Monday, November 23, 2009

Is Your Home Fragrance Product Making You Sick?

     As fall continues, we spend more time closed up indoors. The same air is circulated over and over again. The products we use to fragrance our homes may be toxic, and the effects can become more noticeable as winter wears on. With the holidays, I am constantly burning candles to evoke the scent of everything from candy corn to apple pie and sugarplum dreams (whatever that smells like). Boys and dogs stink this place up, so I've always been one to spray down with the sweet smell of anything other than what I can only call "dudes." And that's putting it politely.
     I've blogged many times about my revulsion for synthetic fragrances. They give me migraine headaches, sneezing fits, burning eyes and skin irritations. When the family and I undertook our green initiatives, fakes smells were among the first products to be banned up in here. Candles went in the trash in favor of diffused essential oils, laundry went unscented, and I stopped wearing perfume (until I found Lavanilla). Within weeks, many of my symptoms disappeared. I could breathe clearly for the first time in ages.
      I don't think it's necessarily one toxic product that will do a person in; it's the cumulative effect on our bodies as we go throughout our days consuming garbage. I'm reminded of Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, where a housewife ends up moving into her kids' dollhouse, shrunken to Barbie's size from her use of common household products in the modern 1980s.
     What I've learned is these types of symptoms are indicative of poisonous chemicals like VOCs, volatile organic compounds. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, VOCs are "emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands."
     The EPA also comments on how VOCs can damage health: "Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system." 
     Another big offender: pthalates. You may remember a lot of press about getting pthalates out of the plastics used in baby products. That was a few years ago. I honestly can't say I trust agencies, manufacturers and media to tell me something is suddenly safe. Pthalates are particularly nasty for developing nervous systems; this toxin is most definitely disruptive to the endocrine system (and I wonder why my thyroid is thrashed?!?). 
     Pregnant women and families with children should be particularly vigilant about creating a pthalate-free home. I feel the only way to minimize exposure is to use completely natural products as much as I can. I've learned this is actually possible 90% of the time. When utilitarian items like PVC shower curtains, new upholstery, or dry cleaned clothes happen into my life, I allow them to "off-gas" outside before I use them.

Alen Air Purifiers 

     I feel pretty well-versed on green cosmetics (please see Organic Orgy), so I've decided to make sustainable, healthy fragrances my next pet project. Over the next several indoor months, I'll post lots more on indoor toxins like VOCs, BPA, Formaldehyde, Pthalates and all their nasty cohorts. 

     Chime in!  How do you mitigate Eau de Dude et Dog at your house?!?



  1. Oh this is so interesting, really makes me think about how I can do better.

    Ummm jury is out on the dog issue!

  2. Dustjacket: Glad I piqued your interest! Thus far, I'm enjoying beeswax products and Pacifica candles - all with lead-free wicks. Thanks for coming by. xo kitty

  3. I used to have terrible allergies to smells and I still think a terribly overlooked public health disaster is the use of the Bauhaus style in modern office buildings. No windows that open, no air circulation, poor ventilation, and a lot of toxic glues (carpets etc.) as well as those felt covered dust catcher walls - office air can be terrible for you, and you'll breath it more than your own home air!

  4. Sanity: a very astute correlation between the architectural style and air quality... how did you get rid of your allergies?