Goodbye Artificial Fragrances: A Personal Story

synthetic fragrancesThe other day I was standing behind a woman in a bank, when a hint of her fragrance, so familiar, started to tickle my nostrils. No mistake, she was wearing Jean Paul Gaultier. As I stood there, I had a series of flashbacks: Summer vacation with my best friend, picking a graduation dress, drinking sweet, red wine. The woman left and I went back to my present self, feeling jet-lagged.

Isn’t there something supernatural about the power that scents have over our psyche? You smell a familiar something and different associations and memories start bombarding you. Like you are transferred to another reality. A smell of coffee and pastry? Midday comfort zone. A smell of cotton candy? Childhood.

I once had a fragrance addiction. I couldn’t imagine going out without wearing one. What’s not to like? A sweet, non-needed want. The enhanced reality. Fits any woman.

Over time, I collected many fragrances mostly as gifts from friends and family who knew I liked receiving them. Occasion, mood, time of day, season, just name it –I had a fragrance to match it. Giorgio Beverly Hills: sunny workday. Organza: evening celebration. Acqua di Gio: lunch with friends. And so on.

It’s hard to break with addictions, no matter how small and insignificant they may seem. I read about Tony Kiedis’ attempts to go off drugs and how hard it was for him. Once, Tony was accidentally given analgesic during the time he tried to stay “clean”. The experience of a familiar, pleasant feeling lured him back to drugs.

How hard is it to break with the addiction if you encounter your addiction all the time? How hard is to break with the stuff that is advertised as potent, alluring magic by the most sophisticated, celebrity-endorsed, advertising schemes?

My journey to a more natural and sustainable life happened gradually. And while it was relatively easy to give up artificial fragrances in household products, it was hard to give up personal fragrances. In fact, they  were the very last item that I gave up. I mean, I knew it was wrong to use them, but I was weak and wasn’t ready to quit. Isn’t that what addiction is all about?

How addicted are we to fragrances?

They are just about everywhere: from detergents and cleaning products to scented candles and room deodorizers. Everything, nowadays, is made to arouse our senses to the maximum. Simply clean and natural is not enough for us people.

And I was born into that world. My personal enhanced reality. No wonder this addiction was hard to break. Everywhere I went I was surrounded by fragrances, many inviting and mighty. Some, admittedly, horrible.

Do you think you’re Brad Pitt or something?

Some time ago, I became an activist for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Even before that, I had learned that “fragrance” on a label can mean many things, some of them totally unfragrant. And I came to a conclusion how it was wrong and hypocritical to petition against the venomous Eternity and keep lovin’ its close, equally malicious relatives.

So I asked myself some questions:

Do you want Butylated hydroxytoluene and other unpronounceable stuff on you?

Do you want it on your baby?

Do you want to sponsor yucky laboratory chemicals (yeah, including those endorsed by Brad Pitt), unethical labeling and animal testing?

Easy answers. But the praxis, not so easy.

Many sunny workdays later, when my bottle of Giorgio Beverly Hills became empty, I knew that was it.  Time to say bye-bye.

Tony Kiedis said that even though he stopped using drugs there wasn’t a day he didn’t want to try them again.

Anyway, I am walking, innocently, with my shopping bag, holding my daughter’s hand and find myself in that cloud of a familiar fragrance. And almost immediately, I desire to break my promise.

I still haven’t found what I’ve been looking for…

Natural fragrances? Hmm, there are quite a few out there. Many of them quite nice, but, frankly, I still haven’t found what I’ve been looking for. I’m not willing to settle for a scent that I like so-so. Maybe I’ll never find it.

The bad moments…

Mistakenly entering a department store at a wrong door and having to fight my way through the cloud of fragrance … Leave me alone you cosmetic department people offering complimentary stuff!

So, what now?

In addition to plain soap, I use a few natural essential oils that I mix with my body oil.

I’ve always liked the scent of freshly ground coffee beans and discovered that they smelled great on my skin. That translated into a two-word heaven for me: coffee scrub. Smells divine … just like coffee.

I bring lots of lemon and lavender to my house. Subtle, stimulating and wonderful.

And, I’m learning to live with my natural smell. My daughter says I smell good.

I guess it’s working so far!

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