What is MCS?
M.C.S. stands for Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.
Multiple chemical sensitivities are not the same as an allergy, although the terminology is often used interchangeably.
During an allergic reaction, the body’s immune system responds and often with the help of medication, the reaction is stopped and the affects of the allergic reaction are reversed. In all but a very few instances, the body returns to normal with little or no permanent impact. With an allergy the body’s reaction is very swift and strong, a person is aware of the reaction as it happens (unless they lose consciousness). There is usually swelling, itchiness, maybe a runny or stuffy nose, and sometimes redness involved. The reaction is often apparent to those around them and is usually treatable with medications. Allergies have an immune system response.
This is not the case with chemical/environmental sensitivities. An exposure (usually direct, but occasionally passive) creates permanent damage in the body. It can happen suddenly during a single exposure, or can be caused by more subtle exposures over a prolonged period of time. For a suffer of M.C.S., the body becomes so sensitive to the irritant, that a reaction can easily occur in amounts that are so small, the average person may not even be able to detect the irritant.
With a chemical exposure, it does permanent damage to the body. It is not reversible!
Each exposure causes more damage to the body, and provokes longer and stronger reactions and less tolerance for the irritant (since they irritate the existing damage done to the body)
The more difficult one to recognize is the subtle prolonged exposure, since it may (and usually does) take years to recognize what is going on. In the beginning a person may not even realize what is going on. Then over time they may begin to feel like they are developing a mild allergy, then a time goes by it gets stronger, and finally they seek medical attention. It is often times not until the allergy tests come back negative, that they begin to suspect something more serious is going on. If the person is over fifty and the symptoms they are experiencing are memory concentration related, they may fear they are developing some form of Dementia. If the person is a child they may be experiencing concentration and memory issues, behavioral issues, mood swings, and possibly be misdiagnosed.
Even with a negative allergy test, most doctors are not familiar with chemical sensitivities, and may not know where to go from there usually referring you to a specialist who deals with the symptoms you are experiencing.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are wide and varied. While each person is different, the following is a list of the most common reactions people have:
Headache, skin rashes, confusion, brain fogginess, dizziness, sore throat, asthma/reactive lungs, wheezing, nausea, fatigue, lethargy, sinus issues, poor concentration, poor memory, digestive issues (such as IBS), poor sleep, muscle and joint pain, anxiety, and irritability. While the symptoms of an allergy are immediate, the symptoms of a chemical exposure may take up to 24 hours to start. This also makes it harder to recognize.
This doesn’t take into account all the emotional issues such as stress, depression, suicidal thoughts, humiliation, ridicule, stress, loneliness that most people with MCS experience.
Who can get sensitized?
Anyone can sensitized at any time and therefore sick. Women, infants and small children seem to be the most vulnerable. The older you get, the more severe the buildup (damage) in your body becomes and therefore the stronger and longer reactions are. Recovery time is also impacted/extended with prolonged exposures.
How many people have this illness?
Multiple government and private research reports indicate that between 11% and 16% of the population have been sensitized to some degree. In Canada that represents 3.5-5.0 million people, in the USA, 55 million suffers, and millions more worldwide.Only 3-6% of suffers have been properly diagnosed. This is most likely a combined result of both patients and doctors not recognizing the sensitization until it is advanced. By the time it become obvious, it has often had a tremendous affect on both the suffer, and their families and friends.
In a 5 year period, between 2005-2010, the number of people diagnosed with MCS increased at a rate of 34%. By that same rate of increase, in 2015 that takes us to more than 1 million Canadians diagnosed with millions more still not knowing what it is making them ill.
To help put these numbers into prospective, listed below is a comparison chart of government research that was compiled in a Quantitive Data report done by MEAO.
||No. with Condition
|One or more ES/MCS, FM, ME/CFS
|Effects of a stroke
|Alzheimer's or other dementia
• These numbers do not include those living in institutions
• Numbers have been rounded
• Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey, 2010 (master data file)
What are some of the factors that impact the reaction of someone with M.C.S.?
There are many factors that can impact not only if someone with M.C.S has a reaction but how long it lasts and how strong it is, such as:
Time of day – We still live in a world that predominantly runs on a 9-6 work schedule. Most people shower or bathe first thing in the morning so they are fresh for the day. This is when they put on these fragranced body products, therefore when the air is most heavily contaminated. If someone works a midnight shift, then the same would be true of his or her surroundings late at night, although the public air may be less toxic by then.
Day of the week – People where more products, and reapply those products more often on weekends, holidays and special occasions.
Season – Again in the summer months people wear more products, such as sunscreen, tanning lotions, moisturizers, perfumes and colognes.
Weather conditions – Just like seasons and day of the week, people adjust (often subconsciously) how much and what types of fragranced body products they wear. If it is a rainy cool day, you are not going to be wearing tanning lotions/oils and they don’t re-apply as often either.
Air Flow – Especially in an office or a building with a ventilation system and/or air conditioning, air flow plays a huge factor in the reactivity of a person with M.C.S. If they are upwind of someone with products on, they may not have any reaction, as all of the chemical off-gassing is headed away from them, but if they are down wind, or enter into the contaminated air flow, they are most likely to have a reaction that may or may not (probably not) be noticeable to those around them.
Method of delivery – sometimes it is just as important what medium the contaminating product comes in, as what it is. What I mean by this is that for some people, liquid laundry soap are better tolerated than powder, as the fine particles of the powder get caught up in the air and are distributed throughout the room, whereas liquid laundry soaps don’t usually have that concern. The opposite is true of bath and shower products. Shampoos, Cream rinses, hand soaps, and body washes will not travel as far on air if used in a bath, but a shower can take the fine particles everywhere that the air flow and moisture in the air takes them. A bath is usually better for people with M.C.S
Health – when a person with M.C.S. is ill (like a cold or flu), they have much more difficulty fighting of the toxic effects of irritant chemicals. Their reactions may be stronger longer and more severe. It may also impact their recovery from the unrelated illnesses.
I have a right to wear what I want!
Nowhere in any Constitution, Bill of Rights, or law of the land (in any country), does anyone have the “right” to wear scented products. It is a privilege/desire, not a “right”.
You do have the right to keep your body clean and free of disease, but nobody has the right to wear these products, especially if it interferes with someone else’s health and their ability to provide an income for themselves, which is a “right”
I am not wearing any perfume or scented lotions, I used fragrance free laundry soap, so why is my friend still getting sick around me?
Sometimes even if people don’t put anything fragranced on their body, they can still have contaminants on their clothing, or in their hair, even if they used fragrance free hair products and laundry soap. This usually occurs when a person who is fragrance free, goes into a contaminated environment, then comes in contact with someone who has M.C.S. A common example would be to go to a party or bar at night, and go to work the next day, maybe wearing the same sweater, scarf, jeans that you wore to the party. They are now contaminated!
Just like smoke, chemicals will and do attach themselves to your clothes, hair, and even your skin. They are there until they are washed off. This very concept is why so many of us women like to have a piece of our boyfriends clothing, long after they are gone…we can still smell them (and their cologne) on the favored piece of clothing. It will last for months sometimes years.
I can wear “unscented” products right?
Wrong! It is important to read the labels. Quite often products will describe themselves as being “unscented”, while in fact they contain “fragrance masking fragrances”. Safer products are ones described as “fragrance free” It is important to distinguish that it is not just the fragrance that is an irritant to people with MCS, but the chemicals used to create the fragrance. These chemicals are also used in other products that may not have any fragrance, but are still toxic.
But the government says these chemicals are safe, aren’t they?
NO! Most chemicals are toxic to all of us!
There are tens of thousands of chemicals, and millions of combinations of those chemicals. Of these, only about 200 have been tested and deemed safe for human use/exposure.
The chemical industry is basically self regulating, and we are the guinea pigs. The only time a chemical is called into question is when we the public get very sick and demand action.
Let’s not forget that these chemical companies spend Billions of dollars trying to convince us that we can’t live a happy productive life without their products. After being exposed to this on a daily basis, by the time we hit puberty, we are subconsciously convinced that our love life and entire future happiness are determined by what perfume/cologne/shampoo we use. We are literally poisoning ourselves, and loving it!
For more information on the affects of chemicals on people (women and children in particular) check out the Resources Page.
If so many people are so ill, why haven’t I heard of this before?
Most people with MCS are somewhat isolated. This is partially because they have difficulty functioning in and amongst people, but also because they are often ridiculed by family and friends, with some friends and family falling away as the illness gets worse, unwilling or unable to understand and/or accommodate those who are afflicted with this condition. Social situations are difficult for suffers of MCS, and are usually avoided if at all possible. There are few if any “safe” places for people with this condition to be in.
This is what is called a “socially inconvenient illness”. People like to wear their favorite personal care products and sadly, often don’t care if others don’t like it, or if it makes them ill. Some sufferers have actually been assaulted with fragranced products.
People with this illness/disability often lose family, friends, their homes, jobs and life eventually narrows down drastically for those afflicted, to the point of being virtually housebound.
What am I supposed to do if I can’t use these products, I don’t want to stink!
Contrary to popular thinking, fragrance free products are readily available, and they clean just as well, maybe better. People with MCS bath very regularly too, sometimes more than one a day if their hair and clothing get fragrances attached to them by way of interacting with the public. (It is called passive transference, when something is transferred indirectly from one source to another.)
Isn’t it more expensive to buy fragrance free products?
Actually, it is significantly less expensive to buy, or better yet make your own fragrance free and/or non toxic home and body care products. For example, a crystal deodorant is about the same price as regular deodorant, but will last about a year, as opposed to a few weeks for some deodorants, and that makes it much less expensive.
The same is true of laundry soap. In the same amount of time that it takes to make dinner, a person can make a batch of liquid laundry soap that will last them months, possibly a year, and still have enough of the ingredients left to last around 2-5 years depending on the size of your family, all for less than about $30, and yes it works great.
Making these non toxic products in your home not only saves you significant money, but they are so much safer for your family’s health. They are also a great rainy day project to do with the kids.
I understand that some people are more sensitive than others, and get sick easier, but my family is all healthy, none of us have a problem with fragrances, why should I care about this?
Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death for children between the ages on 5-9, next only to injuries, and childhood asthma has increased 400% in the past 20 years!
This is a result of the environmental toxins in our air, water, foods, household cleaners, the personal care products we use and the fragrant chemicals we use in our homes and workplaces to create a pleasing aroma. These are man made illnesses!
We are all susceptible to these toxic chemicals that we use on a daily basis, they are causing health issues for all of us. Some products take a couple of generations to show their affects, but we are all affected, whether we know it or not. See our Resources Page for research on this issue.
Besides the health effects, the financial cost of this condition is astronomical. The loss of workers, the cost of healthcare needed to treat this disability, safe housing needed. All these are stresses on the economy that are ill afforded.
We can’t get rid of ALL the chemicals in the world, what about my electronics, what about chemicals used to create plastic, we need some of them!
That is true, our world would collapse if we suddenly stopped using all chemicals, but there are tens of thousands of products on the market right now that we don’t need. We don’t need our hair to smell like fruit, we don’t need our laundry to smell like a summer breeze. We need to either stop using them, or by public demand make sure that companies use only non-toxic ingredients. (Ones that have been tested and proven non toxic).
So what can I do to protect my family, and reduce our chances of getting sick?
The quickest and easiest thing you can do is educate yourself on the toxicity of these chemicals, and how unregulated the system is. Also replace your scented beauty and hygiene products with fragrance free ones. There is a list of the best and worst products on our Best and Worst page.
You can also make some of your own products at home, they are quick easy projects that will not only save you money, but are fun and educational projects for the family.