Chemical Sensitivities

  1. Fragrance Free Femme of Colour Realness

by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

“More and more people are coming out about having chemical sensitivities, or what some folks refer to as chemical injury. There are many of your friends who have asthma, have MCS, have been through chemo, etc, who don’t mention it cause they don’t feel entitled or want to get in a fight, but if you cut down on scents, they will be really happy. A lot of people are chemically injured through doing industrial labor- cleaning houses, using or being exposed to pesticides as farmworkers, and growing up in neighborhoods with a lot of industrial pollution. Chemical sensitivity is a POC issue…

Basics: Look at the ingredient list. If it says, “perfume” or “parfum” or “essential oil” or “fragrance” or “natural fragrance”… guess what? It’s scented.

If it’s say, a stick of cocoa butter, and the ingredients just say ‘cocoa butter’ and you smell it and it doesn’t smell inert, but there is no big COCONUT or LAVENDER or other smell… you’re good. Fruits, flowers, oil, etc, all have scents – that’s fine. The problem comes with chemical, ‘natural’ (which basically means nothing on a label nowadays) or essential oil scents. Essential oils have been heavily marketed as natural. Unfortunately, while they are based on natural substances, they are produced in a factory and are super concentrated and can cause reactions in lots of folks.”

2. Three Steps to Organizing a Fragrance Free Event

by Basil

At WMWC, we are striving for what Basil calls Option A, or the Most Accessible event space.


• No Smoking at or near the event space throughout the entire event
• Ask participants to not wear clothes that have been smoked in
• No colognes, perfumes or essential oils
• Ask participants to wear clothes that have not been exposed to perfumes, colognes or scented oils, laundry detergents or fabric softeners
• Ask participants to refrain from using scented body and haircare products before or during the event.
• Fragrance free seating or space set aside
• Air purifiers used to increase air quality
• Building checked for issues like paint and outgassing materials. Other event space chosen if current one has recent chemical use.
• Remove offending chemical materials from space (air fresheners, chemical cleaners)
• Clean with non-toxic cleaning products before event.”

3. How To Be Fragrance Free

by Peggy Munson

PDF is available at Peggy Munson’s website, if you scroll down to the bottom to the section labeled “News and Activism”, and look in the yellow box on the right side.

“Chemically sensitive people vary in their reactions to scents and chemicals, smoke and pet dander. When attending a fragrance-free event or visiting a chemically sensitive person, the more thoroughly you can rid yourself of scents, smoke, pet hair, and chemicals, the better. Begin preparation as far in advance as possible. To be truly scent free, you should eliminate all of your scented products, including those containing scented essential oils. When in doubt, ask.

What is fragrance-free? Fragrance-free products are free of artificial and natural scents, including essential oils. Products labeled “natural” are not necessarily safe to use around people with severe chemical sensitivities. Products labeled”unscented” are sometimes okay, but sometimes contain heavy chemical masking agents designed to cover up a scent(look in the ingredients list for the word “fragrance.”It is best to only use natural products specifically labeled unscented,” “free of perfumes and dyes,” or “fragrance free.”

4. Myths and Facts About Chemical Sensitivities

by Peggy Munson

PDF is available at Peggy Munson’s website, if you scroll down to the bottom to the section labeled “News and Activism”, and look in the yellow box on the right side.

“Myth: Chemical sensitivity is just an allergy, right?

Fact: Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, or MCS, is a progressive disease that can resultin death. Asthma, which often causes sensitivity to fragrance-containing products,can also result in death. People with MCS suffer extreme and sometimes progressive injury from chemical and fragrance exposures. Filter masks, portable oxygen, and other measures do not prevent most exposures.

Myth: So what if people don’t like the way I smell? It’s my body.

Fact: MCS is not a smell preference but a disability. Fragrances aren’t merely “nice smells” and they don’t stay confined to an air space. Dryer sheets, which were found in an EPA study to contain chloroform, can contaminate whole neighborhoods. Fragrances contain carcinogens and neurotoxins that cause health problems, and these chemicals linger on skin and clothes for weeks after use.According to the Environmental Health Coalition of Western Massachusetts, 95% of the chemicals used in fragrances are neurotoxic, including benzene derivatives, aldehydes and other toxins and sensitizers capable of causing cancer, asthma, fatigue, organ damage, and other health problems.

Myth: I use natural shampoo and don’t wear cologne, so I am scent free.

Fact: “Natural” is a loose term these days. Toxic synthetic fragrances are in most body care products, including many at the health food store labeled “natural.”Even some conventional items labeled “unscented” or“free and clear”contain a masking fragrance, which is asynthetic fragrance to cover up the smells of the product. Essential oils are also a problem for chemically sensitive people. You are not scent free unless you only use natural products labeled “fragrance free” or “unscented” that don’t have “fragrance” listed in the ingredients list.”