A few years ago, Melany Oliver developed a nasty rash on her neck. She was also experiencing debilitating headaches. The rash had appeared where Oliver sprayed her perfume, so she stopped using it, just as an experiment, really. But within a matter of days, the rash had disappeared, along with the headaches. As soon as she started using the perfume again, the symptoms resurfaced.
Oliver, who is half-British and half-Brazilian but lives in Dubai, began making a mental note of the other occasions when she experienced a headache. A theme quickly emerged. “I noticed that when I walked into a mall, I’d leave with a headache,” she says. “It’s the heavy fragrance that they use, which is not natural.”
This discovery led Oliver to study the products she was using in her home, including soaps, candles, washing-up liquid, dishwasher powder and, of course, perfume. “If you look at the back of these products, it will just say, ‘fragrance’,” she explains. “It won’t actually tell you what the chemical is but usually it’s synthetic.”
According to Oliver, who is leading a workshop titled How To Live a Chemical-Free Life at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai on July 8, fragrance is far from the only problem. Many products, including shower gel and shampoo, contain other toxins that, Oliver says, "build up inside your body".
Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), for example, produces the foam in many cleaning products but is described as a “moderate hazard” by US non-profit organisation Environmental Working Group. Oliver highlights other commonly used chemicals, which may have a harmful effect on us, including quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATs), which are found in fabric softeners and which can cause dermatitis, and 2-Butoxyethanol, which is used in many household cleaning products and has been linked to respiratory problems.
“You would think [these products] are safe because you can buy them in a supermarket,” says Oliver, who has a degree in complementary therapies from the University of Westminster. “Initially when you use them, there is no immediate effect because the amount of toxins is so small. After years of usage, though, you [can] start to get sick. Your body cannot break down some of the toxins found in these products.”
The solution, as Oliver will demonstrate during her talk, is to make one’s own household cleaning and beauty products, using natural ingredients, such as coconut oil, vinegar, sugar, baking soda and essential oils, including lavender, eucalyptus and tea tree. Some of these products, such as the toilet cleaner and air freshener, “take two minutes to make”.
Oliver recommends a brand of essential oils called Young Living, which are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and urges caution when buying other brands, since some essential oils are, in fact, produced synthetically.
"I feel better using products that I know are safe and essential oils that are in harmony with my body, ingredients that it accepts and embraces" says Oliver. "With the toxic chemicals, your body is fighting them and trying to break them down. Even the smell of the [natural] products is much nicer and cleaner." Or as Oliver writes in her description of tonight's workshop, "It's time to take control of the yuck in your home and start living a natural, chemical-free life."
Parents, particularly, are joining the chemical-free revolution. “Kids have lots of different allergies and I really believe toxins are to blame,” says Oliver. “A lot of parents want to support their children’s health, rather than disrupting their immune systems.”
As appealing as these natural products sound, though, Oliver urges converts to approach their journey to a chemical-free life in stages. “Don’t do it all at once,” she says. “I tried to [introduce] one product a month. I started by cutting out perfume and then [chemically-produced] toothpaste, washing powder, one by one. Don’t overwhelm yourself.”
How To Live a Chemical Free Life is at Kave, Warehouse 20, Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, July 8 at 8pm. Entry is free. For more information, visit www.alserkalavenue.ae