I use the "fragrance-free living" label when I mean "without-scent living." Loopholes and misunderstandings kind of require it.
If I say "unscented living," this generally gets a look of confusion and a response of "you mean without a smell--like body odor?" No.Unclear term definition is where the confusion comes in for almost everyone, including me. "Fragrance-free" seems like a straightforward way of saying "without fragrance." Unfortunately the natural and organic world considers this a loophole allowing in essential oils, plant and flower essences, herbal extracts, etc. (Another problematic issue for the sensitive person is "masking fragrance." This ingredient or mix of ingredients covers up other ingredient odors and isn't always included in product labeling.)
I've been doing some road tripping and am overdosing on hand sanitizer (Babyganics Alcohol-free Hand Sanitizer is my fragrance-free favorite). I wanted something less aggressive for cleaning my hands when dirty but not germy.
The other weekend I was in Whole Foods Market looking for hand wipes without fragrance. I stopped like I'd hit a wall. A smelly plume spewed from the display humidifier creating an invisible fragrance barrier that burned my lungs like I'd been dancing in a smoky nightclub for hours. I called the sales associate over for help so I could keep my distance. She explained the marketing manager told her to add something to the humidifier to attract more attention (and that normally they do not add any scent to the humidifier). So they had added peppermint and vanilla essential oils. For some unexplainable reason many people think essential oils don't create scent-induced health issues.
Essential oils and synthetic fragrance are very problematic for those with allergies, sensitivities, and asthma.I was experiencing breathing issues and a knife-sharp headache, but I'm stubborn (and also needed food), so I pressed on with my quest for fragrance-free hand wipes. All of the options on the Whole Body section's shelves were with scent. "How about baby wipes?" she asked. We went down an aisle into a different section of the store. On the bottom shelf, she found a couple of options, one fragrance free and one unscented. The unscented baby wipes were the only scent-free choice available for me, so I bought it. Curiosity got the better of me, so I bought the fragrance-free wipes, too, and gave them both a test run.
Label of Product A: The Honest Co. Baby Wipes, Fragrance Free
The very small print reads "Infused with a botanical blend..."
Label of Product B: 365 Chlorine-free Baby Wipes, Unscented
Fragrance-free Product A surprisingly is almost scent-free despite the infused botanical blend, but I can feel a slight uncomfortableness when I sniff it and when on my skin. Unscented Product B does have a very slight "something" odor, possibly from the aloe, giving it a subtle yet lingering "baby product" odor. At this point, I'm considering sticking to the Babyganics Hand Sanitizer but will give them both a few more tries.
Companies use fragrance as a way to show how their sudsy cleaner is different from another brand using the same or similar sudsing ingredients. Consumers believe the marketing and are buying the scent not the clean.I'm sure many of you are as frustrated as I am with the scented products of the world. Before I was scent sensitive, I remember thinking I had to have potpourri around the holidays--thanks to the marketing world and my herd mentality of being ready to buy part of the American dream: a bowl of wood shavings and dead flowers which you spritzed with additional scent when it aired out! I am laughing at myself for how long I'd keep this bowl of lawn debris that gathered layers of dust.
For more reading:
- My blog posts on fragrance-free living.
- FDA on fragrances in cosmetics.
- Jessica Chia's article "The Truth About 'Fragrance-Free' Products" on the Prevention website.
- YouBeauty on fragrance-free vs. unscented.
- The Healthy House Institute on scented vs. unscented products.
- Sheryl Eisenberg's This Green Life post "Scented Products, Intoxicating and Toxic" on the Natural Resources Defense Council website.