What’s that smell?

Yesterday I cut some hyacinth blooms and brought them inside. Pretty as they looked, my real intention was to enjoy the smell while I worked at my desk. Now, the office is absolutely lovely.

Fragrance is an important part of nature. No matter how good manufacturers have gotten at mixing up concoctions that smell like beautiful things, the fact remains that scents–real, honest, natural scents–are crucial to life.

Flowers are the best example. The purpose of the smell is to attract pollinators; reproduction depends on it. Or in the case of the Venus fly trap, to attract a nutritious meal.

Good scents attract humans, too. Fresh peaches, clean air, a shady pine grove, or our partner’s pheromones draw us in.

Bad scents keep us away. Toxic chemicals, moldy cloth, infected bruises, and rotting meat stink because they are dangerous conditions to be avoided or corrected and never inhaled.

Fragrance can also orientate and foretell. Have you ever smelled rain coming? Smelled smoke and discovered fire? Smelled salt and realized you were almost there?

Meanwhile, fragrance has become a serious problem. Its pervasive use to sell products is making us sick and narrowing our quality of life. Not only are the artificial, smell-mimicking mixtures harmful to our skin and lungs, they mask warning signals that would otherwise tell us to stay away, and they rob us of the instinctual attraction to the truth.

I once took the Environmental Working Group’s Skin DeepĀ® guide into my bathroom as I cleaned out my toiletry closet. Using the database, I searched for the products to see how they stacked up on the EWG’s hazard score. Any that raised a red flag did so because of the fragrance-related ingredients in them.

When a manufacturer adds a feature that does nothing to enhance the product’s effectiveness or improve its performance, you can bet it’s there to increase sales. Consider your favorite moisturizer. Does it work better because it smells nice?

We owe our smelling ability to cells in the nasal cavity. It’s always moist there, because chemical receptors can only detect odors that are dissolved in water. Signals are then sent to the brain, where the processed information is stored in memory. When we meet the smell again, it registers as familiar.

The relentless exploitation of the body’s remarkable sense not only fools the central nervous system, it dulls it. Who really knows what rain smells like after living with a manipulated alternative day in and day out? Lotions, shampoos, and toothpaste aside, what about candles, air fresheners, room sprays, cleaning products, detergents, and perfumes?

At what point does the brain figure out that the flowery chemical air freshener is bad? Could this have anything to do with why so many people are allergic to the outdoors these days? And what are we missing–what signals do we now overlook–because our sensitivity has been dulled by this hyper-infusion?

Still, the more we buy, the more they add. Meanwhile, fragrance-free products are labeled as being for people with sensitive skin. Don’t they know we ALL have sensitive skin?

If you want your laundry to smell like fresh air, hang it outside to dry.

If you want to smell the spring rain, then go get wet.

If you want your house to smell like flowers, grow and clip flowers? Or take advantage of the wealth of organic essential oils on the market today.

If you want your husband to smell like musk, let him get a little sweaty.

If you want your toxic bleach to smell like lemons, well, then you’ve lost your mind.

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