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Chemical sensitivities are massively on the rise today.

According to a 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine:

Prevalence of diagnosed MCS [multiple chemical sensitivities] has increased over 300%, and self-reported chemical sensitivity over 200%, in the past decade. Reducing exposure to fragranced products could help reduce adverse health and societal effects. [emphasis mine] (1)

Aroma Marketing

Most who suffer from one or more sensitivities to chemicals probably already know to avoid perfume and scented personal care products. Exposure can quickly trigger a headache or migraine, breathing difficulties, rash, and confusion among other worrisome symptoms. (2)

However, these same people may not know that certain stores should be on the “avoid” list too.

Synthetic fragrances are frequently pumped into the air of retail establishments to make them more pleasant to shop and to encourage buying.

The strategy is known as “Aroma Marketing”.

According to Environmental Working Group, 3,163 ingredients hide behind the word “fragrance”.

Of the 3,163 chemicals listed, several stand out as particularly toxic: phthalates, octoxynols and nonoxynols. Phthalates are potent hormone disruptors linked to reproductive system birth defects in baby boys. Octoxynols and nonoxynols break down into persistent hormone disruptors, as well. (3)

Another problematic chemical in fragrances is styrene, a known carcinogen. Alexandra Scranton, the director of science and research at Missoula, Montana–based Women’s Voices for the Earth says that even ingredients that sound harmless, such as essential oils, can be troubling because the solvents used “can be pretty dangerous.” (4)

Indoor Malls a Risk for the Chemically Sensitive

Thus, the prudent shopper is going to avoid retailers that utilize aroma marketing.

Some malls use it too. So, if you always seem to get a headache shopping at certain establishments, take it as a cue to stick with retail settings that are outdoors such as outlets or strip malls.

Shockingly, some hotels, apartment buildings, hospitals, and gyms increasingly employ toxic “scent marketing”.

This is a head-scratchingly foolish move, in my view, given that estimates from two national surveys suggest that 30% or more of the population is sensitive enough to fragrances that they experience symptoms when exposed. (5)

Be sure to ask about the use of fragrances before you make a booking, buy a membership or sign a lease. “I always get a headache or have an asthma attack here” may not be sufficient enough reason to get a refund later!

Stores that Use Scent Marketing

Even if you only shop at outdoor establishments like outlet malls versus traditional indoor style shopping centers, as mentioned above, some individual stores are best avoided as well.

Let’s name some names!

Here are four other places besides indoor malls I avoid like the plague, even though I am not particularly chemically sensitive. Just because you don’t get a headache doesn’t mean your hormones aren’t being disrupted!

Bath and Body Works

You can smell the fragrance just walking by this place let alone walking in the door.

I know this seems ridiculous (it really is when you stop t think about it), but I consciously walk as far away from the entrance of a Bath and Body Works store when I am passing by in order to avoid the fragrance fumes wafting out.

The Body Shop

The Body Shop sells similar types of products to Bath and Body Works, so no surprise that it is a fragranced establishment.

Marketing products as “natural” is no protection from the fumes either. Natural, organic, or pure essential oils are typically extracted, diluted, or synthesized with petrochemicals.

Dr. Anne Steinemann a professor at the University of Melbourne, found that:

People may choose essential oils because they think they are more ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ or in some way ‘healthier’ but what we found is that there are potentially hazardous chemicals in all of the commercial varieties of the essential oils that we tested”. (6)

Bed Bath and Beyond

I love this store but won’t go near it. The fragrance is so strong that I literally get a headache within seconds of walking in!

Do retailers really have any idea how many people avoid their stores simply because of what they are putting in the air?

How many sales are they losing because of this clueless strategy?

Yankee Candle

Candles make popular gifts. Just check out how packed Yankee Candle stores are during the holidays.

You won’t find me in there, however!

Avoiding the store is not enough though. If you get a scented candle as a gift, it’s not a good idea to burn it indoors. The scent put in the air will potentially make your home air toxic too.

When Will Retailers Wake Up about Aroma Marketing?

It seems ironic to me that traditional retailers are wondering why so many of us prefer online shopping!

Do they realize they are literally driving people away with the fragrances they are pumping into their stores?

Avoiding brick and mortar retailers by shopping online not only saves gas and time, but it saves our health too!

What retail stores do you avoid because the fragrances are just too repelling? There are almost certainly so many others!


(1) Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
(2) Johns Hopkins Medicine
(3, 5) The Seattle Stranger
(4) Environmental Working Group
(6) Sydney Morning Herald