Products don’t pass the sniff test

Published in The Sault Star Sept. 20, 2022

It makes no sense to me why there aren’t fewer scents.

To my knowledge I’m not allergic to any of the myriad of malodorous concoctions that manufacturers insist on gifting us with in household and hygiene products.

But I can’t stand their stink.

A rose by any other name would smell like s— if it was concocted by a chemist

I turn up my nose at some chemist’s idea of what a flower or fruit — or even an abstract quality such as freshness — smells like, partly because that concoction is about 10 times stronger than anything found in nature.

And no, adding a drop of mango juice and a dash of whatever jojoba is to a huge vat of chemicals in a factory somewhere doesn’t entice me to pay an extra buck for shampoo. Neither does attaching words such as “nature” or “natural” to the product.

Yet advertisements and labels flaunt the stinky stuff they add to all sorts of items, even though most of which do little or nothing to make them work better.

“Now, with larks’ vomit!” Can’t wait to roll that under my arms.

Product perfumery doesn’t pass the sniff test for those of us who would prefer to emerge from our showers not smelling like we had just visited a third-rate bordello (or what we imagine one of those must smell like).

The anti-scent army includes people who reject perfumy products for aesthetic or perhaps psychological reasons, maybe traceable to a traumatic dating experience at age 13 or to being over-aggressively embraced as a toddler by a heavily perfumed aunt. That’s between you and your shrink.

But it also includes about a third of the population who, according to one U.S. study, “reported health problems, such as migraine headaches and respiratory difficulties, when exposed to fragranced products.”

About 15% lost workdays or a job because of scents in the workplace, 20% leave a business as quickly as possible if they smell scent and more than half would prefer public places be fragrance-free, Anne Steinemann’s study adds.

The fact that a huge chunk of the population reacts with anything from displeasure to anaphylaxis to what others slosh on their bodies has not been lost on a number of workplaces, many of which have scent-free policies. Many are advisory rather than mandatory, but at least there’s an avenue for those seeking to end olfactory offence.

Hospitals, health centres and physicians offices usually prohibit scents.

But I’ve always marvelled that someone with a scent allergy wanting a prescription filled at Canada’s largest drug store chain must gag his way through the perfume section en route to the pharmacy counter.

Makers of soaps, shampoos, conditioners, laundry products and the like have largely failed to respond to consumer clout of the scent-free crowd, beyond assembling yet another focus group to see if mango-coconut-lychee is more appealing than vanilla-sandalwood-orchid.

Oh, you can find non-fragrant products on the grocer’s shelves, if you hold your nose and open your eyes. They’re right there, between the tropical peach and mango and the raspberry and orange, probably absorbing odours by osmosis.

And watch it: just because something is “unscented” doesn’t mean it is fragrance-free. While “unscented” might not have an evident fragrance, it can contain odours added to mask unpleasant smells of active ingredients.

Terms on the label are misleading. According to what I found on a supermarket chain’s web page, one popular shampoo touted as “pure” and containing “active fruit protein” has 30 ingredients, 17 of them with chemical suffixes.

When “parfum” or “fragrance” are on the list, that could mean any of more than 3,000 ingredients that might be sourced from anything from plants to petrochemical plants. Fragrances are considered trade secrets.

Oddly, it was my dog that first put me on the scent of this perfumed products issue.

She’s a shedder. I had heard that certain dryer sheets repel pet hair.

I searched online and found them at a local store. But the package bore words to make any scent-sensible soul shudder: Fresh Scent.

After a few minutes, the cab of my truck smelled as if I had bought and hung about a dozen of those Christmas-tree-shaped air fresheners (now available in black ice, colada and vanillorama!).

I dumped the sheets into the truck box so I could drive back for a refund without choking.

By the way, shouldn’t a product scented for a dog smell like something dead and/or rotten that they would like to roll in?

Anyway I wrote to the manufacturer to ask why the scent-free version pet dryer sheet they make is not available in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. As a mostly-retired person I have the time to indulge my inner crankiness.

They responded with the usual blah-blah about research and consumer testing, telling me I should bug my local store manager until he or she stocks the product. Then they gave me a link that showed me the closest place I can buy scent-free pet dryer sheets: Sault Michigan.

So what are we anti-cognoscenti to do?

Must we hope that when prime-minister-designate Pierre Poilievre promises freedom, he means freedom from scent?

Perhaps we could assemble the legion of the cranky and hang around store managers and product manufacturers like a bad smell until they dispense with some of theirs.

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