We have been sold a false image of fragrance. Manufacturers tell us it is like a spring day, fresh flowers, lemon scented, but nothing about fragrances used in most personal and household products is natural. These are synthetic fragrances, full of chemicals that produce the smell, others that make sure the smell lasts and others that do who-knows-what.
Fragrance is added to the obvious – perfume, aftershave, air freshener – and the not-so-obvious – soap, shampoo, laundry soap. Even household cleaning products have added fragrance. Think about how many of these you use in a day. Studies are showing that these chemicals are having a bad effect on our health.
When I walk into a house where air freshener is used I feel dizzy and slightly sick. If I am with someone wearing perfume, I feel very unwell. I know many people who avoid these fragrances as I do. Some people are sensitive to them like I am, but others are very sensitive to them and don’t travel because they cannot be exposed to these chemicals. Do you sneeze when you walk down the fragrant laundry soap isle in the supermarket? You are reacting to these chemicals.
The chemicals used in fragrance are not listed in the ingredients because legally a fragrance manufacturer does not have to tell us what chemicals they use. They claim they have to protect their “secret” formula.
“The term “fragrance” or “parfum” on a cosmetic ingredients list usually represents a complex mixture of dozens of chemicals. Some 3,000 chemicals are used as fragrances. Of the thousands of chemicals used in fragrances, most have not been tested for toxicity, alone or in combination. Many of these unlisted ingredients are irritants and can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms.”
David Suzuki Foundation – Fragrance and parfum
To avoid synthetic fragrances, don’t use any product that has one of these ingredients: fragrance, perfume, parfum (French), profumo (Italian).
Three Easy Ways to Make Your Vacation Rental Fragrance-Free
Even if you are not affected adversely by synthetic fragrances, you may want to remove them from your vacation rental because many people like me are sensitive to them. If your vacation rental is fragrance-free tell us on your website or your HomeAway/AirBnB/etc. page.
1. Don’t use air fresheners. If you want to remove smells, remove them, don’t cover them up with chemicals. Open the windows and let the fresh air in. Put some “real” lavender or herbs in a bowl to give a natural scent. Plugin air fresheners and air freshener sticks are the worst. Their chemicals fill the air and get absorbed into the furnishings and curtains.
2. Don’t use scented candles. They seem romantic and natural, but most use synthetic fragrance. You can’t stop your guests from using them, but you don’t have to encourage their use by providing them.
3. Don’t use scented laundry products, fabric softener or dryer sheets. This is the tricky one. It is not easy to find unscented laundry soap. Start at your local supermarket and look for products that are “sensitive” or “hypo-allergenic”. Read the ingredient list. If fragrance or perfum is there, it is not fragrance-free.
“Clothing and bedding washed and dried with fragranced products provide a constant exposure to fragrance chemicals that are absorbed and inhaled.”
Positive Health Online – Fragrance: A Growing Health and Environmental Hazard, by Klaus Ferlow, May 2008
In a supermarket in France we found a fragrance-free version of the popular Persil laundry soap. The label said “sans allergenes, sans colorant, sans parfum”. It Italy we found some products labeled “ipoallergenico”. If you cannot find them in your local supermarket, look in a natural foods shop. Ecover is a popular brand of laundry soap and has a fragrance-free version.
Or talk to your local professional laundry. When we stay in vacation rentals or hotels that use a professional laundry service, the sheets and towels are fragrance-free. These companies know that many people do not like or want fragrances on their bedding, so they use fragrance-free laundry soap.
How I Cope with the Fragrances Found in Vacation Rentals
When I book a vacation rental I ask if air fresheners are used. Occasionally someone says “yes”, so I don’t book that one. But usually the person either does not understand why you are asking or doesn’t care. If I arrive at the vacation rentals and find air fresheners, I gather them up, put them in a Ziploc bag and hide them somewhere far away from where we will be. Then I open all the windows to air the place out.
I have given up on asking for fragrance-free bedding and towels. If someone uses regular laundry soap but changes to unscented for your visit, you are still going to have fragrance on the blankets, quilts or duvets because they have been around the fragrance for so long. Also, it is a lot to ask of an owner, to change their way of washing just for you. Instead I travel with my own pillow covers (allergy covers and cotton pillow covers) and two flat sheets. When I arrive, I take the scented sheets and pillow cases off the bed and use my own.
I love vacation rentals and stay in them most times when we travel, but I have to admit that hotels are usually better on the fragrance issue. Most have their bedding and towels professionally washed and these companies rarely use scented products. Occasionally hotels pump air freshener out with their air conditioning systems, but I more often found that in US/Canada hotels, not in Europe.
This is a subject that I care deeply about but I know it is one that many people are not aware of or bothered by. My sensitivity to fragrance has made me a bit of an outsider because it is not easy for me to be around people wearing strong fragrances. I work hard to create a fragrance and chemical free environment in my home, but it is difficult to do this when traveling. This is my plea to vacation rental owners to make their places fragrance-free so those of us that are sensitive to them will have an easier time.
- David Suzuki Foundation – Fragrance and parfum
- The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics – Fragrance
- Fragrance: A Growing Health and Environmental Hazard, by Klaus Ferlow, May 2008
- CBS News – Scented laundry products release carcinogens, study finds, by Ryan Jaslow, August 26, 2011
- Environmental Working Group – Hidden Chemicals in Perfume and Cologne, May 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
- Environmental Working Group – Expert Panel Confirms that Fragrance Ingredient Can Cause Cancer, by Tina Sigurdson, August 7, 2014
- Environmental Working Group – Don’t get slimed: Skip the fabric softener, by Rebecca Sutton, PhD, EWG Senior Scientist, November 1, 2011
- Huffington Post – Here’s the Dirt on Some Common Laundry Detergents, by Diane MacEachern, March 30, 2012
- Everyday Health – 10 Toxic Household Items You Should Throw Away Now, by Aly Cohen, August 5, 2014
- Sustainable Baby Steps – The Dangers of Febreze