For years I’ve been sensitive to chemical smells. It amazes me that other people often can’t smell it and don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Even the synthetic aroma of clothing detergent and dryer sheets on the clothes people are wearing can set off an allergic reaction in my body. What is perfumed pollution?
Can your perfume produce as much air pollution as your car?
The chemicals in personal care products, printing inks, cleaning agents, coatings, adhesives, pesticides, perfumes and your favorite air freshener “now contribute to fully one-half of emitted VOC’s in 33 industrialized cities”. According to a 2018 NOAA study published in Science magazine, entitled “Volatile chemical (VOC) products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions”, the pollution emitted from automobile’s and other vehicles are now rivaled by consumer items in the greater Los Angeles area. The authors of the study believe this is the case in all urban centers around the world.
Why It’s Happening
Since the 1970 Clean Air Act there have been stricter controls on air pollution when it comes to cars, and even gas and oil refineries, but not the same controls on household chemicals that are used every day. Your automobile’s fuel system is created to minimize the loss of evaporation in order to make your car or truck run better. Scented candles and air fresheners are created to evaporate and spread the smell.
“Perfume and other scented products are designed so that you or your neighbor can enjoy the aroma,” said NOAA atmospheric scientist Jessica Gilman, a co-author of the NOAA study. “You don’t do this with gasoline.”
What are VOC’s?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Volatile Organic Compounds are “compounds that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility.” In other words, they react with sunlight to form ozone pollution, and also react with other chemicals in the atmosphere to form fine particulates in the air.
Found in the production of paints, pharmaceuticals and refrigerants, VOC’s are found in industrial solvents or components of petroleum fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint thinners and dry-cleaning agents. They often contaminate the groundwater.
These organic compounds are also widely used as ingredients in products that are in your house right now. They’re found in cleaning and disinfecting products, cosmetics, paints, and varnishes. They release VOC’s when being used and even when they are being stored.
How VOC’s Can Harm Your Health
But the side effects can be much worse than allergies, according to the EPA website.
The effects of VOC’s on health can include headaches, nausea, eye/nose/throat irritation, allergic skin reaction, fatigue, and dizziness. They can also do damage to your liver, kidneys, and central nervous system or cause conjunctival irritation. Some VOC’s can even cause cancer in animals, and some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.
What Causes VOC’s?
The smoke from cigarettes causes VOC’s. Other common household products that cause VOC’s are aerosol sprays, personal care products such as colognes, perfumes, nail polish, nail polish remover and rubbing alcohol. Formaldehyde, which most of us have smelled in science class, is one of the best-known VOC’s.
Deodorizers, moth balls, and air fresheners cause VOC’s, as do cleaning materials such as glass cleaner, dishwashing detergent, and laundry detergent. VOC culprits are also upholstered furniture and carpets and building materials such as ceiling tiles, adhesives, and wall boards.
How To Avoid VOC’s
It’s clear from the extensive list of common items that you can’t totally avoid these emissions, however, you can protect yourself.
- Create more ventilation whenever possible, especially when using a product that causes VOC’s. Get as much fresh air as possible when using these products.
- Be sure that all chemical products are fully closed and stored properly.
- Buy only what you need and will use quickly, so that you don’t have a lot of chemicals stored in your home.
- Keep out of the reach of children, pets, and wildlife.
- Discard of these products safely.
- Follow all label instructions carefully.
- Go easy on the perfume and other perfumed sprays and aerosols.
- Find organic alternatives to pesticides.
- Stop smoking, or at the very least, smoke outside and don’t create second-hand smoke around others.
Some Personal Tips
As I share with others that I’m sensitive to smells, I find more people tell me chemical scents bother them, too. When I lead an event or sit with a client, I let everyone know that it’s a scent-free zone. It’s important to let others know that it affects you, and it could be an opportunity to educate them about VOC’s.
- Use products that are scent-free, and if possible, buy organic.
- If you must wear a scent, try essential oils instead of perfume.
- Don’t wear new clothes without washing them first.
- Clean your home with vinegar water instead of cleaning products. Even the “all natural” products for the home can be scented with sickeningly sweet smells. Vinegar is a great cleansing agent, and the smell goes away in about five minutes.
- Check products that carwashes, house cleaners, mechanics, etc. claim are all natural, just to make sure.
- Baking soda is great for taking smells out of the air.
- Air purifiers can help keep your area clear as well.
- Last but not least, don’t be afraid to let others know that you are sensitive to chemical smells. Advocate for your health.
Not everyone is sensitive to the chemical smells of the products that we use in our daily lives, but it’s important to be aware of the possible health dangers of VOC’s and keep yourself clear of their effects. Awareness is the first step to being intentional about creating a chemical-free space for yourself and your loved ones, especially children.
Bloom Post is a freelance writer, ceremonialist, teacher, and author of the books Shaman’s Toolbox: Practical Tools for Powerful Transformation and Plant Spirit Totems. For more information: www.BloomPost.com