasn’t runny all day. I didn’t feel congested or have sinus pressure.
I had found a solution to a problem that haunted me my entire life.
I still experience seasonal allergies. I am still allergic to cats. But I am prepared for those triggers. I’m not walking around in my own personal world of endless triggers.
Do I miss scented products?
At first, yes. Then I started doing more research on essential oils and figured out how to incorporate the scents I like back into my life in a natural way. Now, when I smell most things artificially scented, it smells over-powering and too much like chemicals. I’ve lost interest in artificial fragrance.
My goal in writing this is to hopefully help a few people who may be struggling with their health and don’t know where else to look. Even cutting back on 25% of your scented items could make a huge difference. Do whatever works for you. You don’t have to go all the way. But if you want to, I’m here for you!
If you do decide to give it a try, this is important to know: Products labeled UNSCENTED can sometimes mean that the manufacturer has added yet another fragrance to mask the original odor.
Read your ingredient lists carefully. If the word “fragrance” or “parfum” is listed, it probably has synthetic chemicals in it. Unfortunately, there are dozens of other terms (Citronellol, peppermint, cinnamon, ect) that could mean synthetic fragrance so do your research on your products before buying if you are concerned.
There is tons of research on this topic online so I'll avoid doing a deep dive. Here are some top line highlights:
The FDA requires Household/Personal Care/Cosmetic products to have a list of ingredients. In most cases, each ingredient must be listed individually.
But under U.S. regulations, fragrance and flavor ingredients can be listed simply as “Fragrance” or “Flavor.”
WHY YOU ASK?
The FPLA law protects companies from having to share "trade secrets" and fragrance falls under that category.
"Fragrance and flavor formulas are complex mixtures of many different natural and synthetic chemical ingredients, and they are the kinds of cosmetic components that are most likely to be “trade secrets.”
The FDA states right on their site: "Some components of fragrance formulas may have a potential to cause allergic reactions or sensitivities for some people." They recommend to look for fragrance-free products if you are concerned about allergies.
OK, so this crazy loophole means that companies are protected from having to tell their “trade secrets” and therefore they can put ANYTHING they want into the FRAGRANCE portion of their product. Things like:
- Acetone – that stuff that takes off your nail polish. YUP
- Formaldehyde – an aldehyde gas used as a preservative. MOST LIKELY
- Phthalates – You BETCHA
- Cat Pee – who knows!
- “Fragrances include numerous carcinogenic chemicals, neurotoxins, respiratory irritants, solvents, aldehydes, hundreds of untested and unregulated petro-chemicals, phthalates (which can act as hormone disrupters), narcotics, and much more.”
- “It has been reported that exposure to fragrances can exacerbate several health conditions. ‘By design, fragrances are composed of materials that quickly get into the air. Once in the air, these materials pose serious health concerns for many with asthma, allergies, migraines, chronic lung disease, and other health conditions.’"
- “The Institute of Medicine placed fragrance in the same category as second hand smoke in triggering asthma in adults and school age children.”
- “In fact, what we breathe goes straight into our lungs and organs, as well as our brains. ‘The sense of smell has a more direct connection to the brain than any other sense. There is no barrier between the brain and the chemicals that you breathe in…. Studies have shown that inhaling fragrance chemicals can cause circulatory changes in the brain. Changes in electrical activity in the brain also occur with exposure.’"
Now onto the fun stuff!
Here are some of my favorite fragrance-free products.
Unfortunately, many "natural" brands have fragrance in some or most of their products. I still use some of them occasionally (you have to find a balance) but it's important to be aware.
Check out the EWG cosmetics database for more info on toxicity of products – www.ewg.org