by John P. Thomas
Health Impact News
Is your perfume or cologne controlling your behavior? Is it possible that you are addicted? Let’s take a look at fragrances and see how they function in the human body. Let’s consider their addictive qualities and their capacity to control how we live.
Fragrances Contain Narcotic-like Substances
Fragrances contain chemicals that have narcotic-like properties. The substances might not produce a traditional narcotic high, but they do cause dependency, which triggers the need for repeated use of the product to avoid the discomfort and irritability of withdrawal.
In a 1991 study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) benzaldehyde, ethyl acetate, and linalool were identified as having narcotic like qualities. These chemicals are found in perfume, cologne, hairspray, laundry bleach, deodorants, laundry detergents, Vaseline lotion, shaving cream, bar soap, dishwasher detergent, aftershave, shampoo, nail color, nail enamel remover, fabric softener, dishwashing liquid, and in air fresheners. 
Fragrances are actually made up of hundreds of chemicals many of which have functions known only to the fragrance manufacturers. Their formulas are trade secrets and are not shared with the public. It’s not just the individual ingredients that are of concern, but it is the complex interaction of all the ingredients that contribute to the highly addictive nature of fragrances.
When I use the term “fragrance,” I am always referring to chemically formulated compounds that are produced from petroleum. 95% of all the ingredients in the fragrances used in perfume, cologne, scented body care products, laundry products, and cleaning products are synthesized in a laboratory. They rarely contain essential oils derived from living plant material. I will never use the word “fragrance” to refer to essential oils. Fragrances are always synthetic and artificial, even if the label says that they are natural, green, or organic.
An Example of the Addictive Power of Perfume and Cologne
Several years ago my wife and I were visiting a town in the mountains of western Maine. We were looking at a few books on the rack in the town’s historic pharmacy. Just across the aisle was a perfume display with a large row of testers. As we were looking at the books, another couple walked by us and I heard the woman suddenly exclaim, “Oh! There’s my favorite perfume – I think I will have some.” Since she was standing right next to my wife who has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), my wife instantly responded, “Please don’t spray that, I am highly allergic and it will make me sick.” The woman looked at my wife and then looked at the bottle. A second later the bottle was in her hand and she gave herself a strong dose of perfume and then walked in front of my wife leaving a cloud of fumes behind her. To say the least, I was angry. How could someone be so selfish?
Over the years since that incident, I have come to realize that the woman in the drugstore must have been a heavy perfume user. She was addicted to the chemicals in her favorite perfume. It was noon when the incident happened, and it had probably been 4 or 5 hours since her last fix. She needed a pick-me-up, because she was probably starting to go into withdrawal.
No, I will not Stop Using Perfume or Cologne when I am Around You!
My wife has been struggling to avoid being exposed to perfume, cologne, and the fragrances of laundry products and air fresheners for over fifteen years. Because of her Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), my wife and I have asked many people to please not use perfume or cologne when they know that they will be spending time with us. Whether it is in our home, in a church meeting, or other type of gathering, the answer we receive to such requests is almost always “NO.” People usually get quite offended when such a request is made. Sometimes people will say they will honor the request, but then they often forget to keep their promise. Sometimes we have made gentle reminders to encourage them to help us, but it is amazingly difficult for perfume addicted people to stop using perfume or cologne when they start their day or to avoid reapplying perfume later in the day.
Even greater hostility may be evoked when a request is made to please consider using unscented laundry detergent or to stop using dryer sheets, which are some of the most toxic fragranced products. Even if we tell people that our suggestions will make them healthier and save money, they still have no interest in hearing what we have to say about the toxic qualities of fragranced products.
Compassion versus Addiction
It is quite fascinating to watch the power of addiction. People may have great compassion for homeless cats and dogs, may be very supportive of all kinds of community charity projects, and may be loving parents and grandparents, however, when it comes to the effect of fragranced products on the health of other people, they seem to have very little compassion. They might give you the shirt off their back, but don’t get between them and their perfume or dryer sheets. It really is no different than any other addiction. Cigarettes, alcohol, and sugar all exercise the same power to control behavior and to repel anyone who might dare to interfere with their being satisfied by their drug of choice, which in this case is fragrance.
An Addict doesn’t have Compassion for Those He Hurts
A person who is addicted, whether it is to alcohol, drugs, food, pornography, or perfume, will not allow anyone else’s need to interfere with their need to keep using a certain substance. This may not be conscious, since most perfume users probably don’t suspect that they are addicted. In their mind, they just love perfume and cologne, and they can’t imagine how other people could dislike what they love or even be made sick by what makes them feel good.
Fragrances are Emotionally Addictive
In addition to the physically addictive aspects of fragrances, they are also emotionally addictive. This is due to the olfactory pathway in the brain through which sensations of smell enter the subconscious part of the brain.
Dr. Tim Jacob describes how this pathway works. He is describing the limbic system:
We respond in an involuntary way to smell – this is due to the wiring of the olfactory pathway. The olfactory nerves go first to a primitive region of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is a collection of brain structures situated beneath the cerebral cortex that deal with emotion, motivation, and association of emotions with memory. Only after this relay has occurred does the information arrive in the higher cortical brain regions for perception and interpretation. Smell is unique among the senses in its privileged access to the subconscious.
The limbic system is increasingly recognized to be crucial in determining and regulating [a person’s] entire emotional ‘tone’. Excitation of [the limbic system], by whatever means, produces heightened emotionalism and an intensification of the senses. It also has a lot to do with the formation of memories and this is the reason that smell and memory are so intimately linked. 
In other words, when we smell perfume and other products containing fragrance, they have an immediate effect upon our emotional status. They also can stimulate us to recall memories that are associated with past emotional experiences. These reactions happen before the higher parts of the brain even have the opportunity to recognize that an odor is present. Thus, fragrances can have a powerful influence over how a person feels and thinks even when the fragrances are very faint. This influence occurs for the person who wears fragrances and for those who smell the secondhand fragrances that others are wearing.
Perfume and Cologne Contain Stimulating Compounds
Zookeepers at the Toronto Zoo found that when they sprayed the perfume, Obsession by Calvin Klein in the tiger habitat, it stimulated reproductive activity more effectively than any substance they have found. Obsession is a huge aphrodisiac and a stimulant for the tigers.  Similarly, zookeepers at the Dallas Zoo tested a variety of scents, from ocelot dung to snake shed, on four ocelots at the zoo to find a scent that would attract the attention of the cats. Some scents left the cats cold, others were greeted with mild interest. But when a member of the team tossed in a towel soaked in her boyfriend’s cologne, Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men, she hit the jackpot. One of the cats was ready for a date with the towel. 
The preceding descriptions of animal reactions to cologne strongly suggests that fragrance producers are working with pheromones to evoke emotional and physiological reactions.
Dr. Mercola described pheromones:
Pheromones are small organic molecules known as the “secret seducers” that influence biological processes to stimulate your sex drive.
Animals secrete these pheromone-based chemical signals to communicate their gender or reproductive status to other animals — and humans are no exception.
Even though you don’t consciously recognize the smell of pheromones, these chemicals likely play a role in helping you find a suitable partner.
Researchers have actually confirmed the presence of a “secret sex nerve” (Nerve “O”), which has endings in your nasal cavity. Nerve O’s fibers go directly to the sexual regions of your brain, and because Nerve O bypasses the olfactory cortex, it does not register a conscious smell, but rather identifies chemical sexual cues. 
The existence of the pheromone pathway represents an opportunity for perfume manufacturers to influence human sexual desire and receptivity without a person being conscious of what is happening.
Even though the pheromones can’t be smelled, they can change how men or women might react in social situations.
The functional power of human pheromones was confirmed in a 2004 study of postmenopausal women who volunteered for a double-blind placebo-controlled study. They tested an odorless synthetic pheromone designed to match the pheromones of young women. The pheromone was added to the women’s preferred fragrance and used daily for 6 weeks. They measured whether it would increase the romance in the lives of the older women. During the experimental period, a significantly greater proportion of participants using the pheromone formula (40.9%) than placebo (13.6%) recorded an increase in romantic affection. 
So, in addition to the narcotic effect of perfumes and their manipulation of our emotional state by means of the limbic system, fragrances also can influence our sexual responsiveness through pheromones.
It’s Much More about Sex and Power than Fragrance
Why are Perfumes and Colognes so popular?
The marketing of perfumes, colognes, aftershaves, and other scented body care products is based on sex and the power to control others. In other words, people are subtly promised that they will be more sexually attractive or sexually desirable. It is further suggested that people can be invincible and they can get whatever they want — that is — if they wear a certain fragrance.
How many of the following statements have you seen? How many do you believe? You may not realize that all of these statements have been carefully marketed to get us to change our beliefs, our habits and the way we spend money. A hundred years ago, few people would have believed these types of statements. Yet, today, these lies and half-truths are considered to be facts of life for the modern woman or man, all because of marketing campaigns.
- The natural scent of the human body is unpleasant.
- Being clean is not good enough, we must put on a fragrance to prove that we are clean.
- Clean clothes must have a distinct fragrance to reassure us that they are clean.
- A clean house must have a noticeable fragrance to demonstrate cleanliness.
- The fragrance of a house is part of the decor.
- Each person should have a distinct scent that defines their individuality.
- Getting dressed also includes applying perfume or cologne.
- Prosperous people demonstrate their success by the expense of their scent.
- You will have more power in the workplace when you wear a commanding fragrance.
- You will feel more sexy and get what you want from men or women through the power of a scent.
- Beautiful people smell beautiful.
- Scent is essential for attracting someone of the opposite sex.
- Scent magnifies sensual pleasure.
What Subtle Messages are being Marketed along with Perfume and Cologne?
If you spend time looking at perfume and cologne names, you will immediately realize how many of them refer to sex, nakedness, conquest, seduction, and lust. Curiously, some even use the word “poison,” presumably as a way to show the ultimate sexual power of the product.
Even if a fragrance simply bears an apparently innocuous name or the signature of an Italian, French, or Scandinavian designer, or the name of a celebrity, the appeal and marketing through magazine and television always seems to focus on sex, glamour, power, control, and, of course, pride.
The Bigger Picture – Compassion versus Addiction
There is a clear conflict between those who claim that they have a right to wear fragrances anytime and anywhere they wish, with those who want to or need to breathe clean air to avoid illness. Fragrances cause a variety of negative health reactions for nearly 30% of Americans (95 million adults and children). Reactions to fragrance exposure include: exhaustion, weakness, “hay fever” symptoms, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, confusion, headaches, rashes, swollen lymph glands, muscle aches and spasms, heart palpitations, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, asthma attacks (inability to breathe), neuromotor dysfunction, seizures, and even loss of consciousness.
The conflict that we see today regarding fragrance use is the same type of conflict that we saw in the 1970s and 1980s over secondhand tobacco smoke. In the 1960s and earlier, people smoked in most public places. Restaurants did not have smoking sections and people were free to smoke in most public office buildings. The only exception that comes to mind is the custom of not smoking during religious services. Today, smoking is rarely permitted in public locations. It is now common to see groups of tobacco addicted people puffing in designated outside smoking areas. Smoking is now universally understood to be an addiction.
It took many years of work to remove tobacco smoke from public spaces. The reason was that the power of addiction was the driving force that was empowering the pro-smoking advocates. They were not just fighting to have free access to tobacco whenever they wanted, they were subconsciously fighting to ensure that they would always be able to keep their nicotine levels high and to stay out of withdrawal.
The current controversy regarding secondhand fragrance exposure is quite similar to the smoking controversy of the past. Telling smokers that their addiction was harming others rarely stopped people from smoking in public places. This is because their addiction was stronger than their compassion for those who suffered from their secondhand smoke. Information does not automatically stop an addiction, but it does inform people of the truth concerning their addiction.
Daily Fragrance Use Quickly becomes an Addiction
I recently did an internet search for perfume addiction and was surprised to find several groups of fragrance users discussing the topic. Many of the participants admitted to having the out of control economic aspect of the addiction, where they would compulsively keep buying new bottles of perfume even though they already had 25 or 40 bottles of very expensive perfume. One woman described her experience with perfume in terms of achieving a drug-like high and was delighted with her experience. What she described sounded very similar to a narcotic high.  Another author analyzed her compulsion to buy and use perfume in terms of whether it was just a hobby or a real addiction. She concluded that it was an addiction, but she was happy with the situation and was emphatic that she was going to keep her addiction.  One person attempted to provide advice to other perfume addicts by providing tips to avoid out of control spending for perfume. 
I also found a number of forums discussing the fragrances that they believed would produce the highest level of sexual arousal. Some people try to downplay the notion that perfume and cologne contain pheromones, and suggest that it is all a placebo effect or a marketing effect. Given the discussion of the tigers and ocelots, and the use of pheromones by post-menopausal women, it is clear that the cats and these women did not experience a placebo effect.
The exact formulas for fragrances are proprietary. The fragrance industry does not disclose exactly what is in their products. This is reminiscent of the cigarette manufacturers who added various addictive substances to their products for many decades until it was finally revealed that they were intentionally keeping their customers hooked.
The Perfume Challenge
Finally, to those who say that they use fragrances all the time, but they are most certainly not addicted, I offer you a simple challenge. Why not prove to yourself that you are not addicted by going off all your perfume, cologne, and scented body care products, and discontinuing the use of scented laundry products and dryer sheets? Do it and see what happens. Try it for 30 days. If you are not addicted, then you will not experience any withdrawal symptoms or have any cravings to use these products.
However, if you get irritated, develop headaches, feel queasy, can’t sleep or maybe can’t wake up, feel depressed, or feel confused or foggy headed, then you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. If you can’t stop thinking about your perfume, then this is also a sign of addiction. You also should observe your health condition. Do any of your health problems disappear?
What is the Big Deal, so What if I am Addicted?
Addiction retards our ability to have honest and sincere interactions with others. Addicts use their addiction to avoid pain and to suppress unwanted emotions. Addicts have relationships with the substance of their addiction instead of having deeply intimate relationships with people. Eventually the addiction dominates a person’s life.
I read through quite a few blog posts from people who identified themselves as addicted to perfume. Perfume was the center of their lives and they were proud of it! They knew the specific names of hundreds of perfumes. They knew which perfumes were intended for what types of uses. They knew the primary scents that were found in dozens of perfume. They describe going on vacation to Europe for the purpose of going perfume shopping. The stories went on and on. They were obsessed with fragrance. It didn’t look like they had time for much else. Several people described staying up into the early morning hours reading about perfume and talking to people online about perfume. Many were in financial trouble, because they couldn’t stop spending money on new bottles of perfume.
Any addiction will move a person into a downward spiral. And when the first addiction no longer works to repress unwanted feelings and memories, then an additional addiction is often employed to maintain the desired level of numbness.
What about Natural Fragrances, Organic Fragrances, and Green Fragrances?
Switching to these types of perfumes will not allow you to escape your addiction. All manufactured fragrances are made from synthetic ingredients. There is no regulation of synthetic fragrances or control over the names that can be used to describe them. Thus, the terms natural, green, and even organic are meaningless when it comes to anything called “fragrance.”
My Struggle with Freeing Myself from Cologne Addiction
There was a time in my life when I was addicted to cologne. My life hadn’t been taken over by the bottles, because they were not my primary drug of addiction. However, I reached a point where I had to choose between keeping and using my colognes or to throw them away for the sake of my first wife’s health. She had terminal cancer and developed a strong adverse reaction to fragrances. She stopped using her own perfume and then asked me to stop using my cologne collection. I got rid of the fragrances, went through withdrawal, and experienced considerable anger as I readjusted to life without my scents. I can tell you that life is better without cologne even if I had to mourn over my loss and go through the discomfort of withdrawal before becoming fragrance-free.
It is not just the health of those who are exposed to secondhand fragrance that is at stake, it is also the health of those who use fragranced products. Fragrances affect the physical, emotional, and hormonal health of everyone who uses them or smells them, though the negative consequences are rarely attributed to fragrances. Unexplained headaches, compulsive eating, inability to think clearly, and sinus congestion can be just a few of the consequences of using perfume, cologne, and products containing fragrance.
 “Twenty Most Common Chemicals in Thirty-one Fragrance Products,” (based on a 1991 EPA Study.)
 “A Tutorial on the Sense of Smell,” Tim Jacob, Cardiff University, UK.
 “An Obsession of a different kind”, Toronto Observer, March 11, 2004.
 “One of the Cats was Ready for a Date.”
 “Woman Scent More Seductive Than Perfume,” Mercola.com. March 02, 2010.
 “Pheromonal influences on sociosexual behavior in postmenopausal women,” J Sex Res., November 2004, PMID: 15765277.
 “The Perfume Diet – Guilty Indulgences,” Alyssa Harad, O (The Oprah Magazine), June 2011.
 “Confessions of an Aromaholic: Hobby vs Addiction,” The Perfume Critic, June 15, 2011.
 “Tips for controlling your perfume addiction,” hortus conclusus, June 18, 2010.