Le Chapeau Pourpre


Perfume Likened to Second-Hand Smoking in China

I often get asked what's the general take on perfumery among the Chinese population. Having lived in Beijing for almost nine years now, I've always been quite skeptical of the locals' treatment of the subject. One has to understand, I'm only talking about Beijing though, and Beijing has a very specific historical and economical background. The South (Canton) appears to be different. Shanghai and the Colonies (Honkong, Macau, Taiwan) - even more so.

In the good old Northern Capital I've often heard opinions like "Perfume is for laowai (derogative for foreigners), to cover up their curdled-milk BO, Chinese smell good with no additives" - and yes, when I arrived in 2004, the list of unnecessary "additives" included deodorant, too. Things have changed somewhat since. The 2008 Beijing Olympics really helped, bringing about an unpreceded influx of foreigners and necessitating some action in order for the city authorities to "not lose face". Deodorants appeared on regular supermarket shelves, whereas before the "hygienically-challenged laowai" had to bring them in bulk from trips home. Westernization flourished, and so did the typical Western goods, including perfume.

So far, we have numerous Sephora stores which carry new releases only and, contrary to belief, will not give out any samples, free or otherwise. We have Chanel and Hermes boutiques in one of the luxury hotels downtown, carrying Les Exclusives and Hermessence at prices nearly twice what they are in Europe. We have poorly stocked upmarket brand corners in several large department stores around town. The marketing strategy of choice there seems to be either - and I quote - "don't buy Shalimar, it stinks, buy *whatever pedestrian frag is all the rage among ditzes now*, it's our best seller", or "this is really expensive, she is going to love it", presuming the perfume is being bought as a last-minute expensive gift, a status symbol meant to sit around the apartment forever unopened rather than something to be actually worn.

And amazingly, we have a tiny niche perfumery called The Scent Library, no doubt opened by a desperate perfumista from one of the obscure online perfume shops. Two branches to a city of sixteen million people, and one already gone out of business within a week after I'd found out it existed.

So, will this grim outlook change anytime soon? Not as long as the "official opinion" stands. A summary of the latter can be gleaned from this lovely article, published in the China Education e-zine three years ago.

Pregnant women should stay away from "second-hand fragrance"

July 13, 2010

(translated by ChapeauClack)

According to our information, most perfumes contain anywhere from 50 to 150 classified components. These ingredients are considered "commercial secret" and national law enforcement authorities do not require manufacturers to specify them, allowing to generally refer to these elements as "fragrance". This poses a security risk to users. In fact, most aromachemicals and fragrances (or artificial flavors) have certain levels of toxicity.

Fragrance contamination from other people or the environment is called "second-hand fragrance".

In a lot of people, "second-hand fragrance" indirectly causes allergy reactions and is similar to "passive smoking", particularly in a closed environment. Persons subjected to others' generously sprayed perfume may develop dizziness, watery eyes, sore throats and other symptoms upon inhaling. Studies have found that children are more vulnerable to the effects of fragrance than adults. If a child's parents often spray perfume, it poisons the air children breathe, causing distraction, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, and serious consequences such as seizures or developmental delay.

For pregnant women and infants, "second-hand fragrance" may be more worrying than "passive smoking". The view was been expressed that changes in hormone levels in pregnant women make them more prone to perfume-induced allergies, so we strongly advice pregnant women to stay away from perfume. Some pregnant women develop rashes and skin inflammations following the use of perfumes, resulting in permanent dark stains. Doctors caution: changes in the body during pregnancy can cause women who usually have no problem using perfume to have adverse reactions to fragrance.

Pregnant and breast-feeding mothers exposed to "second-hand fragrance" also cause negative effects on fetal health. For example, for pregnant women, toxic ingredients in perfume would have adverse effects on the fetus; in case of nursing mothers, harmful chemical ingredients of the perfume will damage the baby through breast milk. Because perfume ingredients can accumulate in the body, young women before pregnancy are to be cautioned against excessive use of low-quality perfume.

According to a new study, perfume or other mediums rich in aromatic substances can trigger depression, frustration and even be life-threatening. Reports of depression among pregnant mothers who continuously breathe "second-hand fragrance" are ten times more frequent compared to those who live in normal perfume-free environments. In addition, fragrance poses a risk of reduced resistance to uterine bleeding in females, as well as general health risks, such as dizziness, breathing difficulties and other symptoms.


Edited to add:

I feel compelled to acknowledge the existence of a very small, tight and closely woven society among the Chinese netizens, the indauntible perfumistas who've made it their life's work to swim against the tide. These people set up decant shops across the web, selling precious juice with minimal or no profit, just to keep the hobby alive. They practically bootleg full bottles of rare, vintage and otherwise unobtainable stuff from abroad. They are always eager to share, educate and support. Perfume may be not welcome by 99% of population, but there's still the one percent that makes my life here a little more fun, and to them I am very grateful.

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