Fragrance Nation

Sunday, September 18, 2011
The world can be a pretty stinky place--literally. I am so over the current trend of consumer goods manufacturers pumping artificial fragrances into everything from laundry detergent to moisturizer. I don't have the strongest nose, but the fragrances in these products are often so overwhelming that if one of my neighbors is washing their laundry with one, I'll detect it. Want your sheets and tighty whities to smell like a tropical island, a lavender field or "Freshness Powder," whatever that is? Well I don't. What's wrong with clothes smelling like good old fashioned outdoor air, the way your grandma cleaned them? 

Then there's the onslaught of the Yankee Candle craze, the plug-in-freshener craze, and don't get me started on the Febreeze craze. Seriously, why the need for these products?

To the best of my knowledge, consumers never asked for a perfume factory in the detergent aisle. It's not like we have crummy hygiene or a lack of plumbing that makes us all smell like we're living in 18th century France. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I only remember Tide as available in one scent--Tide. Today, Tide comes in Original Scent, Tide Plus Febreeze Freshness, Tide with a Touch of Downy (which is available in the scents "April Breeze", "Clean Breeze" or lavender) and Tide Totalcare, which is available in the scents "Renewing Rain" or "Cool Cotton." You mean they actually found a way to artificially reproduce the smell of "cool cotton"? I am forced to use Tide Free and Gentle, which is free of fragrance and dyes. The others are simply too stinky, and it's not like the smell fades once the clothes are rinsed and dried. It lingers until you wash the item again using a fragrance-free soap.

I'm one of those women who has never really been into perfume. In fact, I only own one bottle of it that I rarely use--Clinique's Happy--and I choose fragrance-free products for anything and everything whenever possible, because I can't stomach them otherwise. Artificial fragrance is in everything now. Would you believe that Proctor and Gamble even managed to ruin Ivory soap? Those simple white bars, touted as "pure", were always completely scent free up until a few years ago. Now I get a distinct smell of something floral when I wash my hands with it. But the thing that I don't really get are the odd products that get the scented makeover treatment. My brother and I waxed my car over the summer with a product he uses that smelled like perfume--car wax! WTF? While attending an outdoor public event earlier this summer, free ladies razors were given out. I like the razor a lot, but the plastic handle is raspberry scented. It reminds of me of the scented watches that Swatch made briefly during the 80s, with smelly bands that eventually disintegrated. What value does this possibly add to the product, especially when many women are using it in conjunction with a scented soap or shaving cream?

No offense to those who purchase and like these products, but I do want to make users aware that most of them are being made with artificial, not natural, scents. In recent years there's been mounting studies done suggesting that the chemicals that are used to make these fake-o smells may be toxic. Yeah, I know that not everything will kill you like the media would sometimes like to make you believe, but hear me out. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics looks at all ingredients used in beauty products and considers artificial fragrances to be both a phthalate (a class of chemical linked to hormone disruption) and a neurotoxin (a chemical that is toxic to the brain.) Considering that so many products also contain other ingredients that may have an unsafe cumulative effect over time, I go out of my way to buy fragrance-free products whenever possible. I order shower gel and body lotion from a great little U.S.-based company called Loving Naturals. None of their products contain any fragrance manufactured in a lab, only oils derived from real vanilla, peppermint, grapefruit and more. They also make unscented versions of many of their items.

I'm sure your mothers and grandmothers would agree that artificial fragrance is unnecessary, and a marketing ploy to get people to buy these products. A few years ago I bought a vintage 80s romper on eBay, and the smell of whatever it was washed in was so strong and sweet that I had to launder it three time to remove it. I would have preferred that in addition to looking like an 80s clothing item, that it smelled like one, too--which means that it should have smelled like nothing at all other than clean fabric. Enough is enough--if it was made in a lab, I don't want it going up my nose.


  1. You can't understand what raspberry scenting adds to the value of a disposable razor? Why do you hate America and Freedom, why?


    The GOP

  2. Awesome post, Pam--well said! (By the way, for the last couple years I've been using "Mountain Spring" Tide--I prefer smelling like a mountain spring than a bottle of Downy or Fabreeze :)

    FYI, a big pet peeve of mine is getting on the bus or subway in the morning & choking on all the perfume (and cologne) of people heading downtown for work. Can't you save that stuff for the weekends?

    Anyway, as a single guy I don't worry about stuff like scented candles (or all those commercials for Glade air freshener). I don't want my place to smell like a locker room, but I'd take that over lavender or vanilla. :)

  3. Doug-totally hear you on the amount of perfume/cologne that some people wear. I don't even like it on the weekends; it's a huge pet peeve of mine. Some perfumes just smell so bad, and these people will pile it on. Do they not think that some people could be allergic and that they actually smell nice? It happens in the work environment as well which I don't understand...and I've heard stories about job candidates coming to interview at my office and knocking the hiring manager over with their fragrance. Nuts. It's just basic common sense.

  4. Another post on the money, I hate the scented craze. My two girls are allergic to scented detergents and dryer sheets, even scented soaps so we have to buy "free" everything and oatmeal bars.

  5. I'm surprised you didn't mention a very retro product in your post: scratch and sniff stickers. These were popular in the late 70's and were stickers which released various scents (fruits, bubble gum) when scratched.

  6. dryheat45 - thanks for your comment. I would imagine we'll be hearing more about people developing allergies to this stuff.

    Luis - oh, I do remember scratch and sniff stickers. At least that was a novelty item. My problem is now today everything you need in a household is made with artificial fragrance.

    Not to sound like I'm giving a plug but one scented line I do love (because it's natural and light smelling) is Sun & Earth. Their products have a light citrus smell and are made with orange oil, coconut and vegetable oil, aloe, and very little else. No animals are tested on their products.

  7. At least with scratch n' sniff, you have to scratch at it to get the scent; the office would probably have a lot less people wearing stuff if you had to scratch them to smell 'em :)

    By the way Pam, I brought up your topic here during lunch today, and it was decided the worst office culprits are guys in their 20s or guys in their 50s. It makes sense, these are the 2 age groups that hit on the women here more than anyone else. :)

  8. When I worked for a Cancer Center, all staff were instructed to abstain from wearing anything with a scent. (Perfume, deodorants, etc.) It was because a lot of the patients undergoing chemotherapy/radiation are sensitive to some of those smells. I LOVED WORKING AT THAT PLACE. I just about puke whenever I get a strong whiff of "old lady perfume" going by, and I'm not in any way immune compromised. I agree with you!!!

  9. Doug - that's interesting, because I've noticed it on guys who are older, like 60s and older. The young 'uns that I know don't seem to wear cologne.

    Marlene - I agree, working in an environment like that must have been a huge relief, smell wise! Yep, I have a pet peeve with old lady perfume as well...and unfortunately, those old ladies often don't seem to have the best sense of smell since they seem to pour it on.

  10. Uh-oh, I wont let my wife see this post. She's enamored of various scents: scented candles, scented sprays, scented soap, potpourri, etc. And she absolutely loves her (I kid you not) Apple-Mango-Tango laundry detergent (Gain, I think).

    I'm officially neutral in this controversy. LOL


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