COMMON SCENTS: Fragrance Chemicals Are Nothing to Sneeze At


by Barbara McNeely

Ah, the sweet smell of fragrance. Who doesn’t love them? Me! I’ve gotten migraines from fragrances since I was 16. It started with just one perfume, but the list grew. As more and more of them were added to the list, I began to suspect that there was something common to all of them that triggered my migraines. Today, I avoid fragrances, perfumes and any product that might contain them. You might too, if you knew what I know.

According to the Environmental Working Group (, there is a major loophole in federal law that allows the fragrance industry to hide the contents of their ingredient list by claiming that revealing the ingredients would disclose a “trade secret.” This loophole allows potentially harmful chemicals to be included in many fragrance and cosmetic products. These include substances linked to birth defects, allergies and even cancer.

The Environmental Working Group has a database where you can look up fragrances and cosmetics. It’s located at

As I mentioned, I avoid most chemicals used in fragrances, perfumes, personal care products and even cleaning products. I don’t bother with the EWG database when it comes to personal care products; I avoid anything that has fragrance or perfume in the ingredient list. That includes masking fragrances. Masking fragrances work to mask the smell of other chemicals in a product. There may be no detectable odor, but the chemicals are still there.

When it comes to household products, it’s a bit trickier. There is no federal law requiring the listing of fragrances. You have to take your cues from words on the label that talk about the fresh clean scent or the ocean breeze. Some products may say “unscented” on the label, but they could still contain a masking fragrance. I prefer to purchase products that fully disclose their ingredient list.

Keeping your home environment fragrance-free can be a chore, but it’s worth it. According to reports from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air in homes and other buildings can be more polluted than in large, industrialized cities.

There are two things you can do that will greatly improve your home’s indoor air quality. The first is to get rid of air fresheners and plugins. The second is to find fragrance-free laundry detergent and alternatives to fabric softeners or dryer sheets. Chemicals in laundry products remain in your clothes, linens and towels, all of which have a lot of contact with your skin.

You may be amazed at how much better you feel in a fragrance-free home. Just ask my husband. His asthma and allergies have improved since our home went totally fragrance free.

Barbara McNeely is a natural health coach and chemical sensitivity expert who owns Mariposa Naturals LLC. As a health coach, she helps women learn to manage their chronic headaches and migraines. She is also developing a line of natural personal care products. To learn more, visit

For more information, visit the following websites: safety/

Posted in: Local
Return to Previous Page

Leave a Reply