That’s my internal response to what I think other people might think of my question (and me) when I ask them to not wear deodorant. I mean, really, God knows what possible trillion thoughts a person could have when asked this question. But eternally, so far, my primary thought: what if they think I’m some dirty fucking hippy who wants to impose my perfect little how-the-world-should-be view onto them?
Hippie: Oh, I think we evolved from monkeys. And we should all live naturally, sit around and eat only bananas, shit under palm trees, and never use chemicals. My philosophy is my body-odour-is-natural, yeah?
Offended person: Someone pass me that .45, so I can shoot this dirty hippy, please. I think they might breach my human rights!
My point: Asking people not to wear deodorant is a delicate situation. Public Relation (PR) skills are needed. Sorry, let me rephrase that: asking people not to wear ‘spray-based deodorants that contain solvents, petrochemicals and fragrance’ is a delicate situation. It’s all in the wording. Semantics…
You see, it’s not the deodorant, it’s the chemicals.
Additionally, some people may become offended at the idea of their body odour being on olfactory display. And that’s understandable. I worked this out by attempting to undergo an x-ray where taking off my mask for 10-15 mins was needed. Due to being familiar with, and understanding, my medical condition, the receptionist was happy to ask the technical nurse to not wear any deodorant on the day of my appointment, and we made it the first appointment of the day to make it easier on everyone; however, the nurse refused to comply. She said it just wasn’t possible: for personal reasons.
The x-ray needed was a scan where they put your head in a machine that whirs its way around you, taking layered images of the bone density in the jaw and face area. This was for an operation I was about to have (eight years ago… Implant teeth). It was in the x-ray lab that my surgeon used. Before asking for another lab somewhere else, I tried to work the situation out over the phone with the techy nurse.
How could she think that her right to wear chemicals trumped my right to breathe without getting sick? It turned out both our issues were on par, or thereabouts: hers was a chronic thyroid issue where she couldn’t stop sweating. A lot. And mine; well, you know… inhalant allergies to chemical irritants, aka MCS!
The conversation started out okay: “You want me to go without wearing deodorant?” she said sounding freaked out. She carried paper towels around with her, and continually applied an aluminium based spray deodorant to help with her glands’ profuse sweating. “If I don’t do this, then I could get sweat on my patients when touching them, or leaning over them to adjust settings on the machine,” she said. “It even comes out the palms of my hands.”
Even though I wasn’t about to back down and just ‘cop’ symptoms of my own, I felt truly awful. This woman was obviously suffering. She was dealing with her own symptoms at work, the best she could.
But worse, now she was made to feel apprehensive over a threatening situation she was trying to control that was threatening to veer out of control.
Because of my condition where my airways, sinuses and tear ducts become inflamed upon the inhalation of solvents, petrochemicals and fragrance, I was unable to accommodate this woman’s suffering. This was horrible…
“And then there’s the offensive odour,” she said near tears.
Lost for words, I twisted the telephone cord around my hand.
I didn’t want to put her through this. I apologised, asking if I could see someone else. Or find another lab that had the same machine. It seemed as if it were her turn to feel awful. She said that this situation just wasn’t good enough; she was a professional and needed to be able to do what her job demanded of her. She asked if I could tolerate a roll on deodorant. I wasn’t sure; it hadn’t occurred to me. (I’d had the condition near on 18 months at that stage, and had been living in isolation: my whole life had just stopped.) Petrochemicals, fragrance and solvents were the culprits that infiltrated my immune system, compromising it into releasing obscene amounts of histamine that caused a fuck-ruckus of symptoms. If the roll-on didn’t have these, in theory, it would be okay.
“So your fine with aluminium?” she asked brightly.
I thought about telling her about the uses I had for aluminium; the ones that failed (wrapping a polyurethane mattress, that, consequently, went mouldy) and the successes (lining the inside of new kitchen cabinets to halt the outgassing of formaldehyde into my rental-living space). Instead I said, “I use aluminium foil for many things.”
“If I buy a roll-on deodorant that has no fragrance or petrochemicals or solvents, you’ll be okay with it?”
“Oh, yes, thank you. So much. I really appreciate your help.”
And I did. However, I appreciated her enlightenment of a delicate situation even more so: it’s not always about ‘the right to wear chemicals into a public airspace’ verses ‘the right to breathe’ (although, often it is!). No, it’s about reaching a common ground where everyone feels comfortable when standing on it; somewhere were we are not forced to suffer symptoms while others unknowingly flout the right to inflict pain on us; a place where we all feel secure in our knowledge that other people respect all of our needs.
Because it works both ways.
So these days, I rephrase my question as:
“Would you mind not wearing spray-based deodorants that contain solvents, petrochemicals and fragrance?”
And, I always finish with:
“Roll-on deodorants that don’t’ contain solvents, petrochemicals and fragrance are fine.”
This covers my rights and theirs. I’m not telling them to not wear deodorant; and I’m not telling them what to wear. Cause they can always risk people thinking that they are just a dirty fucking hippy and wear nothing at all. Kind of like me, yes?
PS: I shower a lot. I’m off to have one now actually.
You can find a list of fragrance free products here (For Australia), and here (for Canada). More lists coming soon. Please add your favourite fragrance free product to our Listly Lists. Or leave it in the comments below, and I’ll add it for you
Image source: RedKid