August 18, 2006

Fragrance Sensitive

I am always really grateful that I am not one of those people who have an intolerance or allergic reaction to fragrances. It seems very sad to me that there are people who cannot enjoy perfumes. There is speculation that this has become such a big problem because the most commonly used commercial perfumes usually contain many synthetic ingredients that do not occur in nature, and added to all the other environmental irritants that are out there the tipping point over the line to oversensitization of the auto immune system is reached. There are certain popular perfumes that contain hundreds of such ingredients, and some of them are known irritants. Also there are many synthetic fragrances added to almost every product, from paper to prepared foods to ink to clothing and dish detergents. This problem has expanded beyond contact dermatitis, which is caused by direct application of the fragrance, to even just the inhalation of the substance. People are now getting migraines, asthma attacks, worsening of chronic conditions such as Lupus or MS from environmental chemical overexposure, including fragrances. That is why there are many militantly opposed to the use of personal fragrance in the workplace or in public places like the theater or on public transportation where many people are in close quarters. Of course there are people who will have an allergic reaction to natural substances also, especially oak moss or certain others that contain high levels of terpenes. But generally it is found that fragrances made with essential oils, especially organic ones, with no chemical preservatives added are not triggers for such physically uncomfortable reactions. We are all in the modern first world countries swimming around in our environment of exposure of many many chemicals the body was never designed to encounter in the first place. Some of us are more sensitive than others, and some have been much more exposed than others, and therefore have become hyper sensitive. This is a big problem that will probably grow over time. Aromatherpy shows that many people are therapeutically and pleasantly affected by natural fragrances. However, in the past few decades, there has been more and more use of the synthetic in perfumes and fragrances, and now the resulting overexposure has backfired and caused many to become oversensitized, which ruins their ability to enjoy any fragrances at all. The large commerical perfume manufacturers should in their own and everyone else's interests be making greater efforts in research and development to figure out and deal with this problem. Otherwise we may wake up one day and find there will be no more perfume wearing allowed indoors anywhere, or it will become something that polite considerate people don't do anymore, because of the health risks to other people.

8 comments:

chaya ruchama said...

A fascinating and insightful take, Lucy...

Being both a fragrance fanatic, and a healer/health care giver, I agree that money would be better spent by the mega-corporations on this sort of research than on how to manipulate the public into spending money...

Another twist-
My DH asked me the other day if there were any ongoing research projects being carried out by neurologists concerning olfactory issues [in particular, olfactory memory].

I'll have to ask around! But I dream of being a subject in a PET scan study where they examine olfactive memory, response to multiple stimuli- yada,yada,yada...

I would freely offer my services!

BTW, what an intriguing website you have; I'll happily visit again.

Lucy said...

Thanks, Chaya. This one of the great untapped subjects of scientific enquiry at this time: the way the sense of smell works. I think you might be interested in the life and works of Luca Turin, if you are not already familiar with his work. I am currently reading the "Emperor of Scent" where there is a discussion on his studies and theory on the molecule shape versus vibration school of thought regarding the sense of smell, and what that means in terms of our understanding of how our biology and mentality work together, and the remarkable ability we have to recognize scents, even if we have never smelled them before. I think he is the person most associated with scientific inquiry into the whole subject of the sense of smell. I will be doing a post about him shortly. He is fascinating because he is a rare combination of scientist and sensualist with his very precise and developed ability to describe fragrances. I really do wish there was more hard research into the entire subject.

Anya said...

Luccia -- be aware that the writer of the Emperor of Scent may have stretched and massaged some stuff to fit his premise for the book. Are you aware of these folks getting the Nobel Prize? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3713134.stm

For more on olfactive memory, check out the Sense of Smell institute: http://www.senseofsmell.org/ And I'm going to email you privately a review...

Lucy said...

Hi Anya - thanks for the info - especially about those two scientists finally getting to the bottom of how the sense of smell really works.
Now that that issue has been illuminated, I enjoy the story of Luca Turin as written in EOS as a biography of a very uniquely developed sensibility, refined to become an integral expression of his particular personality, combining the scientist and the lyrical sensualist. The anecdotes remind me of the legendary stories told of certain artists who would pursue their own predilictions and character to whatever their ultimate end, like Eric Satie refusing to eat anything but white food... I find that LT's portraits of the classical French perfume library so very individual that they illuminate even more the workings of his own mind, to the point of achieving the grace of creative expression themselves.

chaya ruchama said...

Luccia bella-
I read the EOS about 2 months ago,very illuminating-I agree, as much about him as about anything else.A fascinating,complex man.

Just heard that Chandler Burr is going to be a critic for the NY Times- what are your thoughts on that?

I'm enjoying your observations about Satie [we could go on forever in that vein- Proust,Man Ray, the"hive" outside an abattoir in Paris, where Nin served gruel to all the starving artists ].

Lucy said...

Happy that they appointed someone to cover scent, officially. Chandler Burr appears to have no great love for natural scents, but that is ok, we can still enjoy his writing on those things he does love and the attention and care about scents he will bring to the NYT.
Yes, love those stories of the great artist eccentrics.
Hopefully, maybe within the next not too long period of time to come someone will be able to break through the barrier against those using natural essences for handmade fragrances. Probably Mandy Aftel, now that she will have a boutique at Bendels...

Parfume Moderne said...

This is something that I ponder on an almost daily basis. Particularly while working. My studio can become
quite noxious. and I keep a container of nox-out on my work table to absorbe some of the nasties.
and I am talking about natural ingredients here, for the most part.

One can be sensitive to anything, be it natural or not. Some days Jasmine makes me sneeze, some days not.
I have been making and filtering amber oils over the past few days. Lots of potentially wicked stuff there, if you pay attention to all of the scare buzz. None of those things bother me, and even now I reek of Cistus, Benzoin and Agarwood.
It is in my clothes, my hair and my skin....
Wow! Do I need a bath, hehehe.........

I think that balance is important as well as perspective. And a little better research and development in the industry may be a good thing. As long as it doesn't come with a straight jacket type regulation policy.
I look at it this way, curare will kill you just as easily as as a poisonous lab chemical.
So being able to strike a fine balance would be the ideal
scenario.

As far as the critics go. They have to justify their existence. So they do what they do.
Odd creatures though, driven but in a very different way than the artist.
I live my life and pursue my work as though they do not exist. Much the same way I stay away from perfume counters and other peoples work.
Influence can be a subtle thing. and can make the difference between followers and leaders.

Lucy said...

Influence - no problem with it myself if it comes from a distance, like the past. Being influenced by someone prominent in the present or by those close can be too much like being lazy about developing originality, and just copying.