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Moira's Story: Fragrance & Formaldehyde

Moira from Earthly Roots

Moira’s Story: Fragrance & Formaldehyde

Moira Brouillard
Owner or Earthly Roots Hair Studio

My name is Moira Brouillard, and I own a small, eco-friendly hair studio in Concord, New Hampshire called Earthy Roots Hair Studio. I’ve been a Hairstylist and Colorist for 17 years.  In 2007, I realized that I had multiple chemical sensitivities. It became clear that ammonia, formaldehyde and fragrance chemicals were the main culprits to the respiratory issues I was developing. Clients also started to have symptoms and complained that their eyes or scalp were burning.  For 7 years, I had trusted that the chemicals I had been using in my career were safe.  I never questioned it. In cosmetology school, we weren’t educated about the toxic chemicals we would be exposed to, so it became apparent that I needed to educate myself.

I tried everything to resolve the issue. I switched over to non-ammoniated hair color and formaldehyde-free straighteners and perms.  My work station had an air purifier and I had a personal air purifier around my neck. It seemed to help, but whenever a co-worker would mix color with ammonia or chemicals with formaldehyde, I would still feel ill from the fumes. The owner of the salon sympathized, and said that at times she did notice the strong smell. For the most part, though, my co-workers weren’t jumping on board.

I had become so allergic to fragrance chemicals that I struggled to work. My symptoms ranged from burning & itchy eyes, a raw throat, achy lungs, and shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, coughing, sinus headaches, and pain in my chest and heart. After careful consideration, I took the leap to start my own healthy, safe and fragrance-free salon. In 2011, I opened Earthly Roots Hair Studio. Working for myself is stressful at times, but it is completely worth it because both my guests and I are in a healthier environment. Many of my clients have sought out my fragrance-free salon because of their own chemical sensitivities.

To this day, anything can trigger my symptoms — from perfume and Herbal Essence products, Lysol and aerosol sprays, moth balls, Yankee candles, laundry detergent and dryer sheets, to Glade plug-ins. Fragrance is so ingrained in our culture that most don’t give it a second thought, and I’ve found it very difficult to have a conversation with people about this issue and my illness.  I hope that my story will help raise awareness. Toxic chemicals in fragrance have been linked to a number of health impacts ranging from eye and skin irritation to hormone imbalance and increased risk of breast cancer, and might be affecting not only your health, but the livelihoods of those around you. (You can lower your chemical exposure by ditching perfume and scented products. Try experimenting with essential oils, or go au natural!)

12 Responses

  1. I’d love to know where you got a personal air purifier for around your neck. The fragrance at the office is saturating my whole body. I can’t take any more. And most people are put out when you ask them not to wear it. I feel like a pariah.

  2. Robyn Hegland

    (From Moira) You can find good air purifiers on eBay sometimes. If you’re looking for one for your home or office go by the square feet of your room or house. I have one at home that cleans 1500 ft.² and one at work that cleans 3000 ft.² You want to look for an ionic air purifier. The one around my neck is an eco-quest product, they may not be easy to find. I just bought one for my husband through Amazon. It was called air supply mini mate personal ionic air purifier.

  3. Please be very careful with the ionic purifiers, especially with the ones worn around the neck, as they can emit harmful levels of ozone.

    I don’t know if anyone has measured EMFs from them either, as that could also be a problem.

    Ozone is a lung irritant and experts advise it should only be used under very specific conditions, and even then, precautions are required.

    I have a blog post with a couple of links with in depth information to help you get informed about the different types of air cleaners and purifiers, what they do and don’t do:

  4. Stephanie

    I, too, was a hair stylist. I developed chemical sensitivities as well. Also, the harsh chemical environment triggered Psoriatic Arthritis in me, an auto immune disease. I have since had to leave my beloved position. I have been getting into red hennas and other means of natural hair coloring as well as essential oils. Best of luck Moira; thank you for spreading awareness. How can people develop alternative forms of hair coloring of they aren’t even aware of the toxicities of current hair products?! It’s about time that the U.S.A. (my country) as well as all other developed countries begin to recognize thale harmful chemicals in personal care products. Nothing is regulated! From tooth paste to depderants to hair colors and perfumes. Raise awareness and work for change! Thanks again for posting.

  5. Helen

    I am fragrance sensitive and have mcs – so empathise – it’s so hard to find a fragrance free hairdresser and or organic . Even if they are the staff were perfume – was wondering how you cope if a very fragrance heavy customer comes to your salon ? Good luck with your venture and can you encourage anyone to set one up in the UK!

  6. Danielle

    Hi. My name is Danielle and I have sever MCS and have suffered for several years now. I have symptoms daily and it is so exhausting and overwelming. The worst for me is debilitating migraines, my nose and throst feel like someone has lit me on fire, difficulty breathing, and feeling like my entire system is slowed down due to perfumes and chemicals. I have tried every kind of doctor and treatment I can find and to no avail and have left 5 jobs now trying to get away from chemicals. I am so glad to know that I am not alone and I am so thankful for you sharing your story and courage! I am grateful for this awesome organization as well! We need serious and meaningful change!

  7. Christina Russell

    Susan, I have disability due to MCS. MCS is recognized by ADA , disability act, which means a person who is disabled due fragrance , chemicals can legally request and should not be denied to work in a fragrance free, non-toxic chemical environment.

    Moira, I would love to connect with you. I’m going to start a blog soon and will be discussing this very topic. I was tested by a dermatologist due to severe chronic hand eczema about 5 yrs ago at least. I’m highly sensitive to these things and definitely react with issues like yours as well as chronic hand eczema which is torture. I have made progress once I began to detox with my Lyme Literate doctor. Detox reduces the level of sensitivity. Please feel free to contact me.

  8. LW

    I have MCS and I DREAD going to hairdressers . I would love to have a fragrance-free non-toxic place to get my hair styled.

  9. Moira


    Where do you work? Most hair salons won’t use henna. Some of my customers come from out of state and would like other options closer to them.

  10. Moira

    In regards to air purifiers, do your own research. Many are too expensive for myself and the filters are as well. If you choose a HEPA air purifier make sure the filter is not anti-microbial, since those who are sensitive to pollution cannot typically tolerate “microbial” anything.

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