Copyright © 2006 Where Is God Ministries
It may surprise us to learn that millions of people around the world suffer from mild to very serious allergic, asthmatic, immunologic and neurological reactions to perfumes, colognes and synthetically fragranced products. For the average person, breathing in fragrances from perfumes, colognes, hair sprays, deodorants, air fresheners and/or cleaners can just be a little annoying, “…but for a growing number of others, these smells, called ‘emissions of volatile organic compounds,’ can be a form of torment that throws their bodies into reactive overdrive. One whiff of a chemical cocktail…can result in a vast array of debilitating symptoms” (Ephraim).
What Can We Do?
Numerous churches have chosen to create a Fragrance-Free Section in their sanctuary, which is a great way to help those who cannot sit right next to someone wearing synthetic fragrances. Many can benefit from this simple gesture.
Nevertheless, for others, this is not a solution by itself. Why? Because “Scented products are volatile substance and get into the air quickly. Once in the air, containment to a defined space is impossible. Further scented products are designed to diffuse into the air and linger” (FPINVA, Facts). “Once in the air, these materials pose serious health concerns for many with asthma, allergies, migraines, chronic lung disease, and other health conditions” (FPINVA).
In all, there is no way to keep perfume and cologne from drifting into the Fragrance-Free Section. Therefore, all or most of the members must refrain from wearing these fragrances, so that the air is not permeated in the sanctuary and throughout the church. Once this is achieved, this group can sit in the Fragrance Free Section to avoid being seated next to a visitor wearing it or a member who is wearing any other fragranced products.
For those in the community who require a room that is completely free of not only perfume and cologne, but any fragranced lotion, deodorant, hair spray, laundry detergent, carpet, upholstery, paint, plastic, etc., it is wonderful when churches add or design a special room. This room needs a separate entrance, bathroom and a view of the sanctuary. It is a great way to provide a safe place to worship! However, we must remember that this room can be quite isolating, as the group is unable to fellowship with the rest of the church. For some with severe chemical disorders, there is no other option. However, for most living with chemical reactions, just asking the members not to wear perfume and cologne will keep from unnecessarily dividing the body and isolating them from other members and activities.
Why Go Perfume-Free to Church?
1) We need to have a high regard and care for those living with disabilities and illness: “…those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” (1 Cor 12: 22 & 23).
2) A Fragrance Free Section in the sanctuary does not remain fragrance free if the congregation continues to wear perfume and cologne, because the fragrances permeate the boundaries.
3) Creating a Fragrance Free Section or separate room, without the congregation refraining from wearing perfume and cologne, isolates the group to this area. This blockade keeps them from fellowshipping with other members, attending Sunday school and going to church activities. We are not supposed to put a stumbling block (Lev. 19:14) or obstacle in front of our brothers and sisters (Rom. 14:13).
4) Instead, we should invite them into our lives, homes and churches, not place them aside where we cannot visit with them. “’I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me’” (Matt 25:43).
5) This group should remain an active part of our congregation, as we should suffer with them because, “…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it;” (1 Cor 12: 25 & 26).
6) How do we make the change? The church needs to make regular announcements, post notices in the bulletin and place signs either saying such as, “For the comfort of our members, please do not wear perfume or cologne to services and functions.” Or we can announce that, “The services and functions are now perfume and cologne free.”
In all, we can surely sacrifice not wearing perfume or cologne for a few hours a week, so that these people can be a part of our church family. After all, Jesus said, “’Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me’” (Matt 25:45).
“Perfume formulations changed sometime around the late 70s and early 80s. Today, they are approximately 95-100% synthetic (man-made)” (Pitts, Featured Author). Using crude oil or turpentine oil as the base material, synthetics are usually derived from chemical reactions (Bridges). In general, “Perfumes, colognes, and many other scented products contain an abundance of harmful chemicals, many of which are listed on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste List. They also include numerous carcinogenic chemicals, neurotoxins, respiratory irritants, solvents, aldehydes, hundreds of untested and unregulated petrochemicals, phthalates (which can act as hormone disrupters), narcotics, and much more” (Pitts, Featured).
“[In 1991 a study performed by the EPA] Identification of Polar Volatile Organic Compounds in Consumer Products and Common Microenvironments, found numerous chemicals commonly used in fragrance products, including, among others: acetone; benzaldehyde; benzyl acetate; benzyl alcohol; camphor; ethanol; ethyl acetate; limonene; linalool; methylene chloride, one or all of which, or in combination with one another, cause, when inhaled, ‘central nervous system disorders, dizziness, nausea, incoordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, irritation to the mouth, throat, eyes, skin, lungs and GI tract, kidney damage, headache, respiratory failure, ataxia, and fatigue, among other symptoms and illnesses.’ Material Safety Data Sheets on each chemical confirm these findings” (Dewey).
It has been reported that exposure to fragrances can exacerbate several health conditions (Pitts). Although not all with allergies report difficulties with perfumes and fragrances, “As many as 50 million people in the United States suffer from allergic disease” (AAAAI). In addition, “In 1998, it was estimated that 26.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma in their lifetime” (ALA of Texas). Asthma is a serious respiratory disorder that can constrict and cause swelling of the airways. “The Institute of Medicine placed fragrance in the same category as second hand smoke in triggering asthma in adults and school age children” (FPINVA). What’s more, “Up to 72% of asthmatics report their asthma is triggered by fragrance. Asthmatics and others that are negatively impacted by fragrance often have difficulties working, obtaining medical care, and going about activities of daily living because of others’ use of scented products” (FPINVA).
Furthermore, “Approximately 12.6% of the population suffers from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a condition in which they experience reactions from exposure to low concentrations of common chemicals…” (Adams). MCS is “…marked by multiple symptoms in multiple organ systems (usually the neurological, immune, respiratory, skin, ‘GI,’ and/or musculoskeletal) that recur chronic-ally in response to multiple chemical exposures. MCS Symptoms commonly include difficulty breathing, sleeping and/or concentrating, memory loss, migraines, nausea, abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, aching joints and muscles, and irritated eyes, nose, ears, throat and/or skin. In addition, some with MCS show impaired balance and increased sensitivity not just to odors but also to loud noises, bright lights, touch, extremes of heat and cold, and electromagnetic fields” (MCRR).
Overall, reactions to toxic substances can be quite serious for many. Just going to the store or having a friend over for lunch can risk an exposure that could leave them very ill. Many can no longer even attend a church service or activity, without having a reaction, because of these perfumes that pervade the air. It is estimated that “…more than 5.2 million [with MCS] may lose jobs as a result” (Adams). Unfortunately, many become isolated from friends and family, disabled or homebound, because of their reactions to chemicals in our environment.
▪ Toluene (methyl benzene) was detected in fragrance samples and collectedby the EPA in 1991. Toluene is a ‘hazardous waste.’ It is flammable and volatile, it attacks the central nervous system, blood, liver, kidneys, eyes, and skin, and it serves as an asthma trigger…Methylene chloride is also found in pesticides and septic tank cleaners (Pitts, Get a Whiff of This).
▪ Approximately 95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum (US House of Reps). Petroleum based chemicals are being found to cause significant attritional effects to the nervous system and immune system after prolonged exposure. Illnesses identified in the medical research include adult and child cancers, numerous neurological disorders, immune system weakening, autoimmune disorders, asthma, allergies, infertility, miscarriage, and child behavior disorders including learning disabilities, mental retardation, hyperactivity and ADD (attention deficit disorders) (Pressinger and Sinclair).
▪ Some scented candles contain acetone, benzene, lead, carbon monoxide, toluene and more (Pitts, Whiff). In addition to many fragrance chemicals, chloroform was found in tests of fabric softeners (EHN) and a room containing air freshener had a high level of p-dichlorobenzene (a carcinogen) and ethanol (EPA). Air “fresheners,” according to the Household Hazardous Waste Project, do not freshen the air at all. What they do is mask one odor with another, while diminishing one’s sense of smell with a nerve-deadening agent (Pitts, Whiff).
▪ Phthalates are found in many every day products like hair spray, deodorant, nail polish and perfume (NTP, Facts). In May 2002 a coalition of environmental and public health organizations contracted with a major national laboratory to test 72 name-brand, off-the-shelf beauty products for the presence of phthalates, a large family of industrial chemicals linked to permanent birth defects in the male reproductive system. The laboratory found phthalates in nearly three-quarters of the products tested (NTP, Cosmetics).
▪ More than 80 percent of the chemical ingredients in these products have never been tested to see if they are poisonous to humans. Some have been tested only minimally (LA).
▪ “Even if the general population isn’t likely to suffer acute effects from exposure to fragrances, there are long-term chronic health effects connected to these chemicals that we don’t fully understand yet,” says [Carrie] Loewenherz [an industrial hygienist for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health] (Lyman).
Copyright © 2006 Where Is God Ministries. “Why Go Perfume-Free to Church?” Visitors may print up to 5 copies of this pamphlet. To publish or distribute, you must contact WIGM for permission. Order this pamphlet and WIGM’s booklet, Not By Sight: A Guide to Ministering to Believers Living with Chronic Illness and Pain!
REFERENCES ▪ Adams, Brandon (September 2003). “More than 12% of the Populations Reports Extreme Sensitivity to Low Levels of Common Chemicals.” Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/press/12pop.html ▪ American Academy of Allergy & Immunity (Spring 2002). “The Impact of Allergies.” Spring Allergies & Asthma Survival Guide. www.aaaai.org ▪ American Lung Association of Texas (July 2005). “Asthma in Adults Fact Sheet.” Asthma & Allergy. www.lungusa.org ▪ Bridges, Betty RN.”Safety of Fragrances: A Case for Concern.” Fragranced Products Information Network www.fpinva.org. ▪ Dewey, David Lawrence (October 7, 1999). “Food For Thought: Colognes – Perfumes – Pesticides Are They Slowly Killing You?” Dewey’s World: ww.dldewey.com. ▪ EHN (Accessed Nov. 2005). “Fabric Softeners: Health Risks from Dryer Exhaust and Treated Fabrics.” Distributed by the Environmental Health Network, with permission of Julia Kendall http://users.lmi.net/~wilworks/ehnfs.htm. ▪ Environmental Protection Agency (March 1, 1991). “Identification of Polar volatile Organic Compounds in Consumer Products and Common Microenvironments.” Report No. EPA/600/D-91/074, Paper #A312: Our Little Place www.ourlittleplace.com ▪ Ephraim, Rebecca RD, CCN (April 2002). “Smells Can Make You Sick.” Health Conscious. Chicago Conscious Choice: www.consciouschoice.com (Accessed November 2005). ▪ Fragranced Products Information Network. “Fragrances by Design” and “Fragrance Facts & Fiction” www.fpinva.org ▪ LA (Accessed Nov. 2005). “No Scents Makes Sense.” The Lung Association: New Brunswick www.nb.lung.ca/pdf/NoScentsMakeSense.pdf. ▪ Lyman, Francesca (Feb 12, 2003). “What the nose knows – Think twice before buying a loved one perfume, cologne.” MSNBC: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3076635/. ▪ MCS Referral and Resources (2000). “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome- Fact Sheet.” www.mcsrr.org ▪ NTP (Accessed Nov. 2005). “Pthealate Facts.” Not Too Pretty www.nottoopretty.org. ▪ NTP (Accessed Nov. 2005). “Phthalates in Cosmetics in America Report.” Not Too Pretty www.nottoopretty.org. ▪ Pitts, Connie Pitts (2003). “Featured Author. Connie Pitts – Get a Whiff of This: Perfumes (Fragrances) – The Invisible Chemical Poisons.” Integrative Ink www.integrativeink.com. ▪ Pitts, Connie (2003). Get a Whiff of This: Perfumes (fragrances) – the Invisible Chemical Poisons (Bloomington, IN: 1stBooks), xx. ▪ Pressinger, Richard M.Ed and Sinclair, Wayne MD (Sept 2, 2005). “Chem-Tox.com: Researching effects of chemicals and pesticides upon health.” Chem-Tox.com www.chem-tox.com. ▪ U.S. House of Representatives (Sept. 16, 1986). “Neurotoxins: At Home and the Workplace.” Report by the Committee on Science & Technology, Report 99-827.
Disclaimer: We acknowledge that some in the medical community are uncertain of the cause-and-effect relationship between chemicals, fragrances and illness. Our intentions are not to make claims of this nature, but to respect the individuals who report these reactions.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.