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How To Prevent Allergic Reactions to Soap Making Fragrances

Updated on June 18, 2015
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Since I started making homemade soap, I've noticed an increase in sinus congestion, throat irritation, coughing and headaches; and I know without a doubt that this is from essential oils and fragrance oils. I'm not the only one, either. As you can see by the threads on this forum, people can have all kinds of bad reactions to breathing fragrance fumes:

According to WebMD, repeated exposure to fragranced products can cause a host of symptoms, “...such as sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes; to headaches, inability to concentrate, and dizziness; to respiratory issues, such as breathing difficulties and wheezing; to skin reactions, such as itching, hives, and other rashes.”

A lot of people swear that fragrance oils are the only culprit here, because they are technically considered “synthetic,” whereas essential oils are considered "all natural." But I have found essential oils to be just as bad, if not worse, in triggering headaches and respiratory symptoms. You’ll find that when fragrance oils are purchased from a reputable source, they are well regulated and comply with strict global RIFM and IFRA standards; which is good to know, because essential oils can be expensive. I plan to keep experimenting, and if I find that my symptoms are fewer with fragrance oils, I may make the switch entirely.

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Things I have done to protect myself from essential oil and fragrance oil fumes

  1. Purchased a $40 respirator mask that protects from fumes, not just dust. I can't smell a thing through it.

  2. Set a bowl of cat litter out on the table next to the dish that holds my fragrance (if you spill one, you can pour it on the spill to absorb the oil, but I do this to absorb the oil vapors out of the air).

  3. Put an air-tight lid on the container after pouring my fragrance into it, and I don’t remove the lid until I am ready to add the oil to my soap.

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Things I would like to do to protect myself further

  1. Install a dedicated sink in the basement (where I do my soap making) to wash my soaping containers. This way I’m not dragging the fumes upstairs with me to the kitchen.

  2. Purchase an air purifier like this one that cleans fumes; or find a way to vent a range hood from my work area to the outside.

  3. Have a soap-specific trash can in my work area that I can wipe most of the excess soap batter into before washing my dishes (I've been using the kitchen trash). Again, keeping the fumes isolated.

  4. Move my curing soaps out of my office and into a room that I use less frequently. Even curing soaps can give off a lot of scent.

Common sense tips to avoid allergic reactions to fragrance oils

  • Resist the urge to sniff all of your new fragrances the minute the box arrives on your doorstep. I know it’s tempting, but you are just asking for a headache (or a more serious reaction).

  • Wear your respirator during the entire soap making process, including decorating and cleanup.

  • Always wear gloves when handling essential oils and fragrance oils. The oil can transfer onto your skin just by opening the bottle, and it gets absorbed into your bloodstream with skin contact.

  • Never apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin. For therapeutic benefit, dilute in a carrier oil.

  • If you are curing a large quantity of soaps at once, consider curing them in the same room you make your soap, or in a room that isn’t used much.

Keep in mind that you may not have any sort of reaction to fragrances when you first start soapmaking, but allergies like this can be cumulative. It might take months or even years of exposure before you suddenly have an unexplained case of hives, or asthma that develops late in life. It is a lot like a food intolerance in this way. Once overexposure happens, it is likely that you will be more sensitive to fragrances from then on. You can’t “undo” a sensitivity.

How do you protect yourself from fragrance fumes?

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      Caiya 2 years ago

      That insight solves the prmlebo. Thanks!

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