797: Why to Ditch All the Artificial Fragrances & Where They Are Hiding With Mira Dessy

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Why to Ditch All the Artificial Fragrances & Where They Are Hiding With Mira Dessy
Wellness Mama » Episode » 797: Why to Ditch All the Artificial Fragrances & Where They Are Hiding With Mira Dessy
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797: Why to Ditch All the Artificial Fragrances & Where They Are Hiding With Mira Dessy

Today, I’m back with Mira Dessy to talk about the problem with artificial fragrances, which we’re exposed to a lot in today’s world. Mira is known as the Ingredient Guru online. As a holistic nutritional professional, author, and public speaker, she educates around the topic of ingredients a lot.

We go deep into how artificial fragrances can drastically impact our bodies and what to do about it. She also shares how these fragrances can impact our health, especially for kids in the home. We talk about why indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air and how, a lot of times, laundry products are the largest offenders. I love her very real and practical perspective that’s not fear-based but aligned with how we can make easy swaps that benefit our family.

I hope you learn some practical tips and swaps you can make your own home in this episode!

Episode Highlights With Mira Dessy

  • The problem with fragrances and why she calls the cleaning product aisle “the aisle of death”
  • How chemicals and fragrances affect the body and why it matters
  • Why fragrance-free isn’t always a better alternative
  • Fragrances can have a lot of harmful compounds involved and they aren’t required to list them
  •  The easiest and most important first things to swap out in your house
  • Why dryer sheets are terrible offenders for home air 
  • The biggest offenders in personal care products
  • We can reset our olfactory senses when we avoid artificial fragrances 
  • Why laundry is often the worst offender 

Resources We Mention

More From Wellness Mama

Read Transcript

Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.

Hello, and welcome to the Wellness Mama podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com, and I’m back today with Mira Dessy to talk about the problem with fragrances, which we are exposed to a lot of in today’s world. And we talk about how these can drastically impact the body and what to do about it. Mira is also known as the Ingredient Guru online. And as a holistic nutritional professional and author and public speaker, she educates around this topic a lot, including talking about that it’s not just what we eat, but what’s in what we eat that really, really matters. And I was really glad to get to dive deep with her on the topic of artificial fragrances and just how drastically these can impact our health, especially for kids in the home. We talk about why indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air, how a lot of times laundry products are the largest offenders. And so much more. I love her very real and practical perspective on this that’s very not fear-based, but aligned with how do we make movement in a good direction that benefits our family. And she provides a lot of practical tips. So let’s join her and learn now. Mira, welcome back.

Mira: Thanks so much for having me back.

Katie: Well, for any of you who missed it, we recorded an awesome episode on how to have a preparedness pantry in whatever setup is going to work best for your family. And we got to get into some specifics there. So I’ll make sure that episode is linked in the show notes. But today I would love to focus on other area that I know you know a lot about that I have not covered specifically on this podcast, which is the topic of fragrances. And I would guess hopefully a lot of our listeners are at least aware of the potential downsides of having artificial fragrances in their homes. But I would guess many people also still have a lot of fragrances in the home without even realizing their exposure to those things. So to start off broad and foundational for the conversation, I’ve seen you refer to the fragrances aisle of the store as kind of the walking death aisle. And I would love for you to give us some context on what’s really going on with these fragrances and how are they harmful to the body?

Mira: Yeah, and I do refer to that as the walking aisle of death. For me and so many other people that I work with, the overwhelming assault on our bodies from that aisle means that many people can have a headache, if not a migraine, just going from one end of the detergent and cleaning product aisle to the other at the grocery store.

And part of the challenge is that there are thousands of different chemicals that hide under the name fragrance, and they’re used because the manufacturers have decided we somehow need to think that our homes should smell like whatever fragrance is your favorite, that being a very loose term there. Unfortunately, many of those fragrances are really, really harmful to us. Some of them are known to cause things like headache or nausea, they can also be linked to cancers, their hormone disrupting. Some of them have been linked to reproductive issues. And some of them, like there’s one, toluene, for example, which is, you know, it’s a neurotoxic overload. It’s been linked to things like developmental toxicity, meaning if you’re pregnant, it’s bad for your developing baby. It also can inhibit people’s ability to get pregnant. And has been shown to be damaging to the organs in our body, the lungs, liver, heart, kidney, that kind of thing. So our exposure to these chemicals, you know, fragrance is such an innocuous word is really doing far more to our body than we realize.

Katie: Yeah, and it seems like, obviously, it’s easy to think of that one aisle in the grocery store and all the potential products that live on that aisle as exposure sources. But there’s also fragrances added to so many things in personal care, to obviously perfumes and fragrances, to home air fresheners, all these things that we interact with so much on a daily basis. And I know there are also fragrance-free versions of many of these things. And I certainly have my opinion about the fragrance-free versions of the same products. But I would love to get your take as well on that.

Mira: You know, part of the problem with fragrance-free, and actually I should back up and say part of the problem with fragrance is that unlike food, where producers are required to list every single ingredient that’s actually in the food, there are problems with that, but that’s a topic for a different time. When it comes to personal care products and cleaning products and even cosmetics, they are not required to list everything the same way. They’re allowed to hide a lot of things under that term fragrance. When it comes to personal care products and to cleaning products that are labeled fragrance-free, the big challenge there is they’re using different chemicals that are masking chemicals. So they hide the fragrance and they can be just as challenging for our bodies, especially when we look at the toxic overload, the everyday buildup of how many things we’re exposed to on a regular basis.

Katie: Yeah, that’s a good point. And I’ve had several podcast guests talk about sort of the concept of that buildup of different exposures, kind of the micro exposures that lead to the macro, and some compare it to like a bucket or a bathtub or some container, which can get filled with lots of things. But once it gets filled, it’s going to overflow no matter what it was filled with. And kind of thinking from our health the same way, like, yes, probably one minor exposure to any of those things hopefully isn’t going to cause a long-term problem. But daily exposure to all of these things creates that compounding buildup in the body, and then we have a problem. And what do we know about the long-term exposure to some of these things or what it’s doing physiologically, especially when we have kids in the house? Because I think about that a lot. Kids’ bodies seem to be even more susceptible in some ways to these things.

Mira: I think one of the big things we have to remember is everything that we put into our house, unless our windows are wide open all the time, it’s staying in the house, which means we’re breathing it. And if it’s things that are cleaning products, for example, you know, scented laundry detergent or dryer sheets, I hate dryer sheets. They’re the worst. All those kinds of things. It’s also getting on our skin, anything that’s on our clothes, that kind of thing. All the personal care products. I mean, there’s some astonishing number of chemicals that we’re exposed to by the beginning, you know, as soon as we finish taking a shower, simply because we’re putting on all of these things that have fragrance items in them that can be really overwhelming to the body. And part of the challenge is who picks what those fragrances are and who decides that that’s what we think smells nice. It’s the manufacturers. You know, I don’t, we’re not meant to smell like artificial lavender. We’re just not.

Katie: Yeah, exactly. What would be some helpful swaps that you would recommend? Because I understand people wanting their house to smell nice. And we’ll talk about alternatives in a minute, but you mentioned dryer sheets and I’m so glad you did because those are, I get on my soapbox about those as well. Especially when there are things like wool dryer balls that are infinitely reusable that accomplish the reduction in static without the need for the fragrances. I know I’ve also shifted to using natural concentrates of soap for like laundry soap and for homemade cleaners that have no fragrances and that test very, very clean when they test them. But what would be some alternatives that you recommend as maybe like the 80-20, like what are the easiest swaps we can start with that reduce our exposure by the most?

Mira: Sure. And I will share before I say that, one other thing that I want to mention about dryer sheets is there have been environmental studies that have shown significant toxic load from the dryer vent because of dryer sheets and how much it stinks up the air. So if it’s doing that to the air, what’s it doing to your home? Because those same fumes are venting into the house, as well as everything that the dryer sheet is tumbling with. So great swaps. I love that you mentioned wool dryer balls. I think those are amazing. If you feel like you must have a little scent, I’m not opposed to a couple of drops of an essential oil put on those to add fragrance. I also encourage people, if you don’t want dryer balls, you can also use a washcloth. Same thing with a little bit of essential oil on there. When it comes to your laundry products or your cleaning products, I really encourage people to look for, there are a number of companies out there that don’t use all of these harmful ingredients. And there are some companies out there that have actually committed to putting their entire product list, their ingredient list on the label. So clearly the shorter the ingredient list, the better it is for you.

Katie: That makes sense. I know like personal care could be its own whole category. And that’s actually the reason I even got into making products like toothpaste and hair care was I realized that those were kind of really big offenders in the personal care space and that people weren’t going to make the switches unless there were natural alternatives that actually worked. And thankfully, I’ve seen this landscape change a lot over the last 10 years where there actually are emerging natural products that are really good swaps that are very comparable as far as how effective they are. But can you speak to the personal care side as well? Because from what I’ve read, women especially come in contact with so many fragrances and chemicals through all of our personal care products. And we on average tend to use more of those than men. And so what would be the biggest offenders than swaps you would make there?

Mira: You know, I think one thing that is really important to remember is that what we put on our skin and in our mouth has a really huge impact on our system. So when we’re looking for high impact swaps, one of the biggest ones that I like is to look at oral care products, making sure that we’re not using things that have artificial ingredients in them. We also want to make sure that the things that are making up that product are reasonably healthy for us because our oral microbiome is so sensitive. And from there, it just goes down to the gut and that then leads to everything.

When it comes to personal care products, I really encourage people to remember that we are looking at things like deodorants. We want to make sure that we don’t have aluminum in there or other toxic ingredients. And then we also really want to make sure that for our skin, there’s so many different layers to personal care because there’s cleansers, there’s deodorizers, deodorant, that kind of thing. There’s moisturizers, there’s cream. So we can layer on a lot of things. And if we all of a sudden have aluminum or BHA or other ingredients like that in all of these products without realizing it, you may have applied it four or five times before you walk out the door.

Katie: That’s a good point. And I think like you’re talking about, it’s often it’s the simplification sometimes more than just a need to swap out these products. Like I feel like the marketing industry has done a great job of convincing us that we need a thousand different products on a daily basis to look good and feel good. But I’ve learned over time, especially as just getting busy with six kids, simplification is a great way to reduce your exposure to all those things and just simplify your life. So now I just have things like castor oil and tallow that live in my bathroom that multipurpose as moisturizer. And I have natural oils for my hair. And it just, it actually simplified my life when I realized I don’t need all these different products and this huge, long routine to look and feel good. But I really think the fragrances are an important aspect of that. And it’s easy to avoid that with just some simple swaps and some simplification.

Mira: I, you know, that’s such a good point because simplification also allows you to take back control of your time. Like these days, sometimes I’m at the store and I see, you know, like a 12-step process for whatever, like who’s got time for that. And really, when we think about it, we are so overexposed to things that we can’t control. For example, what’s in the air that we breathe or what’s in other environments that we need to go into. Why not take back control of what’s in our home by making sure that your personal care and your cleaning products are as clean as they can possibly be. And to also realize that fragrance, although it’s this very innocuous term, really has a whole host of challenges for our body state. And so we really want to not, not spread too much time there, unless we have to, you know, there’s nothing I can do about the guy at the grocery store who insists on marinating in aftershave, but I sort of hold my breath and walk by as quickly as I can, but we don’t, we don’t have to wear that much. We don’t have to wear fragrance at all, at least not chemical fragrance.

Katie: Yeah, and I have written about before how, shockingly to some people, I would think indoor air is often actually much more polluted than outdoor air. It’s easy to sometimes worry more about outdoor air pollution. But when they test it, the air inside our homes is often much, much worse, which to me indicates, one, that it would be great to spend more time in nature, which many podcast guests have explained from various different angles. But when we think about it that way, realizing that all these little micro exposures build up to an actual measurable change in the air quality that we’re breathing for most of our lives.

So we’ve talked about the big offenders and things to avoid. I would love to talk a little bit about what if people do want some kind of natural alternative to scent their house in a certain way. You mentioned essential oils. Are those a good alternative or what can people do to address both the indoor air quality and keeping that good? And or if they want some kind of natural scent in their house, what are options for that?

Mira: So I do like essential oils, being mindful, of course, of the fact that they are extremely potent. So we do not need a lot. They are distilled essences of plants. And so we don’t want to replace at the same level. You know, I in, in other areas I talk about, for example, it is possible to reset our sugar palate from a health perspective. Well, believe it or not, from a nasal perspective, it’s also possible to reset our olfactory senses. And as we begin to hold back on all of the essential, you know, what we think of as essential fragrances for air fresheners and cleaning products and all of that, as we begin to release some of that from our home, our nose actually becomes more attuned to the natural environment that’s around us.

I also really encourage people to look at what they’re doing on a regular daily basis. For example, do you live somewhere where you can maybe throw open the windows instead of spraying stuff in the air? If it’s feeling a little stuffy, open the windows, open the door, like let the fresh air in. And then I also encourage people to look at why do you feel that you need to spray whatever it is all the time? Is there another option such as, you know, changing whatever’s going on in your home that’s causing that smell or whatever, but to not always look for a chemical layer on top of it to mask or hide whatever that scent is?

Katie: That’s a good point. And I know there’s that term that we all become kind of like nose blind to our own home. So often we maybe don’t even realize what our homes smell like. But I’ve been told by my kids’ friends who come into the house that my house smells like a mixture of sort of like essential oils, herbs, and cooked food. And I’m like, well, that’s probably a pretty natural scent profile for house because that’s what happens often in our house is lots of cooking. So but yeah, I think that’s a great point is like resetting our expectations and also how our nose engages with our environment probably makes a big difference. How long does that process take both from the fragrance perspective and just like for those things to leave our bodies in general?

Mira: So from a fragrance perspective, apparently we can notice a change in as little as 48 to 72 hours. If we begin to stop using so much fragrance, like our nose begins to reset very quickly. I will share a small aside about that. It can take us a little bit longer to adjust to if we’re so used to all of these chemical fragrances. We have plug-ins and sprays and all of that, and we stop using all of it immediately. The house smell may take a little while to get used to because you’re not used to smelling it. But, you know, I want to encourage you to keep going with that.

And then as far as how long it takes for that to come out of the body, that really is a little bit more of a challenging issue because it comes down to a couple of different things. One is how much is your toxic overload at this point? Two, how efficient a detoxer are you? Some people are better at that than others, and other people may need a little bit of nutritional support. You know, encouraging their liver and their kidneys to function a little bit better, making sure we’re well hydrated so our body can flush all of these things out. But I do encourage people to do it because as soon as you start, your body begins to make a change. How long it will take depends on your body state and how much of a toxic load you’re starting with.

Katie: That’s a good point. And I’ve noticed when I’ve done longer fasting in the past, which makes sense because fasting is kind of putting your body in a self-clean cycle. I noticed my sense of smell goes up really drastically at that 48 to 72 hour mark, which I’ve always thought of from a survival perspective, that makes sense as well. Because that’s about the time the body’s getting the messages of like, okay, you probably really need to go find food or hunt right now because you’re hungry. Let’s increase your senses to make that process easier. But also as we clean out and the body’s going through autophagy, it makes sense that our senses would be able to be more in tune and more acute. But that’s encouraging that it’s actually a pretty rapid process to get those things out. Are there any sources of fragrances or worst offenders that we have not talked about that you especially like to make people aware of?

Mira: I really just want to lay a lot of the blame at the feet of the laundry industry. You know, somehow we have been taught that our sheets and towels and everything else need to smell a certain way. And so there are massive amounts of fragrances there. If you live somewhere where you can hang them outside, in my personal opinion, there is nothing better than freshly lined dried sheets. But really, that is where I think a lot of it comes in. And then the next big one that I think a lot of people have a hard time letting go of, especially if you’ve grown up with it, is the need to perfume yourself, your body by using chemical perfumes. The perfume industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, but really it’s very toxic for us.

Katie: Yeah, I have a friend who says, you know, humans were meant to smell like humans, not dead flowers, which I had never thought of in that way. But yeah, I agree with you on the laundry side. And I think if people only have one takeaway from this, I think that’s an awesome place to start because there are great alternatives that don’t have all of those fragrances and all of those harmful components that can get your clothes very clean. And like you said, the interesting thing with laundry, especially to me, that was on my list of 80-20 as well, because when we wash our clothes in something, we’re actually getting a twofold exposure. We’re getting the skin contact exposure from both wearing our clothes all day and sleeping on our sheets all night. But we’re also getting low level exposure through inhaling those scents and those VOCs that come off of them all day long. And so from a nervous system perspective, your nervous system is essentially getting two danger messages at all times. And so even if you don’t feel stressed, this is one of the many things in the modern world that can make your nervous system sense that there’s danger or perceive stress. And we always hear that stress is this big thing that we need to address. And I say like meditation and all the recommended tools are awesome and definitely do those. But also address the things your nervous system considers stress, even if you don’t perceive it as mental stress. Because if your nervous system feels stressed, you’re going to have the hormonal reactions of stress, even if you don’t feel like you have a source of stress. So I love that you brought up the laundry one because like, I said, that’s a soapbox for me as well.

Mira: I think one of the other things people should keep in mind is that some people are more sensitive than others. But we are all bearing some impact from being exposed. So there are some people, I call them the chemical canaries, and they’re the ones who are highly sensitive. Multiple chemical sensitivity have a really hard issue. People who don’t think they’re that sensitive are still being exposed over and over. And years down the road may all of a sudden discover that they start getting headaches or they start having nausea when exposed to certain scents or to certain chemicals in their cleaning products and not realize that this is the accumulated impact of what you’ve been exposed to over years and years. So the more we can start now to reduce that impact, the better it is for our body and our overall long-term health.

Katie: That’s a great point there. Where would you point people in all of the many resources you have available as a starting point to learn more about this? And also just mention, I know you have a tremendous amount available online on many topics, many more than we’ve gotten to cover today. So, where people can learn more from you and all the different topics they can learn about.

Mira: Thank you for asking. So the best place to connect with me is at theingredientguru.com. You know, I’m on all the socials as The Ingredient Guru, so it’s pretty easy to find me there. I do have information on my blog there. So I have a book that will be coming out later this year, and it’s called Home Green Home. And there will be a lot of information in there about the chemicals and things that are in a wide variety of things that we’re exposed to in our home.

Katie: Amazing. Well, I will link to your site and your social profiles as well as our first episode together for anybody who missed it. But you are such a joy to chat with. I love that we got to touch on some of these topics. I think this is a really important one, like I said, especially for anybody who has kids in their home. And I love that you are bringing awareness and shedding light on this topic as well as all the other topics you educate on. Thank you so much for your time today. This has been absolutely a joy.

Mira: Thank you so much for having me on. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you.

Katie: And thank you, as always, for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy, and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did. And I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of the Wellness Mama podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


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