In this week’s episode of The Whole Circle Podcast we talk to Jon Whelan, Director of Netflix doco Stink!

We are so excited for you guys to listen to this episode.

We learned all about Jon Whelan and his mission, after watching his amazing Netflix documentary, Stink!

It is all about artificial fragrance (something you guys may know we are totally against), and how this impacted his family’s life.  It will blow your mind with how corrupt the fragrance industry is and how our health is just a pawn in the game of big companies within the industry.

If you haven’t watched it, then we highly recommend you and your whole family check it out asap!  Well after you have listened to this episode of course 😉

Artificial fragrance industry in Australia versus the rest of the world


We don’t have the same governing bodies here that there is in the rest of the world.  Our regulations are quite similar to the United States of America, however European standards/regulations are a lot stricter than Australia or the US and you will quite often find what is approved in Australia won’t be approved for use in Europe.  Scary huh?!

Europe basically takes a precautionary approach using what they call the ‘cautionary principle’ which is where if they suspect an ingredient to be unsafe, then they simply won’t use it or allow it to be used.  It means that a chemical is guilty until proven innocent.

Whereas here in Australia and the US (we believe), it’s the opposite.  Everything is deemed innocent until proven guilty.  Because of the way these things are regulated, proving guilt is virtually impossible.  The best example of that is asbestos.  Asbestos was considered this wonderful material to be used to fireproof whatever you put it with until it was discovered that it causes cancer, in particular, its own type of cancer, mesothelioma.  But even knowing this, the US still didn’t even ban asbestos.  The takeaway from that is if you can’t even get a known cancer-causing material banned, then what hope do you have of getting anything else banned.

On a positive note, we are happy to say that asbestos is banned in Australia! As it should be!

The shocking and sad fact is that our DNA is being altered by a lot of these chemicals which happens over years and generations of repeated exposure.

Who is Jon Whelan and how did he come to make the doco, Stink!

Jon lives in New York City with his two young daughters.  He is now a sole parent due to the sad fact that his wife passed away from breast cancer nearly a decade ago.

About 6 years ago, Jon bought his daughter a pair of pyjamas from an online retailer and when they arrived and he opened the package they came in, the fabric wreaked of an artificial odour.

Not being happy with this, Jon called the company he bought them from to check if they were safe, but the company completely stonewalled him and refused to give him any information and basically insinuated that he was crazy for even asking such a question.

This online retailer also had bricks and mortar stores in the US, so Jon went into a store to look at the same pyjamas and guess what? They had the same smell as the ones he got online!

He then called the company again to discuss this further and was met with the same response he got when he first called them.

This didn’t sit well with Jon, he figured that something must be going on!

Jon then made a documentary to figure out why the pyjamas stunk.  In making the doco he found himself going down the rabbit hole and discovered that it’s actually the system that is supposed to regulate chemical use that is the entity that stinks!

The doco delves deep into the fragrance industry and just how corrupt and money driven it is.

Lab testing the pyjamas


Because Jon couldn’t get an answer from the company, he decided to send the pyjamas off to get them independently tested to find out what the smell was.

Without giving too much away, you guys seriously need to watch the doco…they discovered a flame-retardant chemical in them which is a chemical that was supposed to have been banned in the 1970’s because it causes cancer, and here it was in those pyjamas 40 years later!

Different kinds of smell        

There are two kinds of smell, one concocted in a laboratory using synthetic ingredients and then there’s the smell you get from mother nature (plants, flowers etc.).

The synthetic lab-concocted fragrance is what we are talking about here.  Products that are derived from mostly or wholly synthetic ingredients that are created to resemble a certain scent.

In the US it’s deemed too expensive to use what mother nature provides us, so they use synthetically created ingredients.

What does it take to make a fragrance?

Scientifically it’s pretty amazing how they do it, but again the ingredients and chemicals used is the problem.

Jon has spoken to a number of perfumers who really want to use the top shelf natural ingredients, but they have budgetary constraints and when you have a limited budget, cutting corners and creating scents using chemicals becomes the norm.  Which means that unfortunately some of the most toxic products are the cheapest products.

It’s staggering to note that in America only 11 chemicals are banned for use in fragrance and cosmetics whereas in Europe a whopping 1350 are banned for use!

How is it that the regulating authorities don’t care about us enough to stop this from happening?


It’s complicated for a few reasons.  If people were immediately dying from their shampoo or scented candle, then those products simply wouldn’t be on the market.  But because these chemicals aren’t causing immediate health issues, they get to stay in production.  A prime example of this is cigarettes because you don’t immediately die or get sick from smoking a cigarette, they’re still around for consumption.  But we know that the long-term health effects of smoking are dire to our bodies.

So, the feeling is that because these chemicals aren’t causing immediate death, then how bad can they really be?  It’s a very lackadaisical approach that is being taken with our health.

What we need is product ingredient transparency, companies need to disclose exactly what’s in their products so that we can make an informed choice.

Chemical Industry


Trade associations are big, and the chemical industry is a trillion-dollar industry.  The membership fees for the largest chemical trade association in America is over $100 million dollars a year! That’s just for membership fees!

They’re a big and powerful organisation so whenever they try to regulate something you will inevitably hear some objection which could possibly be something like that banning certain chemicals will result in job loss.  The reality is that even if it is true that jobs will be lost, isn’t that a better outcome than continuing to create carcinogenic chemicals?!

A prime example of this is a chain store in the US called Claire’s which is targeted at kids, tweens and teens.  They were discovered to have asbestos in their cosmetics! Ah… what the actual?!

So, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration in the US) asked Claire’s to take it off the shelf.  Let’s just absorb that for a second, they only asked them… they didn’t tell them to take it off the shelf!  Claire’s initially said no because they didn’t have to.

A federal governing body doesn’t even have the required level of authority to demand that this product containing a known human carcinogen be taken off the shelves!

It all comes down to the almighty dollar.  The massive amounts of money these companies spend on marketing is phenomenal.  Our kids, teens, tweens are being targeted in heavy-handed forms of marketing that are all designed to get them to buy the latest thing, all without a care for what their products will do to our long-term health.

Change is afoot


There are some companies out there that have full transparency about what is in their products.  The tide is definitely shifting but it’s shifting very slowly.

Most people are discerning enough to know the difference between junk food and good food. But when it comes to cosmetics and beauty products, it seems to be the opposite, meaning that the conventional name-branded products that you can buy everywhere are the equivalent of fast food, yet they are considered the high end of the scale.  Yet, if you compared them to a more natural brand with an indie type following you would really see which is the better option.  This is where marketing comes into play, big conglomerate companies/brands can afford to spend bucketloads of cash on advertising to get their products into their target market’s hands whereas smaller brands just don’t have the same marketing budgets to compete with this.

A lot of people confuse name recognition with trust.

Our senses are inundated with odours


Everywhere you go your senses get inundated with an odour of some kind whether it’s good, bad or indifferent.

We’ve told this story a number of times, but when we were kids we used to beg our mum not to wear a certain perfume that she had, especially if we were confined in a car with her on long trips.  It would instantly give us headaches as well as make us feel physically sick.  Back then we didn’t think at all or know about the chemical compounds of that perfume and the instant toxic reaction our bodies were having to that scent.  We just knew we didn’t like it and so she needed to not wear it around us.

Now we are a lot wiser to the situation.  But fragrance and odours are impossible to avoid, they’re literally everywhere from a public toilet, shopping centre, GP clinic, supermarkets… the list goes on and on.

It’s not just food we have to be mindful of


A lot of us can be very discerning about what food we are putting into our bodies but then don’t give a second thought about the body care products we are using.  The reality is that what goes on our skin goes into our body!  So that body lotion or handwash or whatever it might be that contains petroleum-based chemicals, phthalates etc. are being absorbed into our bodies which all has a cumulative effect on our health.

Not only that but the toxic chemicals we are breathing in from synthetic fragrances and chemicals all goes into our bodies as well.  Our systems are being completely bombarded with all this unnatural odour.

What can we do to reduce our fragrance exposure?

Be empowered to learn the information about how toxic fragrance is to not only us but our environment.  Once you know this incredible information you can’t unknow it.  This will be your driving force to eliminate as much fragrance from your environment as possible and limit the exposure as much as possible.

Look at ingredient panels.  You will quite often see the single word ‘fragrance’ on products which can automatically lead you to believe that it is a single ingredient, but don’t be fooled!  That one-word ‘fragrance’ is a collective term for 100 or more different synthetic ingredients.  So, it begs the question, what do they have to hide? If they were good ingredients, wouldn’t they be proud to list them?

Therefore, if you want to avoid artificial fragrance then avoid products with that word ‘fragrance’ listed on them.

Fragrance is the main word to look out for, but they can also be listed as parfum or perfume so be aware.

There are plenty of products out there that are derived from wholesome plant-based ingredients, and they list on their labels exactly what’s in them and do not hide a bunch of ingredients under that collective term ‘fragrance’.

Smell is our most powerful sense

More often than not when choosing a product, we will go with scent.  If a product smells bad, even if the ingredients are great, we will most likely not buy it.  Our sense of smell plays a massive part.

90% of what you taste is a function of what you smell!


That’s why it’s not surprising that the same companies that make artificial scent also make artificial flavour for processed food.

The ‘fragrance’ loophole in products works the same in food except in food the term is usually ‘flavour’.  You don’t go to a store and buy ‘flavour’.  Flavour is a collective term for a whole host of synthetically derived ingredients.

It all comes down to choice

Being informed with all the information allows us to make a choice that suits us.  Not knowing what is in our products because of collective terms that hide a bunch of chemicals doesn’t allow us to make an informed choice.

If product ingredient disclosure was full and complete, then we would know what the best choices are.  And hey, there are some products we may still choose to buy even if they have bad ingredients, but at least we know exactly what’s in it so we are informed enough to make that choice without just blindly hoping for the best.

Please HELP us!

We would LOVE IT if you guys could share this episode around and subscribe to our show.  It is an extremely important issue that we need to get to the masses to make people aware of the scary facts of the fragrance industry and how we can avoid this kind of repeated exposure which is having dire effects to our health.

Where can we find Jon?

Jon is on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

If you want to watch the Stink Movie then you can on Netflix.  It’s awesome! We’ll keep saying it over and over…PLEASE WATCH IT! 😉

Links and Resources