The last time I was in a mall, I was overpowered by the most noxious smells! Was I walking by the restrooms or the fast food area, you ask? Nope, I was passing a seasonal display of scented candles, plug-ins, and air fresheners. With names like Dewy Meadows and Lilac Bouquet, the scents should have transported me away to a mountain top, but instead I felt wheezy, tired, and headachy. These chemically-created scents were far from refreshing and came with a heavy risk to my health.
Many homes have air fresheners and candles, since we associate the clean, fresh, and sweet smells with calmness and homeyness. Many of us find pleasure in fresh mint, lavender, cinnamon, vanilla, or other aromatic herbs and plants found in nature. The desire to bring scents into our lives is natural; these smells trigger positive emotions and they can help calm or stimulate, depending on the scent. Unfortunately, commercial chemicals are not the same as natural compounds and can have significant negative effects on the body.
Research has shown that certain chemicals can blunt smell receptors or coat the nasal passages with an oily residue, temporarily blocking our sense of smell. Chemical sprays, plug-ins, and gels can contain a vast amount of dangerous substances that can cause significant health concerns—many are associated with infertility, lung damage, or cancer.
Phthalate, a hazardous chemical associated with birth defects, hormonal changes, and infertility, is often found in these chemical scents. Linked to early puberty, autism, obesity, and birth defects, phthalates are often labelled “fragrance” or “parfum”. Another worrisome plug-in and aerosol chemical is 1,4-dichlorobenzene, considered to be a human carcinogen. It’s been shown to cause kidney and testicular cancer in rats and increased asthma in humans.
The International Journal of Public Health published a 2013 study showing that families with air fresheners in their homes had significantly higher rates of asthma and lung infections. Over 2,000 pregnant women participated in the 2013 study and the connections with these health issues were clearly linked with the VOCs (volatile organic compounds), air vapours, and gases released by the air fresheners. Another study with over 14,000 children showed that those exposed to air fresheners in utero and early childhood had higher levels of diarrhea and earaches; their mothers had increased risks of headaches and depression. The chemical fragrances had serious health consequences, yet these families were completely unaware of the risks.
The fragrant product market is one of the fastest growing of all global industries, projected to exceed $10.4 billion by 2020. Luckily we have alternatives to these toxic smells. Natural essential oils are a fantastic way to bring fresh scents into a home. Use them with a diffuser, oil ring, or just in a bowl of water, to spread fragrance through the room. My favourite is a Back to Earth Enviro peppermint scented product that I spray to keep me focussed and alert on a busy clinic day. Look for natural options to bring fresh, clean, uplifting, calming, or seasonal smells into your home and work. They’re less expensive to your wallet, and your health!
Dr. Shelby Entner, nd is a sought-after naturopathic physician, speaker, and expert. After receiving her doctorate in 2002, Dr. Entner went on to practice in the United States for several years before returning to BC and eventually founding Vero Health in Vernon. She enjoys a busy practice with her award-winning team of practitioners and staff and loves living in the Okanagan with her young family.
Article was published in The Good Life magazine.