noFragrance.org is devoted to answering basic questions about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS).
SO WHAT'S WRONG WITH TRYING TO SMELL NICE?
Nothing in itself. But the chemicals that are used to propagate fragrance can be quite toxic to some people. This isn't a matter of taste or unpleasantness; people who suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) become physically sick, often to the point of being incapacitated, when exposed to artificial fragrances. A minimal amount of exposure is enough to hurt. For instance, a trace of scented laundry detergent in a room can force an MCS sufferer in the room to flee—or get very sick.
WHY SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT MCS SUFFERERS?
First of all—out of politeness. MCS is a disability like any other, and simple accommodations to MCS sufferers are possible. Just as you would not trip a blind person, you can avoid hurting MCS sufferers by not using scented products. The worst are perfumes and air “fresheners”, but scented lotions, scented laundry detergents, scented soaps, scented cleaning products, and the like can all hurt people with MCS.
Second—you could find yourself in their shoes! People are not born with MCS; they acquire it. Typically, the disability is due to massive exposures to toxic chemicals, which overload the body's ability to eliminate those toxins. For instance, people have developed MCS from living near oil refineries which found it cheaper to operate by polluting; from working with fiberglass resin; from working in paint factories; from exposure to oil-well fires. But sometimes it just isn't clear what caused the problem... except that these days, we all live in a chemical soup. The things that hurt MCS sufferers may actually be bad for everyone; by being considerate to MCS sufferers, you lighten your own toxic load, and may reduce your own chances of developing health problems.
Are scented products the only problem products?
Not at all; they're just the easiest for individuals to stop using. Many other things make MCS sufferers sick: each case is a bit different, but common triggers include new plastics (which usually outgas for some time after manufacture; think of “new car smell”), synthetic carpeting, fresh paint, car or diesel exhaust...
Doesn't the government make sure all these products are safe?
No; most of the problem substances are completely unregulated. Fragrance manufacturers are even allowed to keep their ingredients secret, so we can't even find out what's poisoning us without hiring an analytical chemist.
What kind of reaction do MCS people get? Is it an allergy?
Some MCS sufferers do use the term allergy as a shorthand, because
people usually understand allergies. Some even joke that they are “allergic
to the 20th century”, since most of the
problem substances were invented in the last few decades. (We can
only hope the 21st century will be less of a problem.)
But in some significant ways, MCS is
the exact opposite of an allergy.
Sadly, another difference is that while
many drugs are available to alleviate the symptoms of allergy sufferers,
the only remedy that works for MCS sufferers is to avoid exposure.
An MCS reaction can include: headache (usually quite severe), severe disorientation, irritability and mood swings, nausea, overwhelming fatigue, and loss of muscle control. Not everyone gets all these symptoms, and people don't always get the same mix of symptoms. It may depend on the particular trigger, and on how intense the concentration of toxins is—but also on how severe a case of MCS the individual has.
disorientation makes it particularly frustrating for MCS sufferers to
explain what's going on. When you can't think straight is a very bad
time to try to tell someone that their laundry detergent is making
sufferers wind up being unable to use most public facilities:
restaurants, museums, theaters, shops, and even city streets are filled
with fragrance that is toxic to them. People with the most severe
cases of MCS wind up being prisoners inside an environment they work
hard to keep safe. Others are luckier, and can at least go
outdoors, or visit friends who make an effort to keep their places safe.
What can I do to help?
Thank you for visiting noFragrance.org!
website is a public service of Kathy Rosskopf and Roland Pesch.
Copyright © 2003 Kathy Rosskopf and Roland Pesch
Anyone may reproduce, use or modify the text in this website
to promote awareness of MCS or to advocate against toxic pollution.
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