20 Ways to a Fragrance Free Christmas

Get togethers can be a symptom inducing/anxiety producing pain in the butt sinuses at the worst of times; yet, at the best of times they can be nothing but a clean breath of fresh air with friends and family: exactly how it should be (No, this is not a sponsored post for an antihistamine tablet). For the last five years, I’ve had a great succession of fragrance free Christmases. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m just lucky and–as far as chemical sensitivities go–have an empathetic and understanding tribe. No! It’s a contrived situation. One built with tools I’ve picked up over the years: education, using pamphlets, movies and conversation; persuasion, using pleading, bribery and facts; and manipulation, using gifts, ego-massaging and just plain old good manners. (And if that doesn’t work, there’s always a meltdown of foot-stamping-plate-breaking-screaming proportions. But hey, in the likely event of having a joyful Christmas, let’s not go there.)

Here are my suggestions to help you have a fragrance free Christmas (or any event actually):

    1. Planning. Is. The. Key. Just like with any outing, or ‘inning’, it needs to be planned for. If you want to risk getting made ill by the chemicals in products that other people are wearing, then by all means just do it! I mean, it’s just one day. How long will the symptoms last? A day? A week? A couple of weeks? Longer…? Or does it depend on the fragrance, the amount, and whether the person wearing it delivered it onto their body via a spray can or a roll-on? Or how much of it hangs around them in a VOC-fragrance-cloud, contaminating the air, and every piece of fabric or furniture around them that they physically touch or get to close to? I thought so. To avoid all of the above, my suggestion is to plan in advance. Assess the risks, and take appropriate action; or, assess the risks and take appropriate avoidance behaviour.
    2. Develop strategies for potentially disastrous situations: If very-old-insanely-ironic Aunt Nelly is going to be marinating in ‘Britney Spears Innocence’ just like she does every other day and the ones in between, then ask her not to put it on that day, and to try and wear clothes that have not been worn with torrents of fragrance running down them. (Hint: Go online/or shopping and buy her these clothes I speak of. And keep them in a bag/box at your house for her to change into when she comes over. (This behaviour can be seen as a little nutty, but hey, you’re not the one who thinks they smell like Brittany!) Keeping spare clothes for regular visitors is a great idea. Other sensitive people do this too; it’s normal. I have house rules that include this for regular visitors, and that’s just how it is. Some people have even stricter house rules and that’s just how it is for them also.)
    3. In the months, or weeks leading up to Christmas, politely speak out. Again… and again. You may have done this already, and if you have and no one has listened, you need to become repetitive about it (or see no. 20, my final point) because, in this situation, you must never back down and be quiet; sure, retreat when you need to, but don’t just sit back and tolerate other people’s fragrances. (On the occasions I’ve done this (and not just in family situations), I’ve paid the price with the deterioration of my health and in increase in my sensitivities.) (Christmas day is not the time to do this, unless you have invited someone who actually said they will go fragrance free.) Only invite people who you have spoken to about the fragrance issue, and who you know have understood! If this means only one or two people, or, thankfully, only having your pets (fragrance free of course) in attendance, then so be it. I’ll be checking in on this blog on the day, so you can always leave a message here and I’ll check in on you too ♥
    4. Start gently. Explain which symptoms you get, how they feel, which chemicals/ingredients cause them, and what products these ingredients are in. (You may have to say any product that has the word ‘fragrance’ or ‘masking fragrance’ on it can cause your symptoms. In my case, it’s anything that has fragrance in it, and/or comes out of a spray can; because for me, it’s petrochemicals and solvents, as well as fragrance (which most of us know, often contains those anyway).) Ask that they please don’t wear it around you because the ingredients cause you [insert your symptoms here] and you’d really appreciate it if they could help you avoid that happening. If they ask if there is any perfume/aftershave that doesn’t cause symptoms, and there is, then tell them; but if there actually is no fragrance product that does not cause you symptoms, then tell them that (but be ready with some type of replacement product(s), see point 9). Be honest. I know you may feel like you are taking away their precious right to wear something that makes them feel… damn rivalling hot, bristling-Britney sexy, George-Clooney intelligent, or like a cougar frolicking in a field of scented daisies, but you are actually giving them the gift of knowledge, they just don’t know it–yet. (Step into it. Own your right to breathe air unhindered!)
    5. Keep the focus on the products, not the person wearing them. Laying blame won’t help, it only inflames the situation, because ‘friend/relative’ may feel that because their product is their own personal choice, it’s a reflection of the way you feel about them because you don’t like the way they smell. Say things like: “The ingredients in that product cause this, this and that–every time I breathe it in. And sometimes I don’t say anything because I like you, and I don’t want to impede on our relationship. “Don’t say: ” Your perfume/aftershave/hairspray gives me a headache!” Keep the focus of blame on the product’s ingredients (not the person wearing them), and the focus on your problem being the actual symptoms (not the way you feel about the person when they are wearing it). Trust me, if you make it about them; you won’t win this battle by blaming them–even if it is their fault. (If they slip up by wearing it: Try not to let it slide. You will set yourself up for them to do this every single time in the future. If you’ve already let this go on for a while now, it’s not too late to self-advoacte a positive outcome: see point 1




  • This one is really important for getting people to understand: Avoid using the word ‘smell’ to name the thing that causes the symptoms. At all costs. (E.g. don’t say: it’s the smell of your hairspray/aftershave that makes me ill. Or, it’s the smell of your perfume that causes my asthma.) Smell is a perceptive thing. One of the ways we perceive things is by their smell. Whether this be via memory or imagination, it happens in the brain and it’s like a decision of sorts, a lot of times it’s an unconscious one; and often, it’s related to memory. Sure, fragrances have a smell, and when we smell them, we can perceive things about them; we have the ability to decide if we like things or not. But is it the smell, or rather, the olfactory response, that causes a headache, brain fog, asthma or other symptom? No, it’s the chemical component of the actual fragrance itself. In some cases chemical sensitivity can impact on the olfactory system, but it’s not primarily an olfactory response; and some people who are sensitive to chemicals, including fragrance, have lost the ability to smell, yet studies have proven that symptoms are still bought on by the inhalation of fragrance chemicals (There is lot of information out there to support this because MCS/chemical sensitivity is not a phobia or an intense dislike of smells.)! For those people who have no concept of chemical sensitivities, the action of smelling, and the actual smells themselves are nothing but scents: there is a good association or a bad association, people either like them or they don’t–and that’s all. For some, it’s hard to comprehend a smell’s components actually having a physical effect on a person. (It’s our job to make them see differently! We owe it to the world, and the next chemically sensitive individual that crosses their fragranty path, to educate people. Just like they now see the problems with smoking and asbestos, they will eventually see the problem with the chemicals in fragrance!) Learn to be descriptive of what exactly is causing you to experience symptoms the way you do!
  • Sometimes, it can help to visualise being successful at this. Visualise the outcome being a success too. It might not happen this way (wishful thinking can be akin to bashing ones head against a marble bench top!) but visualising it can give you the confidence you need to advocate for yourself because it makes you see the possibility of a positive outcome.
  • Ask them to change products and give them a written list of alternative products that they can use when they know they are going to see you. Sometimes people just need to know what they can use instead. (Here is an example of some from AESSRA in Australia; and here is another from Cleaner Indoor Air in the US; and hear is one from Canadian Mennonite University in Canada)
  • This one might be dumb, and I’m not recommending it, just sharing what I do: if I know someone won’t back down on using scented/fragrance products I’ll suggest they use something naturally scented that doesn’t come out of a spray can. Hell, I’ve even bought it for them, knowing I’ll suffer the–albeit, milder–symptoms to go with it. There is an example of this type of product here. It’s fragrance free–technically–but still contains essential-oil type ingredients that act as an irritant when I breath them in, but these symptoms are by far much less than ones I get from the ingredients in spray type products. And it’s fair to say that the person I bought this for, I don’t see much of anyway. (That’s why it’s called chemical avoidance!?) (Does anybody realise how hard it is to find fragrance free hair styling products? There’s a whole post on this coming up.)
  • Get yourself a letter from a doctor. No, not one that says: “Dear Miche’s Aunty Marietta, your fragrance is giving my patient, a mind-blowing/white-lightning fucker of a headache.” No. You want one that can be used for many different people and many different situations. Like the one I wrote for this post: How to Ask Your Local Council for Assistance. (It’s not situation specific; it doesn’t single any one person out, making them feel uncomfortable; and it explains what exactly is wrong, what causes it, and what I need to do to be well, which is avoid chemical exposures. And it lists fragrance as one of the chemicals I’m sensitive to!) I’ve always used this letter for situations involving professionals, but once, I had a stubborn relative who just didn’t get it. [Dare I share this in case they read it? Absolutely]: You see, they bought–or re-gifted to–my daughter a bottle of fragrance for her 16th birthday (Q: Guess which one? A: Brittany Spears, Innocence!). And they bought it into my home, where my daughter unwrapped it. We were stunned! What if it had been dropped, and broken on the floorboards in our home? It would have been a nightmare of immense proportions for months, maybe longer, and I would have had to get the floors replaced or move out. This is what I did: I returned the present along with a letter from my doctor. I mean, what else was this person going to understand? (Going by the fact that they did not come to the last birthday, my daughter’s 17th, I’m sure they think that I’m ungrateful and rude?! But I don’t care. They needed to know. My daughter didn’t mind at all. She was horrified, as she has seen what has been happening to me all these years. And she is so careful about what she brings into the house.)
  • Include with your letter the list (see point 9) of products you are okay with. Or if you think it’s best to have a lot of products to choose from, include your list and a list from organisations that compile them from research of what works for people who are sensitive to chemicals. (Sometimes, it’s better they use a fragrance free or unscented product that you can’t tolerate if you use it on yourself, but you can tolerate it, if it’s at a distance and on someone else–but do be careful.)
  • Buy fragrance free products as gifts and give them away during the weeks leading up to Christmas. I often find that the people who don’t want to change their habits are more likely to do it at Christmas time because they know that’s really all I want for Christmas. Ask them directly, or have a trusted friend or family member speak to them about it, and get their agreement. (I nag everyone about it. I wish I could just forget about, but the only way to do that is to go into isolation!) And seeing I’ve given them the products, they usually do it. When assessing the risks, I try to work out what product is problematic for me, then give them a replacement and ask them to change it for the one they usually use. I’ve been doing this (training method) for five years now! Cause I’m a sneaky, proactive little rascal when it comes to my health (Oh, the anxiety of it!)! This also gives me a chance to test products rather than play hit and miss with my health and personal relations with people, especially on Christmas day!
  • Not only do I give fragrance free products away in the weeks before Christmas, but I also give gift baskets full of them as gifts on Christmas day. It seriously works on the egos of people who want to smother themselves with products. In the gift basket, they’ve got many to try, lots of bright packaging, and they are gifts; what more could they want! (And this pays me dividends throughout the year. And, there is always a reminder (and a choice to go fragrance free), by way of the products, in their bathroom cabinet.) I often find that the next time I see them they say: “See, I wore this product you gave me!” It’s heart warming, and I always say: “Thank you. I appreciate that so much.” And then I give them a little kiss, hug or pat on the arm (often while holding my breath/or trying not to breathe to deep, because of their washing powder.)
  • I hold Christmas at my house, this way I have more control over what people wear because I insist that people can’t come in if they are wearing fragrances, and they know this before coming: I ring them, and remind them. Or I call and ask if they are sure they can do this for me. I explain that I really want to have a nice day, and that it’s important that they do this for me because I don’t want to have symptoms on the day. In my experience, with each person whose behaviour you are trying to change, it will only go wrong once. If someone wears something and, awkwardly, for us all, they have to say outside, or go home. It doesn’t happen again. It’s important to do this so that boundaries are set. After a while, you have a ‘group mentality’ to rely on. This is where people accept the idea that you need a fragrance free environment, and they remind each other. (Yes, family members can turn on each other over it. They can have arguments about respecting people’s right to breathe. Male members become like watchdogs. And children open the front door for guests, innocently yelling out: MUM? UNCLE CHARLIE’S HERE… AND HE SMELLS!)
  • Have Christmas lunch outside, on a balcony or under a veranda. I always do this because no matter what planning I do, people are not perfect, and rarely does everything go right. This year, it’s very low key, and it’s only direct family members. The less the better. (As my readers know, my health has taken a nose dive this year, and everything is effecting me once again (get it? Nose dive?). But on a positive note: I have one family member who has changed to a natural fabric softener–this, after years of it being a problem; however, this year, it’s been obvious to them how unwell I am, because of my self-imposed isolation, and via the way I practically run away when confronted with symptoms from just 30 seconds of being in a room with this conventional type of fabric softener). Note: this new fabric softener is one that I had a friend buy from a health food shop, which I then gifted to the relative who regularly sheep-dips-their-clothes-therefore-themselves-in-smelly-fragranced-formaldehyde Cuddly fabric softener. And amazingly, they changed; now buying this product themselves. (Yay! *Like 9 years after me becoming sensitive to chemicals*.) (However sarcastic my comments can be, I’m truly grateful to them, and myself for educating them!) Another relative changed to a sensitive brand of washing powder a few years ago, but only after a long drawn out battle (Oh, boy, did I learn some tricks for getting people to change their behaviour in that battle!), and they’ve not gone back to using the nasty one since. (The washing powder that I asked them to change to is Omo Sensitive. Look, I know I bagged the company, Unilever, here, but this particular washing powder doesn’t have fragrance in it. It’s not unscented, and I can’t actually use it on my clothes, but if other people use it and they sit on my furniture, it’s not a problem for me. And, I can talk to them without being affected or having to wear a mask; and I can have them in my car without it becoming a problem too!) Lunch outside is nice if the weather permits, but keep the furniture covered with protective materials just in case!
  • Utilise the internet. Go to places where there are links to reliable facts, research, studies on fragrance, or fact sheets or pamphlets. (Here is one on the latest research on the Phthalates in children’s/tween’s fragrances.) Print them and give them to friends/relatives. You will be doing them a massive favour by pointing out the health risks, and sharing the idea that if these products are harming you, then it’s only logical that they can/and do harm others. Young parents are great targets for this form of education/training. (Often, they will come to this assumption instinctively anyway, just from knowing/meeting someone (like you) who gets sick from chemical exposures). Find your relative’s/friend’s soft spot. (Coincidently, the person who changed fabric softener, did so after I printed out a PDF from the World Health Organisation (WHO) about formaldehyde, the ingredient found predominantly in most commercial fabric softeners, and an article about protecting male fertility. Because this good looking man was/is still on the market looking for the right woman, and is yet to have children, I highlighted the information about sperm production being affected. And to my own mortification, I told him, “You know, a guy like you shouldn’t be using chemicals like these. You really need to be taking better care of your ‘swimmers’ so that you can make healthy babies when you’re ready!” (Yes, I said this in front of family.) And then I handed him the fact sheet.)

  • Sometimes, when a person is wearing something that only affects us a little bit, it’s easier to let it slide, rather than confront the person, and perhaps, have our relationship get uncomfortably warm, we just put up with that headache, sinus problem, brain fog or some other symptom(s); but it’s a guarantee that when the time comes, whether due to over exposure, or the nature of our sensitivities changing, we just can’t tolerate the symptomatic consequences caused by spending time with that particular person wearing that particular product anymore, and this is when the complex wires that run through relationships can heat up. And if they are not handled carefully, sensibilities can get inflamed, words get thrown around like sparks in the air, and before we know it, the relationship catches fire and burns to the ground. That’s what has happened with a few of my relationships, causing me to learn this: It’s never too late to get a person to change their choice of products they use, but by not setting the boundary in the first place, it makes it harder to get their compliance. All that is needed though, is some extra perseverance and the ability to tough it out through this person’s perception that maybe you are either lying, a fruitcake, or just being difficult. Their reasoning could be: Why has it been fine up until now? (Why indeed? No one wants to be difficult. No one wants to complain about how another person smells (see point 6). And no one wants to add another spark to a relationship that already has its own complex issues.) The only thing left to do here is to tell the truth. It’s the only thing that’s going to work (see points: 4, 5, 7, 8 and 11) and be prepared to keep going over it and over it. Make it your mantra. Visualise yourself saying this: “I need a fragrance free environment. Please help me.” If this doesn’t work. Like I said: who wants to make relationships more difficult? Give number 19 (after The Gorgeous Cat in a Hat) a whirl:~
  • For people who won’t change their behaviour, for whatever reason, be it selfishness, stubbornness, a love of their (and the manufactures’) perceived idea of the way Britney Spears smells,  their hairspray, or just a plain old lack of understanding (MCS/chemical sensitivity sceptics are made from the same fabric as climate change skeptics: Some need educating, but the ones who treat the discussion/argument of these issues like a game of tennis, by always bouncing the point back and forth: they need to be left alone at Christmas! And for your health’s sake, your emotional well-being, and your sanity’s sake you may need to make it clear to them that you really do need a fragrance free environment, even if that means not seeing them for a while. (I reiterate: it’s called chemical avoidance because that’s what we do: we avoid chemicals because it’s the no.1 scientifically proven treatment for those sensitive to chemicals. And that can mean making major changes to our living/social environment.) This is a good time to write them a letter, because later down the track when they haven’t seen you for a while (think christmas–BUT DO GIVE THEM ONE MORE CHANCE–think birthdays–BUT DO BUY THEM FRAGRANCE FREE GIFTS), they’ll have your letter to refer back to, and, after having that space to reflect, that is when their thinking/actions might change. But like I said: before doing this, give them a whole heap of fragrance free products to use instead of their own hell-inflicting ones! This way, later down the track they’ll have all they need to go fragrance free, the next time you saddle up and ask them over for Christmas lunch.
  • Take care of yourself. If this means staying home with a beloved pet, your computer and your safe food. So be it. Christmas is about different things for different people; but remember, you are no.1. Without being kind, and showing care and appreciation towards yourself, then how can you ever be well enough to spend time with others? Look after your health and have a fragrance free Christmas no matter what!



Merry Christmas to All You Fragrance Free Women, Men, Pets, Elves and Father Christmases

Love from Michellina

@ The Labyrinth ~ and finding my way out




AESSRA fragrance free list pdf
Found at ebookbrowse.com


More Research for You to Peruse

(Dr Suess images are sourced from from RedKid, here.)

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

About Michellina van Loder


  1. Thank you for your post on 20 ways to a fragrance-free Christmas. I hope to share on my blog soon.

    Today my mother came over and put on the usual tyvek suit. There was still something bothering me. I knew before I asked her what bath soap she was using. It was “Irish Spring”. That stuff is deadly for me. She said she wouldn’t use it and it was probably worse because she had just bathed before coming over. Despite the suit covering her clothes, her hands, neck and face were uncovered putting the smell of Irish Spring everywhere.

    Then bless her she is making something for one of her grandchildren from cloth. She wanted some of my laundry soap to wash it in before bringing it here Christmas Day. I had to explain to her that washing it in my soap would not get the fragrance/chemicals out of it and that her washer and dryer were loaded with the fragrances from all the stuff she uses. She is going to put it in a plastic bag, show it to my daughter and grandson and then immediately take it back outdoors. I hate that it has to be that way after all the work she is putting into the project but it is the only safe thing for me to do.

    It is hard any time but the Christmas Holiday makes it even harder.

    • Michellina Van Loder says:

      Your mother is awesome. If you could get her to change to fragrance free washing powder, you’d have it made. I know, it’s not easy. I often feel like I’m imposing my needs over the tops of someone else’s. And, getting people to change, for some reason, only happens when I buy them the products. I guess that is the only way because then the person knows that using it is a sure fire way not to cause illness when visiting and vice versa.

      I’m seriously thinking about acquiring some tyvek suits. Can you drop a link (when your holidays are over) so I can see what brand works for you please?


  1. […] some of them resent that (or something?) and the situation becomes fraught with difficulty. Oh, and I buy so many fragrance free products as gifts, so people have no excuse. Yet… It’s a minefield of human sensibilities. One step wrong. […]

  2. […] who help set up the FF culture to begin with). So, when I blogged a couple of weeks ago about 20 Ways to a Fragrance Free Christmas, this was from my heart: trust me, it’s something I’m really good at; cause I know my […]

  3. […] Recently a blogging friend from the-labyrinth placed the above post on 20 Ways to a Fragrance Free Christmas. Please check out her suggestions on how to be safe during Christmas. http://the-labyrinth.com/2012/12/18/20-ways-to-a-fragrance-free-christmas/ […]

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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