Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fragrance Free or Unscented? Natural or Organic? Not All Are Equal?

Below is a re-post of a blog post I wrote with Fragrance Fighters.  The information is still so relevant today. Please read...

Fragrance Free or Unscented? Natural or Organic? Not All Are Equal! May 16, 2008 by fragrancefighters

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.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Re-post of Fragrance: The New Secondhand Smoke?

Fragrance: The New Secondhand Smoke? April 21, 2008 by fragrancefighters

Do you remember when cigarette smoking was
typical on an airline flights?

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 less protest when confronted with evidence on the damage secondhand smoke has on the lungs, heart, and 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.

Fragrance is truly “new secondhand smoke.”

My friend 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.

Do you recognize the triggering agents and physical reactions?

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.”

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.

What is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN)?

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 JAN can help accommodate employees with fragrance sensitivities, can provide examples of fragrance-free workplace policy statements and has other resources.

There is a contact page for employers that have established a fragrance-free environment seeking employees and also employees seeking fragrance-free environments at Please email us at if you are either.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Make Your Unscented Shea, Mango Butter Cream Concoction!

Unscented products are difficult to find and can be costly.  I started making my own Shea, Mango Butter concoction after viewing several YouTube videos.  There are quite a number tutorial videos out there.  My video is on its way, so stay tuned.  In the photo below, I didn't have any mango butter and I added too much oil. Although once blended it just became a thick liquid.  I put it in the refrigerator thinking that would help.  Once it was at room temperature, it soon became foaming thick liquid. Oops!

If you make a mistake, don't discard it.  I was not going to waste it and decided to use it on my hair and skin.  I actually like it.  It absorbed quickly into the skin and hair than the creamier version.  I love being a mad scientist in the kitchen.

The bottom photo is my usual Shea, Mango and Kukui butter cream delight.  Here's the recipe:

1 part Shea butter (1cup) to 2 parts Mango and Kukui butters.  
2 Tablespoons each of Avocado, Rice Bran and Olive oil.
1/4 cup of Coconut Oil

You can add more oil until you get the creamy consistency you are looking for.  If I make a large batch, I put it in the refrigerator.  It will harden but will soften once it is at room temperature.

The creamy consistency works well into the skin after a shower.   My friend and neighbor uses the butter on her locs when getting her hair re-locked at the roots.

I ordered my butters from Essential Wholesale  I purchased the oils from various places.  I purchase my coconut oil from Nutiva.  On Tuesdays Nutiva has great specials.  The avocado oil is not organic, however, it is cold-pressed and food grade.  I purchase this from Jon's market or another local market here in the San Fernando Valley.  You can get a 64 fl. oz. bottle for $6.99.  I found the Rice Bran oil at Big Lots, however I recently saw it at Trader Joe's and the Olive Oil I usually get at Trader Joe's or Big Lots.

Try your own combinations.  It is really quite fun.  Leading a scent-free life is not always easy.  You have to be adaptable.  Your environment is not always safe and products can be difficult to find or expensive.  We can wallow in our sorrow or find ways to make it fun and enjoyable.   Do what you safely can.  I will continue to help you find ways to be savvy and scent free.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap vs. Dr. Jacobs Naturals

I have used Dr. Bronner's Magic "All-One!" unscented baby mild soap for years. In the past, I have used it to wash my hair, clean my bathroom shower and sink, and use it as a hand soap in the kitchen and bathrooms. I mainly use it because it does not have an odor and it is as it says, unscented. Let me rephrase that. It does not contain perfumes or any odor that sets off my intolerance to odors. The ingredients contain castile soap and saponified oils. I do detect an odor, however, and it is probably the plastic container or the saponified oils that I smell. It wasn't until I attended the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim did I find that Dr. Bronner's had a competitor. There I found the Dr. Jacobs Naturals booth. It was the last day of the Expo and the vendor was giving away samples. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to get a free 64 fl. ounce bottle of their castile soap. Comparing it to Dr. Bronner's soap, it is less concentrated so no need to add water. Although, Dr. Jacobs uses saponified oil, this manufacturer uses different oils than Dr. Bronner's soap.  Since the Expo, I had the opportunity to speak a representative from Dr. Jacobs. She did tell me that their product was less dense as in findings many people tend to add water to the Dr. Bronner's product. That I must agree as I have added water to thin the soap as well. Dr. Jacobs' product was formulated so their was no need for added water. They also supplied a pump to the bottle as their consumers found this essential for daily use. I agreed. The Dr. Bronner's product (product on the left in photo ) has a pump because it was a spare I saved from another product and thought it would come in handy. When shampooing or cleaning the pump comes in handy so as not to unnecessarily waste the soap. One of the things I didn't like about Dr. Jacobs is that they added caramel to the ingredients. I don't know the source of the caramel or whether it is artificial? In speaking to the representative she was to research this and get back to me. As of yet, no response. My second concern to odors is soy. And as I continue to be diligent in reading labels, I find soy in many cosmetic and soap products. So I am still anxious to find the source of the caramel as to whether it is soy based and another ingredient, phenoxyethanol was a concern.

Have you used these soaps in your hair?

Nonetheless, I like both products. I do find that Dr. Bronner's more drying to my skin and hair. I do not recommend it for my 4b/c hair as it is very drying. I have not yet used Dr. Jacobs to wash my hair. At the Dr. Bronner's booth located in the Natural Products Expo, the representative recommended another Dr. Bronner's product that I should use to close the hair follicles after shampooing with the castile soap. In this way, I would not be drowning my hair with too much water. Yes, I found out that you can over water your hair. This product, Dr. Bronner's Organic Shikakai Conditioning Hair Rinse has a citrus smell so I was hesitant to use it. The instructions recommend that you use 1-2 capsules in water, rinse hair and then use their leave-in conditioner. I was not familiar with the hair rinse prior to the Expo and definitely did not know of Dr. Bronner's leave-in conditioner. I rather not use the hair rinse just because of the citrus odor, however, I did want to know if I would notice a change in the dryness of my hair after using it. The "jury is still out". I could blame it on my whacky thyroid, or that I didn't use the correct amount of hair rinse, but so far, I didn't see a difference. I would still use Dr. Bronner's unscented soaps for other household purposes but as it were I do not like it to wash my hair.

However, I would purchase as it and Dr. Jacobs as they are both good products for household use and good for those who need overall unscented product in their daily use.