I’m breaking up with you, Chance by Chanel. You’ll probably always remain my one true fragrance love. Even though you’re “an encounter with optimism” that smells like pure happiness and possibility, I’m just not willing to overlook your more nefarious qualities anymore. Such as the way you make my allergies go completely bonkers crazy. Or the way I always seem to have a headache and feel gloomy when I wear you. Or the way you – let’s be honest here – have been stealthily polluting my body since our first spray. I can’t even find a list of the ingredients you actually contain anywhere on the Chanel website; I’d have to email the company for that. But I have a feeling it wouldn’t tell me anything, because fragrance is considered a proprietary “trade secret,” and manufacturers don’t have to disclose fragrance ingredients. I’m moving on. It’s not me, it’s you.
My bottle of Chance, a souvenir of a trip to see my bestie when she was teaching art in Japan, sits forlornly in a drawer, a reminder of my days as a fragrance and product junkie. I had different “signature” scents over the years – Chloe by Chloe in high school, Opium by Yves Saint Laurent in college, Fracas by Robert Piguet for a little while, and Gardenia by Pacifica on my wedding day – but Chance was the only fragrance I ever truly loved.
My Fragrance Reckoning Day
Here’s why I broke up with fragrance and shut my beloved Chance in a drawer. When I started trying to figure out why I couldn’t stay pregnant, I began researching all the ingredients in my health and beauty products. I found out that the group of chemicals known as “fragrance” is largely unregulated. Does that sound ominous to you? It should. I was soon motivated to quit all fragrance and beauty chemicals cold turkey.
A Chemical By Any Other Name
While that bottle of Chance may smell like a fabulous mix of citrus, hyacinth, iris, jasmine, pink pepper, patchouli, vetiver, amber, white musk, and vanilla (can you tell that I still miss it a little?), there’s no guarantee that any of those fragrance notes are made from natural substances. In fact, Chanel was one of the pioneers in the fragrance industry, its famous No. 5 being the one of the first fragrances to showcase synthetic scents like aldehydes rather than recognizable flower scents. What’s wrong with aldehydes? They’ve been linked to cancer.
A study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 72% of products with the ingredient “fragrance” contain phthalates, potent endocrine disruptors linked to cancer, obesity, diabetes, hormone disruption, and fertility problems, among others. And, an estimated 95% of the thousands of chemicals included in the “fragrance” category are made from petrochemicals, known to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cause cancer, birth defects, nervous system disorders, asthma, and allergies. These nasty chemicals, many with a tendency to accumulate in human tissues(!) are especially dangerous for women, but guys aren’t safe either.
Even so-called “natural” ingredients are so often chemically altered beyond recognition, they don’t bear any resemblance to natural fragrance. But this probably won’t surprise you, since that’s a common scenario in the food industry, too. And I should also note that I don’t think Chance is any worse than other fragrances on the market. I think even the ones marketed as more “natural” are also full of undesirable chemicals.
The Proof Was in the Parfum
The confirmation that I’d made the right choice came one night when I stopped by the Green Hills Mall in Nashville. I can’t remember what I needed or wanted to get that day, but I vividly remember walking through the Macy’s fragrance department, and feeling my chin suddenly start burning. By the time I got home, I had two or three large, painful red welts on my chin. Having gone without fragrance for a little while, I’d lost my tolerance for it.
My “Scents” of Closure
When I quit wearing fragrance, I noticed an improvement in my overall health. And I mean, I cut out ALL fragrance: scented candles, cosmetics, lotion, shampoo, chemical cleaning products, and ESPECIALLY fabric softener and dryer sheets (these are actually the absolute worst ones on the list, because the chemicals in them go not only into the air that you breathe, they also sit next to your skin 24/7 and are absorbed into your bloodstream). I’ve even been trying to get my work to stop using air freshener in the bathroom. No luck yet, but I’ll keep trying!
The biggest health benefit I saw? Drastically reduced allergies, almost immediately! I used to have to take allergy meds most of the time, and always through the whole summer, but no more (I also have to mention that improving my gut health made a huge difference in getting rid of my allergies too, but that will be a topic for a future post). And my always-irritated skin was no longer so itchy.
A Fragrance Relapse
A few weeks ago, I took my son to his pediatrician for a checkup. It was a pretty day, and I’d been feeling happy. His visit was a pleasant one, and nothing had happened to upset me, but when we got in the car to head home, I felt inexplicably gloomy and sad, like a dark cloud had swooped in. I used to just accept those moments as part of my normal state, but this time I began questioning what had happened to make me feel different, going over the events of the doctor visit. I recalled using the bathroom and washing my hands with antibacterial hand soap, and it hit me: I was having a reaction to the chemicals in the hand soap! As soon as we got home, I mixed up a glass of detoxifying green juice powder and took some extra chlorella, and began feeling better again. The cloud lifted.
That same afternoon, I had an optometrist appointment, and I washed my hands before taking out my contact lenses. I had another reaction to the antibacterial soap I used there. The dark cloud came back. It was kind of shocking, but also liberating, to realize my feeling of gloom was a reaction to the fragrance and other chemicals in the hand soap. I can carry some Dr. Bronner’s soap in my purse to keep that kind of reaction at bay!
Where to Start if You’re Hooked on Fragrance
It might seem crazy and/or daunting to throw all of your products away at once. While I highly recommend this approach, I’m one of those Marie Kondo fans who loves the liberating feeling of getting rid of a ton of stuff. But I realize that may not be your style. So if you need to ease into it, try just not wearing perfume and not using fabric softener first, for few weeks, and see how you feel. I have a hunch that, very soon, you’ll start to feel the way I do about fragrance. I think of it as the new secondhand smoke.
I’m a fan of essential oils these days – I diffuse them in my home. I don’t really wear them instead of perfume, but some people do. I like Plant Therapy because it’s not a multi-level marketing company like doTerra or Young Living, but the oils are still really high quality. And I also love Plant Therapy’s kid-safe blends – a must if you have little ones under age 10 in the house.
I now use these wool dryer balls instead of fabric softener. They don’t 100% get rid of static, but I see that as the price I pay for being chemical-free. Plus, it’s kind of fun to see which pair of pants or pillowcase they will end up in after a dryer cycle. You can even add a few drops of essential oils to them if you want your laundry to smell extra nice.
Is there a particular fragrance you’ve broken up with that you’ll always miss, or an essential oil blend you especially love? Tell me what it is in the comments section below!