Inhaled salicylates (and other sources)

Salicylates are present in plant foods to protect the plants. They act as pesticides and some researchers say, as plant hormones. They also have the effect of adding flavour, so humans tend to like high salicylate foods such as strawberries and kiwifruit. From the body's point of view, there is not a lot of difference between flavour and scent - one appeals to the taste buds (which are not very acute), the other to our sense of smell, which is far more sensitive so what we taste is influenced by what we smell.

Absorbed through the skin

Salicylates are readily absorbed through the skin from lotions such as Oil of Wintergreen and can also be inhaled through strong scents from plants, their extracts and their synthetic equivalents for example, from lavender flowers, lavender-perfumed powder or deodorant and lavender-perfumed disinfectant through to plant based pesticides such as pyrethrum.


As a general rule, it is best to avoid strong smells while doing the diet: avoid perfumes and perfumed products, essential oils, strong smelling flowers and trees (such as pine trees - and the smoke from burning their wood), incense and pot pourri.

Perfumed products

Avoid perfumed toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, deodorants, cosmetics, haircare products such as hair sprays and gels, body lotions. Shampoo which claims to be perfume-free and contains strong smelling ingredients such as mandarin or lime oil is not failsafe. We recommend the Dermaveen range from pharmacies, and Melrose colour and perfume free from health food stores. Many failsafers recommend rock crystal deodorants.

Salicylates in medications

Avoid medications which contain salicylates including those inhaled such as Vicks Vaporub and lotions such as Dencorub or Deep Heat (these generally have salicylate listed on the label).

Avoid all household cleaners except vinegar, soda bicarb, dishwashing powder and fragrance free dishwashing liquid such as Abode

In the laundry, avoid perfumed washing powders, fabric conditioners and ironing sprays. Omo-sensitive, Lux, Planet Ark and Amway are the recommended washing powders, not just for people with eczema.

Avoid garden pesticides and weedkillers and pesticides on pets as much as possible.

Avoid smells of new or newly cleaned soft furnishings and carpets, new mattresses, cars, formaldehydes in pet shops and shopping malls. Do not renovate your house, have your carpet cleaned, buy new furniture or a new car while doing the elimination diet. Flame retardants are turning out to be a problem.

See also the factsheets on

Toxic furniture – the effects of flame retardants

Fumes and Perfumes

Added flavours – natural or artificial

Another option is to use a small wearable air filter, the Wein Air Supply


Ashford, N and Miller, C. 1998. Chemical exposures: Low levels and high stakes. 2nd Ed. Van Nostrand, NY

Farrow, A et al. (2003) Symptoms of mothers and infants related to total volatile organic compounds in household products. Archives of Environmental Health 58(1): 633-641

Fischer, B E. 1998. Scents and Sensitivity. Environmental Health Perspectives. 106(12):A594-A599.

Hilpern, K. 2204. Trouble in the air. UK Independent. 9 November 2004

Luckenback, T and Epel, D. 2004. Nitromusk and polycyclic musk compounds as long-term inhibitors of cellular xenobiotic defense systems mediated by multidrug transporters. Environmental Health Perspectives Sept.

Wallace, L et al. 1995. The identification of polar organic compounds found in consumer products and their toxicological properties. J Exp Anal Env Epdemiol 5:57.

Further resources

Introduction to food intolerance

US EPA information about pharmaceuticals and personal care products

US NRC report. Biosolids applied to land.

Salicylates factsheet

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate update July 2018