In everyday modern life, the world is full of fragrances. Most of them are unnecessary, and many of them are known to induce adverse reactions such as headaches or migraines in people who have developed an increased sensitivity. As a result, many of us experience difficulty in crowds – on buses and trains, in hotels, cinemas and pubs, on planes and even in busy shops.
This webpage contains information about resources and products that we have found helpful in trying to understand and combat the adverse effects of unnecessary fragrances, including a list of fragrance-free, unperfumed products that we have found useful.
You don’t have a problem - why should you care?
Fragrances can have a wide range of adverse effects on people, including inflammation, headaches and nausea. Perhaps you suffer from ill-effects yourself when exposed to certain fragrances, or you know someone else who does. Maybe you had never realised that the products you use in your home, on your body or in public places, can harm some people because of a smell which you find pleasant.
The majority of people probably don't even notice it because the fragrance follows them around, all the time, 24/7, on their clothes and on their bed-linen. However, a sizeable proportion of the population (between 10% and 20% - see articles below) suffer problems when exposed to these strong fragrances, often silently and without even recognising the underlying cause.
First, it is important to understand that the ingredients used in common household products are NOT fully listed on the packaging, nor on their 'safety data sheet'. Indeed, the same product can use different formulations in different areas of the country, despite being sold in identical packaging. Furthermore, the formulations often change over time, as companies make adjustments to what appears to the consumer to be the same product, without any changes mentioned on the consumer label.
We believe that ALL contents should appear on product labels, no matter how low the concentration. This would help people to identify which fragrances affect them, and to avoid products containing these.
Personally, we have found the ‘Ecover ZERO’ range of laundry and household cleaning products to be extremely useful. These are not always available in supermarkets, and it is also important to stress that you need to specifically search for the ZERO range because some of Ecover’s standard products are fragranced. Many products in the ZERO range are available from The Ethical Superstore and from Big Green Smile. We do not use many cosmetic products but we have found the ‘Simple’ Skincare range useful. These are more widely available in supermarkets and from other online sellers. The following fragrance-free products, which we have used ourselves, are available in the UK:
Ecover ZERO Sensitive Non-bio Laundry Liquid
Ecover ZERO Washing-up Liquid
Ecover ZERO All-purpose Cleaner
Allergenics Mild & Gentle Shampoo
Mum Unperfumed Anti-perspirant
Simple Replenishing Rich Moisturiser
Waitrose Essential Range Sensitive Fragrance-free
The Case Against Fragrance by Kate Grenville provides a good introduction to many of the issues involved, and describes the impact on the life of someone affected by a sensitivity to fragrances. The paperback is available in the UK from Hive, Bookshop and Foyles.
Fragranced Consumer Products: Emissions, Exposures and Effects by Anne Steinemann is a collection of some of her published scientific papers on this topic.
Articles & Research
Fragrance sensitivity: why perfumed products can cause profound health problems (Guardian, 15 September 2019) makes the case for fragrance-free public spaces. It includes results from the paper International prevalence of chemical sensitivity, co-prevalences with asthma and autism, and effects from fragranced consumer products (Steinemann 2019) which found that around 1 in 5 people reported chemical sensitivity (from a study in UK, USA, Australia and Sweden).
Fragrance Sensitivities Can Actually Be Very Severe... is an article at health.com which draws on the findings of the paper Health and societal effects from exposure to fragranced consumer products (Steinemann 2017) that was published in Preventative Medicine Reports.
A review of a two-phase population study of multiple chemical sensitivities (Caress & Steinemann 2003), carried out in Atlanta Georgia, found that 1 in 8 people reported a hypersensitivity to at least one common household chemical and almost 1 in 50 of the entire sample reported that they had lost a job as a consequence of this sensitivity.
The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety produced a lengthy report in 2012 on Fragrance allergens in cosmetic products but this mostly relates to 'contact' issues rather than fragrance. A follow-up public consultation ran in 2019/20.
In 2018 Defra published a 25-year environment plan, which planned a full Chemicals Strategy, but this has been delayed by Brexit and Covid.
www.thinkbeforeyoustink.com is a US website with some general information and suggestions for (mostly) US suppliers of fragrance-free products.
seriouslysensitivetopollution.org is a collection of resources put together by someone suffering from MCS.
A list of fragrance-free products put together for Canadian students.
Who are we?
We are a couple, living in the UK, one of whom experiences sensitivity to fragrances. We have no affiliation to any of the authors, organisations, producers or sellers listed in this resource. We do not receive any financial gain from their inclusion on this webpage, nor would we wish to include any other products or information for financial gain.
How to contact us
If you would like to get in touch, please email firstname.lastname@example.org