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Scents & Sensitivity

Today and yesterday were both warm as all get-out (for January, anyway), but there was a cold spell before that, which meant my skin got dry, which meant I had to break out the lotion etc.

Which brought me face-to-face (or perhaps arm-to-arm, since I'm OK for facial moisturizer for the moment) with the fact that I'm running out of my two favorite products, and I know that one of them has been entirely discontinued, and I'm starting to worry about the other one. I could probably do quite well with unscented stuff billed as hypoallergenic, but I like the idea of nice-smelling stuff to smear on. The problem is, so many scents and scented products give me problems of various sorts.

I used to use Thymes Green Tea lotion, which despite its name actually smells of rose as much as it smells of anything. But it's a very light scent. I have about half an inch left in the bottom of my last bottle (I also have a little perfume rollerball tube to go with it). The other thing I have been using is Origins Ginger Souffle. Origins makes a perfume to go with it, Ginger Essence, which they bill as unisex. It supposedly has ginger, bergamot, amalfi lemon, and lime, and I wear it sometimes. Their Website currently says that they are out of the souffle and don't know when they'll have more, which rather worries me. These products feel good on my skin, I like the scents - and they don't give me a headache.

I have some Aveeno, which is OK most of the time: not much of a scent, but it usually doesn't bother my skin. Maybe I'll try one of their hypoallergenic products. I bought some Shikai Coconut lotion last year, and still have most of it left. It smells OK - rather too sweet - and sometimes it makes my skin tingle and seem to be about to itch: it just feels sensitive.

So the Body Shop (which has a store more or less next to my office) was having a huge post holiday sale, and I bought two types of body butter to try. The Ruby Red Grapefruit smells wonderful, but I have been getting a bit of the same skin discomfort that I get with the Shikai lotion. The Shea Butter ... I will probably have to throw it out, or something. It has some kind of very strong scent that I associate with men's products and magazine product card samples. It was sort of evergreen-ish. It got in the back of my throat and stayed there all day, and I also felt headache-y. I think part of the problem is that it got onto my pullover sweater when I was putting it on in the morning.

The experience with the last product got me reading online about fragrance sensitivities. It looks like there are several fragrance elements that are frequently tagged as problematic that might be giving me issues. One of them is oak moss, which shows up in a number of men's products (but also in some women's and unisex fragrances). Others include balsam of Peru, citronella, narcissus, patchouli, sage, thyme, vetiver, and ylang ylang. I also might have problems with jasmine (although I like some perfumes that use it) and tuberose.

The funny thing is, I quite like thyme and sage in food, but I guess that's different from having the oil on your skin for hours. Also, I like to sniff narcissus flowers ... but a lot of them in close quarters do give me a headache.

What rather distressed me was the number of people online who were ranting about and mocking people who were sensitive to fragrances. They don't have issues, so obviously other people are making this up: all these people who are complaining about perfumes making them sick clearly just "don't like" the smells and are trying to take away others' right to wear whatever they please.

The funny thing about this is, I think most of them would (perhaps grudgingly) agree that it was possible to play music that others didn't like too loudly in a workplace or public space. They would, I would guess, agree that they might have to use headphones or turn the music way down so that others could concentrate. But somehow a smell - gosh, how could that affect anyone? And yet just as with hearing, there's no easy way to shut out a scent: neither ears nor noses have the equivalent of eyelids. And at least with sound, you might be able to wear your own headphones or shut a door ... but when a scent is drifting all through a closed space, what is one supposed to do? Wear a gas mask?

I actually had to speak to our building services folks about a product that the cleaning staff was using on the floors sometimes. They apologized and said that they thought it would smell nicer .. in other words, it was scented on purpose. But they did switch to something that just smelled like a cleaning product, and it fades away much faster and doesn't bother me nearly as much. Thank God none of my co-workers insists on wearing any sort of heavy perfume.

I guess scent is such a personal thing that the idea that someone would react negatively to it is insulting to some. But like smoking, it's not confined just to your own immediate area: it gets around, and it really can make others sick. There are scents and fumes that feel like an attack on my head: it feels like a spike running up each nostril right into my brain. And I have had quite a lot of various types of pain in my life: I am not exaggerating it when I say that this sensation can really mess me up for a while. One of the sites I was reading points out that the pathways between the inside of your nose/sinuses and your brain are about the shortest in your body, so maybe my mental image of the spikes going up into my brain are not so far off.

On to happier things: the searches I was going also led me to Frangrantica, where I have been having fun with the "search by fragrance note" feature. The trouble is, it's clearly the amounts of the scent elements as well as their presence that makes a difference. One of the perfumes that came up when I was picking notes - bergamot, lily of the valley, green tea - was Bulgari's The Vert. I tried that this afternoon at Sephora, where I was buying my hair stuff. Meh. It didn't give me a headache, but the citrus top notes were overwhelming ... and I like citrus. The drydown does remind me a lot of my beloved Thymes Green Tea, though. (If anyone's curious, here's Fragrantica's full list of notes for it: Top notes are coriander, orange blossom, mandarin orange, bergamot, cardamom and lemon; middle notes are jasmine, lily-of-the-valley and bulgarian rose; base notes are sandalwood, amber, musk, green tea, precious woods and cedar. .)

I also tried some of Lush's skin lotions today, but I wasn't too wowed by how any of them smelled, and the one I liked best - Coco Lotion - was giving me the prickly-sensitive feeling by the time I got home. So the heck with that - if I want a chance of that discomfort, I can get it cheaper than $21.95 for for not quite 8 oz.

So, the quest for the perfect cho body lotion/butter goes on.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 8th, 2012 02:08 am (UTC)
I am also sensitive to scents and chemicals, although perhaps not as much because the Body Shop shea butter didn't give me that reaction last I checked, which was a few years ago. I have respiratory and skin allergies, so it's not that surprising. As a result, I can tell if someone's smoking a cigarette without even seeing them because I can feel it in my throat. I buy unscented (or as close as I can get) deodorant, facial tissue, and detergent. And Pine Sol and paint give me a headache.

I think there are a few things going on in the pushback against claims of fragrance sensitivity: a sense of lack of control over one's body, considering that things like smoking are already banned; disgruntlement because that leaves very few places one can wear fragrances; and wondering what to do with the fragrances one already has. It's easier to mock and disparage rather than concede that something that brings enjoyment to the wearer and those without these sensitivities can cause pain to others.
Jan. 9th, 2012 03:34 am (UTC)

I think that's a good (and interesting) point. When women of leisure spent their days answering correspondence and going out to lunch with each other, and then spiffing up for hubby's arrival home, there were far more hours when they could wear scent.

I don't like Pine-Sol etc., but they fade faster than the syntho-floral crud the office cleaners were using.

Jan. 9th, 2012 04:35 am (UTC)
It's not just women, either. My most recent experiences, when I was still working, was that men went overboard with aftershave and cologne. Women either didn't bother or used fragrance subtly enough that I didn't notice.

It's weird what things will bother one person and not another. My husband made the mistake of leaving a bucket with an inch of Pine Sol in it that he'd planned on using to clean the shower that day but didn't in the master bath instead of putting it in the basement and bringing it back up. I had a headache and difficulty sleeping as a result.
Jan. 8th, 2012 02:08 am (UTC)
I actually tried to get the Ginger lotion for your holiday package, but couldn't find any. :(

I can only use one or two products (mostly E45 from England)--it sucks.
Jan. 9th, 2012 03:36 am (UTC)

Awww! S'OK, it's dreadfully pricey - one of my luxury items. (Like my hair stuff, which is Ouidad these days.) I don't buy much in the way of cosmetics in general, so I don't mind, but I don't like to think about anyone else paying for it.

Huh, I had never head of that E45 stuff. I'm hoping I don't need to go that far.

Jan. 8th, 2012 03:27 am (UTC)
I've gotten so sensitive, between smells, and how my skin reacts to anything out-of-the-ordinary, I've been reduced to using just pure organic coconut oil as a moisturizer (and I do have VERY dry skin, so it is an ongoing need.) I bought some pure cocoa butter, and some vegetable glycerin, and as soon as I can get over this creeping crud that has had me bedbound this week, I want to experiment with combining the coconut oil and cocoa butter with the glycerin to liquify them both a little, into a body butter of sorts that my finicky body can tolerate.

There are very few fragrances I can tolerate anymore. I can still wear Obsession, which is vanilla, bergamot, orange, and a couple of other things that escape me, but anything heavily floral sends me into a migraine, as does too much of anything green-y, patchouli... anything but spicy stuff like cinnamon, and sandalwood, and fruity stuff, basically. And even those can bother me, if they are fake stuff. God help me if I end up having to wash dishes or use regular household cleaners. I bought some used clothes from eBay that had been washed with dryer sheets and made the mistake of wearing them without washing first, and paid dearly for it. And the weird thing is, I never used to have any sensitivities or allergies at all - this has all started within the past two years. I guess it has something to do with the immune dysfunction of the lupus, or something. Beats me. But it's a pain in the arse.

Now having said all that, I can usually be around other people who are wearing fragrances, unless they have thoroughly doused themselves in it - I think the problem comes when people wear too much of something, or tons of perfume, then six hair care products on top of it. There are only a couple of fragrances that seem to bother me even in small quantities (I was not sorry to see the Giorgio craze die off, as that one seemed particularly toxic to me, even before my sensitivities really started.)
Jan. 9th, 2012 03:46 am (UTC)

My skin still tends toward oily/combination except when the weather is very cold out and the heat is on all the time at home and at the office. (The down side of the general lack of dryness is that I get sebaceous cysts in uncomfortable places, especially on my scalp.) That sounds very frustrating, though. I saw the coconut oil at Whole Foods today, when I took a token glance through their moisturizer section.

I never use drier sheets. I use unscented detergents and all-fabric bleach, and most of the scented stuff I buy (bar soap, dish soap) is fruit scents, which seem safe so far. I actually did have strawberry allergy as a child, although it seems to have worn off by the time I was in my mid-teens. My nephew (sister's son) has that now - he's 10.

I don't really have allergies per se, but I have a dysfunction of the mucous membranes. After having it formally and separately diagnosed for the nose and sinuses ("vasomotor rhinitis") and the eyes ("dry eye syndrome"), I added in the fact that I've always needed moisture help in intimate situations and always get a dry irritant bronchitis after a cold or the flu. I've just started to assume that anything involving mucous membranes is going to need help, and that's been a little better. One of the things I read about fragrances was someone who seems to have the same thing who said that she's better able to deal with scents when she uses a saline nasal spray. I should probably go get some Ocean to use in these dry months.

Jan. 9th, 2012 04:53 am (UTC)
We do sound similar. I had strawberry allergy as a kid (instant, allover, hideous hives!) - and given how much I love them now, I am very grateful I outgrew that. I get a lot of sebaceous cysts, too- mostly in places.... well, that are very uncomfortable and (thankfully? I guess) private. And I have had a terrible problem with my sinuses and eyes in the past ten years or so since my health issues started - they thought I had Sjogrens at one point, and it still hasn't been ruled out. I tried again last year wearing contacts, and it was pretty uncomfortable. Everyone tells me to use saline spray or neti pots, but I had so much shit shoved up my nose when I was a kid (I had horrible tonsils & adenoids, and chronic throat, ear, and sinus infections) I am almost phobic about such things now. I know it's not rational, but I can just never get myself to use them... O___o I have pretty bad sleep apnea, and could never use the CPAP machine because my sinuses invariably clog up every single night, no matter what I do, and that makes the machine impossible. (Fortunately, the weight loss seems to be improving the apnea dramatically - my hope is that it will get rid of it altogether, because it's apparently a contributing factor to my heart problem, dammit.)

Like I said, other than the strawberries as a kid, this allergy thing is new. I've also developed a heinous allergy to carboard - as in cardboard boxes. If I have to unpack boxes, I have to practically wear a radiation suit - my skin breaks out terribly. It's a little disconcerting that I live in a town with a plant that makes the damn things, but I researched it when we were looking into buying the house, and supposedly all their air and water effluent is extremely clean and green. I should probably to to an ENT or an allergist, or both, but I am just so totally freaking sick of doctors, at this point I have to practically have fear of death as a factor to motivate me to seek a new one out - a chronic runny nose and skin problems isn't likely to do it any time soon. Someday I'll get around to it. *lol*
Jan. 8th, 2012 05:34 am (UTC)
But somehow a smell - gosh, how could that affect anyone? And yet just as with hearing, there's no easy way to shut out a scent: neither ears nor noses have the equivalent of eyelids. And at least with sound, you might be able to wear your own headphones or shut a door ... but when a scent is drifting all through a closed space, what is one supposed to do? Wear a gas mask?

One of my coworkers thinks it is very ~strange~ that I am sensitive to most cleaning supplies. :-/ I got into the habit of using unscented detergent back in college because my then-girlfriend's roommate had fragrance allergies, and you know? I do not really miss having fake-scented laundry. (I also use hippie cleaning supplies at home because they do not give me headaches or make my nose hurt. This is not an option at work...which frankly kind of bothers me, given how much kids lick things they shouldn't.)

So yeah, I don't get it either.
Jan. 9th, 2012 03:50 am (UTC)

I use bleach-y type things for the toilet - it stinks, but it breaks down rapidly (one of the reasons it's recommended for cleaning pet litter boxes etc.), and I just use a lot of ventilation when I need to get mean with soap scum in the tub. (Sadly, the soap-scum remover products bother me less than many perfumes do!) But I use green cleaner stuff (Mrs. Meyer's Lemon Verbena) for floors and such, and an olive-oil based furniture polish.

For laundry, I use unscented products. Clean laundry smells nice without the added perfume.

Jan. 9th, 2012 05:38 am (UTC)
*nods* It is just weird and annoying that people don't understand scent allergies/sensitivities...but then, I suppose people are annoying and jerky about food and pollen and pet allergies, too...
Jan. 12th, 2012 12:35 am (UTC)
I had a dermatologist tell me once that when your skin's dry you should put on as much Vaseline as you can stand overnight. Might be worth a try, at least it's not scented.

They changed the formula of my shampoo, and I have no idea what to do now. Everything gives me a rash.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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