An open letter to my friends: Your perfume is killing me!

Dearest Loved Ones,

Your perfume is killing me. I mean it almost literally.

bfca460c69266d14078fb23482aaa149 e1440980156295 An open letter to my friends: Your perfume is killing me!
Image via Four Tears

It’s also affecting our friendship. I can’t hug you, and so you might have noticed my stepping back when we meet up.

I can’t risk dining with you in a confined space and so you might have noticed I’ve been suggesting we meet for a walk instead.

Actually, I probably haven’t always been so subtle. I’ve probably hurt your feelings a bit. This is because perfume, for me, is like a whack in the noggin; I strike out to protect myself.

I’m so, so, so sorry.

I’ve toyed with this a while: how to let you know that I just can’t cope when you wear fragrance (perfume, strong hair product, powerful deodorant, etc.) I know it seems like a personal attack on your very essence.

But let me assure you, your perfume is so far removed – chemically and experientially – from the essence of the You that I know and love that it renders this letter all the more imperative.

A few weeks back I did a bit of a lead-in to this awkward confrontation with a post on chemical intolerance and how it affects my autoimmune disease.

I need to let you know:

  • My chemical intolerance is triggered most aggressively by perfume.
  • When I’m in contact with perfume I get inflamed.

I’m left foggy-headed, aching in my joints. My feet and hands swell and I feel nauseous.

Imagine having three hangovers, carsickness and a set of nails scratching down a board. All at once. That’s what perfume does to me.

It only takes a whiff. You might have sprayed in the morning and it’s now dinnertime. The thing is, the chemical inprint remains. If I come in contact with your perfume, I will have to go to the bathroom and wash what I can of it off.

But please know I do my best, I truly do, to not be neurotic and over-the-top about it. But the inflammatory response can leave me a little cranky. And self-protecting. I’d like to let it go, and be a cool cucumber with the discomfort, but annoyingly the reaction is only getting worse.

I figure it would be good to share a few factlets with you, so you don’t think I’m completely ill-of-sensibility.

1. The EU’s Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-food Products reports one out of 50 people have become sensitised to fragrances.

2. Studies have linked perfume exposure to migraines, allergy symptoms, asthma and chronic lung disease.

3. The longterm exposure to chemicals contained in perfume can seriously damage your immune system.

4. Phthalates, which are used in 75 per cent of perfumed products to extend the life and reach of the stink, have been linked to hormone disruption, which in turn can cause serious health issues including, diabetes and obesity, fertility issues such as low sperm count, early puberty, breast cancer, autism and ADHD and thyroid irregularities. Likewise, synthetic musks bind to and stimulate human estrogen receptors and have been linked to the increase of estrogen-responsive human breast cancer cells.

5. 80 per cent of beauty and skincare products contain fragrance.

6. The average fragrant contains about 14 secret chemicals that aren’t listed on the label. About 80 per cent of these unlabelled chemicals are not being tested for human safety.

7. Most beauty products list “fragrance” in lieu of the cocktail of chemicals used. Why? So we’re not horrified. How do they get away with it? By claiming fragrance is a trade secret by law. This stems from an era when major fragrance houses lobbied to protect their secret formulas made from flowers and oils. Today this law is used as a beauty industry loophole.

I know it’s a grim note to end on. But I’ll sign off by thanking you for your understanding. I know many of you consciously make an effort to not wear perfume when you meet up with me. I am incredibly grateful when you do this, at times stunned by the care you show. I hope the above emphasises how much it means to me.

Much love,


PS Friends and family, feel free to respond direct when you see me next…

Share this post