Perfume Pen Pals: Allergic to Axe?




Katie,

Here's something fun in the New York Times:
Freedom High School in Bethlehem says one of its students was recently taken to a hospital after being exposed to Axe Body Spray. Now, officials are asking students to stop using it as a cologne or fragrance while attending the school.

The perfume people will joke about it being Axe, but I'm telling you, these "allergies" are psychological, they're similar to "sick building syndrome" (something that only occurs in America and only in the past couple decades). Remember Safe with Julianne Moore? Half the country is turning into Julianne Moore's character!




This says everything:
School officials say the affected student is severely allergic to the spray. It wasn't immediately clear what type of reaction the student had or what chemical may have been involved.

How do we define "severe allergies" when we can't even define the cause? Except that somehow we know cologne is the cause of the severe allergy. And what's "severe"? What exactly are the symptoms? Anything visible? Anything confirmable? Ugh. Why am I wasting my time with this?

Dan



48 comments:

  1. Dan, I'm so with you. Unless I see a photo of this person blown up with a true allergic reaction, just call it what it is: I don't like your perfume! Am I the only one with cojones anymore?

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    1. The idea of rashly over-legislating against things that bum one out is appealing - as long only thing I personally despise are banned. Like "onesies". I just saw a 30-something woman wearing tight-fitting toddler-style pajamas on the London tube today. With a "don't F with me" expression on her face. Which was appropriate given her choice of apparel.

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    2. Denise, I can't confirm anything regarding cojones (nor do I want to), but it seems some people are anxious to conflate "sensitivity" and "allergy" into a single category. Even though one is psychological and the other is definable, identifiable, and physical. I wish articles like this would do better at underlining that distinction.

      And Katie, can I ban Mumford & Sons?

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    3. Dan, you got a problem with banjos and hollerin'? Then this is *not* the time for you. Because if you banned Mumford & Sons, there'd still be Of Monsters and Men, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, and The Lumineers.

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    4. Ugh, it's a fungus of fake authenticity. This isn't just psychological, funguses are physical!

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    5. My brother just had to go to the er with a serious swollen lip and rashes all over his body. The likely culprit is Axe dark temptation. He had showered just minutes before and his only meal inside of 12 hours was nothing out of the ordinary.

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  2. To quote a friend regarding this story, "I love ironic high school names".

    But, seriously, this is ridiculous. "It wasn't immediately clear what type of reaction the student had".

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    1. Haha: "ironic high school names". So true.

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  3. Never did me any harm (twitch)

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  4. In the chemistry classes for this high school, do they have an adjusted version of the periodic table where axe body spray is listed as an element? Or maybe axe body spray is a compound? Jeez, they should at least bother to find out what the student is actually allergic to, and name the chemical, or chemicals, and then say they are common ingredients within body sprays. The paper's and the school's analysis of this (as Dan points out) seems very incomplete; 'could do better' is how I would mark it.

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  5. Dear Katie

    This is such a bug bear of mine.

    Whilst I wouldn't mourn the passing of Axe (Lynx here in the UK), it's the same uber sensitivity that's putting pay to so many great perfumes in the unholy alliance between the medicalisation-of-everything brigade and some (they shall remain nameless) scent makers looking to cut costs.

    One really wonders where it will all end...

    The Dandy is allergic to certain kinds of pollen - should I ask the European Union to ban flowers?

    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

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  6. I think I may be allergic to Elmo...will the EU please ban him???

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    1. That being said, I've been surprised to see how many cosmetics/personal care products are chock full of hormone disruptors, which cause all sorts of problems in many species, including humans. Totally different issue than allergies, but they are scientifically demonstrated to be dangerous, they're not necessary for anything, and nothing's done about it. Why do dislikes of certain smells trump actual hazards when it comes to banning things? Weird species.

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  7. Yes, it's all totally psychological, and there's a large cultural component to it. There is a big difference between not liking something, and actually being allergic to it. There's a major sense of entitlement in the US, and we like to think we can basically legislate away anything that perturbs us. Aside from the fact that I've been very bitter when I've been told I can't wear perfume to work (BITE ME), there are situations that I think it would be very sad to take away the fragrance component. I don't go to church, and haven't in decades, but one of the most memorable things about the Catholic services (and possibly the only thing I ever liked, aside from Palm Sunday and getting to whack my brother repeatedly with a palm leaf) was the incense. It would be tragic to see traditions die out, just because of a few who are "bothered" by scent.

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    1. Kitty, At the risk of turning the psychological even more psychological, I think there's a large component of anxiety behind banning perfume. People who are anxious tend to want to control their environments and, unfortunately, legislating on behalf of these anxieties only encourages them further.

      By the way, it turns out those palms are bad for the environment (http://slate.me/YfOyTj). I'd more gladly accept a ban on palms than a ban on incense. And I bet your brother agrees with me.

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  8. Sounds like someone wanted to cut class and figured out a dramatic way to do it. School administrators must be much easier to hoodwink these days than they were when I was a kid.

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  9. I had a hideous allergic reaction once to a natural fragrance. I sniffed it and immediately, I started coughing, my throat closed and I could barely breathe. Luckily, there was a doctor there who had an inhaler and Benedryl in her purse.

    So I do believe that people can have allergies to fragrance. And to peanuts, strawberries, mold, bee stings, etc. (Maybe we can outlaw bees?) Inhalers, epi-pens and Benedryl work just fine, as does sitting at the other end of the conference table from the offending perfumista. But just to be nice, I'll stop wearing Axe around my coworkers.

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    1. M61, I was going to say something about your problematic Axe habit. I'm glad you saw the light.

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  10. Okaaayyyyyy... I *rarely* comment on blogs (though I luuuurve this one) but this topic is one of my pet peeves. So: I'm a doctor (not just in my mind, the medical board of california says so) and I've seen a GAZILLION allergic reactions. TRUE allergic reactions. Never to perfume. OK? It just doesn't exist. What a lot of folks don't seem to remember is that high school is a time fraught with a boatload of anxieties. Some of which are manifested in panic attacks, which can be triggered by just about anything eg vile body spray. To respond to the commenters above who have experienced what they call "allergies" to perfume; these folks probably forgot to mention they've got a little condition called "reactive airways" or asthma. Many many things can trigger spasms of the airways, including cold air, exercise, smoke, steam from opening the dishwasher too soon (yes, I've seen folks go to the ER several times because of this), and pollen. And, yes, perfume. Does that mean that cold air fronts are now banned? Or that you need a license to buy a dishwasher?
    Carry your inhaler, people, and be thankful a tickle in the nose if you happen to be so lucky as to catch a whiff of the original Magie Noire the main issue in your life. Talk about First World whining.
    I wholeheartedly second the response from the commenter above regarding being told not to wear fragrance at work (that would be: BITE ME) and, yet again, find myself completely aligned with Dan's point of view. Thanks for perking up my sunday morning, man.
    And, Katie, the best "don't F w me" statement I can find is a couple of heavy spritzes of Absolue pour le Soir. Off to bathe in it right now; because it's that kind of day.
    Cheers

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    1. Thanks for weighing in, Dr. Anonymous. And also for identifying a condition many of us suffer from (including me): FWW (First World Whining). If that's not already a Twitter hashtag, it should be. I'll go first: Why is The Espresso Room closed on weekends? #firstworldwhining
      The Espresso Room

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    2. First World Whining (or Whinging, if you're British), I love it! I sense the start of something big.

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  11. I think it's become almost a way to get attention, or be a drama queen to say that you don't like perfume, or that you're sensitive to fragrances. We have to find some new evil to fight, and right now, it's perfume.

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    1. Nora, I think there's a good deal of truth in what you say, thus my reference to "Safe." There are suddenly many allergies and maladies (I won't name them, I don't want to encourage any wrath) with a suspiciously large amount of sufferers. And suffering brings attention.

      My hometown sometimes seems like the epicenter of handwringing over such things and I've noticed the main component of something like scent allergies is *talking* about scent allergies, constantly re-asserting your illness, your symptoms, your suffering. And, of course, your desire to change the rules and laws to suit your specific needs.

      My mother was a hypochondriac and I witnessed first-hand the anxiety she felt and the attention and validation she constantly craved. And I often recognize her behavior in others. I've had a friend tell me she's "allergic to all scents." Which is preposterous. I suppose every molecule in the world has the potential to trigger an allergy, but to only be allergic to the small percentage of molecules that carry a smell? Surely that's psychological, yes? No. She says no. And I shut up.

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    2. "There are suddenly many allergies and maladies (I won't name them, I don't want to encourage any wrath) with a suspiciously large amount of sufferers."

      Dan, is there GLUTEN in your perfume, perhaps?

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  12. Allergies and 'sensitivity issues' are seemingly very fashionable at present. I never me a single person with a 'peanut allergy' whilst at school whereas now it seems every other child is allergic to them. I think 'classifications' are to blame. Tummy ache is now 'Irritable Bowel Syndrome' and badly behaved kids now have 'Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder'. What we all need to do listen to Chopper and 'Harden the F**k up'......http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unkIVvjZc9Y

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  13. One thing is for sure, people who suffer from "sensitivity to fragrance" would find no empathy from this group, huh? I am just chuckling to self thinking of how putting one of these allergy claiming people in a room with folks like us would be torture...My hubby is always reminding me how I need to remember how my wearing fragrance could possibly affect people ( he has many relatives with asthma) and I am usually reminded of this as we approach the in laws by car and he sees me secretly dabbing something on...Unfortunately, I am selfish when it comes to this, and the only modification I have made is to try and be more discreet in my application around him to avoid the lectures from him...I am afraid that as long as the in laws keep hugging me and telling me I smell good and until I see one of them start wheezing near me, I will continue to think he's being overly cautionary .....because when it comes down to it- my adornment with fragrance has always had more to do with my own personal pleasure than it's possible effect on anyone else.

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    1. pinkcash, I'm guessing the room scenario would be more torturous for perfume lovers than for those who are allergic to everything. Because we'd all likely modify what and how much we wear, while still having to endure lots of nervous sniffing and inquires. Though at least they'd leave early. Except I'd probably leave earlier. I'm always the first to leave.

      I remember a real-estate agent telling me the biggest problem in residential buildings these days isn't discourteous tenants but anxious over-complainers, people who constantly post notes and protest to management about every little thing. A friend recently sent me a picture of hostile note left on a neighbor's door. The offense? The neighbor had left a small wreath hanging a few days past Christmas and this angered someone else in the building.

      Sorry, that was off-subject. And yet I'm not sure it was.

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  14. i had been inclined to agree with you folks, but just recently a coworker of mine said she ducked into macy's to avoid the rain and an eager SA assaulted her with the 'latest donna karan.' she got sprayed on the wrist and subsequently broke out in a rash--a large red area that looked like a burn. the SA told her to 'go wash it off' (probably terrified of a law suit, and in fact this coworker has a law degree). i saw this after she had washed it off twice. it did indeed look like a burn--maybe a sunburn, or a scald. everyone told her it was going to blister. when i saw her a few days later, i asked to see it. she said it had turned blue, like a giant bruise. very weird!!!! no broken skin or blistering. so, end of story, no law suit or hospital trip or anything. my friend said she suspected it was the ghost of coco chanel wreaking revenge for her not being faithful to her favorite fragrance, coco. so, beware of the latest donna karan--she's got a vicious bite.

    catlady

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    1. catlady, A red rash is usually the result of the alcohol content in perfume, especially in combination with dry skin. I don't know if it quite qualifies as an allergic reaction, but it's not uncommon and I'm sure we've all experienced it from time to time.

      But a blue bruise-like mark after several days? That sounds much more serious and I'd love to get your friend and that perfume into a lab. Though I'm not sure what I'd do because I'm not a scientist. I suppose I could take some pictures and post them on WebMD. Do we need to all go to a lab for that? Probably not.

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  15. I don't think it's outside of the realm of possibility for someone to have an allergic reaction to a fragrance. But there is a big difference between someone being "assaulted," as you said, and someone complaining about a fragrance worn by another person.

    I would never want to make someone feel uncomfortable or physically ill. But it feels like some people are very anti-fragrance on general principal, or they feel like it makes them more noble, somehow, to reject it. I think that fragrance is an art form that has not been accepted as legitimate, at least in recent times, and by the majority. Maybe because it's something that is meant to be worn by an individual rather than experienced for a general audience. I feel that by denying or rejecting perfume, people sometimes think that they are giving the impression of being a more genuine person.

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    1. "people sometimes think that they are giving the impression of being a more genuine person"

      Nora, that reminds me of one of my first trips to LA when I overheard a starlet type saying to another, "I'm *trying* to be more genuine." It was perfect.

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  16. Oi Puckrik - are you in London?

    Off topic....

    Keep on reaching for the Clinique Aromatics Elixir in this weather - always say to myself after the first spritz "Now, what would Katie do? - stop right there!" - but then the demon takes over and I end up suffocating everyone from Shoreditch to Mayfair....

    I need help - any suggestions???

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    1. Yes, I'm in London, and I'm living for my Aromatics Elixir here. You must WWKD? and STOP after spritz one. For extra caution, I spray the one spritz in the small of my back, so it wafts mysteriously up from around my person.

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  17. This issue is a sensitive one (har har) for me as my husband suffers from migraines. Like go to the ER needing morphine migraines. Luckily those ones are not common. Often his migraines are triggered by scent, which is not so fun for me - luckily my workplace is not scent-free so that is where I can indulge my perfume love. So yes, there are people who can be harmed by overapplication. But most of these people complaining about being "allergic" are not those people - they just don't like perfume. That said, I just like to remind people to be considerate when you are going to be in close quarters and people can't get away (restaurants, movies, tight working spaces, etc). We've had more than 1 meal ruined by being seated next to someone who has put on a few sprays too many.

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  18. odonata9--

    I'm very sorry to hear about the migraines from which your husband suffers. Yes, as I mentioned I would certainly never want to impose discomfort or in his case, real suffering on anyone from a perfume that I'm wearing. I truly believe that there are some people who are intolerant to fragrance. I hope he manages to avoid any future trips to the ER, that sounds terrible.

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  19. First, "Sick building syndrome" IS real. It is a result of overinsulated, or under ventillating buildings combinded with some toxic substances, such as mold (again a result of poor ventillation), inappropriate chemicals being used for such purposes as carpetting adhesives, binder for plywood and other engineered woods etc. The construction industry has worked hard to ban those chemicals. There were a large number of cases in the 80's and 90's, probably as a result of the increased insulation installed after the first energy crises.
    As for perfume allergies, there are two issues, allergies to the application of substance to the skin (such as was experienced by the poor woman who was subjected to spray by a sales associate) and the claim that somebody has a respiratory response when someone near them wears perfume. I certainly have had friends who felt an adverse reaction to being surrounded by fragranted produces (i.e., a Crabtree and Evlyn shop). She did not, however, become so ill as to need medical attention, and did not have any serious reaction to an individual wearing perfume.
    As a migrane sufferer, I can tell you, that on bad days, I don't want any extra sensory stimulus, including heavy perfumes, although on other days, a very subtle perfume can have a quieting effect.

    I think the issue of whether a person can truely have a respiritory crises as a result of somone else's perfume should be subjected to real scientific analysis.

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  20. Anonymous, Indeed, sick building syndrome is real. And research has helped improve indoor air quality. But it's also believed that psychology plays a role some of the time. There have been studies of sick-building events that conclude "mass psychogenic illness" is to blame (basically the power of suggestion). And the presence of one doesn't disqualify the other.

    The same goes for perfume allergies. Obviously, you know how detrimental perfumes can be when it comes to migranes, and it's widely documented, but there are other people who simply get anxious in the presence of perfume, either they don't like it or they've had a bad experience in the past. This doesn't qualify as an allergy.

    Regarding skin application, I've seen hundreds of people on perfume boards complain of allergic reactions to certain perfumes merely because their skin turns red. This usually isn't an allergy, it's a reaction to the alcohol content, combined with dry skin, and it's harmless. But I don't doubt someone could have a more serious reaction to a specific chemical contained in a perfume, as we saw above.

    We're merely having fun with the culture of anxiety and not legitimate cases of respiratory distress. And for those who insist they're allergic to everything, there *have* been scientific studies: blindfolded and presented with certain chemicals or no chemicals at all, these people don't respond reliably. Without knowledge and anxiety as a trigger, there are often no symptoms. Again, though, we're talking about two different groups of people.

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    1. I am the anonymous who originally posted the "sick building" comment. I did not mean to say that other commentators were being flippant about other people's health question. I regard the issue of whether someone can have a real and medically significant reaction to perfume on someone else to be an important question. The notion that someone can be endangered (as opposed to being just annoyed) by another person's perfume is supposedly the basis for banning ingredients from perfumes of for banning the use of perfume from offices, schools etc.

      I wish there was more definitive science being done on this issue (although as a non-scientist, I have trouble imagining how to carry out a "double blind" test for fragrance. I mean how can you conceal whether or not a fragrance is really in the room).

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    2. There have been many scientific studies on people with chemical sensitivities. Though I'm not sure even the most definitive studies will change anyone's mind. But double-blind fragrance tests are performed simply by clamping the subject's nose. And, again, I believe most of these tests have concluded that without the smell trigger, the subjects don't have the same symptoms.

      There's the matter of common sense, too, that there are hundreds of thousands of scentless molecules that invade the nose and mouth every time we walk outside, all of which can potentially cause an allergic reaction, and yet there are those who only suffer allergies when an invading molecule possesses a scent, i.e. when they can detect its presence.

      That's not to diminish the psychological or deny its impact on the physical, but it appears that people with these sensitivities are increasing in number and the banning of perfumes probably helps feed their neuroses and anxieties.

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    3. One more mention about studies: I remember reading about chemical studies in which the subjects smelled products to which they'd reported allergic reactions. And they were also asked to smell dummy products, which possessed scents similar to the first projects but had an entirely different chemical make-up. And the subjects responded similarly to everything, indicating it was likely their *expectation* of an allergic reaction, based on smell, that triggered their response.

      Now that I've bored everyone to death, I'll get back to work. (And bore myself to death.)

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  21. While I have often had migraine reactions to scents (and removed myself from the situation, as clearly I have the problem, not the random fragranista), I have never seen anyone or heard of anyone having a real allergic reaction to a scent. What I have when I get migraine is a reaction, sure, and I hate it, because it happens with scents I like and dislike. But as I've gotten older, I've learned to tolerate scents I never thought I could. Part of it was learning more about the notes and appreciating them for what they are.

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  22. I had a housemate who had an "allergic" reaction to sandalwood and lavender (she said she developed migraines). I'd only put perfume on if I was going out, because I try to be considerate.
    I noticed that I had perfumes where lavender was present, but wasn't an "identifiable" scent, which she didn't react to.
    I concluded that perfume "allergies" are largely psychological.
    (Also, as someone with a REAL, epi-pen carrying allergy to the casein in cow milk, and someone who also gets classic migraines of the hemispherical-with-pain-and-auras variety, I kind of... resented her co-opting real illnesses in her attention seeking.

    But then, my migraines can be treated with imigran and if I avoid cow casein I'm fine.)

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    1. Jane - the temptation to big up one's pet bugbears into pathologies is sometimes hard to resist. "It' *not* just a personal preference, dammit! I'm suffering from an important medical syndrome!"

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    2. wow....too bad you can not experience it, change your tune

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  23. perfume allergies are totally real I am a 50 yo man who suffers tremendously...just got over a sinus infection yet AGAIN . look up MCS it is real, it is also called non allergic rhinitis..50 million of us suffer from it..there is nothing psychological about it, NO one can agree if it is an allergen or an irritant but there is no denying the damage it does

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    1. Amen. Its unfortunate that some people can only have empathy if they themselves have the problem. I personally tried to tolerate such things, until my toddler repeatedly had reactions to fragrances. And repeatedly had bronchial resp distress that has twice turned into pneumonia. i dont care if its an actual allergy, or chemical irritant, it causes pain, harm, and damage. Common sense people. Investigate the subject, and be knowledgeable.

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  24. I can tell that 99.998% of people aren't allergic to perfume. They are mostly not legit. It's just an excuse because they don't like the smell.

    A real allergy to perfume trigger itchy stomach & cause diarrhea. The reaction is similar to bee allergy & you get swollen all over the body. It trigger even if the odor is masked.

    Allergy to fragrance is real.

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