Headlines claim scented candles can cause cancer and air fresheners trigger asthma. Is it a load of hot air or is it time to go fragrance-free at work?
By Clare Pain
KATE Grenville realised in her early 30s that wearing perfume gave her a headache. She could manage that. Then it was other people’s perfumes too. But things really got out of hand on a recent trip when she was forced to ask her taxi driver to remove the air freshener in his cab, and later caught herself sealing her hotel room door with tape to keep out the smell from corridor fragrance diffusers.
“I had a nasty feeling that I’d just crossed one of life’s little boundaries,” she writes in her new book The Case Against Fragrance. “It was possible I’d joined the section of humanity that thinks the moon landings were faked by the CIA.”
In fact, when Grenville started investigating, she found she was far from belonging to such a clique. Surveys suggest that many of us feel negative health effects from fragrances, and if recent headlines are to be believed, our love of a good spritz could be causing asthma, migraines and even cancer. The issue is causing such a stink that some compare it to passive smoking, and are calling for scent-free workplaces and schools.
“The results are stunning and consistent. In Australia, a third of the population, and in America, over a third of the population, report one or more types of health problems when exposed to fragranced consumer products,” says Anne Steinemann of the University of Melbourne.
So how worried should we be? Are scented products making people sick, and what should we do about it?