The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 29, 2010

The Story of a Headache

Axe Body SprayFlying home from Maryland on Saturday, I sat next to a really cute guy. Unfortunately, the plane was completely full, so I couldn’t switch seats to get away from him. Well, not him. He was cute. But his Axe cologne, or whatever heinous product he was wearing, made my eyes water, nose itch, throat close up, and left me with a throbbing headache.

I reached for a handkerchief to cover my nose, but sadly my very helpful dad had tossed in a Bounce dryer sheet when he did my laundry, and my hanky just made me sneeze even more.

While on vacation, I caught a nasty cold/flu, which I can deal with because my body will fight it off.  But the body doesn’t fight off the effects of environmental chemicals the way it does an infection.  Instead, it becomes more and more sensitized with repeated exposure to allergens. In fact, I just recently noticed my nose itching from Michael’s stick deodorant that he has used for years. How can I get away from the onslaught of scented products that seem to only be gaining in popularity these days? At last year’s BlogHer conference, I had the chance to speak with a Procter and Gamble rep who told me that in focus groups, P&G has found that consumers want even more scent, not less.

Normally I focus on the plastic packaging associated with personal care products. But did you know that one of the ingredients of concern in plastics — phthalates — are also a common component of fragrances? Phthalates help fragrances stick around longer. According to the Environmental Working Group:

Phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system. Several phthalate compounds have caused reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals, and some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.

Fragrances may contain all kinds of other nasty chemicals as well, but consumers have no idea what exact chemicals are in the ingredient merely listed as “fragrance” on the label of personal care and cleaning products because they are protected as trade secrets. GOOD has an excellent summary of the hazards in fragrances in the article, “10 Things You Should Know About Fragrance.”

Sadly, fragrance is just one of the hazardous ingredients in our cosmetics and personal care products. (Some facial scrubs contain plastic beads!) According to Annie Leonard in her newest video, The Story of Cosmetics, less than 20% of the chemicals used in cosmetics have been tested for safety.

Check the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database to determine the safety of products you are considering buying.

I looked up Axe Body Spray in the database today. The ingredients are listed as “SD Alcohol 40-B – Alcohol Denat, Isobutane, Propane, Fragrance – Parfum, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide Stearate.” Petrochemicals and synthetic fragrance. They are linked to developmental/reproductive toxicity, allergies/imunotoxicity, Neurotoxicity, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), additive exposure sources, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Enhanced skin absorption, Contamination concerns, and Occupational hazards.

Do you want that stuff on your body or the body of someone you love? More important, do any of us have the right to subject others to those chemicals? Because the scents we wear get into the bodies of our associates the same as secondhand smoke.

A few weeks ago, I criticized my boyfriend Isaiah Mustafa for promoting Old Spice Scented Bodywash.

Isaiah Mustafa Old Spice

Sadly, if I were sitting on a plane next to him, I’d have to get up and move. He’s not the man I wish my man smelled like. I’ll take my man the way he is. And try to get him to switch to baking soda.

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4 years ago

Recently been having daily migraines associated with perfumes in almost everything. The biggest offender is Zum and go bath the smell in bath and a few sparse salts here and there to make the place smell nice but geez they give me super bad headaches..dont dare going down laundry lane with plugging my nose…it all seems chemical rather than perfume or natural

10 years ago

My migraines are triggered by perfumes, colognes, room deodorizers, laundry detergents such as Gain and Tide, I’m not saying I don’t like scents, I’m severely allergic to them and can’t be near them. This move toward stronger scents in so many products has made so many things difficult for me. I don’t understand why anyone would want harmful phthalates near him/herself!

Soccer Matches
10 years ago

I really loved this post. You write about this topic very well. I really like your blog and I will definitely bookmark it! And Very useful information you have here, I really like the way it is written.

marine couplings
10 years ago

I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!

13 years ago

I work at a Mental Health agency in the Child Division. REcently we got rid of the snack machines due to the obesity issue.

However our division keeps using nasty deoderizers in the bathrooms (we are in an old badly ventilated building).. I tried to address this with the director but my emails were routinely ignored…

I know for a fact that scent .. especially artificial scent is bad for mood, growth etc..

I dont’ know how to get them on board.. they just are oblivious to THAT issue.. I fear they think i am a “nazi” which i am not… I presented studies etc… but they never address the issue.

13 years ago

There are recipes for homemade deodorant sticks….

13 years ago

I once ordered an ice cream cone from a small store and the store owner poked his son to go scoop it for me. Just before he scooped it, he decided to put on a few more squirts of that nasty Axe body spray. My cone was inedible. I can’t believe these focus groups. Who on earth can tolerate such awful products?

13 years ago

I have a terribly sensitive nose and I find strong scents very unpleasant, especially those marketed to males (deodorant is the worst). my boyfriend bought a package of Dove’s new Men+Care soap, and I told him I had just been making fun of the nonsensical name, which obviously came about from some bastardization of recent marketing trends, but instead of telling him not to buy it, I said, go ahead– get it if you want it. as soon as he opened it I could smell it, the entire bathroom has a permanent smell from it (that plastic shrink wrap keeps the horrible smell inside the box while it’s in the store) and I’ve been harassing him about how much I hate it ever since.

13 years ago

Love this post! Not so sure women are telling them that they hate the smell…..walk into an Abercrombie at the mall and the smell is overwhelming. All department stores smell like cologne and perfume. The media is pushing the scents and the public is falling for it. Go shopping and the the message is loud and clear-“this is what smells good and will attract a partner”. Have you ever smelled your clothes that come from a big brand store? They are sprayed with scent…….covered in nasty toxins! Another reason to wash your new clothes before wearing. Thanks for the great discussion.

13 years ago

Long before I knew about toxicity of all the personal care products, I avoided them like the plague. If I had to go into a department store, I made sure not to enter thru the cosmetics/fragrance department (or if I did, I very theatrically held my breath the entire way through), did not wear perfume, and have always purchased unscented, hypoallergenic products. However, now I am moving away from most products altogether. Unfortunately my husband uses Axe – and I hated it from the moment he first brought it home! It leaves a noxious gas cloud, not only in the bathroom , but spreading throughout the house for up to an hour after application. The stuff is nasty, vile, and toxic. He just rolls his eyes at me when I say something, but at least he has started doing the application process in the spare bedroom so that I am not subjected to the direct fumes. I don’t get the need for this crap, though??

13 years ago

I will not spend a penny on those toxic spices-I do not my man to smell like someone else why would I- I hear the government is soon going to regulate cosmetics-I guess those chemical filled anti aging products-Nice post thank you for promoting green lifestyle)-:

Elizabeth B
13 years ago

Oh, hey. You’ll like this:


Isle Dance
13 years ago

It’s so nice to know one is not alone in this. We’re all just way ahead of our times, I think.

Lynn from
13 years ago

Beth, thanks for this great contribution! I want to know if you asked him what the god-awful cologne was or if you pretended to like it! Clearly, you got the name!

Can’t wait to see you next week!


Cat C-B
13 years ago


A good friend of mine is chemically sensitive due to chemotherapy; a single student in her classroom who wears the wrong scented product could literally end her life.

I’m not anywhere near that bad–all I get a a little asthma now and then. (“All I get”–sheesh!) But I wonder how much each of us experiences some loss of health, some compromise to our body’s integrity, under the constant onslaught of chemicals we did not evolve to cope with?

Stacy @ Moderate Means
13 years ago

I’m so glad to hear it isn’t just me! Now that I’ve gotten rid of shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, detergent, etc, I find myself becoming more and more sensitive to scents. A woman at work applies hand lotion at least once a day. She’s three rows of cubicles away but it makes my nose itch evey time.

I notice it in my kids, too. We switched to a more natural sunscreen several years ago. Earlier this summer, I forgot to take it with us to my mom’s and we had to use hers. He started screaming and rubbing at his face. We washed and washed and washed and he ended up in the shower, jsut standing under the water. We’d already rubbed it in so there was very little to do…but he was so miserable. Never again.

Thanks for posting the Story of Cosmetics. I love her videos and hadn’t seen this one! I’m going to pass it along to my readers, too!


Elizabeth B
13 years ago

Ugh, tell me about it. I’m thinking about doing a lesson in my adult-level ESL class in September about NOT coming to my class smelling like you marinated in aftershave. I can just about handle light fruity or floral scents, but anything musky, spicy, etc. makes me sneeze.

Beth, if you need to fly again any time soon and end up next to an overperfumed person, maybe you could alert a flight attendant that your neighbor’s cologne is making you ill. Diane’s response makes a lot of sense to me. (Just not “scents,” get it? Nyuk nyuk.)

… Okay, I won’t quit my day job. ;)

13 years ago

I LOVE the Skin Deep Database. I’m glad to see you putting it out there as a resource. The only problem I have is it makes me not want to use anything! Try finding a readily available (ie commercial) chapstick with SPF. Hello white petroleum.

13 years ago

Second hand fumes!
I have dealt with this on a XC flight and I was very stressed because I get really bad headaches when I am next to someone with strong cologne. So, I turned on that little overhead fan as high as possible and tried to aim it for deflection!
Poor guy, he just needs a good woman to show him the way… (o;

Kim from Milwaukee
13 years ago

It’s not healthy to be too suspicious, but why is the FDA allowing all these toxic fragrances to be marketed to the next generation, toxins that affect fertility (ironically, since the products are worn to attract the opposite sex, right?) and will have an effect on the population of the world? Are they silently extinctifying us? Between the cancers they cause and the hormones they disrupt, what will people’s health be like one or two generations from now if these products are allowed to continue to be on the shelves?

I won’t even get into the horrible things these chemicals are doing to our environment….all those smelly things going down the drain into the water table and our waterways….stop the insanity!!

Jennifer Barry
13 years ago

I agree with Donna that I can’t comfortably walk down the laundry/soap aisle at a conventional store anymore. The toxic chemicals make me gag. All my cleaning stuff is natural now.

I’m not surprised people want more scent. When heavy scent is all around you, you get desensitized. So you need more to smell anything at all. I love to go places with a sign that asks people not to wear fragrances.

Lianne Lavoie
13 years ago

I can’t stand the smell of guys who wear all that smelly deodorant and stuff. Ick. I can barely handle my boyfriend’s shaving cream (the smell lingers for way too long).

I’m currently reading Slow Death by Rubber Duck, which is about all the nasty toxins that are in so many things we use on a daily basis. As a result of that book, I bought a body butter bar thing that you use in the shower (no packaging!) from Lush Cosmetics (they don’t use most of the icky things), and I’m giving away all my lotions (I have a lot..) on Kijiji or something. I don’t want that junk soaking into my skin.

13 years ago

I am also sensitive to scented things. I make my own laundry soap from this unscented laundry soap I buy in Canada. I ran out of it and went with Ivory and I feel like I am getting hit with fragrance when I open the container. Ivory isn’t even that strong. I like my clothes to smell like nothing when they come out of the wash. If they smell like something it gives me the impression that I can’t breathe.

What blew my mind away was that my ex-husband was really resentful of the fact that I asked for non-scented laundry detergent in the house due to my sensitivity. I always figured that was the one person who should understand and be willing to compromise.

I also have problems with going by beauty counters, Bath and Bodyworks, Victoria Secrets and so on in the mall.

The more I remove scents from my personal life, the more it has bothered me to smell them.

Pure Mothers
13 years ago

I can’t stand overpowering scents, but I love real floral essences. I’ve found a great company in Carmel called Ajne. They use organic jojoba oil as a base and add flower essences. I only wear oils now. Started when I was pregnant with my first child. Didn’t want the toxic chemicals and over powering scents in most products today. They have male and neutral gender scents too.

Sandra Lee
13 years ago

Beth, I am so glad you are writing on this topic and alerting your readers to the health dangers of cosmetics. I love The Story of Cosmetics video on the topic! The sad thing is that we are sensitizing our children when we wear / use these chemical based products and serious childhood illnesses are on the rise.

Thank you so much!

13 years ago

I can’t believe that PG found consumers to be wanting even more scent. Everything is scented already, it is sooo difficult to find something without! My mother is allergic to most scents, she gets headaches and breathing troubles. It took ages until she’d found a body lotion and a face cream without parfume.
When her neighbours do the laundry she has to stay inside, they use something ‘peachy’ for scenting it and it makes her sick. It even gives me a headache when I smell it.
Spray cleaners are banned from our households (because they have to much scent chemicals in them too) , and none of the personal care products I use has a strong smell. I like my perfume, which I don’t wear every day, but that’s about it.

I think the only people who should be allowed to smell that stronly are teenagers *lol*. I remember it being essential to have a deodorant with a strong scent – vanilla and something tropical. Most teenagers seemt to need that but grow out of if after a while. If I smell it now it’s way too heavy for my taste.

Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green
13 years ago

I feel your pain. I get so ill and often end up with asthma issues when around scented products.

It sucks that often when out my day is ruined by someone wearing something scented and it’s not their fault, they don’t know better. The government and the FDA should know better!

knutty knitter
13 years ago

I do notice that in my shop – I am allergic to perfumes too! The worst offenders are the wealthy Americans off the cruise ships. I swear you can smell them a block away! It isn’t even a nice scent most of the time – just a metallic artificial rose. Takes ages to dissipate too.

I got lucky with my hubby – he hates scent worse than me :) hopefully the kids will be the same.

Try telling them bluntly it will cost them their fertility and love lives – that should have some effect :)

viv in nz

ps I renovated my blog and added photos by myself – see you can teach old dogs new tricks :)

13 years ago

Like Donna (#14) I have become more sensitive to fragrance since getting rid of all chemically cleaners and personal care products. I have from time to time wondered if I have done myself a disservice because I get so ill near people who have loaded up on fake-y smells. I guess the focus groups are winning as society seems to be fragrance obsessed – even trash bags and tissues come pre-scented now! In the end I am glad I got the nasty smelly chemicals out of my house – but I do like natural scents – flowers, essential oils – they really are nice in the home.

13 years ago

I am so there with you .. some of myco workers wear perfume and I wind up sneezing and coughing and all sorts and I don’t want to be rude and say “you effing stink and it makes me sick!” lol but I have to wonder what makes people wnat to even smell that way.
I just don’t get it.
Sure there may be a little scentin the things that I buy tht say they are “unscented”, but I understand that that minimal is trying to cover an unpleasant smell but I wouldn’t use such stinky smelly aweful things to try to cover it up.
I sweat a lot and I know it. Not even those “clinical” pit-sticks help prevent me from wetting my shirt by 8am. I’ve often wondered if those perfumed scents that are in there are contributing to the problem. No way of finding out tho, without getting fired for being “unesthetic” in a farming community.

13 years ago

I have found that as I have eliminated most commercial cleaning products from my life (using Dr. Bronner’s soap and baking soda, vinegar, etc.) I have become more sensitive to fragrances out in the world. I can’t even walk down the laundry soap aisle at the grocery store. I didn’t used to be this way. I wonder if they are listening to those focus groups and adding more fragrance. God help us.

Cheap Like Me
13 years ago

I’m not at all a men’s fragrance lover. But my husband sometimes uses Burt’s Bees Bay Rum aftershave, which smells really yummy. It’s a 3 on the EWG’s Cosmetic Safety Database … and the highest-toxicity ingredient in it is natural (cloves). Maybe you could ease your Axe-lovers down to something like that? Or make a spray with diluted essential oil?

13 years ago

HMMM… according to the Axe commercials you were suppose get all hornified and attack the young man.

It’s so sexy to make your date sick. Don’t like the Axe or the old spice. The problem with the Old spice is I take a shower and all day long I smell like my grandpa??? WTF.

13 years ago

Beth, trust me, he knows ALL about the toxics. I even send him links to Axe-bashing articles of all kinds…but, he is one of these guys who rolls his eyes at everything I say in this realm, and says that I should not be scared of the world. I guess in a sense it is good balance, since for the most part, I AM scared of the unnatural world. Take for example, the BPA-laden toilet paper as per my recent post…

13 years ago

I totally understand, was in the same boat yesterday surrounded by woman’s fragrances, I felt ‘tickled/ irritated’ in my nose and in general I found I did not want to breath fully..

I wish people would wake up to the chemical truth of all the “nice smelling” toxic sprays…

I mean seriously: a healthy, well- hydrated person does not smell in the first place.


13 years ago

Ax the Axe already! Every teenage boy I know where’s this smelly crap including my 14 year-old son (sigh). What’s a mother to do? He now wears the deodorant AND the cologne (oh joy). New rule in our house; do NOT put that stuff on until you leave the house or get out of my car. My lectures about toxins, etc. fall on deaf ears. I am thinking I might try wearing it myself when I’m around my son and his friends. A cheap trick I know but do you have a teenager? Enough said. I took a yoga class from my dear sister and one of the middle-aged students was wearing some stinking rose scent. Cluelessness has no age or gender boundaries.

13 years ago

Sometimes I’ll be overpowered by people walking by my house, they’re wearing so many scents. The adolescent males in my neighbourhood are typically the biggest culprits, and Axe seems to be the scent of choice. I can see why they would find the commercials appealing, but speaking for myself, I’d be running AWAY from that smell.

Diane MacEachern
13 years ago

Last flight I was on, I got stuck with a window seat. The woman next to me was radiating perfume. I got a splitting headache as soon as she stowed her carryon bag under the seat. Then I wondered: do I say anything, or keep my mouth shut. Well, you know me… Very politely, I turned to her and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m extremely allergic to the toxic chemicals in your perfume. Is it possible you could change seats with your husband? Or would you like me to move?” She was only slightly put-out, and switched seats without too much complaint. But it shouldn’t have had to come to that…

13 years ago

I *loathe* fragrance.

Actually, my body does. I’m allergic to everything that has “fragrance” in it. It brings out my eczema, asthma, and rashes, and it makes me sneeze and feel clammy and ill.

My doc says that I’m just a bit more sensitive than the average person. My immune system works overtime on these chemicals. Other people are affected as well, but don’t have the nasty side effects so badly.

In a way, she reckons, I’m lucky – my body knows when something is bad for it – other peoples’ bodies don’t!

Which makes me think – how bad IS this stuff? If I’m reacting like this – how is it affecting all the others who go right on and slather themselves in it?

No wonder our cancer rates are so high.

Insanity, all of it.

As for me, I’ll keep on avoiding this s***!

Mindful Momma
13 years ago

Oh come on Beth – you just wanted another excuse to write about your Old Spice Boy again….

Condo Blues
13 years ago

My man smells like honey. Really. I bought a bar of handmade honey soap made from Ohio honey at Ohio food festival.

Actually the whole bathroom smells like honey and I’m OK with that.

13 years ago

Tell me about it! Prior to my detoxification exercise of my boyfriend’s house, he had been using Axe. That stuff is deadly! Anyways, removing the Axe became nothing short of a battle, which he won in the end. He kept the Axe on the shelf, and much to my dismay, recently ran out of his normal deodorant. Out came the Axe.

Beth, I know you can picture this. He is getting ready in the morning and has to warn me about the application of said toxic product (or else I get mad). As the Axe (murderer) appears, I run away as far as I can go. I avoid the bathroom for 10 minutes afterwards, or hold my breath if I have to go in. It is THE WORST! I totally want my man to smell like a man. I want my head to spin because of the pheromones, not poisoning.

I have a secret plan to oust the Axe. However, he would never go for baking soda, and my rules prevent me from buying a new, more mellow, deodorant stick. What is a gal to do? Sigh. At least you understand, sister from another mister.