Sunday, December 12, 2010

Follies of Festive Fragrances

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Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas, it seems, without the scents of the season to fill the air!

Around this time of year, our senses are enlivened by fragraces profound and varied: festive perfumes, spicy potpourri, calming scented candles, Glade plug-ins, even Febreze or furniture polish in anticipation of company.

As nice as some of those fragrances may be, they do have a dark side. In fact, they, like the proverbial Grinch, may be working behind the scenes to steal away your gift of health, while you are in the midst of your celebrations. Beware of the word "fragrance" on any household or personal care product, and steer clear of most perfumes. "Fragrance" is a word used to disguise the use of a bouquet of cancer-causing chemicals. Added fragrances can also seriously disrupt the Endocrine system (your hormones: think, thyroid problems, for instance) and over-burden the liver. You really don't want estrogen-mimicking chemicals in your body-- and they WILL be absorbed through your skin!-- Too much estrogen has been linked to a multitude of serious diseases and health conditions. But that's a topic for another post.

According to the Environmental Working Group's report, "Not So Sexy," the average fragrant product tested contained 14 chemicals not listed elsewhere on the label. Many of these chemicals have never been tested for safety. Some of those chemicals actually accumulate in your tissues. The more you use of these products, the higher your body's toxic burden. This does not exactly tip the scale in your favor in your endeavor to live disease-free and healthy.

Things to Avoid?
  • Scented toxic household products
  • Perfumes
  • Scented lotions & potions, shampoos, hairsprays, etc, etc.
  • Scented candles
  • Potpourris with synthetic fragrance added
  • Air fresheners like Glade
  • Laundry detergent and dryer sheets
  • Anything else that has "fragrance" on the label, rather than plant extracts or oils
The good news? There are healthier alternatives. Be old fashioned. Be GREEN. Use fragrances that occur in nature! Did you know young women used to put a few drops of vanilla extract behind their ears as a perfume? Okay... well, we have improved on options since then!
  • Natural household products like the brand Seventh Generation at health food stores, or even some national chains like Target. If you're really ambitious (actually, it doesn't take that much ambition), make your own! You can use basic ingredients like white vinegar and baking soda, and add your own scents with natural essential oils.
  • Natural perfumes are not as easy to find locally, but they are available online. One good brand is Miessence, which is actually USDA certified organic, and uses traditional methods of perfumery. While synthetic perfumes have a history of only about a century, traditional perfumery has been in use for 4,000 years! Now, real perfume is not exactly inexpensive... So, if buying perfume ready-made is not in your price range, you can always try making it at home! It involves essential oils, some alcohol, and perhaps some jojoba oil. There are all kinds of how-to's online. Or... if you want a really lazy way... just use a tiny amount of essential oil, dabbed on your wrists or neck. Jasmine or ylang-ylang are nice floral scents that are typically used in perfumes. Voila! No more toxic perfume!
  • Natural personal care products are easy to find at health food stores too. Or again, some of the box stores like Target are starting to carry Burt's Bees! Always check for "fragrance" on the label though, just to be safe. Or... just look for the "fragrance-free" variety of whatever you buy. The fragrance-free versions are very popular at the health food store where I work.
  • Scented candles just aren't necessary. There are other ways to fill your home with delightful aromas. Check this out, from
Vanilla Spice Air Freshener: To make a vanilla spice air freshener for the holidays, place a cup of water, a cup of white vinegar, one tbsp. natural vanilla extract, one tsp. whole cloves, and one cinnamon stick in a small pot. Bring them to a boil, then turn down the heat, simmering all ingredients for two to three minutes. Allow the liquid to cool before straining out the cloves and cinnamon stick, and pouring into a spray bottle. These natural spray air fresheners should be sprayed into the air in the center of a room, avoiding walls and furniture, to prevent potential staining or other discoloration.
If you want the comforting glow of flickering candles, I recommend beeswax candles. They offer a nice subtle honey scent, and (BONUS) clean the air too! The negative ions they emit actually help remove toxins from the air! So, go support your local beekeeper, and buy a good supply of beeswax candles! You'll find candlemakers often mold candles in a variety of styles, from the traditional honey-comb look, to tapers, to tea lights and votives, to candles made in the shape of bee hives or pinecones! The color is neutral enough to complement any palette, and festively gilded to enhance your Christmas decor!
  • There are all kinds of resources online for making your own natural air fresheners, potpourris, naturally-scented cleaning products... etc etc. Just surf the web, and have fun!

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