I recently went out to buy a Christmas gift for a friend of mine. I was looking for an unscented candle, which was no easy task.
Take a whiff almost every store you go to will try to welcome you with a fragrance that tries to produce a feeling of comfort, security, or elicit positive memories to want you to buy. How can a fragrance do this?
Aromas evoke more visceral connections than our other senses because smell is our most primal sense. Our nasal passage connects directly through the blood-brain-barrier to our limbic lobe, which controls our most basic emotions. Whereas, our other senses take a different path through the thalamus (like a switchboard) and stimulus is passed onto the cerebral cortex and other parts of the brain. So what’s the big deal?
According to the Environmental Health Coalition of Western Massachusetts, approximately 20 percent of the population reacts adversely to synthetic fragrance, and anywhere from 3.5 to 6% experience debilitating or even life threatening reactions. Those most vulnerable are infants, children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Reactions to synthetic fragrances can be more than sneezing or nasal congestion; it can be a poisoning response, which may include migraines, difficulty breathing, fatigue, hormonal imbalances and digestive problems.
After World War II, companies turned to petrochemicals as the source of manufactured scents and expanded the use of these fragrances. Prior to that time, fragrances were derived from plants or animals to create flower tinctures, aromatic oils, or incense. Obvious products are perfumes, soaps, deodorants, shampoos, laundry detergents, candles, air fresheners and cleaning products. The not so obvious are clothing and sports drinks.
The most disturbing part of this “fragrance invasion” is that it is not regulated by any government agency. Fragrances are considered “trade secrets” which legally allows companies to not disclose product ingredients, even to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). According to the National Academy Of Sciences, “95 percent of the ingredients used to create fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and many other known toxins and sensitizers. Many of these substances are capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and allergic reactions.” They target fragrances as 1 of 6 categories of chemicals that should be given high priority for neurotoxicity testing. The other groups include heavy metals, insecticides, food additives, and certain air pollutants. (Sverdlove, Jill. “Stop Making Scents.” Alternative Medicine April 2007).
The Institute of Medicine categorized fragrances as equal to second-hand smoke for triggering asthma. I had to think about the exposure to my own kids”I wouldn’t allow my kids to be in a room full of cigarette smoke. Are they exposed to the same if not more dangers when near scented candles?
We just simply don’t have enough research on the long-term effects of synthetic scents. From the research conducted so far, it doesn’t look good. Later we’ll talk about what you can do to clear the air.