Helping women with chronic illnesses

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness

The last post ended with a reference to canaries. If you have not yet seen that post, just click here: 5-4-3-2….

In any event, here is where we left off previously… with a canary:

While some reading this are familiar with this term (canary) used so often within the multiple chemical sensitivity community, others may not be. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’d like to refer readers to the link below for both a definition of multiple chemical sensitivity and an explanation of the origin of the canary term:

What is MCS? What is a “canary”?

My multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) was diagnosed in 1992. It affects me every single day of my life. While readers of my blog may not hear me talk as much about multiple chemical sensitivity as, say, endometriosis… this does not reflect MCS as being any less a part of my life than other conditions such as endometriosis and fibromyalgia.

MCS affects where I can go, which doctors I can see, whether I can go to certain events, what household cleaning products I use, which health and beauty care products I can use, and who I can be around. Heck, it affects where I can go to get a safe haircut. (Most recently, this has been my own kitchen with my dear husband at the hair-cutting shears). It can result in tension between me and my own loved ones. No amount of explanation on my part about the toxins contained in certain products, their effects (not just on me but on the person using/wearing them), and the seriousness of reactions seems to be truly understood by many people and it is incredibly frustrating. It is frustrating beyond words, actually.

Some of the many MCS symptoms I have experienced include (but are not limited to): difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea, excruciating headache, cognitive disturbances (foggy thinking), loss of balance, and fainting to name a few.

Triggers for my MCS symptoms can range from new carpets (famously tied to many fainting incidents for me), perfumes, colognes, all sorts of fragranced products, “air fresheners”, pesticides, cigarette smoke (including the residue left on people’s clothes), car/truck exhaust, candles, commercial cleaning products, being near anyone wearing clothes saturated with fabric softeners (as I, unfortunately, was a few days ago), and much more.

Attending an event involving expensive concert tickets can be lovely one moment and a nightmare the next… based on who is nearby and what they’re wearing. (I hope to write an entire post with an example of this sometime this month).

A simple trip to the dentist (one that I picked carefully based on that fact that he “gets” how sensitive I am and bends over backwards to accommodate my needs) requires establishing backup plans for my husband to leave work and pick me up if I determine that I am not safe to drive myself home due to an unforeseen reaction.

I rarely venture to the grocery story because the detergent aisle alone is such a trigger for me that stepping foot in the building can be a risky proposition. Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who does the vast majority of the shopping.

I am one of the lucky ones in that I am not housebound by MCS. Yes, I may have to pick and choose my outings with care. However, my heart goes out to those MCS patients who no longer have that option. I am definitely more sensitive now than when I was first diagnosed in 1992. So, I can’t help but be concerned about what the future holds for me. Hearing the stories of those who are more sensitive than I am now is daunting. Many with MCS struggle to secure safe housing. This is a real and serious problem that affects large numbers of people.

The toxins contained in so many modern-day fragrances (“air fresheners” are so ubiquitous that nearly every public ladies’ room has one spraying the room) can make people really sick. I know because I’m one of them. This is a really seriously problem for me since I have interstitial cystitis too!

Perfumes which lack ingredient lists disclosing the toxins within are not healthy for ANYONE. Let me repeat that. Many of the very same products that cause short-term, severe reactions for MCS patients are NOT HEALTHY FOR ANYONE.

For more information about this, please see below:

Experts say everyone is affected by chemical sensitivity

Curious as to whether products you use are safe? Below is a link to the Environmental Working Group’s awesome SKIN DEEP database which I have had listed in my blogroll for almost two years now.

It first came to my attention when a local endometriosis support group members emailed me the link. She had used it to search for sunscreens that do not contain endocrine disruptors. This site is a wealth of information for all. No matter what state your health is in, this site can help you make the safest choices for everything from shampoo to soap to chemical-free hair coloring… and much more. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


If you visit the link above and do a search on a product you currently use, you may be stunned to discover it contains anything from carcinogens to neurotoxins to endocrine disruptors. If you are fortunate to be relatively healthy now, using this database to check your products could actually help you avoid trouble. If you are already chemically sensitive, this site can be a wonderful tool for checking products out. You might be amazed at what you find!

For more information on multiple chemical sensitivity, I highly encourage you to check out The Canary Report. It is brimming with information and support. Susie Collins has done a superb job of creating a community where people engage in mutual support, information-sharing, and education regarding multiple chemical sensitivity.

Whether you have MCS, a loved one has it, or whether you have never even so much as heard of it, I urge you to take a moment during Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Month to stop over to The Canary Report and take a peek. Thank you!

This post was written by Jeanne at Copyright © Jeanne — All rights reserved.

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Reading: Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness


1 Roberta BradleyNo Gravatar { 05.04.10 at 12:31 am }

I too have MCS. I often feel like a ghost. I am doomed to watch the real world go by while I sit on the side lines feeling that I don’t belong anymore. I react to all scented products, preservatives in foods, rubber, some plastics, the inside of vehicles, car exhaust and many other things. The symptoms I suffer vary depending on what I have been exposed to, which means I won’t get all of these all of the time. I suffer from foggy thinking, fainting, asthma, skin rashes, eyes swelling shut, severe sore throat, clogged sinuses, ear aches, teeth aches, head aches, nausea and I’m sure I missed one or two. I came down with full blown MCS in 2005, but now that I know what I have, I realize that I’ve had warning signs almost all my life.

2 JeanneNo Gravatar { 05.04.10 at 12:47 am }

Welcome Roberta!

Yes, I too sometimes feel like I am relegated to the sidelines because there are so many things I react to. I react to more than what I listed to the post. (Everything you listed is something I react to as well). My symptoms vary too. How long I have been exposed and what I have been exposed to seem to really matter. With some things, though, the slightest/briefest exposure can make me very ill. An example for me with that would be new carpets. Those thin “indoor/outdoor” carpets knock me out pretty quickly. I’ve learned to flee when I encounter them. I’m sorry for your suffering but glad that you have found online support. It is amazing to me how much information/support is available online regarding MCS.


Take care,


3 ShaunaNo Gravatar { 05.04.10 at 7:16 pm }

Hi Jeanne!!

I knew that you suffered from MCS, yet I had no idea of the broad range of items that affect you, and others with this issue.

I was reminded when I read this, of a time that I accompanied my son to one of his Accutaine checkups. His treating Dermatologist was so sensitive to any scent, that they asked if I would wait and not go in with my son because the hair product I had in, apparently was going to be very bothersome to the doctor. His nurse was also a MCS sufferer, and she acted as his nose kind of ‘screening’ everyone for the doc.

I really feel for you J, that is a lot to cope with on top of your other issues. Keep it up; you are a strong lady!!

Gentle Hugs…. <3
Shauna 😉
.-= Shauna´s last blog ..Is It Legal To Carry Your Controlled Medications With You? =-.

4 JeanneNo Gravatar { 05.05.10 at 12:37 am }


It’s nice to hear from you! It’s been awhile. I hope you’re doing OK. 😉

Yes, the samples I mentioned in my post are truly the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty more where that came from!

Well, it is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Month. So, I guess what better time to spread some more understanding of MCS, right?

The key thing I believe people need to understand is that “canaries” like me or your son’s dermatologist may be more sensitive than, say, you… a person who wears (wore?) such hair product. However, products containing toxins (i.e. carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors… to name a few) are not healthy for ANYONE. So, while you may have felt like you were tolerating the hair product just fine, it could have been causing long-term health effects that you never connected to the hair product. (I don’t mean to sound “preachy” but I would not be doing my job on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Month if I didn’t emphasize that important point).

Yes, MCS is challenging and it certainly makes dealing with some of my other conditions even more challenging. It is what it is.

Shauna, I dug up a post I did recently that I just know you’d love. It’s basically about looking at adversity’s opportunities. It’s good stuff!

The Opportunities Presented By Adversity (VIDEO)

You’re a strong lady, yourself! Hang in there!

Sending hugs back to you!! <3

Jeanne 😉

5 KerryNo Gravatar { 05.05.10 at 3:59 pm }

Jeanne, What a great MCS awareness post and sharing of what its like to be a “canary”.

I just got back from getting my haircut in a salon that was checked out well for the least amount of toxic products possible, before I started going there. It has added many burning scented candles and other products as of late. I just came home having to shower off completely–in my already exhausted, neurologically messed up state these chemicals put me in. I am now in bed recouping from the ensuing symptoms.

Here’s to you and your hubby cutting your hair over the sink! My hair is so fine, I can only imagine what my husband and I would do to it. It is a real struggle to keep up looking our best, when we are canaries!

A salon…that only uses non-toxic materials…we need you!

Jeanne, thanks for all the work and research you do to spread awareness. Love and to your feeling as well as possible, Kerry
.-= Kerry´s last blog ..Reader Contribution-Patti’s Wisdom =-.

6 JeanneNo Gravatar { 05.05.10 at 9:55 pm }


Thank you. Being a “canary” is never boring, is it? 😉

After numerous, exhaustive attempts scoping out salons, finding “safer” ones, trying them for x amount of time, and being driven away by one thing or another, I finally recently reached a dead end, so to speak. (No not “split end”… dead end). lol.

My hair was very shaggy and was driving me absolutely mad. I desperately needed a haircut. Because of my fibromyalgia’s affects on my arms, I couldn’t even dream of attempting to cut my own hair. (Holding my arms up in the haircutting position is the worst for my arms).

I was reluctant to ask my husband to do it because he’s already so overburdened with work to do. Things finally reached the point, though, where action needed to be taken! I was embarrassed to leave the house. My hair grows extremely fast and if it isn’t cut every 4 weeks, it looks messier and messier. Seriously, it starts bugging me about 2 weeks after a good cut and making it to 4 weeks out is about “it” for me. So, by the time my husband cut it for the first time, I was about 9 weeks out! Try to imagine how happy I was to finally get it cut. He has done it once and it’s way overdue again. It has been “on the docket” for awhile now but we haven’t find time to do it yet.

To be clear, he doesn’t do it over the kitchen sink. He had the idea to throw an old sheet over the kitchen floor (which is hardwood and would get little hairs trapped between the boards otherwise… no matter how thorough our cleanup process). Then we set a chair on top of the sheet for me to sit in. Mind you, I had to put pillows/towels on the chair to be able to sit in it long enough to get a haircut without severe fibromyalgia pain or fidgeting that would throw off the cut.

He did a great job (best than some salon stylists… and on the first try!) and I’m anxious for him to do it again.

While we’re on the topic of MCS-friendly hair care, I found a chemical-free hair coloring (after a failed attempt that I bailed on before this one) and Hubby colored my hair last October. It worked great. Needless to say, 7 months later it needs coloring as much as it did last fall. So, I am hoping he’ll give me a cut and color soon because I have these silver patches at the temples and silver strands popping up throughout. I honestly wouldn’t mind a bit being 100% silver but I don’t want silver patches amidst the dark brown like it is. I feel like a skunk. So, hopefully my Hubby/hair stylist will give me a cut and color soon.

I would never be able to do it over the kitchen sick. In the salons, it was all I could do with my fibro to tilt my neck back far enough for them to wash my hair and they always had to insert a towel under my neck for support for that part. I used to struggle to get through that brief hair-washing phase (I took my own “safer” shampoo for them to wash my hair). Holding my head over a kitchen sink for a whole cut would kill my neck with my fibromyalgia. Anyway, I am thrilled with the chemical-free hair coloring I found and I don’t react to it at all.

I’m so, so sorry that you had to shower right after the salon when you were already exhausted and dealing with neurological issues. 🙁 That is awful! I have very fine hair too. Seriously, it shows every line and I was very nervous about having my husband cut it. I’ve got to hand it to him, though, he really did a good job!

Honestly, I think an MCS-free salon could make a killing if it were properly located and marketed. So many people are chemically sensitive! I know I would drive quite a ways to get a safe salon. In fact, over the fast few years I have driven up to 45 minutes east of here and 1 hour west of here for a salon! I truly believe with all the “canaries” out there that if a stylist opened up a business in his/her MCS-friendly home/office space and enforced a fragrance-free policy in the salon, it would catch on like wildfire.

Kerry, you don’t need to thank me. 😉 You work very hard on all sorts of awareness issues and good causes. I’m amazed at what you do. Sending love your way (!) and hoping you feel as well as possible yourself!


7 JeanneNo Gravatar { 05.05.10 at 10:06 pm }


P.S. Scented candles are thought of by many as relaxing. Unfortunately, what most people don’t realize is that the vast majority of candles contain all sorts of different toxins. Sadly, these toxins are not healthy for anyone (MCS patient or not). I’m so sorry you had to be exposed to that. I know how sick candles can make me!! It’s terrible. One of my dearest friends burns candles a great deal and I have a hard time stepping foot in her house because of it. Even if they are not burning, the fragrance in always in the air there. It makes me sick.

One of the biggest reasons I avoid malls is that the Yankee Candle stores and the Bath & Body Works stores are so overpowering that I can’t go ANYWHERE near either one of them (not to mention the department stores’ designer fragrance counters). Amazon shopping for me!


8 Susie CollinsNo Gravatar { 05.06.10 at 6:40 am }

Aloha Jeanne, thanks for the shout out! Nice to see you blogging about MCS. Together, we are stronger!
.-= Susie Collins´s last blog ..Linda Sepp is evicted from her home this morning, spending nite in car =-.

9 JeanneNo Gravatar { 05.06.10 at 9:37 am }


My pleasure! Yes, I am trying my best to keep up with the many awareness weeks/months. March was Endometriosis Awareness Month and I wrote primarily about endometriosis in March. The last week of April was National Infertility Awareness Week. So, I kept busy with that. This month I’m trying to do justice to International Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Awareness Month and I know I need to start thinking about May 12th as far as fibromyalgia awareness and ME/CFS awareness. It’s keeping me busy… that’s for sure! There are not enough hours in the day for me to write everything I wish I could write!

Yes, together we are definitely stronger. 😉


10 Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) Heroine – (VIDEO) — { 05.29.10 at 11:37 am }

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