I have Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and when people who are wearing perfume want to hug me they transfer their scent to my clothing! How can we let people know that their perfume is having the opposite intended effect on some people? That to someone with MCS, their perfume is about 20 times more intense and nauseating!
I’m not comfortable saying, “Hi there! No offense, but your perfume makes me gag! No, I can’t sit next to you!” If I were king, I’d lump perfume with cigarette smoke and ban it in public places! Sorry you perfume lovers– nothing personal. I am just trying to breathe and be healthy.
–Semi-silent sufferer, attending church on-line
Dear Semi-silent sufferer,
You are definitely not alone! Although many assume this is rare, unfortunately, approximately 14% of Americans (knowingly) have MCS.
I also live with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). The term, “sensitivities” is not a good description of what these chemicals do to me. I get an instant, disabling migraine, vertigo, weakness or paralysis in my limbs, swelling of the brain, spasms in my spinal cord, nausea and horrific pain all over.
What’s more, anyone can develop MCS by way of every day use and exposure to chemical fragrances and/or a sudden large exposure. Continued exposures often lead to increased sensitivities.
In fact, a large portion of the population gets some sort of adverse health effects to perfumes or other synthetically fragranced products. Many do not make the connection to their headaches, fatigue and/or asthma type symptoms. By the time most people realize what is causing their symptoms, they are out of control and often debilitating and isolating.
It is good that we don’t tell others that their perfume makes us gag or sick, because such use of words often cause people to take it personally. However, we should be able to be honest and do what we have to do to not be exposed.
We can do so by simply saying, “I am so sorry, I would love to sit next to you, but I get bad headaches from perfume.” That way the symptom is from the perfume and not them and it is not tied to a visual of us turning our noses up at them.
Another way is to share resources with them. My husband is the Founder and President of a couple of great non-profit organizations that provide pamphlets and information that can be shared with friends, family, employers and churches.
- Why Go Perfume Free to Church? Where Is God Ministries
- Is Your Church Making People Sick? Where Is God Ministries
- Why Go Fragrance Free? Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA)
- Creating a Fragrance-Free Zone (Workplace). Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA)
- Interview with Dr. Anne Steineman (Audio). The Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (Launched by IDA)
- Letter for Churches. The Cleaner Indoor Air Campaign (Launched by IDA)
- My Invisible Disabilities Community (social network for people living with illness, pain and injury – with an MCS Group)
I am so sorry you are living with this, as it can be extremely isolating. I hope you find these resources helpful!
Sherri Connell has used her personal tragedy of chronic illness and pain to bring awareness and to be a voice for people who are living with debilitating chronic illness through the Invisible Disabilities Association with her husband, Wayne.