The trouble with fragrance – Ockham’s Razor – Australia News


Robyn Williams: Do you read Kate Grenville, one of our great writers? Her latest book is a bit of a surprise — not fiction, not a follow up to The Secret River, but a warning about smells.

I don’t inhabit shops selling perfume, but a quick stroll through the vast emporia at airports tells you how a wall of fragrances can overwhelm. And some of us, like Kate, can barely cope.

So, what does the science say?

Here’s Clare Pain, who’s a medical writer and often has articles in New Scientist magazine and Cosmos.

Clare Pain: Do you love wearing fragrances? Perhaps you have a signature scent that sums you up? Maybe you even feel fragrances are essential — to cover up those embarrassing sweaty body odours that we all produce?

Or maybe you don’t like scents. Do you avoid the cleaning product aisle at the supermarket? Is perfume on a work colleague unpleasant for you? Is walking through duty-free at the airport a nightmare?

Five years ago in our household, scented products became, not a pleasure, but a threat. It happened quite insidiously. Our older daughter, let’s call her Jane, started to have trouble with a particular perfume — the one her younger sister, Tina, had just decided was her favourite.

Whenever Jane got too close to Tina after Tina had just spritzed, Jane would get a migraine.

To cut a long story short, Jane’s problem soon spread to many other scented products. Using her mascara brought on a migraine, so did sitting next to someone doused in deodorant on the train. Virtually all perfumes were a problem and air fresheners made public toilets no-go areas.

What I now know is that Jane had developed a condition called multiple chemical sensitivity, or…

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