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Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

Updated on April 27, 2015

Why You Should Read This if You are Not Chemically Sensitive

Most people today have excess toxins in their bodies. which may make them sick without even realizing it. The ordinary person is estimated to consume approximately one gallon of synthetic additives, artificial coloring, pesticides, and preservatives each year. Tap water is contaminated with up to 10,000 times the concentration of synthetic chemicals as spring water. The ordinary household may contain a concentration of more than 400 times the pollutants as the air near a highway, because of the use of artificial fragrances, synthetic cleaning supplies, and artificial fabrics.

It is especially important for women who are or may become pregnant to avoid chemical overexposure, because many chemicals are passed directly through the blood stream to the unborn infant. Prenatal or perinatal exposure to chemicals has been linked to many birth defects and later abnormalities such as obesity.

You can think of those of us with multiple chemical sensitivities as the canaries in the coal mine. We are what your future will look like, if attention is not paid to our way of life.

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivities?

When I was a college student, I started becoming allergic to stuff. I would notice red rashes on my skin, my nose was constantly stuffy, I was tired all the time, and I just generally didn't feel well. I went to an allergist, and the scratch test I took for over 250 items didn't show anything at all. However, I was clearly sick all the time. The doctors just could not find anything wrong.

Fortunately, six years later, I turned on Oprah by accident one day. A doctor on there was listing symptoms, and those were all symptoms that I had. The symptoms that he listed pointed to an allergy to formaldehyde, and it was from there that I discovered that I had what is called "multiple chemical sensitivities." Although allergies and their causes are still not completely understood, what I did understand is that I had to eliminate formaldehyde from everything I was exposed to. Little did I realize how herculean that task would be, but in the years that followed, my life got much better. I still have days, even weeks when I do not feel well, but my quality of life has improved dramatically.

Unfortunately, when you develop an allergy to formaldehyde, because people are rarely exposed to formaldehyde in its pure form, your body also develops a sensitivity to chemicals commonly used with formaldehyde. But getting rid of formaldehyde will go a long way towards improving the quality of your life almost overnight!

Please take the chemical sensitivity test at and let us know how you did.

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This Looks Beautiful, But it Could Make You Sick

Living Room Interior, With Gold Carpet and Yellow Couch, by H. Armstrong Roberts
Living Room Interior, With Gold Carpet and Yellow Couch, by H. Armstrong Roberts | Source

What is Formaldehyde In?

When we think of formaldehyde, we probably think of bits of organic matter floating in jars (I do, anyway--I took a lot of biology in school). What we don't realize is how much of what we use is made with formaldehyde. In the picture at right, it is very possible that someone with formaldehyde sensitivity could have to get rid of almost everything in the picture: the carpet, the cabinet, the upholstered furniture, the paint, and the curtains.

I know I was shocked to find that formaldehyde is in:

  • Fragrances
  • Synthetic fabrics: polyester, nylon, and others
  • Particle board, MDF, and plywood
  • Glue
  • Insulation
  • Furniture
  • Craft supplies

Formaldehyde-free glues, insulation, furniture finishes, and fragrances are available. However, formaldehyde is an integral part of the manufacture of synthetic textiles, and so if you have synthetic materials in your home, they will all have to be replaced.

Products for Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet - 12 Inch Ergonomic Frying Pan with Assist Handle
Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet - 12 Inch Ergonomic Frying Pan with Assist Handle

Cast iron pots and pans are heavy, so get one with handles on both sides. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes. All cast iron will require specific care as otherwise cast iron will rust (even rusted pieces can be salvaged, though).

Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner - 32 oz
Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner - 32 oz

I have switched over to making most of my own soaps, shampoos, etc. but when this is not possible, I have found that Dr. Bronner's products are the easiest on my allergies. Of course, I have to replace the plastic bottles with glass right away, but otherwise I couldn't ask for a better cleaner.


Getting Rid of Formaldehyde in the Home

Although it has taken me years, I have significantly reduced the amount of formaldehyde I am exposed to on a daily basis. The first thing I did was give away all my synthetic clothing and replace it with natural fabrics. The switch to natural fabrics gave me a lot of relief, but it was not until I switched to a fragrance-free (not unscented) laundry detergent that the rashes almost completely went away. I finally ended up making my own soaps and shampoos for the bath, laundry, kitchen, and general cleaning. That led to making my own cosmetics, since almost every commercial cosmetic contains formaldehyde.

The next step was to get rid of all the plastics. I gave away every plastic thing in my house with the few exceptions where replacements are not made in plastic (electronics). I replaced my non-stick pots and pans with cast iron. I replaced my plastic storage containers with glass. Out went the plastic wrap; in came unbleached waxed paper.

Next came the paint. I put on a charcoal-filtered mask and scraped all the paint off the walls, and replaced it with a low-toxicity paint. These paints come in a full range of colors and finishes, so you can get exactly the look you want.

Then, I went after the carpet and furniture. Formaldehyde breaks down over time, so out went all the modern furniture--I traded it to family members for their beat-up older pieces of furniture. The carpet and padding was replaced with laminate flooring made without formaldehyde glue, and finished with aluminum oxide. I chose ΒΌ" natural cork as the underlayment for the laminate.

And the easiest change to make was the faceplates for the outlets and wall switches! Painted ceramic faceplates are inexpensive and add an elegant touch to any room, but you can also achieve stunning effects with metal.

Finally, I am going to go after the countertops. They are being replaced with ceramic tile. And, of course, I am using a formaldehyde-free adhesive for the ceramic tiles.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and Your Car

When you buy a new car, that "new car smell" that people love so much is actually toxins that the new car is releasing into the air. And yes, most of those toxins contain formaldehyde. However, you can mitigate the effects of formaldehyde: first, by buying a car that has a low toxic level; second, by replacing the carpets and upholstery with natural materials; third, by covering the emergency brake, steering wheel, and gearshift with naturally-processed leather; and fourth, by using activated charcoal to adsorb toxins (you will have to change the charcoal daily for up to several years). While this may seem expensive, if you need to drive, and you have multiple chemical sensitivities, this may be the only way it is possible.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities are Real!

Skin Rash from an Allergic Reaction to Laundry Detergent, by Bill Beatty
Skin Rash from an Allergic Reaction to Laundry Detergent, by Bill Beatty | Source

Keeping Formaldehyde Away

Keeping formaldehyde away is much harder than you might think. For example, let's take a look at the typical trip to the grocery store. With the exception of fresh produce, almost everything is sold in packages. What is that packaging? It's plastic.

Your meat, snacks, breads, convenience foods, dairy, and almost anything you buy at the grocery store is sold in plastic. So as soon as you get home, you will have to replace the packaging. Fortunately, with glass containers, aluminum foil, and waxed paper, you will be able to repackage all your groceries and keep the formaldehyde away. You can also buy meat at the butcher shop and ask them to wrap it in paper instead of plastic packaging. Cheese can be bought at the farmer's market, and you can either bring your own waxed paper or a reusable container.

Other Toxicities

Unfortunately, you're not done yet. In addition to formaldehyde, there is the problem of BPA. This chemical is used in plastics, so it's a good idea to stay away from plastics in general, if you are concerned about your overall toxic load. Also, you should stay away from canned foods, as the cans are often lined with a plastic containing BPA.

Dental Fillings

The old-style dental fillings are silver amalgam, which contain up to 50% mercury. Amalgam fillings have been shown to leach significant levels of mercury even upon contact with distilled water. However, the new resin fillings contain BPA. You will have to make the choice about whether to replace your dental fillings. Since I reduced my plastic load so drastically, I decided to make the switch.

Cleaning Products

First of all, you must get rid of any cleaning product with a fragrance. Don't forget, those fragrances contain formaldehyde! There are many formulas out there for replacing your window cleaner, and most other cleaners can be replaced by a non-toxic cleaner such as Dr. Bronners. (In fact, Dr. Bronners is so gentle, you can even use it to brush your teeth!) Change out your powdered cleanser for Bon Ami, which has chalk as its only ingredient, and most other things can be cleaned with baking soda or vinegar, or a combination of the two. And don't forget the cleaning power of pure steam!


Cosmetics are not checked for safety, and most cosmetics still contain artificial fragrances. I personally tested the Mary Kay botanical effects line of products, and had no ill results. However, I still make my own hair dye and mascara, because there are so many toxins that are typically included in these two products. Instead of perfume, I use the Young Living brand of essential oils.

If you are concerned about cosmetics, and you have an iDevice, you may want to consider using a free app called Think Dirty. This app can help you identify chemicals in a product by scanning its barcode, and will attempt to suggest safer products.

The Tree-Huggers May Have Had It Right

In short, go for the most natural, least artificial way of living that you can manage. By reducing your overall chemical and toxic load, you may be better able to fight off illness, sleep better, and have better overall health.


Submit a Comment

  • Organicpixie profile image

    Organicpixie 5 years ago from London

    Lots of good advice, I don't think most people realise what goes in their beauty products and household cleaners and just *assume* they are safe. Dr Bronners is a fantastic product and choosing unscented products has helped my psoriasis. Voted up and useful.

  • classicalgeek profile image

    classicalgeek 6 years ago

    Food allergies are quite commonly found with multiple chemical sensitivities. I have written a lot on gluten-free flours. I've got several food allergies and intolerances as well.

  • catsimmons profile image

    Catherine Simmons 6 years ago from Mission BC Canada

    Very interesting and your product suggestions are really useful.

    Great info for anyone with this issue.

  • stayingalivemoma profile image

    Valerie Washington 6 years ago from Tempe, Arizona

    I"m allergic to a lot of stuff too. Mostly nuts, seafood, and plants/molds. You have to be careful with everything you buy/eat when you have multiple food allergies as well. Good hub. Voted up.