Bio-D customer and environmental health nutritionist Katie Young’s extreme sensitivity to synthetic perfumes has had a significant impact on her day-to-day life. Even very slight exposure can cause symptoms including severe headaches, itchy eyes, leg swelling and worsening joint pains, alongside a reoccurring cough and even breathing problems.
The problem Katie faces is that synthetic perfumes are present in nearly every product you can think of – from the make-up and skincare we use on our skin, to the cleaning products we use around our homes.
For Allergy Awareness Week, we spoke to Katie about her chemical sensitivity, how it affects her everyday life, and how others can relieve similar symptoms by making simple switches in the products they use.
“It was when I lived in Hong Kong that my sensitivity to synthetic perfumes really became apparent.” said Katie.
“Whilst studying abroad in Australia I’d started making my own beauty and cleaning products in my spare time using naturally derived ingredients. I’d learnt how certain ingredients can have a negative effect both on the environment and on our own health, and this was something that I was keen to explore.
“When I returned to Hong Kong, whilst house-sitting for a friend who used synthetic products I woke in the middle of the night choking, my eyes streaming, with a terrible headache, and my back and leg muscles had gone into spasm.
“Once I realised the problem was the bed sheets I was sleeping in I bundled the lot into the washing machine, washing again and again with bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar to remove the perfumes from the original detergent.
“After a shower and five machine cycles, I could finally cope, but it took two days for my symptoms to finally start alleviating enough to be able to function, and seven days for me to fully recover. It was a scary experience.”
From then on, Katie’s symptoms regularly reoccurred.
“My symptoms were particularly bad in Hong Kong, where they spray ambient smells in public spaces such as malls and airports.”
Now living in the UK, Katie has modified her way of life to limit her contact with synthetic perfumes.
“Any product I use needs to be as basic as possible, with ingredients that are plant-based or naturally derived. This is in all areas of life, from perfumes and beauty products to laundry detergents and even cleaning products.”
However, Katie’s chemical sensitivity still has a dramatic effect on her life, with her symptoms being aggravated from something as simple as standing next to someone wearing perfume, or that has washed their clothes with a certain detergent.
“I can often tell the brand of laundry liquid or conditioner someone has used judging by the smell and my symptoms!”
Since understanding her sensitivity, and the chemicals that trigger her condition, Katie has been able to help others suffering from the same problem by sharing her experiences.
“Before my symptoms peaked, I realised I had suffered previously for most of my life prior but had brushed them off thinking it was a result of other factors.
“A lot of people I know have experienced the same problems, and after removing perfumed products they’ve seen gradual relief, it can take up to seven days for symptoms to disappear, though can take up to eight washes in a naturally derived laundry detergent to get the smell out.”
Brands Katie recommends to relieve sensitivity:
Cleaning and laundry
Katie uses Bio-D’s range of vegan cleaning products, which are created from naturally derived and plant-based ingredients. All fragrances used are sourced from essential oils, and its range of Allergy UK-accredited laundry range gives confidence to those with even the most sensitive skin.
Beauty and skincare
Katie says: “I tend to make my own face and body creams from organic ingredients like shea butter and apricot kernel oil and essential oils. Sukin also has a selection of products that don’t trigger my symptoms.”
She uses essential oils as deodorant, and Aloedent fluoride-free toothpaste.
Katie uses shampoo and conditioner from Faith in Nature, which uses 100% natural origin aroma.
Do you suffer from allergies that cause sensitive skin? Explore our Allergy UK-accredited range here.