Aromassault: Why America Needs to Go on a Fragrance Diet

Posted on January 1st, 2005 in Mynagirl by mynagirl

Mynagirl, the Wolf-Nose

A stand-up comic on David Letterman once told a cute anecdote: He goes shopping with his girlfriend at a candle store (“… because I wanted to buy a candle…,” he notes wryly) and she holds up a candle to him, saying, “Doesn’t this smell like lavender and lilac?” His response: “What are you? A wolf? It smells like a purple candle!!”

Okay, if my husband and daughter are supertasters, then I am a supersmeller. Either that, or American folks, as a general rule, immerse themselves in way too much hair gel, hair serum, hair spray, bath gel, bath splash, bath spritz, body powder, body lotion, body spray, fragranced soap, fragranced makeup, and most of all… cologne and perfume. I think maybe the truth is both a combination me being a wolf-nose and people wearing way too much smelly stuff.

Maybe It Was a Dodge Durango into the ‘Obsession for Men’ Counter

So, I have to say, I am constantly amazed by how unaware (or uncaring) folks are about the amount of heavily fragranced stuff they layer on their bodies, which then places an olfactory assault on those who are unlucky enough to have to be in the cubic footage around them. I hate stepping into an elevator with somebody who’s wearing cologne of any kind — I actually hold my breath as much as I can until I get to leap out on my floor. I don’t mind meeting new people but one of my least favorite archetypes is the extra-cologne-wearer (sales guys seem to fit into the category a lot). I’ve had one co-worker who wore so much I could tell he was in the office before I even saw him — he literally left a smell trail that was about 20 feet long. I mean, you could tell it was nice expensive cologne but oh my god the sheer volume of it was like somebody smashed a Ford Expedition into the Drakkar counter. And it’s not just a few people… the problem is pervasive. At work this week I experienced no less than three instances of severe nasal assault — sometimes I’m not even sure from whom; in one case the scent cloud was so strong that it filled up a whole work area for more than an hour.

When our daughter, aka The G-I-R-L, prepared to get on a flight back to her mom’s house (her boyfriend was also going to be at the airport to pick her up), she said, “hold on, I have to go upstairs to put on body spray”. I cringed, thinking of my own flight two weeks prior back from a business trip next to a seemingly nice woman but who happened to be wearing a particularly pungent perfume. “Sweetie,” I said gently, “try to remember you’re going to be on a flight where you’re sitting right next to other people. Go easy on the scent.” I know she just wanted to be all fixed up to see her boyfriend, but I wanted her to understand what a scent (which quickly becomes the equivalent of background noise to the wearer) can be like to others, especially in close quarters such as a completely-full airplane flight.

The Fragrancing of the American Product Market

The problem is that nearly everything you buy these days is scented, so I think people expect that and then think they should actually smell like that. You have to search and search for something that doesn’t have a massive amount of fragrance added to it. I bought the Nivea body shimmer lotion once… horribly scented; I couldn’t use it. I love Burt’s Bees lip balm (which actually does smell of natural peppermint oil) so I bought Burt’s Bees face moisturizer: it stunk. Unlike the lip balm, which smelled of the peppermint oil because it was an ingredient, they actually added fragrance to the moisturizer to gave it that weird smell. Even Engineerboy hated that smell, I wore the moisturizer for two days and he wouldn’t even kiss me it was so gross. I spent $20 on Sephora for this lip stuff that makes your lips plump out temporarily (it’s called Two Faced, supposedly it has whatever Viagra has in it and that why it works) and while the stuff does indeed make your lips fatter, it has such a strong sticky-sweet smell on it that I won’t use it. Augh! I love how it works but yuck!

And I could write a whole subsection on Aveda stuff — I know aromatherapy is their whole gestalt, but I finally realized the essential oil massages were what was giving me headaches whenever I got my hair cut at an Aveda salon. Just because it’s a natural-based scent doesn’t mean the scent isn’t too strong (at least for me anyway). I’ll give Aveda this, though — the scents in their products don’t usually carry past the person that wears it. If I only smell you when I’m giving you a hug then your fragrance isn’t overdone, by my definition.

But it’s not just makeup and personal care products that have fragrance issues. I used Downy Wrinkle Remover once (you know, that stuff that you spray onto a wrinkled item, let it dry overnight and then miraculously have something without wrinkles in the morning?) The product itself worked GREAT but I spent the next day at work (no lie) being close to gagging from the disgustingly heavy scent coming up from my wrinkle-free slacks. I threw out the bottle and I’ll stick to the dry cleaner or ironing from now on. What a shame — I’d buy the heck outta that stuff if they made a fragrance-free version. Laundry products in general are a very big offender in this category — there is no ‘dark laundry’ detergent that has a fragrance-free version, and all the regular versions have a horrible cloying odor. I like the concept of washing my dark stuff in something meant to keep it from fading, but not at the overly distracting cost of feeling like someone is pushing scented cotton balls up my nose all day.

So What’s a Wolf-Nose to Do?

Slowly, I’ve identified the things I can use that aren’t stinky (to me). Clinique has wonderful fragrance-free moisturizer (I think fragrance- and additive-free is their whole schtick, so I might start looking there for makeup as well rather than Lancôme). Mary Kay’s makeup isn’t fragrance-free but it doesn’t reek or anything, so I use their stuff, too. Aveeno products (available at the drugstore) tend to be fragrance-free; their body lotion is great, as is their hand cream. Lubriderm’s fragrance-free stuff isn’t bad, either. I always buy the “Free” type of laundry detergent (All Free works pretty well) and use Dreft detergent (it’s for baby stuff) and Downy Free for hand washables and lingerie instead of Woolite (boy, does Woolite stink!!). (Actually a lady at a really really uppity lingerie store once told me that Woolite will destroy good lingerie anyway, and that Dreft is the best stuff for washing expensive finery — presumably she had nothing to gain from that recommendation, so I was using that stuff for years before my current distaste for strong smells reached its peak).

I can’t find everything I want in fragrance-free, though. I’m still searching for the right fragrance-free shampoo. You’d think Neutrogena would be the ticket but their shampoo is quite fragranced. Even Dove shampoo has a pretty strong scent. Really your only option for totally smell-free (that I can find at a drugstore, anyway) is Johnson’s baby shampoo and then No More Tears detangler. I’ve done that before but it really is made for kid hair and it’s pretty easy to over-condition your hair with that stuff. Try looking professional at the office with your hair all slicked down with too much detangler. Not pretty. I’ve ended up using L’Oreal stuff — still scented but I can handle it okay. If anyone has any other suggestions I’d love for you to email me.

As for coworkers and acquaintances, I can’t do anything about them. There’s no socially delicate way I can think of to say, “Gee, can you lay off the Obsession for Men there, pal?” I’m just grateful my current situation at work gives me an office of my own and none of my close friends are perfume or cologne overindulgers. I try not to be too obvious in an elevator when I hold my breath or place my hand up toward my nose so that I don’t have to breathe in someone else’s cologne. I really have no idea if the problem is mine or theirs, or how many other people are like me — unwilling ships constantly awash in a sea of others’ perfumes.

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