Have you ever taken time to think about why you’re confident or what makes you feel confident? When I stopped using products that contained artificial fragrance, I didn’t intend to deflate my confidence. Over the last 8 months, however, I’ve noticed how dependent I was on fragrance to increase my confidence.
Do you remember that deodorant commercial from the 1980s with people who were confident to raise their arms? The tagline was “Are you Sure?” If you used Sure deodorant, you’d be sure – just like the people in the commercial. But what would you be sure of? Marketers want you to believe you’d be sure that when you lift your arms there will be no wet spots and no bad odor caused by perspiration. You’d be sure that sweating would not embarrass you.
What’s slightly malicious about this message is that sweating is something humans have done since the beginning of time. There would be no market for deodorant, however, unless you thought there was something shameful or un-sociable about sweating and its after effects.
So we all buy deodorant. No big deal. Except that over time, deodorant became laden with chemicals, which are needed to prevent sweat from secreting from your glands and ‘bad’ odor from developing. These chemicals seep into our skin and over time can accumulate and contribute to long-term health issues. It’s not just deodorants either. Lotions, perfumes, and body washes can all contain chemicals that can decrease our health over the long term.
The physical effects of these chemicals in our products is well-documented. What is less documented and what surprised me in my own journey, was the psychological effect. The notion that the way our bodies naturally smell and remove toxins is broken (and that we need to buy some product to correct it) can subconsciously erode our confidence overtime.
I began removing artificial fragrance from my life after suffering severe allergies for several years. My allergies were so bad that I was getting at least 1 sinus infection a month and was losing my sense of smell for extended periods of time. The doctors all said surgery was the only option. I didn’t trust a surgeon to drill through my skull and not hit my brain so I started working with an acupuncturist. He suggested not using products that contain fragrance (among other things).
This seemed impossible. I love products. And I love to smell good. I love for my home to smell good, and I love for my car to smell good. I love the power fragrance has to change the way people think and feel. Heck, one of my favorite jobs of all time has been working as a sales associate at Bath & Body Works. It doesn’t get more smell-goody than that.
But the more research I did, the more I realized my acupuncturist might be right. So starting in the fall of 2016, I began not replacing products that contained fragrance (often labeled parfum). I didn’t purge my cabinets, but when products were used up I made the decision to either stop using them altogether or to replace them with a healthier alternative. EWG’s Skin Deep database and Healthy Living app are super helpful for evaluating product ingredients.
Here are the 3 things I learned about myself when I stopped using products with fragrance:
I relied on ‘not sweating’ to help me feel confident at work.
Speaking to large groups, getting to know new people, leading meetings and working groups – these are all situations I face at work that are naturally uncomfortable for my introverted personality. One of the ways I coped was wearing heavy-duty deodorant that masked the profuse sweating triggered by these situations.
How do I feel confident now that I don’t wear chemical deodorant? To start, I’m limiting non-essential sources of stress. I can’t change the fact that I’m an introvert, but I can control my day so that a job that requires a lot of people interaction doesn’t cause as much physical stress.
When I do face stressful situations, I admit out loud that they’re stressful and acknowledge that one of the sides effects is sweating. A nice benefit about being honest with myself and my co-workers is that many people didn’t know I was an introvert. Now they tend to be more understanding when I duck out early from non-required social activities (like happy hours).
I am also in the process of adjusting my wardrobe. If I know I’m going to be doing something that causes stress sweating, I wear looser clothing and tend to wear black which can hide wet spots.
I relied on lotions and perfumes to help me feel pretty.
Part of my beauty routine was using fragrance to enhance the way I appear to friends and family. I went without perfume for months. Now I wear it occasionally, but I find that it tends to annoy me after an hour. Maybe a year from now I won’t wear it at all.
What do I do instead? I’m drinking more water, attempting to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and doing things that make me happy. All of these have improved my physical appearance and restored my inner glow.
I rely on fragrance to feel clean.
If a space smells good, my head believes it’s clean. The marketers for Febreeze learned from market research that people who had just cleaned their home wanted it to smell clean. So Febreeze was marketed as something used not to actually make your home clean but to make it smell clean. Needless to say, this is neither healthy nor constructive.
Confession: I still use candles to make my house smell awesome. I use them sparingly (once or twice a month) rather than daily. I’m still working on breaking this habit.
A final observation which is less personal and probably more controversial: fragrance is an intensely personal preference. When you use/wear fragrance in public, you’re imposing your preference on everyone around you. It might cause people to get headaches or trigger an allergic reaction. It might also cause someone else to feel less happy. If you want to create an inclusive environment, be careful of how you use fragrance and consider whether you use it at all in public environments.
Does fragrance help you feel confident? Would you try going without it?