SPEIAC Position On Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Public Policy
Fragrances have been enjoyed for thousands of years and contribute to peoples individuality, self-esteem, personal hygiene and sense
of well-being. We empathize with the small segment of the population who say they are "chemically sensitive" to many of the materials
found in everyday life including scented products. However, no medical or scientific evidence links fragrances and scented products to the
symptoms they report and no recognized medical authority accepts multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) as an authentic, organic ailment.
It is important to note that fragrances in scented products are regulated by Health Canada which has the authority to protect the public
if any product or ingredient is determined to be unsafe.
Our society must be careful not to confuse dislikes with diseases. We all have dislikes and people may have strong reactions even
to things they dislike. This does not mean they have a disease.
Without the benefit of standards of evidence as rigorous as those applied in other areas of medicine, it is not possible to know what really
causes the symptoms which some people ascribe to MCS or to know how to effectively treat them.
Given the lack of any evidence that scented products cause disease and the fact that most major medical authorities have rejected MCS as
a legitimate organic disease, it is our position that scent-reduction policies are not grounded in medical science and are not in the public
Individuals have always had the freedom to use fragrance and scented products for their personal enjoyment and hygiene. Public policy should
protect this freedom and individual behaviour should only be restricted when clearly necessary to protect public health.
Questions and Answers About MCS and
1. What is multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS)?
There is no medical consensus on a definition of MCS. It continues to be a medically controversial phenomenon and its causes, indeed even its
existence as a pathology, have not yet been determined by any peer-reviewed, scientifically rigorous studies.
What we can say is that people
who think they suffer from MCS believe they are sensitive to a wide range of chemicals at levels far, far below what would affect the vast
majority of people. They report many different symptoms and there is a very wide range of common, everyday substances which trigger these symptoms,
everything from aftershave to newsprint, dry-cleaned clothes, upholstery fabrics and building materials.
2. How do you respond to people who say the ingredients in fragrance make them sick?
First, it is very important not to confuse dislikes with diseases. We all have dislikes and people can have strong reactions, even physical
reactions, to things they dislike. This does not mean they have a disease.
There is no question that the small segment of the population who
say they are sensitive to many of the materials in everyday life suffer from distressing symptoms. We sympathize with them and agree they need
treatment. But the question is what are they suffering from and what is helpful treatment?
The American Medical Association, the American Medical
Council on Scientific Affairs, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and the
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology have all rejected MCS as a legitimate organic disease. Most Canadian authorities have not
taken a position on MCS, primarily due to a lack of definitive research.
3. Are you saying it's all in their heads?
There is a growing body
of evidence that does link many of the symptoms of the MCS phenomena to anxiety and panic attack disorders. This does not in any way minimize
the fact that these people are in genuine distress and require care. But it does have important implications for the effective treatment of
The bottom line is - the medical community simply doesn't know what MCS really is. Even clinical ecologists who specialize
in treating MCS sufferers acknowledge that their diagnostic procedures and treatment methods are experimental. Some medical authorities would
call them questionable. Given the great deal of uncertainty about what is really going on, it is very important that society and the medical
professions proceed cautiously in order to avoid ill-advised over-reactions that are not in the public interest.
4. Are you saying that scent-bans or current MCS treatments do more harm than good?
The industry does not have a point-of-view because we are not medical professionals. But we can say that many medical authorities on both sides
of the border have raised concerns that avoidance strategies typically lead to increasing isolation and a deteriorating quality-of-life for people
who think they have MCS.
5. Why are you opposed to scent-reduction policies (scent bans)?
First, it is clear that no authoritative medical body
in North America recognizes MCS as a legitimate organic disease.
Second, there does not appear to be any sound evidence that avoidance strategies
improve the health of these people. To the contrary, whenever any particular substances are removed from the suffer's environment, sensitivities
typically develop to new substances. Given the multiplicity of substances that may trigger symptoms in these patients, there is no reason to
believe that banning any one substance will make a difference.
In addition, we believe that the rights of individuals should only be restricted when clearly necessary for public health reasons. This is
not the case with scented products. Quite the contrary, there are many people who turn to aromatherapy to enhance their health and well-being.
And scent is a common means of self-expression and enhancing one's self-esteem.
6. Are you saying these people should just suffer?
Absolutely not. There is no question that these people are in distress and require medical attention. What is not known with any certainty is
what really triggers their symptoms and what is the most effective way to treat them. Scientifically rigorous study is required (double-blind,
placebo controlled clinical trials) to help accurately understand this phenomena which seems to defy what we currently know about biology.
What research is there to support your point-of-view?
Based on study of the available research, The American Medical Association, the American
Medical Council on Scientific Affairs, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine,
and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology have all rejected MCS as a legitimate organic disease. Most Canadian authorities
have not taken a position on MCS, primarily due to a lack of definitive research.
8. How can you say it's not the fragrance ingredients that
are making these people sick?
Scented products are just one of hundreds of common, everyday substances and materials which MCS sufferers believe
cause their symptoms. Scented products are more readily identified than other substances because we can smell them, perhaps this is one reason
why they are often identified as a trigger.
However, there is simply no objective evidence to suggest that scented products cause disease.
And there is no evidence to suggest that removing any single substance will have any significant effect on the overall, long-term health of
people who think they have MCS.
9. Why aren't fragrance ingredients listed on the package?
Health Canada's regulation for listing cosmetic and toiletry ingredients on product packaging came into force in November 2006. This initiative
was being fully supported by the cosmetic and toiletries industry. In line with global practices, the ingredients which give a product its distinctive
scent will be listed as parfum and/or fragrance. This is the same type of regulation which applies to flavour in food products we eat, the specific flavour
ingredients are not required to be listed.
One of the benefits of ingredient labeling is that it allows consumers to identify which products
contain fragrance materials and which do not. Further, the fragrance industry will work with a health professional to help identify if there
is an ingredient issue for a consumer in a particular product.
10. Why are fragrance - and flavour - ingredients exempt?
A specific scent - whether it is a perfume or the scent in a deodorant - may have many individual ingredients. The ingredients for each scent
also vary widely. And they are present in relatively minute quantities compared to the main ingredients in a scented product. Consequently, it
is very doubtful that listing these ingredients would provide any practical benefit to consumers.
11. What is done to ensure the safety of fragrance
Scented products are regulated by Health Canada. The industry has a long history of working cooperatively with Health Canada to
ensure the safety of scented products.
For example, the Product Safety Program
of Health Canada works with the Cosmetic Ingredient Review
Panel (CIR) in the U.S. which is an internationally recognized body. The CIR periodically reviews the health and safety of cosmetic ingredients,
including scented products. These reviews are made available publicly and are used as the basis for determining whether ingredients are safe
and should be used.
12. If MCS isn't a legitimate disease why do we have health clinics devoted to treating it? Are these clinics scams? Are the doctors quacks?
Clearly, considerably more rigorous, independent research is required to understand MCS. We hope that clinics such as the Nova Scotia Environmental
Health Centre will conduct the kind of objective, controlled studies that are needed.
However, the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology
cautions that the diagnostic and therapeutic principles...of clinical ecology [are]..unproven and experimental. Individuals who are being treated
in this manner should be fully informed of its experimental nature.
13. CMHC publishes a building guide for the environmentally sensitive and Health Canada recently issued a request to reduce the use of scented
products in the workplace. Why would they do this if MCS is bunk?
Unfortunately, these initiatives are not based on any research or evidence that these measures will be effective. In the absence of definitive
research, the trend toward avoidance strategies is growing. This is not necessarily in anyone's best interests.
14. Why haven't any Canadian
medical authorities taken a stand?
Both Health Canada and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology are in the process of developing
a point-of-view on MCS. We don't know why Canadian medical bodies have been relatively silent on the issue to date, although there are many
individual researchers and health professionals with a point-of-view.
15. How much have perfume sales suffered as a result of scent-reduction
We don't have definitive numbers, but the real issues are medical and social. The real question is whether scent-reduction policies
are of any benefit.
16. How common are scent-reduction policies?
Are they growing? We have no formal mechanism for tracking the introduction
of workplace scent-reduction policies. However, we are hearing of more such initiatives than ever before and media coverage of the issue is
growing. It does appear to be a growing trend.
17. I'm sensitive to perfume. It makes me sneeze and feel headachy. Should I head for the psychiatrist's
We'd suggest that you first try to identify if you have this reaction to all perfumes or only to some and whether it's related to specific
individuals. Unfortunately, some people wear very strong daytime scents and apply too much. A noseful of any strong aroma, perfume or otherwise,
may cause a short-term reaction.
The fragrance industry recommends that people keep their fragrance within arm's length. Everyone has a personal
scent circle about an arm's length away from your body. Scent is one of the most personal messages you can send, so no one outside your circle
should be aware of your fragrance.