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Janet says: My four year old came to me looking for a toy doll bottle with what she says has yellow cow’s milk. As I looked into her bright eyes (I felt like a deer in headlights), I told her that I had no idea what is she talking about. She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said “Mommy, let me explain it to you”; and she did.

On our Savvy FAQs page we addressed two questions:

1. What is the difference between fragrance free and unscented?
2. Should I purchase only organic and products labeled natural?

Well let me explain something to you and let’s go a step further. Products labeled no fragrance or fragrance free usually are free from synthetic or chemical fragrance. The label does not purport that the product is odorless.

Let me give you an example. Although I often use a popular brand of baby products, on March 31, 2008 I spoke about a hypersensitive day that I was experiencing. I was unable to use either their Super Sensitive Shampoo and Bodywash or the Everyday Lotion because of the odor I detected. According to the label, this product does not have sodium lauryl sulfate, formaldehyde, fragrance, scent masking agents or clear formula chemicals, yet I detected an odor. The product has aloe vera, extracts of corn, coconut and palm. Whatever the source, there is a detectable smell or odor which on that day annoyed me. The odor or smell was a source of irritation to Nancie and my husband (who do not share our sensitivities) as well. For those with sensitive noses, you have to smell the product to find your level of sensitivity and tolerance.

Unscented products usually add a masking agent, another chemical, to disguise the chemicals in the product. Even though the masking agents mask the scent they can trigger allergic reactions in chemically sensitive people.

In my quest to find natural or organic products with no odor, I find many of these products tend to use essential oils although they do not use synthetic fragrance. Essential oils are concentrated oils extracted from herbs, plants or fruit. These oils have the distinct scent that comes from the plant from which they are derived. For some, essential oils are aromatherapy. For people like me it can trigger headaches, migraines, nausea and the like. For Nancie it can trigger the same or even worse; vomiting or an Asthma attack.

To complicate matters even further, on March 14, 2008 the Organic Consumers Association released the following to the press: Carcinogenic Found in Leading “Organic” Brand Personal Care Products. .

1,4-Dioxane is a petroleum based carcinogen known to cause cancer and is also suspected as a kidney, central nervous system and respiratory toxicant. In the Organic Consumers Association Press Release, the OCA urges consumers to search ingredient lists for indications of ethoxylation including: “myreth,” “oleth,” “laureth,” “ceteareth,” any other “eth,” “PEG,” “polyethylene,” “polyethylene glycol,” “polyoxyethylene,” or “oxynol,” in ingredient names.

Even though a product is labeled natural or organic doesn’t mean it is safe. The products may have natural or organic in the name but unless it is labeled Certified Organic USDA it probably isn’t.

Where does that leave us? Frankly, I don’t know. I keep trying to remind myself that “Balance is the Key” but the challenge is great. All I want is safe non-odorous products that don’t make me sick. Is that too much to ask? Well, explain it to me.

Remember the toy bottle my daughter was looking for with the yellow cow’s milk? Well, I threw it out. It was on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recall list for hazardous toys.

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Janet says: I may be one of the few that can legitimately say I love my mother-in-law. She is not meddlesome and loves her granddaughter. And like most grandmothers she loves to buy my daughter gifts. Just recently, she purchased a Cabbage Patch Kids doll. When we opened the package we noticed there was a fragrance in the doll’s hair. My first question was; why would a toy designer/manufacturer put fragrance on a doll? Kim Ode of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis- St. Paul, MN) in her article Fragrance Debate: A Matter of Scents and Sensibility wrote “Scents sell.” I think a scent in a toy makes no sense!

My point ~~ with so many children developing Autism, ADD/ADHD and Asthma what possesses the toy manufacturers to put fragrance is children’s toys? Simply, this is not a good idea! Very few of these children know or can even articulate that the fragrance is what is contributing to their disorder. I know I become irritable, erratic, nauseous, even vision impaired (among other symptoms) when exposed to certain fragrances. As an adult, it took a series of events (see upcoming blog Mommy Monster) to make the connection between the fragrance and these symptoms; children are not as savvy.

Ms. Ode also wrote, “The American Lung Association says that an estimated 4 million children under 18 years old had an asthma attack in 2004, and that many others have “hidden” or undiagnosed asthma. Almost eight in 10 kids with asthma have significant allergies — one reason asthma is considered the most common cause of school absenteeism. Fragrance is among the many triggers the association lists for asthma attacks.”

Furthermore, do you really want your child to develop Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Environmental Illness, Fibromyalgia or any other chronic illness along with the challenges they are already experiencing? Fragrance is a Molotov cocktail of chemicals. The more a person is exposed to toxic chemicals the more their immune systems become deficient. The more their immune system becomes deficient the more likely they will develop a chronic illness such as mentioned above. Trust me you do not want your children to go through what Nancie and I have to endure every day.

Children do not need to be in fear of their environment. They may intuitively know that if they go a relative’s house they will get sick because of the Glade air freshener used in the house but do not know the source or how to verbalize the problem they are having. Ah hah! That is why they cry and scream uncontrollably when they know they are going to particular environment. The last thing they need is to be assaulted with fragrance from a toy in their own home.

There has been uproar about phthalates (THAY-lates) in products particularly children’s products because they release toxins that cause birth defects, seizures, infertility, cancer, etc. So the concern is mainly regarding the plastics in baby bottles or toys and what happens when these plastics are heated. Phthalates are a hidden component in fragrance. Can someone hear this, FRAGRANCES OF ANY SORT DO NOT BELONG IN CHILDREN’S TOYS.

What happened to the doll? Finally, she was soaking in Earth Friendly Products’ Oxo Brite the odor has diminished. She is now soaking in vinegar, if that doesn’t remove the odor, she will be thrown away.

Nancie says: I recently posted a heartfelt longing for one of my all-time favorite lotions, Buttercream by DuWop. I’d searched high and low on the web; I’d even called a store or two (at the recommendation of the DuWop girls). Alas…no Buttercream. Finally, a short few months ago I ceased my search. However, my partner-in-fragrance-fighting, Janet, decided to take one last look at the DuWop website for me (I couldn’t handle any more rejection~~I know, I’m taking this WAY too personally…). Success!!! It’s back on their website!!! Labeled a “vintage” product, it has a 20% discount AND free shipping!!

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to my next tube.

One good thing to come out of my absence of Buttercream was that I was forced to try other products. Now that Janet & I are becoming educated on the dangers of common ingredients in most beauty products, I’ve searched out scent-free lotions that are paraben-free as well. I found a doozy~~Fragrance Free Age-Defying Hand & Body Lotion by derma E. It contains safflower oil (Janet & I can smell it just slightly; but the odor dissipates rather quickly). A recent yahoo blog touted safflower oil as the “secret to beautiful summer legs”.

I am crazy for this product. I actually look forward to using it every day. It has anti-aging properties thanks to Pycnogenol and Green Tea and is for sensitive skin. I am veeeeerrryy sensitive (no kidding, huh!?!), and it’s working miracles on my hands and feet. You can get it at Swanson Vitamin’s website; http://www.swansonvitamins.com/ProductDisplay/catalogId/10051/productId/20649/R/32722&SourceCode=INTL098&saleCatalogId=10051

Right now it’s only $5.69. There is a minimal shipping fee, but I can recommend their name brand supplements as well. You will thank me.

Yahoo’s blog on safflower oil is at; http://food.yahoo.com/blog/beautyeats/10103/the-secret-to-perfect-summer-legs

Janet says: I had my first airplane trip when I was five. My excitement quickly changed when the noxious cloud of cigarette smoke affected the dynamics of my plane trip. Back then I didn’t realize how much I would grow to hate hearing the flight attendant announce “the Captain has turned off the no-smoking signs and you are free to smoke.” It seemed as if the entire plane lit up. My allergy to cigarette smoke became immediately apparent. When we arrived in Montego Bay from Chicago International I had a headache, was nauseous and had eyes that burned non-stop. Mind you, I was very young, so youthful energy and excitement helped me to rebound the very next day. However, I’d already learned a hard lesson about myself and my sensitivities; and a harsh lesson about travel in that era. I knew that I was going to be sick for the entire trip home while people smoked on the plane. For the next twenty plus years I had to endure both cigarette smoke and the resulting illness when traveling by air. And it got more and more difficult to recover each and every trip. Back then either no one knew or openly admitted the dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke on airplanes. (Nan says: The cigarette companies knew. This was a case of an entire planet’s population choosing to live in denial!) Now, few doubt and even fewer protest when confronted with evidence on the damage secondhand smoke has on the lungs, heart, brain and so on.

As I began working in the mid-70s the same challenge arose. I suffered daily in the workplace. People smoked in almost any public place, and there were no restrictions in most places of employment. In the early 80’s I worked in a crime lab in the Midwest (data entry; nothing like CSI on TV). I worked the midnight shift, mainly in the enclosed, intensely-air-conditioned-to-the-point-of-freezing room trapped with cigarette smokers and their smoke. My first job in Los Angeles was also at a small company doing data entry. Sometimes I would come to work with a gas mask provided by a firefighter (and that’s a blog for another day)! I wanted to make my point. By then, I was becoming less and less able to tolerate cigarette smoke. When I made my first break into “Corporate America” as a secretary at 24 years old, I hoped things would be different. Not really! Cigarette smokers were everywhere. It seemed each day provided a challenge.

When the “Big Boss” would come in from the corporate office in New York things would worsen; he didn’t smoke cigarettes, he smoked cigars. I quickly learned that when exposed to cigar smoke in close range, my usual headaches became migraines, and my nausea went straight into vomiting. After he’d made several trips to LA, this became intolerable. I was taking sick time off in order to avoid dealing with cigar smoke! What was worse–the five executives that I worked for were all afraid of him. I would have no advocates for change in that group.

That’s when I found that I had to stand up for myself. Though this wasn’t a complete skill set yet, I had learned a few scare tactics and psych moves along the way. I first asked if I could speak to him privately. As we went into an office I closed the door–and it’s an amazingly powerful statement for the boss when his subordinate initiates the closing of the door. (Nan says: Let’s hear it for those Jedi mind tricks!)

Back to the story… I told him every time he would come to our LA office and smoke his cigars I would have go home ill. I simply asked him not to smoke in the office. His reaction was surprising…and wonderful. “My wife makes me smoke outside~~ I’m not allowed in the house with them,” he said of his cigars. This man my bosses were afraid to confront was a cutie pie! Whew!!!!!

Needless to say, I was more than overjoyed when cigarette smoking was banned in the workplace in the 1990s. Now it’s banned in most public places in Southern California.

Both Nancie and I have read quite a few blogs and articles describing fragrance as the “new secondhand smoke.” We’ve even mentioned it in this blog. I quote the United States Access Board’s Board Policy to Promote Fragrance Free Environments:

“There are many people who experience unpleasant physical effects from scented products, such as perfumes and colognes. However, there is a growing number of people who suffer more severe reactions to these and many other types of products and chemicals. This condition is known as multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) and involves people who have developed an acute sensitivity to various chemicals in the environment. People with MCS experience a range of debilitating physical reactions, some even life-threatening, to chemicals used in a variety of products, including fragrances and personal care products, deodorizers and cleaners, pesticides, wall and floor coverings, and building materials.

It’s a complex issue with a variety of triggering agents and physical reactions. Different people are affected by different products in different ways. The common factor is that the reaction, whatever the type, is very strong and disabling. Information needs to be developed on exactly what brings about such an acute sensitivity to certain chemicals, how and why this happens, and what can be done about it.” http://www.access-board.gov/about/policies/fragrance.htm

I didn’t know what to do during all those years of suffering due to secondhand smoke in the workplace. From my research, the challenge now exists with fragrances in the workplace, though many employers maintain a fragrance-free policy. As the world gets more and more toxic, more and more people are impacted by fragrances. Fragrance is everywhere. From cleaning products used in the workplace, schools, restaurants and public restrooms; to personal use in perfumes, lotions and hand soap. People in the workplace are not just bombarded by co-workers’ perfume, a plug-in air freshener used to mask other odors can be even more offensive. I generally work from home, but recently I had to go into my real estate office to pick up paperwork. I had to call ahead and have them unplug the air freshener. And it is always a challenge going to office meetings because of the mushroom cloud of fragrance that hangs in the air.

If you are experiencing challenges in the workplace you can check out the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN is a free consulting service designed to increase the employability of people with disabilities by providing information on individualized accommodations, providing technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and information on self employment. Please see the article Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity by Tracie DeFreitas Saab, MS of the Job Accommodation Network at their website http://www.jan.wvu.edu/media/fragrance.html. JAN can help accommodate employees with fragrance sensitivities, can provide examples of fragrance-free workplace policy statements and has other resources.

We will soon provide a page for employers that have established a fragrance-free environment seeking employees and also employees seeking fragrance-free environments. Please email us at fragrancefighters@yahoo.com if you are either. Our fragrance-free workplace page is now under construction.

Nancie says: I love fragrance. Being limited by MCS & asthma has forced me to sacrifice my Tresor. Of course, I love breathing more, and I prefer not having to carry plastic bags in my purse in the event I need to hurl on a moment’s notice. I have discovered something wonderful, though. Perhaps some of you with MCS have found the same to be true: just about anything that smells like food agrees with me. Because of this I’ve been addicted to DuWop Buttercream moisturizer. I love the smell; it really does smell like frosting! Even Janet likes it; we often find that we have different sensitivities & preferences. But we agreed on the smell of Buttercream. Yummy!

Of course, DuWop stopped making it. Why does that seem to happen to a beauty product whenever we become addicted to it? I actually spoke with some company representatives at a fashion event last year. They would not/could not give me any reason for its discontinuation. At any rate, I’ve been on a search for an appropriate replacement ever since.

I recently tried Booth’s Buttercream Body Soufflé based on online recommendations of its fragrance. If you want something that smells edible DO NOT BUY THIS PRODUCT. It smells as though someone added cheap perfume to the frosting. Since I ordered it online, it’s not cost effective for me to return it. Do not make the same mistake that I made!!! And if there is anyone out there that can recommend something to replace my DuWop Buttercream, please post on our blog, or email me at fragrancefighters@yahoo.com

Janet says: I was having one of those days. I knew that if I smelled one more thing I would go over the edge. In fact, I would be in need of one of those restraining jackets with the buckles down the back (in pink, of course). I tried washing my face using a paraben free baby product that is labeled no fragrance. I was so hypersensitive that I could actually smell it. Needless to say, it bothered me. It did more than that~~it got to me. In desperation, I had to fall back on Magick Botanicals shampoo. I’ve used it on my face before, and since it has no fragrance at all, I had no reaction. I mention this for a reason: Magick Botanicals uses parabens in their products. Of course I am concerned with the paraben issue; but on that day, having no scent was most important.

That brought to mind a comment that Nancie & I wanted to post from an email sent to us by one of our readers. A quote from that email is below:

“Hi, I just viewed the website and I don’t personally recommend this product: Magick. Some or all of their products contain Methylparaben & Propylparaben which causes cancer. Please do your research… thank you.”
T. (Los Angeles)

We responded as follows: “…We anticipated this subject; as we too have this concern. We will be putting this link from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) http://www.ewg.org/node/21551 and the FDA link http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/%7Edms/cos-para.html on our resource page for individuals that need more information about parabens. From many other articles we found, there is still much debate on the subject. As we mentioned this recommendation is strictly from a scent viewpoint. As consumers we must make an informed choice. We have given our readers the http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com link to put in their individual products into the database search to learn what is in their favorite products. Why didn’t you put this is the comments section of the blog? It is a good subject to get people thinking about the product they are buying…”

After Nan & I sent this email, we found another good discussion on parabens on a post at Essential U Blog from Essential Wholesale. Here’s one more link to add to the paraben discussion. http://essentialu.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/03/paraben-puzzlem.html.

We say:  As we were contemplating our first product recommendation from Magick Botanicals, Nancie and I discovered the http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com. Magick BotanicalsI have to admit my attention was diverted from the goal of “fragrance free” to safety. As Nancie and I began our personal product searches with the use of the database our heads started to spin. It is a bit overwhelming to find that some of our favorite products, not necessarily fragrance free; could be another source of our troubles. Nancie even canceled a few products she had on monthly shipment. I visited what I call “the land of paranoia and betrayal.” It’s a place I go from time to time to visit, but no longer reside in (but don’t ask my husband).

Face it, most of us are not going to get out the large kettle pot and become soap makers in the backyard. Very few of us have a chemical engineering degree and can pronounce many of the ingredients, let alone know what they are or what they can do for us or to us. But we can check on the internet for definitions, explanations and interactions of ingredients. One amazing source we found was http://www.ewg.org/chemindex/list

The conclusion of the matter is that we need to be informed consumers and as Nancie reminds me “we have to be balanced.” Balance is the key to anything. We can have an informed choice to use or not to use. We can bury our heads in the sand; or we can move to the “land of paranoia and betrayal.” We choose to be balanced.

So back to the task at hand, Magick Botanicals shampoo and conditioner are completely free of scent. Nancie and I both did the nose test and absolutely could smell no odor. The shampoo is not as sudsy at first as your typical fragrant shampoos. Most of us are aware that companies advertise that products with more suds or that have a strong odor are the most effective. What a powerfully effective marketing tool that’s been! (FYI, usually it is another chemical additive that causes the suds.) Back to Magick Botanicals; the conditioner leaves my hair and daughter’s hair soft and manageable. We both have completely different hair structures. We will discuss more hair challenges in another blog.

Fragrance Fighters pick of the week is Magick Botanicals. You can purchase the products at Whole Foods or at online sites. Here is their direct website http://magickbotanicals.com.