Life’s sweet smells…lilacs, perfume, cookies baking, fresh brewed coffee, puppy breath… So many! Our olfactory can immediately evoke a memory, good or bad, and take us to a favorite place, a scary time or a missed loved one. Our sense of smell is part of what researchers call the “limbic” or emotional system of the brain. It is the most primitive part of the cerebrum and a powerful part of our biology. It’s why smells can trigger emotions and memories.
Because of this, and without really recognizing it, our noses are very much included in advertising and marketing! It’s called “Sensory Marketing” and it’s one of the ways companies get you to buy their products. When you walk into a movie theater and smell popcorn…what do you do? Go up to the counter where there is ALWAYS someone busily stirring up freshly popped corn. It makes your stomach rumble and you buy the biggest bucket with extra butter…for like what? $8? EIGHT DOLLARS! You can buy roughly four packages of popcorn for your home to make something like 40 times that for the same money. But hey, it’s the movies! So, you tuck in as soon as you sit down and are half done by the time the movie starts. Most of us don’t even go back for the free refills that some theaters offer…and they know it. Same works for the bakery, or the coffee shop, even Disney! Did you know that their Parks have:
“…music to selected smells throughout the parks and in their different hotels, to strict guidelines on employees and characters, Disney has remarkably mastered sensory marketing and branding.”
Kind of adds a whole new meaning to being “lead around by the nose”.
Olfactory marketing is in almost every kind of product. From your dishwasher detergent pods to some ink pens, scents and fragrances are added to almost everything!
So, what is “fragrance”? Though listed as one ingredient, it can be many thousands of different substances that combine to (supposedly) smell appealing. Of course, what smells good to one person may be terrible to another, hence the hugely broad range of chemical blends. And the more one is surrounded by this multitude of molecules, the more desensitized we can become. We’ve all walked by someone who seemed to be oozing Patchouli or Axe and nearly gagged by the sheer overwhelm of it. Or had that friend that reapplies their perfume numerous times a day. That’s because after a certain point we develop “nose blindness”. A strange phenomenon that science hasn’t quite figured out the reason for yet. Not sure you’re still smelling pretty? Ask a friend. Please.
The opposite is also true. The more one stays away from artificial fragrances, for instance, the MORE sensitive we get to them. I have to hold my breath if I accidentally go down the detergent aisle at the grocery store! And some retail housewares outlets? I can’t shop in their stores…I get an instant headache. Which segues me into the real purpose of this blog…”mystery ailments”.
Now, I am no doctor or allergist, but I DO know that because artificial scents are so ubiquitous, it is often overlooked by professionals as a cause for things like:
- Contact dermatitis (red rash or burn-like rash on the skin)
- Sinus reactions like stuffy or runny nose
Some can lead to more severe reactions including inducing asthma attacks, and developing a condition called “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS”. We’ve been conditioned to Pavlovian levels regarding odors- these are good, those are bad- to the extent that some people would argue with you that the smell of “lavender” from a bottle of air freshener is more authentic than the real plant!
Our clothes must smell “fresh”! If we clean house, it must smell “better”. You can even get “liquid smoke” for your barbequing needs. It’s really quite a racket!
Don’t go running for the “fragrance free” version just yet! There are chemicals call “masking agents” that dull down the sometimes-unpleasant combination of the REST of the product. Again, this is also a multiple-ingredient ingredient. Shoot for “unscented” if you must, but you’d be better off opting for a natural version of what you need that uses natural oils to add an agreeable whiff.
So, here’s the rub. Companies exploit the exception that they are not required, even by the “Fair Packaging and Labeling Act” to list all of the components of a fragrance. It’s a loophole originally put in place to protect a perfume’s proprietary blend from being copied. And nobody’s really interested in changing it. Too much $$ involved.
If you or any of your family members suffer from mild “mystery” symptoms like some of the above-mentioned, get “fragrance” out of your home. Yeah….if you think about it, it’s a lot right? Common household items that have added perfumes:
- Dish/hand/laundry soap
- Body wash/bar soap
- All hair products
- Fabric Softener/dryer sheets
- New clothes (wash before wearing)
- Air fresheners (plug in and aerosol)
- Children’s pens/markers/crayons
- Some children’s toys (more “girly” stuff like dolls and such)
After phasing out all that artificial garbage out of your nose, you may find that flowers smell sweeter, your food will taste better (taste and smell are intricately linked), you can BREATHE better, and some of those mystery symptoms have disappeared. And if not, a LONG list of potential causes will have been taken off the list.
“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”