Fragrance detox for your stuffy nose, runny nose, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and asthma

allergies asthma brain cleaning headaches immunity indoor air lungs nausea nervous system nose reproductive health self-care skin Jan 15, 2019

by Sophia Ruan Gushée


If you're not sick or suffering from known allergies, what might a stuffy nose or runny nose be trying to tell us?

The nose can communicate many important things to our brain and body. It can signal alarm from the smell of fire or something burning; stimulate our appetite and taste buds from the smell of a delicious meal or baked goodies; and it can trigger symptoms to get us to avoid toxic chemicals or toxic food.

Symptoms from scents vary, but they can include stuffy nose, runny nose, headaches, dizziness, nausea, respiratory issues, and skin reactions, like itchy skin or rashes. These symptoms can also result from a variety of things (like illness or seasonal allergies). And sometimes these symptoms can be the body's way of telling us to stay away from toxic ingredients in fragrance.

In fact, only 20% of the perfume industry's income comes from making perfumes to wear; the other 80% comes from perfuming the objects in our lives.

—A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman (1990)


Is Fragrance Harmful?

Fragrance can contain hundreds of chemicals, of which some have been linked to disruption or toxicity to the endocrine system, eyes, immune system, brain and nervous system, reproductive system, respiratory system, and skin (A to Z of D-Toxing 2015). 

A 2009 study that was published in the Journal of Environmental Health found that a meaningful portion of the U.S. population is negatively affected by fragranced products. Among those with asthma and chemical sensitivity, an even greater portion of that population is bothered. This 2009 study found the following:

  • 30.5% of the general population reported scented products on others irritating
  • 19% reported adverse health effects from air fresheners
  • 10.9% reported irritation by scented laundry products

In the January 2018 journal Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, a study found that asthmatics were more likely to experience adverse health effects from fragranced products than non-asthmatics. Overall, the following was found among asthmatics:

  • 41.0% of asthmatics report health problems from air fresheners or deodorizers
  • 28.9% from scented laundry products coming from a dryer vent
  • 42.3% from being in a room cleaned with scented products
  • 46.2% from being near someone wearing a fragranced product.

"Of these effects, 62.8% would be considered disabling under the definition of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet 99.3% of asthmatics are exposed to fragranced products at least once a week."


Unique Vulnerabilities

Pregnant women and children should be especially conservative about their fragrance exposures for several reasons. Fragrance formulas can contain hormone disruptors, which is risky for developing young life because it can influence development. Synthetic fragrance has been linked to the feminization of male babies (Swan et al. 2005), birth defects, and lifelong reproductive damage (Fisher et al. 2003).


Tips for a Fragrance Detox

If you suffer from any of the symptoms above and you don't know why (for example, if it's not from illness or another allergy), then experiment with a fragrance detox. It'll also reduce your risk to various health issues.

Below are products that often contain fragrance. Start reading labels to eliminate fragrance in the products you are exposed to. A great way to start is to eliminate the sources that don't bring you great joy. If you're feeling very attached to certain exposures, then hold on to them for now and see if you notice improvements from detoxing the products you don't mind avoiding.

  1. Cosmetics
  2. Lotions
  3. Shampoos
  4. Conditioners
  5. Cleaning products
  6. Laundry detergent
  7. Garbage bags (please contact me if you find garbage bags that are fragrance free!)
  8. Powders
  9. Dry shampoo
  10. Shaving cream
  11. Deodorant / antiperspirant
  12. Perfume/cologne (100% pure essential oils are good replacement; I use doTERRA)
  13. Children's products and toys (stickers, dolls, stuffed animals, markers, etc)
  14. Candles
  15. Air fresheners
  16. Incense


Let me Know!

If you start your fragrance detox, then I want to hear about it! Let me know through any of the following ways:


In Summary

Approximately one-third of the population experiences adverse health effects from synthetic fragrance. And young developing life (the unborn in pregnant women and children) are most vulnerable since the exposures from fragrance can participate in their development.

Detoxing your products of fragrance can be easy. Start reading labels and avoid fragrance in products you don't love. See if you feel better.

When you are ready for more change, then consider looking for healthier products to replace your beloved products that contain synthetic fragrance. Eventually, you may start to become more attached to how much better you feel on a fragrance detox.

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About Ruan Living

Ruan Living simplifies a nontoxic lifestyle through its Practical Nontoxic Living podcast, free detox workshops, online D-Tox Academy, and transformative 40-Day Home Detox. It aims to help you avoid toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from what you buy, own, and do— without compromising your joy and convenience. Ruan was founded by Sophia Ruan Gushée, author of the bestselling critically acclaimed book A to Z of D-Toxing: The Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Toxic Exposures and several detox workbooks. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Business School, Sophia has served on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Council and Well+Good Council. A popular nontoxic living speaker, consultant, and teacher, Sophia lives in New York City with her husband and three daughters. Her passion for empowering others to enjoy nontoxic living began with the birth of her first daughter in 2007. Everything she creates is a love letter to her children and for the healthiest, brightest future possible. You can learn more here: Sophia’s Impact.


This article is for informational purposes only. This information is provided “as is” without warranty.

It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. We do not offer medical advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or any other opinion on your conditions or treatment options. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Ruan Living.

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