An Open Letter to the Scented

Guest post by Debbie Clark Seely

Dear friends,

I wanted to take the time to write this letter because we (the “unscented” community) are concerned for you. With it being the holiday season we are seeing multiple reports of friends and family members choosing to cut ties to their unscented loved ones rather than make the effort to visit them unscented. This perplexes us. It makes us feel like you are choosing scent over a human being.

A lot of us are already isolated, trying to escape being made sick by all the myriad of scents that one encounters daily, and to have someone that we care about either ignore our requests or stop coming around just makes our small world even smaller.

fragrance hurts memo 3a

The interesting thing is that if it were pretty much anything else that was making us sick, you probably wouldn’t have any issues temporarily giving it up for us. If you were a smoker, you probably wouldn’t light up around an asthmatic if they asked you not to, or carry a strobe light near someone that has epilepsy if they warned that it could bring on a seizure, right?

So why is it so hard for people to stop wearing scent? Chemical scents found in almost all cleaning, laundry and personal care items affects people that have asthma, epilepsy, migraines and chemical sensitivities.

Well, there are several theories out there, but the two most prominent are actually intertwined. This author believes that it is a combination of the way the human body processes scent and the brilliant marketing strategies brought about by the advertising psychologists throughout the last fifty years or so.

Smelling is the only sense that has a direct pathway to the brain, and that is a very powerful thing. The scent molecules affect the limbic portion of the brain, which affect our emotions and memories. The whole process is explained very well here but suffice it to say that for any substance to have such access to our central nervous system, there is much potential for problems.

Many people think that there are addictive substances in modern scents. Since the fragrance industry is self-regulated, and is not required to list what their ingredients are, there is no way of confirming or denying this theory. The very behavior this letter is addressing lends strength to such an assertion.

The second part of the puzzle (in my opinion) is that we, as a society, have been trained to believe that if we don’t smell like some kind of artificial scent, then we are somehow less of a person, our homes aren’t as clean, we aren’t as good. For this lie that we have been believing wholesale, we can thank the hundreds of psychologists that are trained to advise advertisers exactly what to say to make us “need” their products. Through the years they have made millions of dollars for the fragrance industry by training us to believe their version of reality.

The truth is that nobody NEEDS to use chemical scents. But we all need to have clean air to breathe. Most of us need our loved ones around us, especially during the holiday season.

Please, if you care about someone that has a health issue that is affected by scented products, ask them if you can do something to make your visit any easier. And if you are asked to use unscented products, wash with unscented soap or wear clothing that is free of scent, remember that your loved one(s) don’t want to have to choose between their health and seeing you, so please don’t make them.

~ Debbie Clark Seely

Edited in December 2018 to add:

Note that there is no difference between many of the adverse health effects caused by artificial chemical fragrances and natural ones or EOs. The proliferation of EOs (even pure and organic ones) has created a toxic overload and they too need to be avoided as it turns out they are the light cigarette version of regular fragrances

13 responses to “An Open Letter to the Scented

  1. Synthetic chemicals are an unnatural poison to all living things, yet only affect some immediately.

    • Yes, some of us get to feel our body chemistry being altered by these chemicals in very immediate ways…

      Some cancers take years to develop… Some fragrance chemicals are carcinogenic…

      Some of the other fragrance chemical effects are multi-generational, causing sperm and reproductive damage, learning disabilities, and lower IQ…

      But, people can’t live without them? Like smokers can’t live without smoking?

  2. Reblogged this on sondasmcschatter and commented:
    “The truth is that nobody NEEDS to use chemical scents. But we all need to have clean air to breathe. Most of us need our loved ones around us, especially during the holiday season.”

  3. Thank you Debbie for writing this and Linda for posting it. I often dream of finding a community to live where EVERYONE lives a life free of toxic chemicals so that I could visit for a cup of tea or take a walk or go the grocery store. I’d also like to thank each person who has given up synthetic fragrances and found alternatives to toxic chemicals — these are the people living the true meaning of the holidays and Christmas — LOVE.

  4. I have wanted to write a letter like this myself, only it would be more complicated because it would also involve other people’s cellphones/wireless devices, as I my husband and I have both MCS and EHS – and my son and I are celiac!
    We are dreading the few Christmas get-togethers that we attend (we do love our family despite their ignorance!). If anyone has suggestions on how to get the point across without causing too much offence, do post them. We are running out of friends and places to go :(

    • I hope that you are able to find friends and family members who are more than happy to be caring and accommodating. It isn’t always that difficult to change habits (fragrance chemicals and wireless devices aren’t needs after all), and the joys of happy gatherings and family love are so worth it.

      There’s a magazine called Allergic Living that has posted some ideas around food, friends, and family (I haven’t read them though) and they have discussions on fb sometimes.

      The food allergy conversations can be used as models for the MCS and EHS in some ways.

      I think if we had immediate life threatening reactions, people would take it more seriously, because they don’t see the pain and suffering from short and long term delayed reactions, which we suffer at home…

      Maybe showing them the Women’s Voices For the Earth Fragrance Industry report, and Devra Davis’s and/or other scientists statements on wireless tech, how those industries are making money while knowingly destroying lives (a la tobacco industry), more people might think it serious enough to try to change their habits (and addictions – fragrance and wireless are very addictive).

      Some day people will care more about each other and life than they do about the harmful products they’ve been taught to use… I hope that day comes soon!

  5. I gave up on my 3person family years ago. It just got to painful to see wedding pics, new baby pics etc. on Facebook and not be included. “Its to much to tell everyone to be scentfree” too much what ? Hassle?
    I am still working on getting St. Paul where i live to be fragfree in all government buildings and employees. I started with police and fire and now have a letter saying no. I have filed a dept. of Justice complaint, which should take about 4months.
    When will fragfree go mainstream? When we demand out rights as an ADA covered disability.
    Please write a resonable accomadation , not spelled right,letter to the city where you live. No spell check here lol.
    FB page coming soon
    Thanks all.

  6. WEll done ! But maybe we are the lucky ones ( I know it does not feel like it) as we know when the toxic chemicals are there But others are silently becoming ill with all the varying conditions that are caused by chemicals

  7. As someone who went fragrance free so I could be around someone with chemical sensitivities and other health problems, I doubt that the fragrances are addictive. I missed my baby-powder-scented deodorant, but giving up scented products was probably the easiest accommodation I needed to make, and I certainly didn’t have withdrawal symptoms.

    Theory #2 sounds more accurate. People associate those fragrances with professionalism or attractiveness. I get the feeling that they don’t think the fragrance-free products work as well, which is … mostly not true. I have to apply my fragrance-free deodorant more often, and fragrance-free soaps tend not to lather as well. That isn’t the wort thing ever, especially if you only need to go fragrance free over the holidays.

  8. To clarify, Debbie wrote that letter in 2015 before the entire world was saturated with Essential Oils, and before we were all having adverse effects from them.

    The distinction between chemical or artificial fragrances and others was included then because it was so rare to encounter EOs or natural perfumes then.

    Essential oils are NOT fragrance-free, and they are not appropriate to use in places where other people could be harmed by them.

    Some EOs also have strong medicinal effects, and it’s not cool to impose your medicines on others.

  9. What is more important?
    people or products?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.