Book Review: Understanding Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Understanding Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Causes, Effects, Personal Experiences and ResourcesUnderstanding Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Causes, Effects, Personal Experiences and Resources by Els Valkenburg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I inhaled this book in one sitting, literally. I gassed myself on the petrochemical inks used in the printing of it; because I wanted to know how, what, why MCS. (Not that I’m an MCS-er (cause like, it doesn’t bloody *exist* here in Australia; yet, contradictory to this non consensus on an actual diagnosis, I’ve met plenty of these walking-talking-MCS wounded myself!) but I have been tested and diagnosed as sensitive to chemicals, so I just wanted to find some help relevant to my situation, seeing it’s so bloody similar?!)

Although insightful and engaging, this book was an intensely annoying read because, although it contains a whiff of delightful little morsels of helpful information, ultimately, it’s not as ‘resourceful’ as the title suggests: the links referred to in the book are outdated; therefore, some of the references are not able to be located using a Google search. This book was released in 2009, so the information should still be current. (So to all those aspiring authors out there – you know who you are –  make sure the sources and links you quote as references are able to be followed up on.)  However, I did enjoy reading about the suggestions for using Tyvek to cover furniture, and the use of Tyvek suits for visitors to wear if they happen to have perfume on, but this protection measure would not do anything to prevent the air being contaminated by the perfume. Would it? And besides, who lets fragrance-wearing people into their home if they, themselves, are sensitive to it? Oh, of course, that’s it: Valkenburg must have visitors who have it in for her, just like I do occasionally. (Yes, Aunty Betty, I’m talking ’bout you!) You know the type: the “I’m-not-wearing-any-LeDoucheDaSmellyArse-Designer-Fragrance-today,” types. (Said from behind teeth lying through pong emanating out VOCs packed with enough synthetic musks and phthalates to supply a Greenpeace Investigation of Chemicals in Perfumes.  (If you are interested in this Tyvek idea, there is a woman using it to protect herself from mould spores, which she is highly sensitive to; and I can’t recommend her tips highly enough. She knows her stuff!)

Valkenburg makes many suggestions regarding helpful products and services for people with Environmental Illness (EI), chemical sensitivities, and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) (which really are all the same illnesses, it just depends on which country you live in, and what the doctors there tell you!). Some of the suggestions were new to me, but most are common knowledge for anyone who has had to live with this for many years (like I have. Twice). There is not a lot of lateral thinking, which I found disappointing as I was really looking for some new ideas. I guess I’ll just have to stick with avoiding chemicals, walking on the beach, and covering everything with foil, taking supplements, wearing a mask, and in the mean time, hope to hell that I can recover. Again.

And another thing, pedantic I know, the mask that Valkenburg wears on the cover is not one listed as available from any sources in the book or one that I’ve ever seen. Anywhere. Ever. She does make it look fashionable though, in that rich autumn berry colour, and I really, really want one like that. But alas, it’s not discussed in the book. The only masks are the 3M, I can Breathe, and the other ‘ugly fugly’ ones that we can get here, in Australia too.

Furthermore, I would liked to have seen some coping strategies and some tips on getting people who wear fragrance to not wear it. (I guess I’ll just have to write a post about that subject myself. When I’ve mastered the art of this task, of course!)

The foreword is by Greenpeace, which is probably why I bought the book in the first place. I’d follow Greenpeace to the end of the earth (or to the saving of it.).

Overall, Understanding Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Causes, Effects, Personal Experiences and Resources is a fast yet dense devouring, leaving the reader feeling that MCS is a real and severely debilitating illness that needs to be taken seriously right now. The topic is given extra weight when it is the writer, who themselves is suffering, and putting their energy into writing such a book for the benefit of those who suffer like themselves in having to deal with what is fast becoming a modern epidemic.

I can only recommend this book to people newly chemically sensitive because the rest of us know most of what is in this book. I still gave it five stars (cause I’m good like that!). If you’d like more up to date information, and to find out about the hottest book on this exact subject about to hit my shores and yours, head on over to here.

Understanding Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: Causes, Effects, Personal Experiences and Resources is available from Amazon and all good bookstores.

View all my reviews

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.

Maskology: The Study of People Wearing Masks

Today, I’m excited to launch our very own MCS Labyrinth Pinterest Account: a collection of boards with images linking to all the diamonds and gems out there relating to sensitivities to chemicals, including support groups and organisations – sourced world-wide; gorgeous people wearing masks; and many more… (If you’re not familiar with it – Pinterest is a way for you to organise and share the great things you find on the internet. It’s also a great way to discover great things that others are sharing. If you don’t yet have an account – you can get one here, just click the ‘Join Pinterest’ button at the top of the page.)

To celebrate, here is the first screen capture of many: People Wearing Masks. So many are beautiful; some have a feminist type quality about them – think Eva Cabelle; a lot of these people have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Environmental Illness (EI), Toxic Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT), or just plain chemical sensitivities. There are some artistic-just-mucking-around type shots of people wearing masks. Or serious looking people wearing serious looking gas-masks. And then there are the children… But whether the people are wearing masks to protect the health of their airways, or as a symbolic display of something else, they all have that one thing in common.

Welcome to Maskology – a study of masks.


When you see this many people wearing masks, it normalises it!

If there is an image you think we’ve missed, drop a link to it in the comments below, and it too, can go up on The Labyrinth’s People Wearing Masks Pinterest Board.

Happy Pinning!


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.

A Masked Duality

Lately, I’ve been wearing the 9913, 3M Particulate Respirator Nuisance Level Organic Vapour Release (that’s the fancy name for this type of mask I use) everywhere I go. Everywhere. I. Go. If I don’t wear it, breathing in solvents, or petrochemical vapours can make me ill. For days…

In a Zen-like way, the duality of life dictates to us all that there are good and bad elements in everything and everyone. And that is certainly true when it comes to wearing a mask; below, is a list I’ve made of the good and bad:





  • The obvious being, I can go out and do shopping, run errands and attend classes without getting effected—mostly.
  • I can enjoy a better quality of life because I can partake in activities that I wouldn’t be able to—not without getting effected anyway—if I didn’t have it.
  • It protects me from airborne chemicals such as sprays, fumes and smoke.
  • It’s disposable.
  • I can use two if needed. Sometimes—when in an environment where there are solvents in the air from spray deodorants—I put an older one over the top (because the outer layer is made from carbon, it absorbs chemical vapours quickly) extending the life of the inner mask.
  • The fabric of the mask allows me to pin a scarf over the top, hiding it (somewhat!), turning it into a fashion accessory.
  • If I don’t move my head too much, too quickly to the side or laugh too hard, and I squish the metal piece down hard over my nose, it becomes airtight: my own little bubble of clean air!
  • It can serve as a visual reminder to people who I’ve asked to please not wear that hairspray/deodorant/perfume/aftershave that affects me. You know the ones: their ego’s identified and personally attached to it, and they ‘keep forgetting’ to not wear it or ‘defiantly choose’ to keep wearing it.
  • As a friend recently pointed out, I’m an awesome role model for other chemically sensitive people: I put on my mask, go out and get what I want, get things done…
  • When some people notice I’m wearing a mask and start pointing and/or laughing at me, I can poke my tongue out at them and get away with it! (Childish, I know. But hey, whatever gets a gal through the day…)


  • People (who I don’t know) can be cruel, tease or laugh at me.
  • Sadly, some people (who I know) are embarrassed to be seen with me…
  • In heavy situations—examples: the floor of the Myers make-up/perfume department; the hairdressers; doctors, dentists, or a therapist’s rooms where essential oils are being burnt; or probably the worst, places where fragrances are sprayed out of those small boxes on the walls, which are actually called Fragrance Emitting Devices (FEDs)—the mask ‘saturates’ quickly, and just to make life worse for me, the chemicals and scents stick to my hair and clothes, effecting me later when I remove my mask. And, as an added insult, sitting/driving in an enclosed, hot car afterwards can be a living nightmare!
  • Going into a bank and lining up can be a hassle because people look at me funny, most likely wondering why I have my face covered. In a bank, for dog’s sake.
  • It can get stuffy after an hour or two, breathing is restricted and the lack of oxygen can make me feel vague. (Not nice in a learning situation like a classroom.)
  • People can’t see my facial expressions, which can make communication difficult.
  • It can affect my confidence: sometimes I feel ridiculous, stupid or like a freak—or all of those at once—and I don’t want to go anywhere, especially alone. (If I allow myself to indulge in these feelings and thoughts, I feel like staying home and hiding from the world forever (and some days I do); instead I focus on the things I want, need to achieve, or do: my future!).

Purchase a 3M mask
In the US from Achoo Allergy
In bulk, online, from the 3M shop
In Australia, singly, or by the box, from AESSRA (the Allergy, Environmental, Sensitivity, Support and Research Association); the masks are stored and packed by people who are sensitive to chemicals; and as well, they sell cellophane bags for storing them in (however, to purchase masks, you need to be a member).
Also in Australia, by the boxful (15 masks) from EsiDirect
More information can be found on the Australian 3M website 

Because the 3M mask is made from synthetic materials, some people may not be able to use it… Silk and cotton masks are available from I Can Breathe in the US and Australia
And then there is the Respro Allergy Mask (available from the US)
In Canada, the Aero mask and filters can be ordered from Quorum Allergy .

Read more about wearing a mask on the Environmental Illness Resource website

Do you wear a mask to protect your health? Can you recommend a good one? Do you think this might lead me out of the Labyrinth of chemical sensitivities?

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.

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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