*Watch the full story in the interview above*

The many perfumes that emanate from everyday products, like laundry liquid, air fresheners and shampoo, are making many New Zealanders sick.

Fragrances in household cleaning and body-care products can trigger allergic reactions in some people, even if they’re considered natural or organic.

Research shows both natural and synthetic ingredients in fragrances can cause an array of symptoms in people with sensitivities – from skin rashes to migraines, eye irritation and asthma attacks.

Integrative nutritionist Kaytee Boyd, of the Boyd Clinic in Auckland, says there are over 150 chemicals that can be used to make fragrances, but there are no regulations in New Zealand requiring them to be listed on a product’s label.

“I have clients who can’t walk down the supermarket aisle where there are cleaning products,” Boyd says. “It’s a clinical disease that should be classified, but it’s not.” (Watch more from Boyd below).

A 2016 study by Dr Anne Steinemann, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Melbourne, showed one in three Australians reported health problems like headaches or breathing difficulties when exposed to common fragranced products. Similar research Steinemann carried out in the United States revealed 34 percent of the population surveyed described similar problems.

Steinemann also examined volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – chemicals emitted as gases that can affect air quality and health. Of the 37 household products she tested – from air freshener to laundry powder and deodorant – 156 VOCs were emitted. Forty-two of those were classified toxic or hazardous.

But less than three percent of the harmful ingredients in the fragrances were disclosed on the products’ labels.

In the search to find what’s safe to use, the Sensitive Choice ‘blue butterfly’ symbol has been introduced to hundreds of products in New Zealand that may be better choices for people with asthma and allergies.

Originally developed in Australia, the Sensitive Choice community service programme is run in New Zealand by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation to help the 520,000 asthma sufferers and one in three people with allergies.

An independent product advisory panel – including chemists, engineers, pharmacists and medical specialists – look into all ingredients used in a product and determine whether they could trigger an allergic reaction.

Respiratory Foundation CEO Letitia O’Dwyer says any product bearing the blue butterfly will have been through a robust testing process, so consumers don’t have to go through the “complications of understanding what’s in the ingredients”. (Watch more from O’Dwyer below).

Among the brands approved by Sensitive Choice is ecostore’s ultra-sensitive range. The New Zealand company creates its cleaning and bodycare products without harmful or unnecessary chemicals, but has taken that one step further with an ultra-sensitive fragrance-free range.

Aware that even essential oils and plant-sourced fragrances can also trigger reactions in some people, ecostore removed fragrance from its ultra-sensitive range to give people choice.

“We use renewable resources for our products and this includes our fragrances. Our fragrances come from plant sources, such as trees, shrubs, flowers and fruits,” says ecostore’s research and development manager, Huia Iti.

“From these plants we get a beautiful scent, but we also have these unwanted materials, and they can cause issues with people who are sensitive to fragrance. So it makes sense to have a range where you don’t have those materials.”

ecostore refers to the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic database to help assess the safety of every ingredient it uses in its products.

ecostore is a foundation supporter of Newsroom.

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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