Humans have used #perfume since the very earliest civilisations. Historians tell us that in ancient times burning resins, spices and sweet herbs was the sole preserve of priests. It was this ceremonial creation of fragrances that eventually gave perfume its name, courtesy of the ancient Romans (“per fumum” being Latin for “through smoke”).
The exclusive ceremonial use of perfumes gradually gave way to its personal application when people started to perfume themselves to mask the stench of unwashed #skin. This ritual was performed using scented oils which could also be used to cleanse the skin and paved the way for the famous bath houses of ancient Greek and Rome.
Nowadays, perfume is considered by most of us as one of life’s must-have items. Of course, incense is still used in some places of religious worship; we perfume our homes and cars with air fresheners; we apply our favourite brand of perfume to our bodies as part of our daily routine; many of us enjoy the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and virtually all of the personal care items available on the market contain perfume. What started out thousands of years ago as a simple ceremonial offering has evolved into the massive, celebrity-fuelled industry that we know and love today!
I used to adore perfume. In fact I used to make my own and really enjoyed creating new and exciting fragrances. It was fascinating to learn about the different #fragrance families, how a well-balanced perfume is constructed of top, middle and base notes and how – just like an artist’s use of colours on a canvas – the different permutations are infinite.
Perfume is one of life’s most indulgent and precious luxuries. Its effect on our thoughts and emotions is powerful and instinctive. It can trigger memories, create moods and attract (or repulse) those around us. Its influence is so primal and potent that if it were a drug it would almost certainly be a banned substance!
However, (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) it is a well-known fact that many people today find they have to avoid products containing perfume because they cause #adverse skin #reactions or sometimes even #breathing problems… hence the alarming increase in the numbers of people who consider themselves to have “sensitivities”. This is hardly surprising when you consider that some of the chemicals contained in our modern perfumes are, in fact, classified as #Hazardous Waste.
What does all this talk about perfumes and sensitive skin have to do with #vitiligo in particular? Well, if you have vitiligo you may, or may not, have an obviously reactive or sensitive skin. (Personally, I am prone to itchy rashes and allergic reactions, especially on depigmented areas.) But anyone with vitiligo does, by definition, have compromised skin in so far as the normal pigmentation process is not functioning as it should. So it makes sense to think twice about applying anything directly to the skin that may have an adverse effect.
Perfumes typically contain #chemicals that can irritate even healthy skin and research shows that people with vitiligo are more vulnerable than the rest of the population to the effects of such ingredients. In particular, vitiligo sufferers are more prone to free radical damage and many of the chemicals found in perfumes increase the already elevated levels of hydrogen peroxide typically found in their skin and thought to be a key contributory factor in pigment loss. Phenols (which can be found in a whole host of perfumes, personal care and household items) have been found to cause the death of melanocytes and other perfume ingredients include benzaldehyde (a known irritant to skin, eyes and lungs), camphor (another known irritant which is readily absorbed through human tissues), ethyl acetate (which causes drying and cracking of the skin), limonene (a carcinogenic irritant and sensitiser), methylene chloride (another carcinogenic substance which, though officially banned, still turns up in some perfumes on the market), a-pinene (a sensitiser which damages the immune system), a-TERPINEOL (highly irritating to mucus membranes).
In fact 95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum – typically irritant at best and carcinogenic at worst. Regular or repeated application to the skin and inhalation are definitely not recommended and yet isn’t that exactly what perfume is designed for?
Needless to say, I am now no longer as romantic and starry-eyed in the way I think about perfume as I used to be. I still love things (including myself) to smell pleasant. But I choose zero-perfume or naturally fragranced products wherever possible and I never apply any of them directly to my skin. I tend to reserve spray perfumes for special occasions and I only spray my clothes – never my skin. It never seems to stain, as long as I keep the spray very fine. And, in any case, I would far rather spoil the odd garment than bleach my skin or ruin my health!
A vitiligo blogger since 2011. My name is Caroline. I had vitiligo for nearly 50 years before finding an effective treatment. I created this blog to share my experiences with others affected by this skin condition.