Fragrance As An Indication of Cleanliness


Few of our senses are able to evoke a plethora of memories more than our sense of smell. A whiff of a scent can bring back memories of a trip long past, or a victorious event relegated to memory lane.

Scent has become a part of our daily lives and has been imbued in our daily routines, from our personal hygiene practices through our soaps and shampoos, to our wellness routines in the form of scented candles and essential oils, and even to our vehicular upkeep through car air fresheners.

Fragrances in these products can make us feel clean. However, they do not actually clean the air. They normally mask the unpleasant odors by adding more chemicals to the air. Their other purposes would be:

  • To act as a signal that the product has worked and that the area where it was applied is clean
  • To help you associate a particular smell with a product

Decades of using these cleaners containing scents have conditioned us to think that a citrus-y or lemon-y scent is the signal for a clean surface and without it, we haven't done a thorough-enough job. The truth is, a fragrant smell is no indication of the product’s efficacy, safety, or “green” properties. In fact, its addition could be a potential health risk.

These being said, if you can help it, it would be best to steer clear of products containing fragrances by seeking out those that have “unscented” or “fragrance-free” on their labels as the presence of fragrances have been linked to:

  • Lung irritation
  • Asthma
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Hormone deregulation
  • Precursors to certain types of cancer

What about air fresheners, then? These are products that are sometimes dispensed via ultrafine particles that contain potentially hazardous fragrances in concentrated form. In a study done by two national institutions in the US, approximately 20% of the US population, and 40% of persons with asthma, reported to have suffered headaches, and difficulty breathing, as a result of their exposure to air fresheners and deodorizers.

Presence of phthalates in products is usually associated with fragrances as well, since it acts as a carrier and solvent for them. Over time and constant exposure, phthalates accumulate in our body and disrupt the proper functioning of our endocrine system which is responsible for regulating our:

  • Hunger, thirst, sleep through your hypothalamus
  • Metabolism, growth, cell regeneration through your pituitary gland
  • Energy through your thyroid gland
  • Insulin for controlling our blood sugar levels, and digestion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates through your pancreas
  • Cortisone and adrenalin through your adrenal glands
  • Calcium Absorption through your parathyroid
  • Mental vigor and sex drive through our ovaries and testes
  • Disease resistance through your thymus

Our endocrine system becomes compromised when we are exposed to chemicals that mimic or disrupt our body’s own hormones, thus confusing their normal functioning. When this happens, we see a population present with symptoms such as:

  • Reproductive health degeneration, involving alterations in male genital development and deterioration of semen quality
  • Adverse cognitive effects, including attention disorders
  • Prevalence of prostate and breast cancer.

 How to choose better alternatives to products with fragrances:

  1. Opt for natural ventilation by keeping windows and open, if it is available to you, instead of using air fresheners
  2. Avoid products with a strong smell if you still really prefer having a light fragrance
  3. Identify products that have “fragrance-free”, “unscented”, “free and clear”, and “phthalate-free”

We believe health should be approached holistically, and with these in mind, we envision a community of more informed consumers who are more empowered to take control of the health of their home, and their community.

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