“I hadn’t realised just how hard it was to avoid fragrance in one form or another. But I learned cunning. I sprinted through the scented foyers of hotels with a scarf over my nose. In cabs I sat in the back, asked the driver to remove the fragrance diffuser, opened the window and stuck my head into the slipstream like a dog, arriving bedraggled and windblown”
The Case Against Fragrance is the second non-fiction book by award-winning Australian novelist, Kate Grenville. It came about when she realised it was fragrance that was the cause of her headaches and discovered the dearth of objective information available about sensitivities to fragrance. You may think you don’t use very much fragrance, but you are probably unaware of just how insidiously your fragrance load accumulates.
Your own personal load, unless you are using fragrance-free products, will go something like this: you wake from sleeping between sheets washed in fragranced laundry detergent; you shower with fragranced soap or gel, use fragranced shampoo and conditioner; you rub fragranced lotion into your skin, use fragranced hair products, put on deodorant, all that before you even reach for the spray bottle of scent that will be your intentional use of fragrance for that day.
You wear clothes washed in fragranced laundry detergent; you might have an air freshener in the loo, and your loo paper might be fragranced too; your dishwashing detergent probably smells of lemon; your cosmetics may well be fragranced. Then you walk out the door: does your car have a deodoriser? Or maybe the taxi has a diffuser going; or you sit next to someone on the bus who’s just refreshed their perfume, so you get to share that. Are there fragrance diffusers going in your workplace? Are the cleaning products they use fragranced?
So what? you say. Because you might be one of the many lucky ones who is apparently not adversely affected by fragrance. But you might just be inflicting your fragrance load on someone who is sensitive, someone who gets a headache or starts to wheeze at a strong whiff of fragrance. Or there may be effects, on others and also on you, that you never dreamt of. Because what exactly is in fragrance? The only people who know are the manufacturers, and they’re not telling.
Even more shocking is that all the regulation of and research into ingredients is controlled by the fragrance industry, so adverse findings might never make it to the public eye. Without being excessively alarmist, Grenville explains how we are exposed to compounds that might have as profound effects as some drugs, without our knowledge, and why.
Grenville presents a wealth of facts about fragrance, and the fragrance industry, but her explanations are accessible to everyone: you don’t need to be a scientist to understand what she’s telling you. Twenty pages of comprehensive notes supporting Grenville’s text are evidence of her extensive research into this subject. She tells it simply and even occasionally with humour, but the result is a surprising and disturbing revelation. Grenville’s latest oeuvre is a quick but salutary read that will change the way you think about fragrance. Essential reading for all humans.