My raw throat is closing, my heart racing, and my head fuzzy from the fumes emanating from my dear friend. She knows I’m very sensitive to chemicals.
“I stopped wearing perfume a long time ago after I found out that it makes some people sick,” she says.
What do I say?
What I’m thinking is this:
The fragrance in your laundry products is just as toxic as any perfume you would spray on. In fact it can be even more problematic because there is no way to control the amount of fragrance that ends up on your clothes and it is very difficult to ever get it to wash out. All of your clothes and linens are now drenched in it, so there is no way for you to decide to be “fragrance free” for a day so you can come visit me without making me ill. The companies that sell laundry products have been progressively ramping up the amounts of fragrance in their products because they know that it is not how well the product works that sells it, but how it smells. As a result, the products we have now are far more toxic and irritating than they were in the past. But this has gone practically unnoticed by people like you because you have become so accustomed to living in a cloud of chemical fumes that your sense of smell has become dulled. So you can’t tell that at this very moment your clothes are outgassing enormous amounts of the sick-making fragrance that you think you are not wearing. And now I’m sick.
What I say is: “Oh well, everything makes me sick now. Don’t worry about it.”
Because I love my friend.
But the truth is that my friend is putting herself at risk. Just because she does not have obvious symptoms as soon as she smells laundry detergent or other chemicals does not mean they are not affecting her. She has chronic health problems that could very well be related to the toxic personal care and cleaning products that she uses, but she will never be able to discern that this is the case unless she purges her home of all toxic chemicals so that she knows how it feels to breathe clean air.
So how loving is it of me to avoid telling the truth? I avoid it to keep the peace. But meanwhile my friends suffer and I suffer. So here it is. The truth:
Laundry detergent and fabric softener is not harmless. Neither is anything else that has chemical fragrance added to it. You may not have sprayed perfume on this morning, but that lotion on your hands is pungent. And your hairspray even more so. Your fabric softener-impregnated clothes compete with your lotion and your hairspray to create a toxic soup that makes me choke. And it’s terrible for you too. Now you know.
Next comes the inevitable question: then what can I use? Everything has fragrance. Well no, not everything. Most things. Yes, it’s hard at first to switch to a more natural and non-toxic lifestyle, but it can be done. And once you’ve got your routine down, it becomes second nature. Following are some links to guides on how to choose healthier products:
Environmental Working Group’s consumer guides: consumer guides
Debra Lynn Dadd’s list: Debra’s list
Wellness Mama’s tips and recipes for a non-toxic home: Wellness Mama