NO PERFUME ALLOWED
Standing at the podium addressing a room of North Shore readers, an interesting phenomenon was playing out for author Kate Grenville - no-one was wearing perfume.
Prosecuting the research in her new book, Ms Grenville told the crowd her new work was "a strange thing for me to write".
In The Case Against Fragrance, she examines the murky world of perfume manufacturing, allergies and intolerances and in the process makes some surprising revelations.
"Fragrance gives me headaches, sore eyes and makes me cranky," the novelist says during her author talk at the Barry O'Keefe Library in Mosman. "My life was becoming ridiculous -this allergy was impacting on me in cars, shops, and while just being out and about. It was warping my life in a serious way."
Ms Grenville says she initially embarked on private research to look at why perfume was making her sick and this led to more research focusing on the power of the industry. She reveals writing this book allowed her "inner scientist to be unleashed".
Starting her research with just a simple Google search, she found she was inundated with information and personal stories about people being affected.
"The first search was just called 'fragrance headache' and I was rocked to the core about what I read. Most perfumes are not made with flowers but rather in test tubes where up to 4000 chemicals can be involved in the process.
"Everything is synthesised and the formulation of each perfume is a trade secret. It's a regulated industry."
Ms Grenville says her research shows there are many elements in perfume that could be considered dangerous to health - including carcinogens and hormone disruptors. "It's frightening - I started to really make strong choices about how I could avoid this stuff. Tests are done on animals in labs and they say it's safe but it's not at all and it's totally secret."
Her life, she maintains, has been transformed by this knowledge and the fact that in the United States and Canada, some workplaces are now 'fragrance free'.
So, what will the award-winning writer do with the knowledge she has accumulated during the course of her extensive research?
"It's not rocket science and I really believe my job was as a gatherer and translator and I just wanted to start this conversation about how perfume affects so many people who largely remain silent," she explains.
Ms Grenville notes that, over the world, millions of people use fragrance every day and for most of them, there are no side effects like the ones she experiences.
"But for us who are affected, we often don't say anything. Internet shopping is a godsend. Many of us now peer through the window of a shop, see what we want and then go online. I don't like doing that but my spirits fail at the thought of yet another headache!"