I never knew how much people use perfume and cologne until I came to college. I suppose I should explain how I came to this realization, which means that I must start by describing how my dorm is set up. Each floor is co-ed; you go up the stairs (well, I do, at least, I’m on the second floor) and on either side are about 32 students. I live on the left-hand side, so we shall picture ourselves turning to the left and being bombarded by a wave of classic male smell: Axe.
Now, it seems to me that those of the male sex equate Axe (or, if they are smart enough to realize that Axe will not, in fact, get them the ladies, then whatever cologne they most enjoy) with hygiene. So they use a lot of it. There are 16 guys on my floor; not all of them contribute to the powerful smell of cologne, but many do.
Let’s keep walking. Halfway down the hall, you notice the scent start to change: We have entered the girl’s end. I should mention that I am the last door on the hall, so our walk will be rather longer than it is for everyone else. Back to the scent: No longer in the guys’ vicinity, the smell becomes sweeter, less harsh, less powerful. It is the scent of perfume (girls seem to have a more realistic sense of the amount needed to smell good).
However, I must say that I do not find the smell good, and neither do many others. The scent of perfume and cologne is laden with the not-so-lovely scent of chemicals, and that makes a lot of people sick. It doesn’t affect everyone, but personally, I get headaches. For my mom, it’s worse: She can tell when I’ve been around people wearing cologne or perfume and makes me change my clothes and wash the ones I had been wearing. She’s an extreme; I’m more the norm. So the question is, why do we and others get sick?
Well here’s the deal. Most perfumes are not made from natural oils or essences but instead chemicals manufactured from coal and petroleum. Of these, benzene compounds are some that you should specifically look out for. The chemicals in perfume are in many cases known toxins, some of which have the ability to cause cancer, birth defects, central nervous system damage, and allergic reactions; others are suspected of causing these symptoms.
Needless to say, perfumes can cause some issues that you might want to deal with. A lot of what goes into perfume is the same stuff that goes into gasoline. Plus, the industry is self-regulated, meaning they don’t have to report the hazardous findings to the EPA.
Basically, there is justification for the headaches so many of us get when bombarded by the sweet yet treacherous scent of perfume. So you may say, great, what am I supposed to do, never wear perfume? No, you can wear perfume. Just get perfume that is made not from chemicals but instead from essential oils. Or even better, the most natural way to smell nice is to use essential oils themselves. I, personally, am partial to the essential oil of lilies. (Make sure not to use more than a few drops and to check with your doctor if you are allergic or pregnant.) If you do want to go with perfume, check out this article which mentions four or five brands that are safe and non-toxic.
Note to self: Essentially, go with what is natural.
Lily Berthold-Bond grew up in a chemical-free zone and has struggled her whole life to understand and accept this non-commercial lifestyle. Now a freshman at Tufts University, she has embraced her green life and hopes to share its possibilities with the rest of her generation.