The Rise of Synthetic Scents
Have you been walking around town these days and noticed strong perfumes emanating from random buildings? Welcome to the age of the synthetic scent.
Scent is Powerful
Smell is a powerful human sense. From the beginning of our existence, smell helped us find food, know when food had gone bad, and of course when it smells amazing! Smell can also heal and grow hair as found recently in a study about sandalwood. Olfactory centers have also been found in our skin! Smelling rosemary has been studied and shown to be an effective way to increase focus. Similarly, the smell of trees and nature is known to reduce stress, tension, and bring down blood pressure. Using scents regularly can trigger body responses, too. For example, if you diffuse rosemary oil every time you study, your mind may automatically start to focus when smelling rosemary. Smell is truly everywhere and affects our quality of life.
Environmental synthetic scents/fragrances (synthetic smells are also in food) have previously been relegated to cosmetic counters, but now they are spreading into our every day lives in the places we work, visit, travel, and live. Synthetic scents can be dangerous, too.
- Synthetic scents are collectively known as ‘fragrance’. Ingredients of fragrance do not require labeling and often contain toxic chemicals including harmful compounds such as benzenes and phthalates.
- It’s amazing to think that phthalates have been banned in toys, but are not banned for products we put on our bodies such as cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, and fragrances. In fact, there are over 3,000 protected stock petrochemical fragrance ingredients. In a research paper by Potera (2011),she documents a range of 133 VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in fragrances, even in products labeled green, organic, and natural.
- Looking for alternatives? In 2013, the EU passed a cosmetic regulation act more stringent than their U.S. counterpart. Labels require a batch number, precautions and warning, a list of ingredients, country of origin, contact details, and date for product stability. Some products such as sunscreen may not be considered cosmetics but drugs because individuals expect a health-related function to the product. Products from Australia generally rely on self-regulation using sources from other countries such as the British Pharmacoepia.
- Synthetic fragrances may cause side effects including headaches, nausea, and respiratory irritation. Many VOCs causing the aforementioned distress are also are carcinogenic. These chemicals are regularly found in air freshners, fragrances, and cosmetics.
What else can you do?
Ask hotels and buildings that use fragrance to tone it down. However, your only choice may be to have a desk size air filter, or office air filter, but make sure it is more than a HEPA filter. HEPA filters cannot filter out airborne chemical fragrances and VOCs. At minimum, a carbon filter is needed. Commonly cited air filter brands include IQ Air and Alen Air. Some hotels such as the Le Meridien in Cyberport actually have allergy-friendly rooms with an air filter already going. Several serviced apartments are also the same. If you know you are sensitive, as a hotel beforehand if they regularly use air fresheners.
Buy local products from local sources that make their own product lines. Generally, these small businesses are proud of their labels and want you to know exactly what you are putting on, in, and around your body. If you are looking to boost room fragrance, try a range of diffusers using essential oils. Of course, when using essential oils, it’s best to consult an aromatherapist who can guide you to appropriate oils for home and/or office use, as some individuals may be allergic to real essential oils. A certified aromatherapist can also guide you toward high quality oils suitable for human use.
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