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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Fragrance Sensitivity

If you feel ill when around fragrances, cleaning products, plastics and other products that have odors, you may have a condition called chemical sensitivity. This is also sometimes known asMCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) or EI (Environmental Illness). Symptoms can range from headaches, dizziness, and breathing difficulties to almost total incapacitation in serious cases. Many people -- including many medical professionals -- do not understand this condition well and some even try to attribute it to psychological reasons. However, if you suffer from this condition like I do, you probably know it is not psychological. It can even be infuriating and discouraging to have those around you say you are crazy or it is just in your mind. But rest assured you are not crazy and there are many fellow sufferers like you.

Chemically sensitive people are sometimes referred to as the canaries of the 20th century. Canaries were used by miners starting during the 1700s to detect explosive methane gas and later in the the 1900s to detect lethal carbon monoxide. The canaries were so sensitive that they would faint and keel over long before the miners would even notice the dangerous gases. This was a sign to get out of there fast. In a similar fashion chemically sensitive people are detecting toxic stuff in the environment well before others are able to sense it. Even if you aren't chemically sensitive, using products made for chemically sensitive people will help reduce your exposure to toxins.

The general consensus appears to be that chemical sensitivity is a result of a weakened immune system and/or an overload of your immune system. Read Kim Palmer's story about an extreme case of immune system overload. Kim was a healthy person who became highly chemically sensitive after long term exposure to toxins.

Unlike allergies, which are usually a result of your immune system overreacting to normally benign substances like pollen or seafood, chemical sensitivities are often a result of a reaction to known toxins. Most things that cause chemical sensitivity reactions have some toxic chemicals in them. Perfumes, for example, can have as many as 4,000 different chemicals in them, a large percentage of which are made from petroleum and many of which have some level of toxicity. Formaldehyde is used extensively in wood furniture manufacture and building construction and is very toxic (it is a significant ingredient used in chipboard). Smog has Nitrous compounds, toxic hydrocarbons, and ozone to name a few. Your hypersensitivity to these kinds of substances that other people seem to handle with no problem is your body's way of saying that it doesn't want any more exposure because it hasn't got the capacity to handle it anymore.

The best way to cope with chemical sensitivity is to remove, block, and avoid the offending substances and attempt to strengthen your immune system.

Removing Offensive Chemicals

The first step to removing substances that cause chemical sensitivity attacks is to identify the sources. The easiest way to do this is to go around smelling everything. Do this with caution as this may cause you to become ill if you breathe in too much nasty stuff in one go. Furthermore, your body will automatically desensitize your sense of smell to substances you are constantly exposed to even if it is making you ill. The most common offenders that you should investigate are:

  • Personal care products such as shampoos, hair sprays/gels, lotions, etc. These substances remain on your body all day and will constantly subject you to their effects if they are not removed.
  • Washing detergents for clothes and your bedding.
  • Furniture and household furnishings
  • Carpets and flooring materials

Don't rely only on the ingredient label to determine if the product substance bothers you. Trust your own senses. Why? Manufacturers are only required to list the main ingredients in their labels. Furthermore, ingredients often have a large range of purity levels. In fact you may find that it is not the main ingredients itself that you are reacting to but impurities introduced or not removed during the manufacturing process. Most products from big name manufacturers are made in batches in equipment used to manufacture other produt lines. Your new so called "unscented lotion" may have been made in the same vat and equipment that a batch of highly fragranced lotion was made in a few hours earlier. Chances are that traces of the prior product and the detergents used to clean the equipment between batches are in your lotion. Furthermore, manufacturers are also able to hide information from the label using trade secret exemption loopholes.

Once you have identified the offending items, stop using and, if necessary, remove them. Replace personal care items and detergents with products made by companies that are truly concerned about people with chemical sensitivity. A selection of our preferred products can be found in our Healthy Hair Care, Healthy Body Care, and House Cleaning sections

It is often almost essential for chemical sensitivity sufferers to use a good air purifier with activated carbon or VOC filter. This is because no matter how hard we try to remove the sources, there will always be a low level of toxins in the air.

Determining the right purifier for you is a huge article in itself. Not all air purifiers are created equal and some can actually be bad for you. In general, avoid ionic type air purifiers as they produce toxic ozone. See our Air Purifier section for a chart describing the benefits of each purifier we offer. If you need still need help with your selection please feel free to e-mail or call us (888 760-1900). We'd be happy to offer any advice you need.

Blocking Offensive Chemicals

If you are unable to remove the offending item -- a piece of furniture, carpet, or anything you cannot remove or replace -- try blocking the "offgassing" of the chemicals. Two products that have been a lifesaver for me are Hardseal and Safeseal. Both are liquids that dry clear and do an incredible job of sealing in odors and chemical offgassing. I have used them on furniture, wood flooring, office items like cork pinboards, and even on nasty smelling rubber trolley wheels. Hardseal has a gloss finish and can be used both on porous and non-porous surfaces. Safeseal is for porous surfaces and dries to a matt finish that is virtually invisible on most porous surfaces.

For carpets use Carpet Backing Sealer and Carpet Fiber Sealer. The Carpet Backing Sealer puts an invisible layer that blocks offgassing of the carpet backing glues and offgassing from the carpet padding below. The Carpet Fiber Sealer is the 2nd step that puts an invisible coat over every carpet fiber blocking offgassing from the carpet material itself. If correctly applied, they will not affect the look and feel of the carpet.

Other specialty sealers are available in our Sealer section and in our Non Toxic Paint section

Strengthening Your Immune System

This is likely the most difficult thing to do and I am not really qualified to advise you on this subject. However, I can tell you that eating right, taking vitamins, and getting exercise will help. A healthy body usually means a stronger immune system. I have personally found that Vitamin C and E have helped me reduce my sensitivity to a manageable level. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that binds with many toxins in your blood, allowing them to be removed safely by your liver. I use a time release formula with rose hips. Vitamin C is not stored in your body so a constant stream of it over time works best. Rose Hips will help increase the amount of vitamin C that can be absorbed by your body.